The Quest for Meaning (Part 2)
6th December 2022
Club member John Hayes will give the concluding part of his biographical/ philosophical presentation dealing with the latter part of his working life.
Chernobyl Health Consequences
Club member Kim Rainsford will examine the lessons for radiation safety learned from studies on the Chernobyl clean-up workers from Latvia.
To be announced
17th January 2023
|6 December (2022)||Kim Rainsford|
|3 January||John Gibson|
|17 January||Phil Spillane|
|7 February||Ray Smith|
|21 February||Jeff Marsh|
|7 March||Club Debate|
|21 March||Ainslie Kelly|
|4 April||Peter Holt|
|18 April||(to be arranged)|
|2 May||(to be arranged)|
|23 May||(to be arranged)|
|6 June||(to be arranged)|
|20 June||(to be arranged)|
|4 July||(to be arranged)|
|18 July||(to be arranged)|
|1 August||(to be arranged)|
|15 August||(to be arranged)|
|5 September||(to be arranged)|
|19 September||(to be arranged)|
|3 October||(to be arranged)|
|17 October||(to be arranged)|
|7 November||(to be arranged)|
|21 November||(to be arranged)|
|5 December||(to be arranged)|
(Most recent first. Click on the titles for fuller descriptions).
15th November 2022
Today’s speaker was to have been John Winkworth-Smith and the title of his talk was to have been ‘Sheep farming unsanitised’. Unfortunately, through illness, John was unable to give his talk so, at the last minute, Chairman Stefan Andrejczuk devised a quiz based on a number of different subjects including local knowledge (Derbyshire and the Peak District), sport, birds, government and politics, the human body, and general knowledge.
In six teams of four members and one team of three, a keenly fought contest was enjoyed by all. As often happens in such events, there was much discussion and dispute about some of the answers but the quizmaster kept a firm grip on the proceedings, ruling that his decisions were final (even if they were wrong).
With a score of 43 points out of a possible maximum of 64, two teams tied for first place. One of these teams was the one with only three members. It therefore claimed a moral victory on the basis that it had been handicapped by possessing only 75% of the brain power of all the other teams.
Prizes, in the form of ‘Snicker’ chocolate bars were awarded to each member of the two winning teams.
On behalf of all those taking part, David Webb thanked Stefan for producing a most enjoyable quiz at very short notice.
1st November 2022
Although frequently in the news, the UK’s housing shortage is by no means a new phenomenon. One of the ways that such shortages have been tackled in the past has been to construct entirely new towns, usually on ‘greenfield’ sites adjacent to the major centres of existing population.
Today’s speaker was club member Tony Crook who, as Professor Emeritus of Town and Regional Planning at Sheffield University, is an acknowledged expert on the subject of housing policy. Tony started his talk by presenting a number of statistics concerning new towns in the UK. There are currently 32 of them, with a combined population of 2.8 million – approximately 4% of the country’s total. Their origins may be traced back to the time when ‘model’ settlements to house their workers were established by some, usually philanthropic, industrialists. Among these were places like Bourneville (by Cadbury), New Lanark (Robert Owen) and Port Sunlight (Lever Brothers). These were followed, in the early 20th century by privately funded ‘garden cities’ (e.g. Letchworth and Welwyn). These examples were seen to be successful and they provided the impetus for government-backed schemes to be introduced.
The speaker then described a number of factors which led to the creation of new towns in the post-World War II period. The 1947 Town and Country Planning Act created a national planning system which was refined and updated by subsequent legislation. As a result, new towns were created to cope with ‘overspill’, initially from London (e.g. Harlow) but later from Birmingham (Telford), from Merseyside (Runcorn) and from Glasgow (Irvine).
Although fulfilling a housing need, these new towns were often criticised for their lack of social cohesion and without architectural merit. They also had the effect of drawing the economic life out of the existing cities. Hence, a re-think of policy has come about since the 1970s. The emphasis has now shifted to one of urban regeneration within the older centres of population. But, irrespective of these changes in policy, the fact remains that, as a nation, we are continuing to fail to meet our housing needs, and we struggle to agree on the method of meeting the demand. The speaker suggested that additional new towns could be one way of meeting these needs.
Tony Crook and Stefan Andrejczuk
18th October 2022
With the dictionary definition of thinking as ‘the process of considering or reasoning about something’, it has been argued, by the famous author on the subject, Edward de Bono, that it is a skill that can be taught. At this meeting the speaker, club member John Robinson, declared himself to have been greatly influenced by the work of De Bono, who was the author of more than forty books on the subject.
Opening his talk with a summary of De Bono’s conclusions, John explained that there are several different types of thinking, including two in particular which De Bono named as ‘parallel’ and ‘lateral’. Crucial to the method of parallel thinking is the principle that individuals contributing to the exploration of a subject must adhere to an agreed line of thought, even though each will approach the process in their own way (i.e. separate from, but ‘parallel’ to, that followed by the other participants in the group). Conversely, lateral thinking involves the solving of problems by an indirect and creative approach, typically through viewing the problem in a new and unusual light.
Turning specifically to some thoughts of his own, the speaker considered the history of human development over the past seven hundred years. In the early fifteenth century, China was the foremost country in the world. Paper, printing and gunpowder were the product of the innovations there at that time, much earlier than in Europe but, from that point, stagnation set in as far as China was concerned. A likely explanation for the Europeans overtaking the Chinese in their development is that the Chinese method of writing (over 40,000 characters) compared with the 26 letters of the Roman alphabet made written communication extremely difficult. With the invention of movable type printing in Europe, this enabled the spread of ideas to race ahead and, in turn, to feed into the innovations which led to the industrial revolution. It is only more recently, with the advanced technology offered by computerisation that the Chinese have been able to compete so successfully with the rest of the world.
John Robinson and Stefan Andrejczuk
4th October 2022
An abandoned quarry in the heart of the Derbyshire countryside would seem to be an unlikely place to find a museum dedicated to that most urban form of transport, the tram but, as those of us who live in the area are well aware, such is indeed the case. At this meeting, member Chris Shepley introduced a guest speaker, Frank Bagshaw, who gave a most interesting illustrated talk on the history and development of the National Tramway Museum at Crich.
Frank, who has been a supporter, volunteer and fund-raiser for the museum for many years, described how a number of enthusiasts acquired (for the sum of £10) one of Southampton’s trams when that system closed in 1949. Needing to find a home for it, they initially sent it to the Beaulieu Motor Museum but, in 1959, transferred it to Crich where, along with two other trams (from Cardiff and Leeds), it formed the basis of a collection that has since grown to more than fifty vehicles. Originally, these trams operated on many different systems in this country, ranging from Glasgow and Edinburgh in the north, to London and Bournemouth in the south. In addition, the museum contains examples from several European cities and even South Africa. In most cases, these trams have arrived at Crich in a pitifully dilapidated state, requiring enormous amounts of effort and cost (often running into hundreds of thousands of pounds) to restore them to the superb condition in which they can now be seen.
As well as discussing the vehicles themselves, Frank described how the Tramway Village at Crich has been developed over the years. Redundant buildings from elsewhere – such as the Derby Assembly Rooms and the Red Lion Inn from Stoke – have been skilfully rebuilt to create an atmosphere reminiscent of the heyday of trams. And, to augment the museum’s appeal beyond an interest in trams, other attractions, like a woodland walk and sculpture trail, have been incorporated in various parts of the site.
Thanks to the dedication and enthusiasm of people like Frank, we can be proud to claim the Crich museum as one of Derbyshire’s prime visitor attractions.
Chris Shepley and Frank Bagshaw
20th September 2022
Opening his talk with the apparently whimsical question, ‘Will a robot join Probus?’, the speaker, club member Ernest Edmonds immediately caught the attention of his audience. This seemed to be a preposterous idea but, as Ernest went on to explain, the development of artificial intelligence is progressing so rapidly that computers, which have been capable of controlling mechanical tasks for many years, can now be used creatively, particularly in the fields of design and art, thus replicating the processes of the human brain.
Describing himself as an artist by inclination, a logician by training, and a computer scientist by accident, the speaker explained how, early in his career, he had written a computer program which would enable a computer to create original artwork in an existing style, based on rules defined by the artist. This pioneering work launched him into a career of computer art and, among many other locations, his work is represented in the V&A Museum as part of the National Archive of Computer-Based Art and Design.
Other developments of his work have included time-based and interactive art which also involve computer-generated images and can be collaborative creations by several people.
In answer to his original question, Ernest expressed the view that artists will not be replaced by robots but their work can be improved by the use of AI.
Stefan Andrejczuk and Ernest Edmonds
6th September 2022
When our members are called upon to arrange a speaker for a meeting, many of them choose to give the talk themselves and, in so doing, often decide to tell the story of their own lives and careers. In the past, such narratives have usually been delivered in a matter-of-fact way which avoids disclosing anything about their personal beliefs, especially those concerning their religious faith. However, at this meeting, member John Hayes met this challenge head-on and described how his upbringing and experiences had influenced his attitude to religion and which changed dramatically during his lifetime.
John was born in 1940 into a loving family, but one that provided him with little intellectual stimulation until, at the age of four, he started to attend a local Sunday School (as so many children did in those days). Now involved in the life of the church, he progressed to joining the youth club and regularly (and enthusiastically) attending the church services. Then, aged sixteen, through the influence of an evangelical preacher, he became a ‘born again’ Christian and firmly believed that he had found the meaning of life. Now with a newly-found sense of purpose he started conducting church services and leading Bible study groups. From here, the next step was to train formally to be a minister and he spent six years at colleges of religion, first in Glasgow and later, in London.
It was during his time in Glasgow where, witnessing the deprivation and poverty of the people living in the Gorbals area of the city, his faith began to be undermined and he started to have doubts, when previously he had had certainties. Fighting these feelings, he continued in his ministry but, at the same time, discovered that he had a talent for personal counselling, thus shifting his role from that of a preacher to that of a listener. Finally, at the age of forty, he was confronted with the realisation that his doubts of many years past could no longer be ignored and that, in truth, he had become atheist. Thus, he had lost the very thing that for so long had given his life meaning. But, even so, his feeling was now one of relief.
This was a very personal, frank and courageous talk which was much admired by John’s audience.
John Hayes and Peter Stubbs
16th August 2022
At the end of World War I, Germany was not only a defeated nation but also, due to the onerous conditions of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, a humiliated, impoverished and, consequently, resentful one. It was against this background that the influence and power of the NSDAP (National Socialist German Workers Party) – known as The Nazi Party – arose during the 1920s and 1930s. The ways in which this party and its philosophies developed from its formation in 1920 were described at this meeting by club member, Ken Watson.
Ken opened his talk by circulating to his audience a copy of the NSDAP’s original political programme (manifesto) which contained 25 items of policy, most of which started with the words, ‘We demand’. An examination of this list revealed that many were indeed socialist in principle, such as the nationalisation of industries, land reform, the provision of state pensions, and an emphasis on the health, education and development of all citizens. However, as a sinister foretaste of what was to come, the ‘Nationalist’ items concentrated on a ‘Germany and the German peoples first’ policy. These included the demand that the Treaty of Versailles be abolished, all German-speaking peoples should be united, colonies and land should be acquired to accommodate the expanding German population, all non-German immigration be stopped and, most ominously, those of non-German blood (in particular, the Jews) not be considered as citizens with equal rights.
The speaker continued by describing the way in which the NSDAP worked its way into government, firstly by democratic means but later by diktat and military force. Its leader, Adolf Hitler, was appointed Chancellor in 1933, after which he consolidated his position, using the support of the SA (the original paramilitary wing of the Nazi party) and, later, the notorious SS and Gestapo. With this military backing, Hitler was free to implement his more extreme policies. Among other measures, trades unions were banned and their funds confiscated, the German Communist Party was barred from voting in the Reichstag (parliament), universal conscription was introduced, and the brutal persecution of the Jews was pursued with vigour. On the international stage, German forces occupied the demilitarised Rhineland in 1936, created the ‘Anschluss’ (union) with Austria in 1938, followed by the takeover of the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia and finally, in September 1939, the invasion of Poland which triggered the start of World War II.
By this time, the original 25 items of the NSDAP’s programme had consolidated into a simple six-word slogan – “Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer” (One people, one realm, one leader).
Ken Watson and Stefan Andrejczuk
2nd August 2022
With memories of the British Empire fading into history, we were reminded – by our own member, Robert Graham – of the time when former British colonies gained their independence in the latter half of the twentieth century. In this talk, Robert described his experiences in Nigeria between 1954 and 1965 when, for the first three, and the last three of these years, he was a District Officer in H.M. Overseas Civil Service. For most of the period between 1957 and 1962, during which time Nigeria gained its independence in 1960, he was Secretary to the Governor of Eastern Nigeria, based in the regional capital, Enugu.
After completing a year-long induction course at London University, Robert sailed from Liverpool for Lagos in July 1954 and, on arrival in Nigeria, travelled to Calabar in the East of the country where he took up his position as Assistant District Officer. Although totally new to the work, he was expected to put his hand to a variety of different jobs, as diverse as the supervision of community development projects (roads, bridges, village wells), and the adjudication of disputes between the local people. Over the course of the next few years, Robert was transferred to a number of locations in Eastern Nigeria, some of which were quite small and remote. It was in describing this period of his life that he related several amusing – and, at times, alarming – anecdotes which were very well received by his audience.
By the end of this most entertaining and interesting talk, it was clear that Robert retains a lasting affection for Nigeria, which he described as his ‘second country’. But he expressed a sense of sadness over the ways that it has developed since independence, not least its notorious levels of corruption and periods of inter-tribal violence.
Robert Graham and Peter Stubbs
19th July 2022
The membership of this club can claim to represent a wide variety of career backgrounds mostly, but not exclusively, business and professional. These include senior academic and consultancy positions, engineering and science, and manufacturing. The area of expertise covered by the majority of these professions is reasonably well understood by the public but there is one that can sometimes mystify those unacquainted with its purpose and meaning; namely, Social Sciences. Therefore, it was in order to explain the approach made by social scientists to specific events that Club member David Webb (Emeritus Professor of Social Sciences at Nottingham Trent University) addressed his fellow members at this meeting.
Opening his talk by defining social science as one of the branches of science devoted to the study of societies and the relationships among individuals within those societies, David expanded his theme by giving a number of examples about which a more nuanced view could be taken than that commonly held. For instance, in the folk memory of the Second World War, said David, Bomber Command has played second fiddle to the heroic endeavours of Fighter Command. This might be to do with the ideal of individual, almost chivalric, combat of the young, sometimes socially privileged fighter pilot, whereas bombers have a more industrial approach to warfare, where killing (often of civilians) is remote and less invested with glamour – and, of course, there was the residual collective guilt that ‘carpet-bombing’ was tantamount to a war crime.
Another topic addressed by the speaker was that of the traveller community. He described how the social reaction to those who are not settled, the labelling of them as ‘deviant’, the sanctioning of their life style and the shaping of travellers’ own identity as ‘outsiders’ all lead to a spiral of antagonism between the settled and the traveller – from which it becomes progressively difficult to pull back.
Finally, he considered ‘charity’, as being something of which we are all in favour. “Or are we?”, David asked. At first sight the voluntary gift of money or time to those in need seems honourable, but there is plenty of evidence that charitable giving serves as way for the giver (especially if wealthy) to enhance their social standing, to build up their reserves of influence and to shape the direction of the lives to whom their giving is directed. Those in receipt of charity may be required to display their need, which easily places them in the position of supplicant, and may also reinforce stereotypes that certain groups are self-evidently deserving. It’s not an easy transaction (based on power), raising questions over who may in fact be benefitting from the giving of charity.
Clearly, this was a thought-provoking talk and one which prompted a lively discussion among the members of the audience.
5th July 2022
The sometimes unnerving developments in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) – both existing and potential – were the subject of this talk given by our Secretary, Jonathan Wicksteed. In an earlier talk, five years ago, he had outlined the then-current situation which, even in this relatively short period of time, has changed dramatically. As previously, he pointed out that there are numerous ways in which AI can be used beneficially – in medical advances, bio-engineering, nanotechnology and the like – but there are many sinister and potentially harmful uses to which AI can be (and, in many cases, already is) employed.
We are now very familiar with drone technology which is capable of providing low-cost and speedy methods of aerial surveying and indeed, can be used to create spectacular artistic light displays such as those for the recent Platinum Jubilee celebrations. But, in contrast to these non-threatening applications, the same technology can be used for military purposes, with drones now having the added ability – by using AI – to seek out their targets without direct input from their operators, thus changing the very nature of conflict itself.
Jonathan continued by discussing other ways in which developments in computing have led to new methods of warfare. Cyber-attacks have become ever more common, and these now have the potential of destroying vital infrastructure – for example, electricity and water supplies, banking systems or transport. Huge sums need to be spent to defend these facilities in a continual effort to thwart such attacks.
Yet another ominous development in AI has been its utilisation for the surveillance of citizens. We are all aware that our use of the internet is monitored for targeted advertising but, with the increasing use of voice and facial recognition in conjunction with CCTV systems, it is possible for far more information about us to be accumulated, often for questionable purposes. The authorities in China seem to be leading the way in this particular technology.
Concluding his talk with a brief description of quantum computing (which can lead to vastly more powerful and quicker computers), the speaker expressed his concern that our children and grandchildren may face even greater threats, but also opportunities, than we do.
Jonathan Wicksteed and Peter Stubbs
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