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Archived Talks: 2023

(Most recent first. Click on the titles for fuller descriptions).

4th July 2023

 

“The greatest American architect of all time” was the accolade bestowed by the American Institute of Architects in 1991 upon Frank Lloyd Wright, who was the subject of this illustrated talk by club member Tony Byrne. In addition to showing photographs and drawings of some of this famous architect’s work, the speaker described the colourful and sometimes complex story of his subject’s long life.

 

FLW (as he became known) was born in 1867 in the state of Wisconsin and the early years of his life were very much influenced by his strong-willed mother who was determined that her son would be a great builder. After leaving school he enrolled as a student at the University of Wisconsin but became disillusioned with the course and left without a degree. Moving to Chicago, he became an apprentice to the architect, Louis Sullivan, ‘the father of skyscrapers and modernism’ – an aspect of architecture which FLW embraced and developed.

 

In 1893, at the age of 26, he started his own architectural practice and thereafter had a very long career, working right up to his death, aged 92, in 1959. During this time, his personal life was somewhat eventful with three marriages, seven children, one mistress, two divorces and, in 1914, seven murders committed by one of his domestic servants. In spite of all these complications, he managed to design over 1,000 buildings, of which about 530 were actually constructed. A large number of these are protected by USA State laws and some are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites.

 

The speaker continued by describing four of FLW’s most notable building designs. Of these, his ‘Prairie’ houses introduced many features of modern houses such as open floor plan and built-in furniture. A 1935 commission to build a ‘weekend cottage’ overlooking a stream with a cascade resulted in a building, ‘Fallingwater’ that is remarkable in being cantilevered over the waterfall itself. Then, on a much larger scale, FLW was approached by the Johnson Wax Company to design a new headquarters building. His solution to the problems created by the unattractive location of the building was to shield the internal working space from the outside environment by high walls and to provide light through roof level clerestory windows. Tony’s fourth example of FLW’s work was the Guggenheim Museum in New York with its revolutionary layout of exhibition galleries within a circular, multi-storey building. As a result of their innovative nature, many of FLW’s buildings suffered firstly from cost-overruns and later from problems of expensive maintenance, but they remain remarkable examples of his prolific output.

 

Stefan Andrejczuk and Tony Byrne

20th June 2023

 

As residents of the county of Derbyshire, which is further from the sea than any other in the UK, we were given a taste of seafaring and sailing by club member, Peter Donaldson, at this meeting. In particular, Peter described the history and the philosophy of an organisation, the Jubilee Sailing Trust, of which he has had some personal experience. To quote from its own website (www.jst.org.uk), this is a charity that changes lives through inclusion and exploration on board tall ships. And the way that it does this is by promoting the integration of disabled people with able-bodied people through the challenge and adventure of tall ship sailing.

 

The speaker opened his talk by giving a brief history of the organisation from its beginnings in 1978 (using a grant from the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Appeal), through a period of expansion when it operated two ships, then through the difficulties presented during the Covid pandemic, to the present day when, although now reduced to a single vessel again, it continues with its original objectives.

 

He then described the ships themselves and the way that voyages are organised around a professional ‘permanent’ crew (of a dozen members) who are in charge of a succession of fare-paying members of the public whose job is to provide the muscle-power and other tasks necessary to ‘work’ the ship. The latter crew members (between 40 and 50 on any voyage – usually of a week’s duration) are a mix of disabled and able-bodied people, ranging in age from teenagers to pensioners.

 

Having taken part in half a dozen voyages, the speaker was able to draw on his own experiences in saying that, far from luxurious in terms of accommodation and, at times, hard work (often in the middle of the night) these voyages had been hugely enjoyable and memorable.

Peter Donaldson

6th June 2023

 

There can be little doubt that most modern human beings have a far better standard of living and are vastly more advanced in terms of technological progress than our early ancestors, but these benefits to mankind have come at an enormous cost to the environment and pose numerous threats to the very existence of the human race itself. An examination of this history of human development and its consequences was the subject of this talk by one of our members, David Catton, who introduced his presentation by saying that it was an attempt to understand the realities of the world we humans have created.

 

Taking energy use as the first of his themes, the speaker showed how we have come to depend so much on fossil fuels, first coal (from the 17th century), followed by oil and natural gas. Although, in more recent times, other sources of energy – such as hydro, geo-thermal, nuclear, wind and solar produced electricity – have all contributed to fulfilling our needs, it remains that over 50% of electricity is still generated by burning fossil fuels, making the target of ‘carbon zero’ a real challenge.

 

David’s second theme was the subject of food supply. Before the industrial revolution, food was generally produced by labour-intensive means but, with the rapidly expanding world population that has taken place since then, the only way for food production to keep up with demand (alas, not always successfully) has been by mechanisation and the use of fertilisers, herbicides and insecticides; all of which require the input of further huge amounts of energy. Because so much of this energy is derived from fossil fuels, in effect we are all eating fossil fuels.

 

Finally, David talked about what he referred to as the ‘four pillars of modern civilisation’. These are ammonia (used in fertiliser and explosives), plastics, steel and concrete, the manufacture of which, combined, consume 17% of energy supply and account for 25% of CO2 emissions. Unsurprisingly, in view of its rapid growth, China now accounts for a significant proportion of these totals and, because other countries are following China’s example of industrialisation, they too will demand ever more energy. It is a worrying thought that, for the reasons presented by the speaker, we won’t eliminate the combustion of coal, oil and natural gas for many decades to come.

 

Stefan Andrejczuk and David Catton

23rd May 2023

 

Statistics is a branch of mathematics that is not studied by most people and therefore not clearly understood by them, thus leaving them open to being misled by the information presented to them – a fact recognized in the 19th century when the phrase ‘Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics’ came to prominence and which described the persuasive power of statistics to bolster weak arguments.

 

This particular phrase was the subject of today’s talk by club member, Paul Davies, who is himself a mathematician. Paul started with a definition of statistics as the collection, analysis, interpretation, presentation and organization of data such that the main goal is to provide a quantitative and objective approach to understanding and interpreting the data. He continued by describing the history of statistics, how they can be used to great benefit, but also how they are often manipulated with the intention to deceive.

 

It was on this latter aspect of his subject that he concentrated much of his presentation, by showing examples of the misleading ways in which advertisers, politicians and others selectively make use of statistics to support the particular assertions being made by them. As an example of one of the many advertisements which he illustrated, a toothpaste (let us say, Brand X) is claimed to be recommended by 80% of dentists. This may be true – in a survey, four out of five dentists may indeed have recommended Brand X, but what the advertisement does not reveal is that, in the same survey, all five of them (i.e. 100%) would also recommend Brand Y, a competitor. The speaker also showed examples of the ways in which mathematically correct information can be depicted in such a format on a graph as to give a totally distorted picture.

 

Summing up his talk, Paul pointed out that, despite the potential for giving misleading information, well collected, analysed and presented statistics can help decision making and communication, but there are multiple ways in which data can be twisted, interpreted and creatively presented. Therefore his message was that we should check, question and challenge what is presented to us.

Stefan Andrejczuk and Paul Davies

2nd May 2023

 

With a talk titled ‘Sheep Farming Unsanitised’, today’s audience could have expected to be told by the speaker, club member John Winkworth-Smith, that “Those of a nervous disposition should look away now”. He promised that, unlike the BBC’s Countryfile programme which depicts farms at lambing time with clean sheep, bedded on clean straw and accommodated in clean buildings, his talk would paint a more typical picture of the realities of sheep farming.

 

Although John had come from a farming family, his main career had been as a lawyer but, later in life, he decided to go back into farming, and in particular, sheep. Setting the tone for a hugely entertaining talk, he started with the wry observation that a sheep’s main occupation is to die – suddenly and for no apparent reason. However, he made clear that despite this unfortunate tendency of the animals to expire unexpectedly, sheep farming can be very rewarding but, in certain seasons of the year – especially at lambing-time – extremely hard work. He explained that, for the best financial returns, a ewe needs to produce two lambs. Triplets are a problem because a ewe, having only two teats, cannot feed three lambs, so one lamb must become a cade and taken away from its mother. This means that costly supplementary feed is needed, and more human intervention is required which makes the whole business less profitable.

 

The speaker continued with a description of various breeds of sheep and their suitability for different types of pasture and for their productivity at lambing time. With the aid of several photos taken on his own farm, he showed the process of a ewe giving birth (not a sight for the squeamish!) and the way that the mother and her offspring are encouraged to bond with each other.

 

Even after all the hard work in the lambing shed is finished, there are many other jobs to be carried out. Rules and regulations require every animal to be individually identified by ear-tags so that they can be monitored throughout their lives. Annual shearing is necessary for the animal’s welfare although, these days, it costs far more in labour to shear a sheep than the fleece is worth. Also, throughout the farming year, pests and illnesses have to be dealt with. However, in spite of all the drawbacks and hard work involved, John admitted that – in common with most other people – he experiences great joy at the sight and sounds of lambs every Spring.

John Winkworth-Smith and Peter Stubbs

18th April 2023

 

Today, club member Richard Chaplin gave a talk entitled “Shooting Big Game with a Camera”.  He described his own experiences on safaris in Africa extending over the past 35 years. This had become for him a bit of an obsession after being taken to a national park during a business trip to South Africa, and making close friends of a couple with whom he and his wife subsequently made extensive travels in southern Africa.

 

Richard explained to us what made for a successful photographic safari including what to wear and how to prepare, as well as choice of equipment. He likened wildlife photography to the challenges of newspaper paparazzi: your subjects do not want to be photographed, may turn their backs on you, run away or even chase you. He also said it is like getting impromptu shots of your grandchildren: you have to be ready, you have to be quick, and you need to be totally familiar with your camera.

 

Richard gave us examples of some of his photos which went wrong, explaining why.  And he also showed us shots where he had managed to get everything right.  He was at lengths to explain that success was dependent upon understanding how the animals you were shooting behaved so you could anticipate what they would do. The role of professional game guides could be critical so it was important to have an experienced, knowledgeable guide in whom you could have total trust – your life may depend upon it, as on the occasion when the open vehicle he was in was chased by elephants. A good guide is familiar with his local animals, he knows how close to get and he is lucky.

 

 

With so many trips to the African bush, some exciting experiences were inevitable and Richard described being butted by an apparently friendly warthog, chasing off a hyena which was eying up the meat he was cooking on an open fire, and the snake which fell from a tree to land at his feet in the shower.

 

This was an entertaining and informative talk, much appreciated by his audience.

 

Stefan Andrejczuk and Richard Chaplin

4th April 2023

 

Now an established event in the calendar, we held our annual springtime debate this year in early April. On this occasion, the motion was ‘Democracy has been a failure as an effective system of government.’ Leading the discussions were club members David Webb who supported the proposition and Tony Crook who opposed it, with Chairman Stefan Andrejczuk overseeing the proceedings. A preliminary vote among those present indicated a clear majority against the motion, although there was a significant number of abstentions.

 

In his opening arguments, David Webb pointed out that there are many definitions of ‘democracy’ but he took as his theme a version which states that democracy is a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives. However, in his view, the electorate is too often ill-educated, ill-informed and influenced by trivial matters and basic instincts, and hence not fit to make serious decisions. Furthermore, the elected representatives are frequently inept, corrupt, self-promoting or, simply, unworthy of the trust placed in them. In the case of the UK at least, the adversarial two-party system leaves huge numbers of people ignored and effectively disenfranchised, especially in constituencies where political views of one persuasion are drowned out by an overwhelming majority of electors of a differing persuasion. In summary, David described democracy as being ‘In a mess’.

 

Responding to his opponent, Tony Crook held that, if authoritarian and despotic government is to be avoided, there is no realistic alternative to democracy. He acknowledged that it has its faults but most democracies are relatively new creations and therefore still evolving. Many of the difficulties have arisen as a consequence of the electorate’s loss of confidence in the system, undermined by enormous changes in society, economic disappointment and the unfair influence on politics of vested interests and the ‘super-rich’. This led him to ask the question, ‘If it’s broken, can it be fixed?’ In answer to his own question, he offered a number of ways in which it could be. Among these, he proposed a system of proportional representation for the national government (as already operating in the devolved administrations), compulsory voting, rigorous policing of politicians’ standards of conduct, an appointed revising chamber (in place of the House of Lords) with fixed terms and further devolution of powers from central government to the regions of England. In summary, improvements need to be made.

 

Following these two submissions, there were several contributions from members of the audience, many of whom related their experiences of governments in other countries. At the close of proceedings, a second vote was taken with the result that, in a complete reversal of the vote taken at the start of the meeting, the motion was carried. David Webb’s arguments had carried the day.

Tony Crook and David Webb

21st March 2023

The depiction of war in various forms of art – in paintings and sculpture, including fresco and bas relief – has a history which goes back many centuries, and is a topic which was examined by today’s speaker, club member Peter Holt.

 

A very early example illustrated by Peter is the Lachish Relief (now in the British Museum) dating from about 700 BC. This carving commemorates the siege of one of the chief cities of Judah, Lachish, by the invading Assyrian army of King Sennacherib. It shows, in great detail, the triumphant Assyrians and the defeated defenders of the city; thereby attempting to record for posterity the invincibility of Sennacherib.

 

Subsequent conflicts throughout history have similarly been used as the subject for art works but how reliable as an accurate record of the events shown are they? Peter pointed to examples of paintings that were produced years – even decades – after the battles which they portray. In 1858, the artist, Daniel Maclise, commenced work on the walls of Westminster Palace on two great monumental works ‘The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher after the Battle of Waterloo’ and ‘The Death of Nelson’ although these battles had been fought forty or fifty years earlier. Both of these works show the horrors of warfare but also suggest heroism. It is up to the viewer to draw his or her own conclusions.

 

Art has frequently been used to make a statement about warfare and the politics behind it, with the result that it has been suppressed by authoritarian regimes uneasy about the messages which it delivers. An example is the way that the Bauhaus movement in pre-war Germany was abolished by the Nazi government. Other artists were more successful in drawing attention to the brutality of warfare. Picasso’s ‘Guernica’ remains one of his best-known works. And other famous artists, such as Goya and Manet have produced pictures in the same vein.

 

The speaker concluded by looking at samples of current Ukrainian war art which indicate how the whole nation is involved in a fight for survival with an uncompromising enemy. Here art is seen as a worthy weapon of war.

 

Peter Holt and Stefan Andrejczuk

7th March 2023

 

With so large proportion of the club’s membership being local to the Bakewell area, it may be assumed that most of them possess a reasonably comprehensive knowledge of the town’s history and places of interest. However, as demonstrated by the guest speaker Michael Hillam at this meeting, there are features about Bakewell that, even to some long-term residents, are not well known.

 

Michael, who is one of a small team of guides from Bakewell’s Old House Museum, highlighted a range of what he called ‘curiosities’ and he illustrated these with a series of slides, starting with a description of the former railway station which, unfortunately and most inconveniently, had had to be sited at the top of a long steep hill out of the centre of the town.

 

In earlier times, the rivers Humber, Trent and Derwent had enabled access for invaders to the district, while the tiny River Wye provided power for corn, cotton, marble and saw mills. Other features pointed out by the speaker included the motte and bailey castle, an unusual cycle wheel on the chimney of one of the town’s pubs, the sole remaining bank, and the prominent repair to the old market hall (whose original arcades are now only visible from inside). Attention was drawn to Old Paul, the elephant, among the cattle shown on the mosaic feature of the Co-op supermarket, the competing Bakewell pudding shops and two of the town’s highest achieving sons, Thomas Denman and White Watson. Turning to the parish church of All Saints, Michael commented that this ancient building contains sufficient curiosities of its own to fill an entire presentation.

 

He concluded today’s talk by describing how the local council’s proposal in 1954 to demolish two historic dwellings (dating from 1534 and 1601) was rejected, with the happy result that they were saved to become the excellent Old House Museum and Visitor Centre.

 

Michael Hillam and Stefan Andrejczuk

21st February 2023

 

New Zealand is justifiably celebrated for its spectacular scenery and abundance of natural wonders. However, it was a man-made wonder, the Driving Creek Railway, that was the subject of this talk by club member, Ray Smith. Situated in the stunningly beautiful Coromandel Peninsula of The North Island this remarkable railway was the invention of one man, a potter whose original purpose for building it was to transport the clay needed for his pottery business. Saving his description of the railway itself for a subsequent occasion, Ray used this initial talk to give the background story of the man, the late Barry Brickell, its creator.

 

Brickell was born in New Plymouth (New Zealand) in 1935 but the family later moved to Auckland where, at the age of 13, he was introduced to a well-known local potter. The effect of this encounter was to instil in him an obsession for making pottery including the construction of the associated kilns. He continued his academic education as far as gaining a science degree, and then became involved in the New Zealand Railway and Locomotive Society. This was a band of railway enthusiasts who undertook excursions to unusual branch lines and other minor railways, one of which, the Ongarue tramway gave Barry the inspiration for building something similar himself. Following this particular trip he set his heart on a career combining pottery-making and trains, together with his other main interests, conservation, art and engineering.

 

On the strength of his degree, he took up a teaching appointment at Coromandel District High School but soon became disillusioned with the job and resigned, reverting to his old hobby of making pottery. He bought an old house with a small plot of land at Driving Creek and became a full-time handicraft potter. Needing to provide a means of transporting fuel for his kilns and the raw materials for his pottery from a nearby road to his workshop, he decided to build a miniature railway for the purpose. With his pottery business still in its infancy, Barry could not afford to spend much on the equipment for his railway but, at the time (1975), there happened to be a source of second-hand materials readily available, and these formed the basis of his enterprise. Subsequently, by acquiring more land, he was able to extend the railway by means of a series of zig-zags and spirals ‘toward the sky’ up the steep hillside adjacent to his pottery. Opening it to the public, he made it into the amazing tourist attraction that it now is.

 

The speaker, Ray, visited the railway in 2019 and will devote his next talk to a description of the line itself.

 

Stefan Andrejczuk and Ray Smith

7th February 2023

 

With the increasing popularity and availability of electric (and hybrid) cars in recent years it would be easy to believe that they are a new form of transport. However, at this meeting, member Phil Spillane explained that electrically powered road vehicles were first produced over a century ago.

 

As Phil pointed out, horse-drawn traffic in towns and cities had reached such levels towards the end of the nineteenth century that there was an incentive to develop other forms of road transport. Experiments with steam-driven vehicles had met with limited success but, although ideal as a source of power for railways and ships, steam engines were generally too cumbersome and heavy for the existing road system. However, at the same time, electricity was seen as a possible power source because of the invention, earlier in the century, of the electrochemical cell (battery) which, to this day, remains the most important component of a self-contained electric vehicle.

 

In Britain, the development of self-propelled road vehicles had been stifled by the notorious ‘Red Flag Act’ of 1865 which stipulated that a steam driven vehicle should be preceded by a man with a red flag as a warning to other road users. The Act also imposed a maximum speed of 2mph in towns and 4mph elsewhere. Eventually, in 1896 this Act was repealed and, hence, the way was open for the subsequent growth of all forms of road transport propulsion, including electric vehicles. Several such electric cars were built for European royalty and heads of state in the final decade of the nineteenth century and the first decade of the twentieth.

 

The speaker described how the balance between electric and internal-combustion propulsion was then completely altered by Henry Ford’s introduction (in 1908) of his famous ‘Model T’ car. By employing assembly line methods of manufacture, Ford was able to cut the cost of these cars to a level that was affordable to the American middle classes. With this huge advantage, the petrol driven car became dominant, and remained so until more recent times when the negative effects on the environment and climate change have shifted the focus to less polluting vehicles, with the result that electric cars are rapidly increasing in popularity.

 

At the conclusion of Phil’s talk, there was much discussion among his audience, some of whom described their own experiences as owners of electric cars. These were often not very complimentary. The shortage of sufficient charging points was a common criticism but there were also reports of faults with the cars themselves. It was concluded that, no doubt given sufficient time, these drawbacks will be overcome but, as a society, we are not yet ready for the widespread adoption of electric vehicles.

 

Phil Spillane and Stephan Andrejczuk

17th January 2023

 

The yellow boxes affixed to buildings and other places, such as in redundant telephone boxes, are now a familiar sight in our towns and villages, and most people know that they contain defibrillators, but how many of us would know how to use one of these devices or would have the courage to face up to a situation in which one was urgently needed? It was to overcome this lack of knowledge and hesitancy that this meeting was devoted to a training session held by club member, John Gibson, assisted by his wife Jan, both of whom had been anaesthetists in their working lives.

 

John opened their presentation by quoting a number of sobering facts. A person experiencing a cardiac arrest when not in a hospital has a less than ten percent chance of surviving it if not treated promptly. And, of this number, 80% of incidents occur in the victim’s home, with only 20% in public places. Thus, it is advisable for all of us to be aware of the location of defibrillators, particularly those near to our homes because the use of this equipment can hugely increase the victim’s chances of survival. In addition, speed is of the essence – if deployed within the first minute a defibrillator can result in a 90% survival rate, but every minute’s delay thereafter will reduce this figure by 10%.

 

Clearly, in most situations, vital time would be lost before defibrillation could be started. The first  course of action is to call 999 (or 112) for professional emergency help, with CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) administered to the victim immediately, and continuously, until help arrives. With the aid of artificial dummies, the speaker demonstrated how to carry out CPR and gave individual ‘hands-on’ training to each member of his audience. He also recommended the on-line guidance to be found at https://www.bhf.org.uk/revivr.

 

In order to explain, in detail, the procedure for using a defibrillator John handed over to Jan who had brought to the meeting a couple of the devices. As she pointed out, no medical training is needed for their use; only an ability to follow the simple step-by-step instructions given over the phone by the (999) emergency operator and, once deployed, within the equipment itself.

 

This was an extremely interesting and helpful meeting which left the audience with much useful knowledge of how to cope in an emergency of this type.

 

The Defibrillator at the Cavendish Club

3rd January 2023

 

In a faraway country about which most of us used to know little or nothing, an event occurred which was to have profound consequences for the inhabitants of much of Europe. The date was 26th April 1986 and the event was a nuclear accident at the No. 4 reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in Ukraine. At the time, Ukraine was an integral part of the Soviet Union, dominated by its much larger neighbour, Russia, as were the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The after-effects of this disaster and the subsequent ‘clean-up’ operation were the subject of this talk by Club member Kim Rainsford.

 

As the speaker described, following the accident the response by the Soviet authorities was to inundate the site of the reactor with huge quantities of lead in an attempt to contain the radiation leak. They also sought to recruit volunteers from, in particular, Latvia to work alongside regular army units involved in attempting to make safe the remaining parts of the power station. Unsurprisingly, this workforce (amounting to some 16,000 men) was exposed both to high levels of radiation and to heavy metal poisoning from the lead-based ‘shield’ around and above the destroyed reactor. At the end of their work in Ukraine, these men returned home where they then faced having to live the rest of their lives suffering ill-health resulting from their experiences.

 

With his international reputation as an expert in in the field of biomedical sciences, Kim was approached in the mid-1990s to lend support to the Latvian scientists studying these health consequences on the former workers at Chernobyl. By this time, the Soviet Union had collapsed and Latvia had gained its independence. Its government had established a system of monitoring the health of the workers and a purpose built clinic and research unit was set up at the Riga Stradins Hospital. From the detailed studies obtained from this research, a valuable insight was gained into the long-term effects of radiation contamination and the treatment thereof. Several scientific papers and books have been written by a number of authors including by Kim himself.

Stefan Andrejczuk and Kim Rainsford