Thursday, 27 February 2020

Baskerville Hall 7th Anniversary Session

Wednesday nights at the Baskie are always a lot of fun, and it all started seven years ago. In that time, we've met in Moriarty's Bar, the ballroom and, most recently, in the Music Room, which is a beautiful setting. Bob Evans, who runs the evening, has been working out statistics, and he thinks that sixteen thousand songs have been sung (some of them more than once!).
He started the evening with an old favourite, The Fighting Temeraire, in honour of the picture on the new £20 note, and later in the evening, we all sang along to Too Many Guitars, as Bob was debuting his new guitar.
It was nice to see Phil and Pam Brown back after a long absence, singing about Satanic black foxes and lonely glow worms. Pam was also giving out leaflets for an evening with Les Barker at Moccas Village Hall, on 14th March.
A group of four performers came for the first time, including Catherine Hughes who does a lot of singing around Hay, sometimes in Welsh. They raised the tone with harmonic madrigals, Gilbert and Sullivan, and a song in Bulgarian about a Macedonian young man, watching the young ladies in his village.
I chose songs on the theme of the number seven, including one which I'd only ever heard before when my little sister learned it at school, about a handsome butcher - and the madrigal singers knew it! My other choices came from Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, and a song about the seven victims of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, which is surprisingly jolly considering the subject matter.
A member of the audience was moved to get up and sing a country and western song, and when his turn came round again he chose Fiddlers' Green, which we knew because a regular who wasn't there last night sings it - so Rob could join in on guitar, and I sang along with the chorus.
Ellie and Bob duetted with Summer Wine, and Ellie gave advice to the madrigal singers about finding harmonising music from South Africa, such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
It was a great night - and I hope I'll still be there in another seven years!

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

The Quest for Absolute Zero

I could just about keep up with the science in this talk at the Science Café! It had equations in it! And graphs!
For this session, we were in the bigger back room at the Swan, and the speaker was John Tyler, who had a background working with liquid oxygen.
So, as I vaguely remembered from my A level Chemistry days, the coldest temperature it's possible to be is -273.15 degrees Celcius, which is the same as 0 degrees Kelvin, and John's talk outlined the history of how scientists had attempted to get down to that temperature through history.
The first problem was how to measure temperature at all. The first accurate measurements were with the scale devised by Mr. Farenheit in the 18th century, followed by M. Celcius, who devised the scale that started at 0 degrees for the boiling point of water, and 100 degrees for the freezing point of water - until someone else decided that it would be more sensible to do it the other way round, as we do today. To take the measurements they needed mercury, and good enough glass blowers to make the glass tube to put the mercury in.
There are other methods of temperature measurement that are more useful at very low temperatures, such as measuring the resistivity of a platinum wire.
The theory was that, if the temperature was low enough, a gas would turn into a liquid, and eventually into a solid, as can be easily observed with water, becoming steam or ice according to the temperature. Another important variable is pressure - which is why it gets more difficult to boil water the higher up a mountain you are. So more pressure helps to turn your gas into a liquid.
This is where I learned of the "triple point", the one place in a graph of temperature against pressure where an element would be in all three states - solid, liquid and gas - at the same time! There's an international committee which fixes the official measurements, and which fixed the official temperature for Absolute Zero.

Steam engines were used to power the experiments, and at first the only object of the experiments was to see if it could be done - there was no practical application for liquid oxygen, hydrogen or nitrogen. There is now, of course - MRI scanners in hospitals use liquid helium as a coolant. Helium wasn't even known as an element when the experiments began, but in the middle of the nineteenth century there was an eclipse, centred in India, where astronomers used spectroscopy for the first time to detect the different gases in the corona of the sun as it went behind the moon. This gives coloured lines for each element, and there was a bright yellow one that had never been seen before. The name it was given, helium, comes from helios, Greek for the sun. Later, helium was detected on earth, coming from uranium ore, and the scientists who had been experimenting with making liquid hydrogen also wanted to try to make liquid helium. One of the foremost of these was Sir James Dewar, who gave demonstrations before audiences at the Royal Society. There is a picture of him in the 1890s making liquid hydrogen before an audience which included famous scientists like Marconi - without any safety precautions whatsoever. Apparently Sir James' two assistants each lost an eye in experiments that went wrong!
Meanwhile at the University of Leiden, a chap called Onnes had the resources and the inclination to make Leiden a world centre of cryogenic research, setting up a school to train glass blowers and instrument makers who were essential to build the equipment needed. By this stage they were using glass vacuum vessels as part of the method of lowering the temperature, first making liquid air, and using that to cool down hydrogen until the gas became liquid.
There was some discussion at the end of the talk about the feasibility of producing hydrogen powered cars in the volume necessary to replace petrol driven ones, and they weren't very optimistic that it was practical. Another member of the audience had also worked with cryogenics, at Llanwern, where they processed 5,000 tons of air a day into liquid oxygen and other elements! Argon is one of the trace elements in air that has a commercial use (welding, I think). And apparently the Dutch are experimenting with introducing hydrogen into the gas supply with some success.
The picture used at the beginning of the talk was of the Boomerang nebula, which is the coldest place known in nature, at about 1 degree Kelvin. Most of space is at about 2 degrees Kelvin. The coldest recorded temperature in nature on Earth was -81 degrees C.

The next talk will be on Monday March 23rd, when Brian Henderson will be talking about PCR, which I think stands for Polymerase Chain Reaction!

Sunday, 23 February 2020

Welsh Lessons

The Welsh lessons at the beginning of the year went so well that Haydn is doing it again. Lessons start on 24th February, at the Three Tuns, and the course lasts for 6 weeks.

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Cusop Churchyard

The talk last night at the Cusop History Society was about Cusop Churchyard.
There was a serious technical problem at the beginning of the talk where the memory stick wouldn't talk to the laptop that controlled the projector, but a Heroic Tech Guy took the laptop outside, and when he came back, it was fixed, and Jane could quickly go through the pictures that accompanied her talk up to the point she had reached.

Jane Weaver, who also belongs to the Camera Club, was asked to take photographs of the graves in Cusop Churchyard. An old list had been found (from around 1990) with a map of the graves and their inscriptions. Since then, of course, more graves have been added to the churchyard, and the churchwardens wanted to have an up to date record.
Then, when Jane had started the project, someone else found a different list of graves, so there were two documents to work from, one with 43 pages and the other with 13 pages.
It wasn't as easy as it sounded, to just record them all. Jane decided to work from the "John Wilkes list" (he compiled it), as it was more comprehensive, and started in the corner of the churchyard near the lych gate, where the graves are mostly in neat rows. The Booth family are buried there, the most recent being Richard Booth the King of Hay.
One of the problems Jane found was that the churchyard has not always been as it appears today. Her map showed rows of flat graves up in the top corner (if you take the lych gate as the bottom corner), which have been overgrown to the extent that many are no longer visible. Other grave stones have broken, and there is a pile of them against the wall of the church. In the 1970s, a group of men "who were good with crowbars" tidied up the churchyard by moving a lot of gravestones, and laying them flat under one of the yew trees like a pavement. They had a serving police officer as part of the group, to add a veneer of legality to the proceedings, but they didn't seem to make any record of what they were doing. Apparently, at the time, the churchyard was in a bit of a state, with a pony tethered near the lych gate and sheep grazing, and brambles overgrowing areas.
Another problem Jane found was that memorials which had been legible in 1990 had deteriorated, and were no longer legible, so that in some cases she couldn't find graves that had been recorded.
The oldest grave she found was by the church door, of Thomas Watkins who died in 1792, I think - he'd been a local JP.
One of the other early graves was of William Seward - it's now illegible, but they know where it is, because William Seward was a nonconformist preacher who was injured while preaching to an unruly crowd, and later died of his injuries. Jane wasn't sure why he had been buried in Cusop, but someone in the audience thought that he had been taken to a farm nearby, where he had died. There is a memorial to William Seward inside the church. Celia, one of the present churchwardens, said that their next project would be to restore the box tomb where William Seward is buried.
Jane also photographed the memorials inside the church - William Seward's, and also the First World War memorial, which starts with a member of the Royal Flying Corps. There is no memorial for the Second World War. One memorial mentioned in an old historical article is no longer there, and the two bells mentioned in the article were removed in the 1960s.
Another member of the Royal Flying Corps buried at Cusop went on to train as a doctor after the First World War, and ended up as quite a high ranking surgeon in the Royal Navy.
Another interesting grave is of "Johnny the Pilot". He was a Polish airman during the Second World War, and one of the Cusop History Group is doing a little project to find out more about him. He was shot down twice, and came to live in Cusop after the War. There are quite a few other graves of military men in the churchyard, too, including one young soldier who died in India, and another who died in the Transvaal.
One picture Jane showed was of a typical family plot, with eight members of the family buried there. "It's the Adams Family," she said, looking round the room. "Not a titter!" she complained.
She had also looked at the grave of a Victorian curate who worked at Cusop - I missed the name. The rector of Cusop had been absent at the time, so he employed the curate to do the parish work. He is buried with his wife Isabella, and the grave monument is interesting. It consists of three steps, meant to symbolise God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, with a cross on top. The memorial to Isabella is on the East side, where Jane expected to find the curate's details - but he is memorialised on the West side of the monument. Various beliefs about the Last Judgement were mentioned here - like the idea that Jesus would come from the East to raise all the dead from their graves - so the details were recorded on the west side of the grave where Jesus would see them!
After the talk, I mentioned the previously unknown chapel I had helped to dig in Norwich, back when I was an archaeologist. We found the grave of a man we assumed to be the priest, partly because he had been buried with a small chalice and paten, and partly because he had been buried in the opposite direction to everyone else in the graveyard - so that on the Day of Last Judgement, he would rise from the dead to face his parishioners.
It was a fascinating talk, and brought out quite a few memories from the audience who had known some of the people mentioned, or their families. Jane was thanked at the end, for the quality of the research she has done.

The next talk will be by John Price, on 13th March, who will be showing local photographs from the Mary Ridger Collection, including some stereographic 3D photos of Cusop.
On Friday 17th April, Tony Usher will be giving a talk "From Roman Roads to Railways: Connecting People in Herefordshire"
In June there may be a trip out, to be confirmed, and on July 10th Heather Hurley will be talking about the Green Lanes of Herefordshire.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Flood Relief

In the aftermath of the Storm Dennis flooding, local people are stepping up to help.
On Facebook, Cheryl Payne has set up a page called Helping Flood Victims in Hay on Wye and All Surrounding Areas, and a Go Fund Me page.
The official help for the residents of Dulas Terrace has been the Gurkhas coming to help, and Herefordshire Council saying they'll pick up the ruined furniture and take it away for free (the cottages are just over the border into Herefordshire). Cheryl has also contacted Powys County Council to see what help they are offering for the people on the Welsh side of the border who have been flooded.
The unofficial help has been people dropping off donations of things like kitchen equipment at the Three Tuns, which is co-ordinating this part of the assistance. They were also offering free soup and coffee or tea for the flood victims.
On the Facebook page, people are also offering furniture and curtains and bedding, but these things won't be needed straight away - it's going to take a long time for the houses to dry out enough before they can be redecorated and carpeted and have furniture put back in.
On the Facebook page this morning, Cheryl says that the people at Dulas Terrace are pretty much sorted out now, so she's turning her attention to twelve bungalows in Brecon that flooded, and have elderly residents. She's got a list of things that they need. She's also been sourcing carpet off cuts to put down temporarily for houses in Peterchurch.
A chap called Merlin has offered to go round to help with odd jobs - he says he can do carpentry, plastering, plumbing, decorating, laying floors and more, but he will need equipment and materials.
The Hereford Times and Herefordshire Community Foundation have also teamed up to set up an appeal fund for the flood victims.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

More from the Extinction Rebellion Meeting - Upcoming Events

There are quite a few events coming up soon in the area, but I only took very sketchy notes, and I may have missed one or two.

There's a talk, organised by the national XR team, at Talgarth Town Hall, called Heading for Extinction on 28th February, which sounded like something well worth attending.
On 22nd February, there will be a march in London, for anyone heading down that way, and for anyone heading up to Machynlleth, there's a training weekend happening there for people who want to be involved in protests. Justin, resident Welsh speaker, had to go over to read the notes, so it was pronounced properly!
There's a meeting in Brecon on 23rd February.

Borderlines Film Festival is coming up at the end of February, from from the 28th to the 15th March, and there are several films with a climate theme being shown.
For instance, 2040 is a film showing what the future would be like if we embraced all the solutions that are available to us now, and Weathering with You is a Japanese anime film with an environmental theme.

On April 18th, there's a Green Festival at Hay School. The local XR group will have a stall.

Starting at about the same time as Hay Festival, at the end of May, is the XR national campaign "Waves". There will be several events at Hay Festival on an environmental theme, as there have been for several years already. They are also trying to make the Festival carbon neutral. Several people at the XR meeting said that they thought Peter Florence and Hay Festival would be open to talking to XR and seeing what could be achieved.
It was also said that most groups that approach the Festival want to see what they can get out of a collaboration. XR, on the other hand, would be asking what they can do to support what the Festival is already doing.
The Low Carbon Group from the Town Council will also be active in town during the Festival.

Meanwhile at the other end of town, Roger Hallam of XR has been booked to speak at How the Light Gets In, but there seems to be nothing else going on at How The Light Gets In on climate change. It would also be more difficult for local XR members to support his talk, because of the way the tickets are organised - people who go to How The Light Gets In buy a pass for the day or the weekend, whereas the Hay Festival site is free to walk around, and people can buy tickets for individual events rather than staying on site for the whole day.

Finally, on June 13th, a gig is planned at the Globe as a fund raiser for XR - details to come when I have them.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Help for Flooded Cottages

The cottages along the Dulas Brook were flooded at the same time as the Gliss car park was flooded. The water has gone down again now, but there's been a lot of damage done.
This evening, Brian with the Staffie has just been by to tell me that the Army has arrived! He's been down there talking to Gurkhas and other soldiers who are helping with the clear up.