MONTHLY OPEN MEETINGS
We have monthly meetings of general interest, a great opportunity to listen to entertaining speakers and to find out what else is going on in our U3A.
Meetings are usually on the third Wednesday of the month, at the Boniface Centre in Crediton, but we have been forced to go “virtual” during these challenging times. Until July at the earliest, monthly presentations are via Zoom and a link is sent out shortly beforehand. There are also remote quiz challenges.
Upcoming monthly meetings
April 21st Prof Peter Edwards Death of Venice?
Before retirement, Peter was a Senior Lecturer/Professor of Engineering Mathematics Education at Bournemouth University, and for 35 years was an Associate Lecturer/External Examiner with the Open University. He is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. His background is Mathematics, but he loves and regularly visits Italy.
May 19th return of Charles Garland Dad's Army
June 16th TBA
July 21st Lynne Carroll Characters and Creatures at Lanyon: a look behind the scenes at a historic Australian settlers’ Homestead
Reports on meetings earlier this year
Prof Peter Edwards Death of Venice?
Problem 1: Geography and geology. Island in a lagoon, heavily built up and populated. It is man-made. Protected by barrier of islands with entrances to the Adriatic.
Rivers flowing into the lagoon bring alluvial silt with them, creating a problem over time.
2. Human intervention. From 1400 people re-directed the rivers to avoid Venice lagoon from becoming land. They closed five of the 8 inlets from the Adriatic. Land was reclaimed, fish farms established. The lagoon was thus greatly reduced in size.
3. Building techniques. How do you build on mud and sand? Tree trunks were driven into the silt as foundations. Gradually the logs become ossified.
4. Water extraction. Industry drew water from aquifers below Venice. Air was left behind and that was compressible: Venice sank.
5. Continental drift. Undersea African peninsula is pressing North. This causes Venice to subside by a millimetre a year.
6. Tides and weather. High velocity of tides entering the Adriatic and pressing North to Venice where the sea is shallow. Winds help to push the tide. The sea surface elevation is high at Venice.
7. Climate change. Sea levels are rising.
8. Shipping and tourism. The cruise liners need deep channels through the very shallow lagoon. Removing silt weakens waterfront buildings, as does the wash from the ships.
The canals are polluted with effluent. Venice often floods. There have been 20 exceptional high waters since 1935, twelve of these since 2000. Many buildings are deteriorating and becoming uninhabitable. The resident population has declined by 70% in the last 60 years. Evidence from old paintings shows Venice has sunk considerably.
Retreat, accommodate or protect?
Give up and leave? No.
Blocking off bottom doorways. Trestle walkways are installed to allow people to move around during floods.
Walls, sluices, locks. Ban shipping. Re-fill the aquifers.
Barriers have been placed across the three entrances. They are raised in rough conditions. They have not been properly maintained though.
Opinion suggests that perhaps more rivers should be diverted.
Anthony explained the Saxon legacy. The Saxons arrived on these shores about 1,500 years ago and were the most influential group until about five hundred years ago when their influence waned. They arrived peacefully and within only two generations a new language that blended theirs, of germanic roots, and ours was developed. This became known to us as Old English.
Of the hundred most commonly used words in the English Language ninety per cent are of Saxon roots.
Anthony then outlined the six levels of Saxon society. The King was at the head and his second in command were the Athelings who were eligible to rule but not necessarily of royal blood. The lower levels were the Eorls, Thanes, Churles and on the lowest rung resided the Villeins. The villeins were not free men and they were tied to the land as tenants. They had to pay a tithe to the Lord of the Manor to allow them to work the land.
There was also a well-developed political structure and legal system that forms the basis of our modern day institutions.
How many of the older readers remember pecks, bushels, rods and poles from school arithmetic? These imperial measurements were all introduced by the Saxons. As was the foot which we accept as twelve inches: a Saxon foot was, apparently, 13.2 inches whereas a Roman foot was 11.56 inches. It didn’t matter that these differed as the Saxons used the foot for horizontal measurements and the Romans used it for the vertical measurement of the “footing” of a building. The Saxons also introduced the acre, which meant open land and, Anthony’s favourite, the pint!
One of the observations at the end of the talk was that Old English was the official language adopted - there were still many local dialects being spoken across the country.
Thanks to Anthony Poulton-Smith for an interesting talk. (Report by Jo Poulton)
What’s better than one U3A Zoom Monthly Open Meeting? - two Zoom meetings on totally different subjects: cybersecurity and ice caves! Perhaps there is a tenuous link of finding your way through potentially dangerous situations?
The first well attended talk on Cybercrime and Staying Safe Online was by two specialist employees, Laura Cowie and Grahame Mace, from the Devon and Cornwall Police Cybersecurity Section. They stressed that crime has changed: traditionally there were criminals present at each crime scene but now, with the growth of computer usage, one anonymous offender can remotely undertake multiple offences and we must all be on our guard. We are all vulnerable to attack. There are about six hundred cyber-related crimes reported to the Devon and Cornwall police each month. The threat is so great that the UK government has placed cybersecurity in Tier 1 - the highest rating.
The two experts suggested many ways to keep ourselves safer including changing the admin passwords on routers, using stronger passwords, looking at spelling, grammar and web addresses carefully in Phishing emails, not giving credit/debit card details requested by official looking emails or texts, and avoiding “romance” fraud.
You can also easily check if your personal details have been lost by companies by logging onto “have I been pwned”. The data may remain on the “dark web” for a while before it is used by criminals.
The experts then discussed using platforms like Facebook safely: if an offer appears “too good to be true” it probably is and its function is to collect your information; seemingly innocent online quizzes could also be collecting personal data. Again this data may not be used immediately.
Is that new “friend” on Facebook (or other platform) someone you actually know? (I used to discuss this with students when I was teaching - what makes a friend? How do you know who you are actually speaking with?). The officers gave an example of a message reading “I’m Santa Claus, don’t you want to be my friend?”
We also learnt to be aware of free apps as these may allow access to many things on your device. Apparently “Linked In”, used by many professionals, collects data and allows targeted advertisements.
Many untruths also spread across the web with, seemingly, few checks on validity.
In summary, we all have to be aware of online safety for ourselves and others - it is really worth researching how to keep ourselves as safe as possible and “let the user beware”.
Thanks to the police representatives who gave sound advice and guidance.
Later during the month we logged on again to hear Ian Barclay speak about The Casteret family and The Grotte de Casteret Ice Cave which is situated in the Pyrenees, the mountain range between France and Spain.
Ian, who was part of the British Expedition which explored the caves in the 1960s, first explained a little of the geology of the area. It consists of limestone which, being soluble, is dissolved as water passes through it leaving behind a myriad of tunnels and caves.
One of these caves is the Casteret Ice Cave discovered by Norbert Casteret.
Norbert made a living exploring the treacherous cave system and financed his exploits by writing books about his adventures. These may have been a little embellished to make them more readable. He used to, apparently, scrawl “Casteret was here” on the walls of his discoveries to make clear to other cavers that they were not the first to come across places.
When Norbert discovered water in tunnels he used to free-dive (without a rope) through them not knowing where or how far away the next air filled cave would be. It was quite a family affair as Norbert’s wife was also an explorer (she tragically died in childbirth) as were their daughters. Ian showed us a photo of when Maude, one of the daughters, almost coming to a “sticky end” as she disappeared head first down an ice-lined tunnel only to be, thankfully, pulled back by her boots by her father!
Ian assured us that when the British expedition explored that cave they all had the proper safety gear. He showed us some amazing photos of the Ice Cave and the main hall where the walls were covered in solid ice. We wondered at the “Niagara” Icefall which was a sheer drop of ice to a frozen lake below. We also saw a stunning image of the Crystal Tower which was formed as snow came through a hole from the outside and, having collected no minerals, was crystal clear. This tower grows until its mass reaches a point where it collapses then starts to reform.
Unfortunately most of these ice formations are receding as climate change takes its toll.
Thanks to Ian for an interesting talk.
“TV Comedy: Script to Screen” was the title of this month’s U3A Zoom meeting. Our speaker was Charles Garland who was a BBC Producer and had worked for “Auntie” for over twenty years and had been employed on many well-known comedies.
His opening scene was situated on the set of the Dad’s Army Church Hall in Walmington-on-Sea which would have been extremely difficult to reproduce in the Boniface Centre - so yet again Zoom shows its advantages. From his position he could point out behind him various pieces of equipment used during filming.
The writer is the pivotal person of any comedy and they must bring something which is funny, different and exciting to a producer and then “sell” it to them. If the writer is successful the pair then has to present a sample script to the BBC upper management for approval. Charles said that he thought the pilot episode was always the worst (as so many introductions and backgrounds had to be established) and he asked that up to episode four should be written to give characters time to develop.
Charles told the story of John Sullivan, who was a scene shifter at the time, presenting a script to a producer who was impressed but asked for another episode to be written to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. John Sullivan went on to write Citizen Smith, Only Fools and Horses and Just Good Friends to name but a few. John Sullivan was such a perfectionist he even wrote and sang the theme tune to Only Fools and Horses “ No income tax, no VAT” (is that tune now stuck in your head?)
As an aside Charles stressed that we should be grateful to Desi Arnaz, who those of a certain age will remember was Lucille Ball’s husband and produced the “I love Lucy” comedy. Desi introduced the use of multi moving cameras on set for continuity and extremely flat studio floors that could be scooped up at the end of the day and replaced for subsequent filming.
After the go ahead from the upper echelons of the BBC several episodes of the series were written and agreed before the appointment of a director, location decisions (private houses being much cheaper than National Trust properties), booking of crew and backroom staff and then auditioning. On many successful comedies the same team of actors appear as they were professional and could be relied upon. About a year passes between the beginning of the process to the first read-through of all the scripts, after which filming commences.
We then virtually visited the set of Cafe Rene from ‘Allo, ‘Allo!. and heard that the actress who played Helga had to have a call at 0530 in the morning so her hairstyle and make-up could be completed by start of filming at 0930. ‘Allo, ‘Allo! was the most widely sold BBC comedy and was aired in fourteen countries including, recently, Germany. The only characters portrayed as laughable in the show were the two British Airmen: all other characters had their strengths and weaknesses, for example the policeman, who was a brave undercover agent but never mastered French, opening his appearances with “Good Moaning”.
We then returned to Dad’s Army where we heard that John Le Mesurier (Sergeant Wilson) was a brilliant technical actor who was always word perfect whereas Arthur Lowe, who played Captain Mainwaring, never learnt his lines and carried the script around with him. The producer, David Croft, got a bit fed up with this and one day presented Arthur with three scripts: the first to leave on the train, the second to leave on set and the third to take home and learn. Arthur quipped back “I wouldn’t have that rubbish in my house”. An example of a top producer being out done by a top comedy actor! Many of the second row in Dad’s Army were “down on their luck” theatre actors who David Croft had worked with earlier in his career and he showed his loyalty and respect by employing them for the show.
Charles stressed that the first rule of comedy was truth and that successful shows always stick to their own convention - each character has a part to play in a piece written to create a desired effect. In Steptoe and Son the theme was a working class father and a son who was aspiring to be middle class and escape his roots. Each episode explored this convention.
Click on a picture below to see it full-size with more details.