Today dawned with one of those little domestic accidents in which things have been spilled which needed some clearing up but once all of this was done, the washing was put in the machine and then pegged out and Meg was breakfasted with her usual fare. We knew that this morning should be quite an interesting morning because not only was there a gaggle of four old ladies (including Meg) in the Waitrose café but our University of Birmingham friend turned up by prior arrangement. I greeted him with the plea to come and help me out because I felt that I could handle two or three old ladies at once but four was a bit of a stretch, even for me. Naturally, he obliged and in no time the conversation was flowing and the jokes were flying. I told them the story of the hospital in South Africa where all of the patients seem to to die on a Friday morning and that just a few minutes after 10.00am. To understand what was going on, a nurse was put on observational duty and for several hours, there was nothing to observe. But shortly after 10.00am, a cleaner came into the room and unplugged the life support system in order to plug her vacuum cleaner into the socket – thus the mysterious death rate riddle was solved. Later on, the conversation turned to buses and I asked the question what was the earliest ticket issuing machines utilised when we were all very young. The machine that I was used to in Yorkshire was an affair with several buttons or levers on it, laden with pre-printed tickets such as 2d and so on. By pressing a little button on the bottom, the machine would issue 2 tickets so this took care of a fare that cost 4d. When I first made a journey into Lancashire at the age of 11, I was absolutely intrigued by the very different technology deployed on the other side of the Pennines. The machine there was a series of circular dials which could then be set to the correct fare. Then a handle was wound once or twice after which a ticket, printed for the paid fare, emerged from the machine. To my eyes, this was totally different to anything experienced before but reflecting upon it after all of these years, the Lancashire system must have been much more versatile and, of course, did not rely upon supplies of pre-printed tickets. For the very saddest people in our midst, you can even go on eBay and buy of these (Lancashire) style machines from prices that vary from £50-£100 and I suppose to some people they are really prized possessions. Whilst on the subject of antique machines, I well remember the amusement that I felt when I first supervised an accountancy examination in my Leicester Polytechnic days. In 1971, the electronic revolution had yet to get really underway so in the accountancy exams, the students would leave their examination desks and form a queue in front ot a primtive hand-driven calculating machine. They would punch several numbers in, turn the handle for a few ‘whirrs’, and then emerge with a little slip of paper with their results upon it which they included in their answer books. Of course, all of this was swept away when cheap electronic calculators became available in the 1970’s but a prescient colleague of mine made a collection of these ancient machines once they were literally thrown away and then used them as teaching aids (to illustrate the march of technology, the diminution in the number of working parts and so on). Later on in my own teaching career, similar things happened when students asked ‘What is a 5¼” floppy’ (when they were only used to the more modern 3½” floppy disk) A colleague of mine even flashed an antiquated 8″ IBM floppy disk in front of me on one occasion so I have only seen one for seconds. Of course, before there were floppy disks there were punched cards which had the virtue of being readable not only by a card reader but also by a human (even without characters printed along the top if you were quite knowledgable)
Tomorrow our University of Birmingham friend and we two have decided to go on a little trip out together. Our friend knows Cliveden pretty well including some interesting eating places so we are being picked up by car in the morning and look forward to a nice day out. I must say it is a very long time since I have actually seen any seaside so if the weather is not inclement, that should be an interesting little venture for us. After one or two text messages, I have also put the wheels in motion for a little meeting of like minded individuals to meet in the park next Friday so perhaps we can all have a pleasant time in each other’s company. We have noticed, by the way, that there are often groups of a good half dozen or so mothers with pretty young children so I suspect that these young women have got themselves organised in a WhatsApp group which must make it easier to organise. They seem to turn up with blankets to sit on, some treats for the children but evidently this will only work when it is not bucketing down with rain.