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Forthcoming Talks

I am Still Thinking

5th July 2022

The head of Google recently said that AI will have a more profound impact on humanity than fire, electricity and the Internet. Club Secretary, Jonathan Wicksteed hopes to explain some of the changes in this field since his last AI talk in 2017.

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The Quest for Meaning (Part 1)

19th July 2022

This will be a biographical/philosophical presentation by Club member John Hayes in which he will describe his early years in colleges of religion followed by his ministry in chaplaincy and counselling service.

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A Relic from a Past Age

2nd August 2022

Club member Robert Graham will talk about his experiences in Eastern Nigeria as an administrative officer, first in the Colonial Service and later in the Overseas Civil Service between 1954 and his retirement in 1965, during which time Nigeria gained its independence in 1960.

 

4th January 2022Roger Truscott
18th January 2022Paul Davies
1st February 2022Steve Marsh
15th February 2022Peter Holt
1st March 2022Brian Barry
15th March 2022Club Debate
5th April 2022Peter Stubbs
19th April 2022Stefan Andrejczuk
3rd May 2022John Thurstan
17th May 2022Brian Holland
7th June 2022Bernie Webster
21st June 2022Ron Enock
5th July 2022Jonathan Wicksteed
19th July 2022John Hayes (1)
2nd August 2022Robert Graham
16th August 2022Ken Watson
6th September 2022John Hayes (2)
20th September 2022Ernest Edmonds
4th October 2022Chris Shepley
18th October 2022John Robinson
1st November 2022Tony Crook
15th November 2022John Winkworth-Smith
6th December 2022(to be arranged)

Recent talks

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

21st June 2022

 

Maritime trade between the countries of the Far East (such as China), and the rest of the world, especially Europe, has been carried out for centuries even though the sea routes involved have been long and hazardous. It was with the objective of finding a shorter route that, from the 15th century, European explorers attempted to establish a commercial sea route – the Northwest Passage – around the American land barrier. In more recent times, as a result of global warming and the consequential shrinking of the polar ice cap, attention has also turned to the potential of a corresponding Northern Sea Route, to the north of Russia/Siberia.

 

The examination of the feasibility of these routes and their commercial, political and military importance was the subject of this absorbing presentation by club member, Ron Enock. As he pointed out, the commercial benefits of shorter sea routes with their resultant savings in transit times and, hence, cost are obvious, but against this advantage are the difficulties thrown up not only by the hostile environment of these polar routes but also by unresolved questions of sovereignty of the seas themselves.

 

Territorial disputes over the international boundaries between the nations bordering the Arctic Ocean are proving difficult to resolve especially between countries on opposite sides of the NATO / Russia divide. There are vast reserves of natural resources, such as oil, gas and other minerals, beneath the ocean floor which can only be exploited peaceably if the relevant international borders are agreed. Many of the disputes relate to each state’s claims concerning its territorial waters (which extend 12 nautical miles from the coast) and, more significantly, the associated Exclusive Economic Zone (a further 188 nautical miles). Until these matters can be settled, the area continues to remain one of uncertainty for international commercial shipping.

 

The speaker concluded his talk by discussing the substantial expenditure on military and economic activity in the polar area by Russia in recent years – a policy which is intended to impose strict control by that country over the Northern Sea Route – a further disincentive to international trade.

 

Peter Stubbs and Ron Enock

7th June 2022

 

Gold: that remarkable, ever-bright metal which, throughout history, has been sought and acquired by man because of its allure and rarity. It has been fought over; indigenous peoples have been invaded and subjugated by others in pursuit of it; and, even today, nature is being destroyed by some of the methods of mining employed by unscrupulous prospectors for it. The story of man’s quest for this particular precious metal was the subject of this talk by member, Bernard Webster.

 

The speaker opened by describing one of the most famous gold objects to have been created – the 3,300 year-old funerary mask of the ancient Egyptian pharaoh, Tutankhamun. Apart from its artistic merit, the value of its gold content would amount to £500,000 at today’s prices, a sum reflecting the rarity of this metal. As an indication of this scarcity, it has been estimated that, over the past 5,000 years, a total of barely 200,000 tonnes has been extracted from the earth. Much has been used for jewellery, coinage and household items but there are major reserves of bullion in the form of gold bars.

 

Bernard continued his talk by discussing Australia’s gold-mining operations, both historic and modern. In the mid-nineteenth century there was a gold-rush similar to that which had occurred earlier in California. Thousands of hopeful prospectors from around the world congregated on the fledgling states of Victoria and Western Australia, bringing some prosperity but also much criminal activity in their wake. These days, most mining activity is centred around Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie in Western Australia.

 

Bernard Webster and Peter Stubbs

17th May 2022

 

Two air disasters occurring within five months of each other – one in October 2018 and the other in March 2019 – and involving the same type of aeroplane, the Boeing 737 Max, were the subject of this talk by club member, Brian Holland.

 

Before discussing the causes of these crashes, Brian gave an outline of the evolution of the Boeing 737 series of aircraft, starting with the 737-100 which entered service in 1968 as a competitor to the Douglas DC9, BAC-11 and Sud Aviation Caravelle. Subsequent development of the 737 entailed extending its length (to accommodate more passengers), its range of operation and, significantly, changing the type of engines fitted to it. By the end of the twentieth century, after numerous changes, the plane had evolved into the 737-800. By now its main competitor was the Airbus A320 which, with its related A319 and A321 NEO types, was proving highly successful and popular with airline operators.

 

Boeing were therefore faced with a dilemma. They could either work on a completely new design or they could change the type of engine. The second option was chosen because it would be cheaper to develop, build and operate, and could be in service sooner than the alternative. However, the aircraft handling characteristics would be compromised by the use of the new type of engine. In order to overcome these problems, Boeing introduced a modification called ‘Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System’ (MCAS) which took over the pitch control of the aircraft from the pilot under certain conditions. Remarkably, to avoid having to introduce simulator training, pilots and customers were not made aware of the introduction of MCAS.

 

Under these circumstances, the Boeing 737 Max entered service with, among other airlines, Lion Air and Ethiopian Airways, and it was aircraft operated by these two unfortunate customers that crashed in 2018 and 2019 with the loss of all passengers and crew. At the time, Boeing claimed that the cause of both disasters was ‘pilot error’, but later examination of the recovered ‘black box’ recorders revealed that the fault lay in the MCAS system and, in particular, Boeing’s failure to ensure that pilots were adequately trained.

 

Brian concluded his talk by summarising the findings of the US Report into the causes of these crashes. These included technical design flaws, faulty assumptions about pilots’ responses to MCAS, and management failures by Boeing and the regulatory body, the Federal Aviation Administration. Although the Boeing 737 Max is now back in operation around the world, the cost to Boeing in terms of money and reputational damage has been enormous.

 

Brian Holland and Peter Stubbs

3rd May 2022

 

How many of us cling to the belief that we are unable to sing, probably because we were told at school that we couldn’t? But, according to club member John Thurstan who was today’s speaker, everyone (with few exceptions) is able to sing. In an extremely enjoyable and entertaining talk, which included many snatches of choral and other sung music delivered in his fine tenor voice, John related how he had been persuaded to form a choir in his village of Cutthorpe.

 

Although he had started singing in a church choir as a boy, and had been a member of other choirs since then, he claimed to have been totally unqualified for the task when first approached in 2008. However, he finally gave in to successive requests and, seven years later, let be known that he would indeed attempt to form a choir. Only fifteen potential choristers came to the early rehearsals and, as John described, made a fearful ‘racket’ at first. But eventually, through his guidance and training in breathing exercises and simple songs, progressing to canon and rounds in music, the choir became not only more proficient but also increased in numbers. In developing the choir, he stressed the importance of choristers learning the music which they were singing rather than relying on reading it from a score. In this way, without the distraction of the written music, they maintain eye-contact with their conductor and fellow singers, and thereby enhance their performance.

 

Since its foundation, the choir has performed at the Cutthorpe Carnival, the village’s well-dressing celebrations, and carols at Christmas. In common with other choirs throughout the country, its activities were abruptly halted by the Covid-19 pandemic but, at last, there is hope that things can soon return to normal.

 

John Thurstan and Peter Stubbs

19th April 2022

 

The names of three British ships (‘HMS Victory’, ‘HMS Royal Sovereign’ and ‘HMS Defiance’) that fought at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 are immortalised on Birchen Edge near Baslow where each of three giant gritstone outcrops is inscribed with its respective name (although, for some unexplained reason, ‘Royal Sovereign’ is incorrectly spelled ‘Royal Soverin’). Why, in this particularly land-locked location, these ships were commemorated here has been a source of puzzlement to many, including our current Vice Chairman, Stefan Andrejczuk, who raised the question at this meeting. In order to help him answer the question, he called on the assistance of a guest speaker, his friend Capt. John Wills RN Rtd., whose naval background enabled him to provide some useful suggestions.

 

 

John’s career in the Royal Navy commenced in 1970 as a cadet at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth, and concluded in 2008 with the rank of Captain RN. During this time he came to specialize as a Marine Engineer Officer, which included an appointment as Senior Engineer of the Royal Yacht Britannia. Later, in his role as Second in Command of the RN barracks in Portsmouth, (called HMS Nelson), he became involved in The 1805 Club which is dedicated to the preservation and care of the memorials and graves of those associated with the navy of the Georgian era. In fact, it was The 1805 Club which, in 1992, restored the 3-metre high Nelson’s Monument also on Birchen Edge near to the three ships outcrops.

 

Turning to the ships’ names on the rocks, the speaker explained that it is understandable for Victory and Royal Sovereign to be honoured because the former was Vice Admiral Lord Nelson’s flagship, and the latter was under the captaincy of Collingwood, his second in command. However, it is not so obvious why Defiance was chosen for the third outcrop. A number of explanations have been offered. Maybe the Duke of Rutland on whose land the monuments stand, was instrumental in selecting this particular ship for recognition? However, it is understood that two of the ship’s crew were from Derbyshire, which could have influenced the choice. This, in John’s view, is the most likely reason.

 

Stefan Andrejczuk and Capt. John Wills RN Rtd

5th April 2022

 

Known as the Merry Monarch, King Charles II was the subject this talk by Chairman, Peter Stubbs. However, it was the story of a less than merry period of this king’s life that was told on this occasion because the speaker concentrated upon the time (43 days) during which the king managed to avoid capture by his pursuing enemies, the Parliamentarians, during the English Civil War.

 

As Peter explained, civil war broke out in 1642 with the royalist forces of Charles I (‘Cavaliers’) pitted against the Parliamentarians (‘Roundheads’) over the manner of England’s governance and religious differences. At this time, the boy who was to become Charles II was twelve years old but, by 1645 at the Battle of Naseby he had already been made titular commander of part of the royalist army. Following the royalists’ defeat at Naseby, he left England and spent the next five years exiled in France and the Netherlands. In 1649, Charles I was beheaded and England became a republic under Oliver Cromwell. Soon afterwards, the Scottish parliament proclaimed Charles II as ‘King of Great Britain’, an arrangement that was unacceptable to Cromwell. A series of battles between the forces of Charles and Cromwell culminated in the Battle of Worcester (3rd September 1651) at which Cromwell was victorious.

 

Thus began the six-week period during which the king was pursued by the Parliamentarians all over the West Midlands and the South of England as he tied to evade capture. Being remarkably tall for his day, Charles was hampered by his conspicuous appearance but he was able to rely on his many loyal supporters who could find hiding places, most famously in an oak tree in Boscobel Wood on the Shropshire/Staffordshire border. Eventually, Charles and his closest companions reached Brighton where they managed to board a ship and escape to safety in France.

 

The speaker included in his talk a description of the character and influence of Charles II. He was known to be witty, affable and charming, but could be lazy, devious and dishonest. As for a successor, he failed to produce a legitimate heir even though he fathered nine children (as far as is known) and had at least seventeen identified mistresses (including the famous Nell Gwynn). A Merry Monarch, indeed!

 

Peter Stubbs

15th March 2022

 

Now an annual event in March, this year’s debate considered the proposition, ‘Is the removal of statues a futile attempt to rewrite history or a proper way of stopping the celebration of oppressors and their values?’ Leading the discussions were members David Catton who supported the proposition and Paresh Solanki who opposed it, with club Chairman Peter Stubbs overseeing the proceedings.

 

In defence of statues which may now be considered controversial, David acknowledged that, although the acceptable standards of society may have changed over time, the historical events commemorated by such memorials remain unchanged. Using the example of Edward Colston whose statue was demolished by protesters in June 2020, this man was a prominent slave-trader at a time when this was an acceptable practice, and he used his wealth to beneficial effect for the citizens of his native city. In his honour, a new concert hall in Bristol was named ‘Colston Hall’ when built in the mid-nineteenth century but, in the face of the 2020 protests, this has now been renamed ‘Bristol Beacon’. Nevertheless, despite its name-change, this venue still serves its original purpose which was made possible by Colston’s philanthropy. Hence, the attempted rewriting of history (by demolishing Colston’s statue and consequential renaming of the hall) was not appropriate.

 

In response, Paresh argued that the removal of statues was not so much an attempt to rewrite history as to correct it, by placing on record all the relevant facts about the person commemorated. Statues are symbolic of the values held by that person and, by their existence, reinforce those values in the eyes of the viewer. Hence if, as in the example of Colston, his statue was intended to recognise his philanthropy it may succeed in doing this, but it provided an incomplete picture. The removal of statues from prominent locations does not necessarily mean that they must be destroyed – they can be relocated to less public sites where the reasons for their removal can be explained by plaques or other means.

 

Having listened to the arguments put forward by the two leaders of the debate, members of the audience added their own contributions. Overall, the opinion of the meeting was that the removal of statues in this way was not merited. However, it was recognised that being in a senior age group and, as residents of this overwhelmingly ‘white’ area of Derbyshire, the members of this Probus club are representative of only a part of society. Thus, it is very difficult to appreciate the views and concerns of others, especially those from communities with a very different history from our own.

 

David Catton, Peter Stubbs and Paresh Solanki

1st March 2022

 

Making his second visit to our club (albeit after an interval of eleven years), the guest speaker today was Colin Atkinson, a retired oil-rig captain. He was introduced by club member, Brian Barry, and his illustrated talk provided an insight into some of the things that can – and do – go wrong when carrying out drilling operations at sea.

 

Starting his talk with a description of the Piper Alpha disaster of 1988, Colin explained the events leading up to this, the worst accident in the history of oil and gas production in the North Sea. In total, 167 lives were lost in an explosion and fire which were the result of inadequate maintenance and safety procedures leading to a massive gas leak that ignited with such devastating results. Another drilling rig accident was the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Although less serious in terms of lives lost, this was the biggest ever marine oil spill and was the cause of a huge environmental disaster in which hundreds of miles of coastline habitats were polluted. Again, the cause of the spill was attributed to poor maintenance of the rig’s equipment and inattention by its operators to basic safety standards.

 

The speaker continued his narrative with photographs and descriptions of a number of calamities affecting rigs at various locations around the world. Most of these did not involve the loss of life but all of them were extremely costly to rectify. By its very nature, oil and gas drilling at sea requires the employment of substantial infrastructure to withstand the hostile marine environment and to cope with the rigours of the drilling operations themselves. Accidents on land may result in loss of production and inconvenience for a limited time but, at sea, similar accidents can have a far greater, and even catastrophic, impact. This was clearly illustrated by the examples given by Colin during this talk.

 

Colin Atkinson and Peter Stubbs

15th February 2022

 

At the conclusion of World War I Germany was not only a defeated nation but one in social and political turmoil. A naval mutiny was followed by the abdication of the Kaiser and Armistice in November 1918. This marked the start of the rapid demobilisation of seven million soldiers which had significant implications for the labour market and heralded a revolutionary period.

 

However, against this background there was the promise of ‘A New Birth’ with the establishment, in 1919, of the Weimar Republic which was, at the outset, democratic, liberal and tolerant. At the same time, a specialist art college (the Bauhaus) was born whose multi-disciplinary approach to craft and design became internationally famous. The story of the Bauhaus and the artistic movement that bears its name was the subject of this illustrated talk by club member Peter Holt.

 

Peter concentrated on the role played by the founder and most influential member of the movement, Walter Gropius, whose 1919 manifesto outlined his vision for a ‘unity of craftsmanship’, between artists, sculptors and architects working closely together. The Bauhaus exploited some of the principles of the earlier ‘Arts and Crafts’ movement in Britain and attempted to design simple, clean, unadorned artefacts for industrial production. Developing its own “modernist” style, the Bauhaus became one of the most significant influences in the design of domestic architecture, interior furnishings, industrial buildings and typography.

 

The school itself was located in three German cities – Weimar, Dessau and, finally, Berlin where it was closed down in 1933 under pressure from the increasingly powerful Nazi regime which regarded its teachings as “decadent art” unduly influenced by communist and non-German trends. Although suffering state persecution at the time, the ideals of the Bauhaus movement had taken hold and were spread throughout the world where they remain strong to this day.

 

Peter Holt and Peter Stubbs

1st February 2022

 

Possibly the most famous and enduring image of King Henry VIII is of a supremely powerful-looking broad-shouldered man, standing with his legs planted firmly apart, dressed in the finest and expensive clothes, and staring fixedly out of the picture at the humble viewer. For this image, we can thank the sixteenth century artist, Hans Holbein the Younger, and it was the life and achievements of this particular portraitist that were the subject of this talk by club member, Steve Marsh.

 

In order to distinguish him from his father who was also a painter, Hans Holbein is known as ‘the Younger’ and was born in Augsburg, Germany in about 1497. By the time that he reached his late teenage years, his considerable talent as an artist had been recognized and he moved to Basel, Switzerland to work as an illustrator of books. He became acquainted with the humanist Erasmus whose recommendation led to Holbein’s acceptance into the circle of the influential Sir Thomas More when he moved in search of work to England in 1526. Here he built a high reputation for portraiture and, after a visit back to Basel where his wife and family still lived, he returned to England where he painted many members of the English Court including Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, and the king’s chief minister Thomas Cromwell.

 

The speaker included in his talk a section describing the developing techniques used by Holbein during his career. Preliminary sketches were used as the basis of his finished pictures and are themselves works of art. Other paintings, notably ‘The Ambassadors’ of 1533 are rich in symbolism which, to this day, is the subject of debate and interpretation.

 

This was a talk that Steve had clearly researched in great detail and was on a subject, Fine Art, which rarely features as a topic for the club’s speakers. As such, it was particularly appreciated by his audience.

 

Henry VIII

18th January 2022

 

According to Winston Churchill, “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others that have been tried.” This possibly cynical view may be attributed to the fact that, although having successfully led the nation through World War II, he had just been voted out of office in 1945. But this proved the fundamental advantage of a democratic system – democracy gives people the right to choose their rulers. However, there are threats to the system in our country, and these were examined by our speaker, club member Roger Truscott.

 

Starting his talk by looking at the changes that have taken place, and are continuing, in the spheres of UK politics and social attitudes (‘internal risks’), Roger expressed his view that many of these are leading to a breakdown in the democratic process. Our ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral system may result in relatively stable government but, by its very nature in which two major parties dominate parliament, the proportion of the electorate that does not support either of these parties feels under-represented and resentful. This leads to a growing alienation towards ‘central’ government and threatens the break-up of the UK itself, a process which has already started with the creation of separate governments and assemblies for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As for England, local authorities, having been stripped of many of their powers and responsibilities, resent the over-centralisation of government in Westminster which is seen to have resulted in the unfair concentration of wealth and influence in London and the Southeast.

 

Continuing his theme, Roger said that he believed other threats come from those people who reject the whole concept of our democracy. Fanatical adherents to religious and similar beliefs seem determined to further their causes, even though the overwhelming majority of the population is completely opposed to them. Of course, although many of these fanatics are native to the UK, many more are based abroad and hence, come under a second category of threats identified by Roger, namely, ‘external risks’. Included in these are the threats posed by hostile major powers: principally Russian antagonism to the West under Putin and the problems of NATO and European solidarity; and China’s challenge to the West under Xi Jinping within the Asia-Pacific region and in the wider world.

 

Unsurprisingly, at its conclusion, such a topical and serious talk generated a great number of questions and discussion from the audience.

 

Roger Truscott

4th January 2022

 

Are we alone in the universe? In all probability, since man first walked on the Earth, he has looked up into the night sky at the stars and wondered if there were other beings ‘out there’. Even now, after centuries of scientific development, we humans are no closer to a definitive answer, although we have sufficient knowledge of the size and nature of the universe to arrive at the reasonable conclusion that we are unlikely to be the only sentient life forms to have evolved.

 

In addressing the question of whether or not there may be life elsewhere, the speaker at this meeting, club member Paul Davies, discussed the evidence available to us. As he pointed out, claims for the existence of extra-terrestrials date back thousands of years but it has been only during the past couple of centuries, following major discoveries in astronomy, physics and mathematics, that making contact (either friendly or hostile) with such creatures has been thought a possibility. This has spawned the interest in ‘science fiction’ and UFOs (i.e. unidentified flying objects, many of which are hoaxes, some easily explained, and others that are inexplicable but reported by credible witnesses).

 

Paul then examined the factors to be considered when assessing the possibility of the existence of life in other parts of the cosmos and the feasibility of making contact. Firstly, there is the sheer scale of the universe. Not only is it spatially vast, but it is populated by billions of galaxies, each of which contains billions of stars. It is reasonable to assume that if only a tiny proportion of these stars are orbited by planets similar to those of our own solar system there must nevertheless be a significant total number of these exoplanets with the potential for life to evolve.

 

Next, there is the question of the level of evolution achieved by life on these planets and how this compares with our own. Contact between ‘intelligent’ alien life and ourselves would also need to take into account the time taken for any electromagnetic messages (travelling at the speed of light) to reach us. It could be that by the time the signal is received, one or both of the life forms could no longer exist.

 

This was an extremely interesting talk which the speaker concluded by stating his own conclusions that there is almost certainly life elsewhere in the universe and it is highly possible that there are intelligent life forms out there; but it is unlikely that we shall succeed in making contact.

 

Paul Davies

Archived Talks