PC 236 Dawn

Dawn! The very word unlocks a kaleidoscope of colours, of images, of emotions, this description of the very start of a day. We think of the dawn as exquisite, breathtaking, special, soft, natural, glorious and I have photographs stretching back over the years of the same event, dawn, although probably have more of the end of the day, of sunset, because I am more likely to be awake! Most of us welcome it, this new start, this new day; in fact Nina Simone even sang about it in her hit ‘Feeling Good’ – “It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, yeah!” and James Blunt described it as ‘beautiful’!

Flying from Singapore to Melbourne

Seems an appropriate title for a postcard when here in the northern hemisphere we celebrated the longest day on Monday, when the sun is overhead the Tropic of Cancer. In Lerwick, the capital of the Shetland Islands, 130 miles north of the Scottish mainland, sunrise was 03.38 and sunset 22.34; here in Hove sunrise was 0447 and 2118, giving Celina and me almost two hours less daylight. I always find this ‘longest day’ always comes as a bit of a surprise, as we have hardly got into ‘summer’ and already the days are getting shorter!!

Dawn at The Anchor Warbleswick, Suffolk

You might think a definition of ‘dawn’ is easy – the ‘sun gets up’, with or without its hat. No so! Let’s start with twilight and its three phases.

The first, Astronomical Dawn, occurs when the sun passes the elevation angle of -18 degrees as it ascends towards the horizon before sunrise and a very small portion of its rays begin to permeate the firmament. However, at this point, the twilight is so faint that it is generally indistinguishable from night, especially in areas with light pollution. Astronomers may be unable to observe some of the fainter stars and galaxies as the Sun passes this mark. Militarily darkness allows forces to move into position for a dawn attack, with twilight giving enough light for the start. Conversely defenders will often ‘stand to’ in the hour before dawn, to repel such attacks.

Dawson City on the Yukon River -dawn in 2017

Another six degrees and we come to the Nautical Dawn, when the sky is distinguishable from land or water in clear weather conditions. Having sailed thousands of nautical miles, I can vouch for the fact that the first glimmer of light is always welcome. Lastly Civil Dawn, the brightest instance of dawn, occurs when the geometric centre of the Sun’s disk is 6° below the horizon. (Note1)

i360 Observation Tower in Brighton at dawn. The tower, third from the left, appears to be belching flames!

If the sky is clear, it is now enveloped in bright orange and yellow colours. At this point, only the brightest stars and planets, like Venus and Jupiter, are visible to the naked eye.

Leaving Lisbon on an early morning flight

Daybreak is, as it says, when the leading rim of the sun breaks the horizon. Depending where you are on the earth, the time of the year and the thickness of the atmosphere, it can take between 2 and 3 minutes to be fully exposed. It ends as the lower edge of the Sun clears the horizon.

Sunrise over Praia do Rosa at Quinta Bucanero, Brazil

Dawn has been used as a first name, as in the actress Dawn French and one of our yoga chums, Dawn Everton; the association with a baby, new and beautiful, is obvious. It’s also the title of the largest and oldest English-language newspaper in Pakistan. It first came off the print rollers in 1941 and is the flagship publication of the Dawn Group of Newspapers.

As the beginning of a new day, dawn has a special significance in many of the world’s religions. However, the definition of the term varies from one faith and religious community to another. For example, Muslims are required to offer the Fajr prayer, which is one of the five obligatory daily prayers in Islam constituting one of the Five Pillars of the Islamic faith, during the morning twilight period. The Jewish Holy Scripture also dictates dawn as a time for prayer; but the Talmud defines dawn as the moment 72 minutes before sunrise, which conflicts with the scientific definitions!

Our poets are a little parsimonious with the word! Surprisingly for a word that is so often in our conscious brain there are few. There is the C17th proverb ‘The darkest hour is just before dawn’ which was famously used by Emmylou Harris in her song. The Greek poet Homer wrote of ‘when rosy-fingered dawn, child of the morning appeared’ and Oscar Wilde in ‘The Harlot’s House’ described it as ‘down the long and silent street, the dawn, with silver-sandaled feet, crept like a frightened girl’. The English poet John Milton wrote: ‘to hear the lark begin his flight, and singing startle the dull night, from his watch-tower in the skies, ‘till the dappled dawn doth rise.’

The Dawn Chorus occurs when birds sing, starting as soon as they perceive a lightening of the sky at the start of a new day. In temperate countries this is most noticeable in spring when the birds are either defending a breeding territory, trying to attract a mate, or calling in the flock.

Dawn over Hove beach huts

Red skies at dawn often herald a change in the weather, particularly if the weather comes predominately from the west. A red sky appears when dust and small particles are trapped in the atmosphere by high pressure. This scatters blue light, leaving only red light to give the sky its notable appearance. At sunset it is a sign of a high pressure system to come; at dawn it suggests the system has passed through and unsettled, wet weather is more lightly. Dawn can be wet and cloudy with no sight of the rising sun, as occurred at this year’s Summer Solstice at Stonehenge.

And at the opposite end of the day, the one started by dawn, we have a glorious sunset.

Richard 25th June 2021


Note 1 Yesterday I saw that astrologers have determined that stars started forming some 250 million years after the Big Bang, itself some 13 billion years ago. So after the darkness came light, ‘Let there be light’, and that’s the Cosmic Dawn.

Note 2 It dawned on me I have not mentioned the Dawn of Civilisation; sorry …. ran out of space.

PC 235 Generosity in Government

“Whatever it takes” should be the mantra of our elected government when faced with a scandal that cuts across every level in our society; whatever it takes! Easy to write, so difficult for governments with all their conflicting pressures to agree to.

For those of my readers who do not live here in the United Kingdom (note 1) there may not be so much interest in the scribbles this week, as they concern two particular scandals, one domestic and the other with international reverberations, that the Government is facing. If you are directly involved, they are dreadful; if not you sense that the government sometimes just has to say ‘Whatever it takes, we will put this right’ Wishful thinking huh? Let me explain.

Every country in the world has some form of postal service, some better than others. Our postal service, Royal Mail, was a government organisation responsible for both the physical post offices on the high street and for the collection and delivery of the country’s mail and parcels. From its origins in the C16th, it was eventually privatised in 2014, being split into two companies. Royal Mail delivers parcels and mail and The Post Office’s nationwide network of branches offers a range of postal, government and financial services. There used to be two deliveries of mail a day …… but that was in the days when there was no electronic mail and life was conducted at a gentler pace. Almost every village would have had a post office; 30 years ago there were 23,000 of them but now only 11,500. Luckily here in Hove I can walk in ten minutes to two, both run by families of Asian descent, confirming their reputation of being good with figures.

Inside the Blatchington Road Post Office

In the year 2000 the Post Office, still in government ownership, introduced a new computer system, one designed by Fujitsu. Between 2000 and 2014 736 sub-postmasters (Note 2) were prosecuted for false-accounting, theft and fraud; postmasters who had had an unblemished record going back years, loyal to a fault. No one in the Post Office linked the sudden increase in money issues with the new system, happy to blame their sub-postmasters; many were fined, some went bankrupt and some went to prison. The computer programme had some serious systemic faults but these were not admitted by the Post Office until it was dragged through the High Court by 39 ex-post office workers last month. An inquiry ordered by the government will look at this scandal, but currently it has no power to compel witness to attend or hand over evidence. Calls for a judge-led inquiry are falling on deaf ears. In my view the government should do whatever it takes to compensate those wrongly accused as quickly as possible and then look to punish those who were responsible. Whatever it takes! Be generous!

On 14th June 2017, four years ago last Monday, a 24-story tower block called Grenfell Tower in west London caught fire; seventy two people died as the flames quickly engulfed the whole building. A Public Inquiry has been sitting since September 2017; Phase 1 is complete and the hope is that the inquiry will report next year. Meanwhile the issue of flammable cladding on high-rise buildings has come under the spotlight, not only here but also internationally I suspect; changes to building regulations have meant most has to be removed.

The whole building aflame – photo DT

The government has agreed to cover leaseholders’ costs for the removal of dangerous cladding on high-rise buildings but has told those owning buildings between 11m and 18m high they have to pay themselves. In wonderful ‘government speak’ the housing department said “government funding does not absolve building owners of the responsibility to ensure their buildings are safe.” Given that building regulations control every aspect of construction and design, isn’t there an unspoken assumption that owners should believe what they buy is OK? When I buy a car, there is an inherent belief it’s passed all the safety tests, and it’s not my responsibility to check.

A more recent cladding fire in Canary Wharf, London

Home ownership is the goal of so many here in the UK; a place on the housing ladder, climbing towards your 4 bedroom mansion. Now thousands of first time buyers are stuck, unable to sell because the building containing their flat doesn’t qualify for Government finance, yet has unsafe cladding, paying £50 per month for ‘fire wardens’ to keep a 24/7 check on the building and living somewhere where the smell of a distant BBQ is likely to give one heart palpitations!

My landlord, Southern Housing Group, is very professional in trying to ensure all its buildings conform to the latest regulations. However, sometimes a degree of common sense is needed when applying these. (Note 3)

A new Amber House ‘In Case of Fire’ notice

Whatever it takes? Well, there are so many professions involved here, from architects who designed wooden (not fire resistant) floors to the nice little balcony, local authorities who often look for the cheapest refurbishments of their estates and, as in the case of Grenfell, not too rigorous in the choice of contractors, building suppliers and construction companies, to property developers and building planners and inspectors, that spreading the costs of solving this scandal and giving every flat owner peace of mind and some fairness in the action … should be the mark of a government that recognises the people who live in dangerous apartments are not at fault. 

Whatever it takes! Be generous and big hearted and get these two scandals sorted and earn the respect of our society writ large.

Richard 18th June 2021


Note 1 The United Kingdom comprises England, Wales and Scotland (otherwise known as Great Britain) and Northern Ireland. Whole and sovereign – despite what a certain Frenchman might claim.

Note 2 For ‘sub-postmasters’ read ‘sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses’. Don’t want to appear anti-woke!

Note 3 If you can’t work out what’s wrong, text me.

PC 234 No Buts …… No Butts

I suspect we can all look back on our lives and think how, if we had known then what we know now, we wouldn’t have done what we did back then? For example, there was no breathalyser and I know most people drank and drove; “Oh! I will be fine! I have only had three!” Well of course it wasn’t fine and a number of people died as a result of people drinking alcohol and then jumping into the driving seat. Believe it or not, the introduction of the breathalyser was as far back at 1967, introduced by a fiery politician called Barbara Castle. Now the majority of us don’t ‘Drink and Drive’.

Front seat belts were compulsory equipment for all new cars registered in the UK in 1968 but it took another 15 years for it to become compulsory for them to be worn! Now it’s rare to see someone NOT wearing one.

And if you smoked, as I did, you had a choice with what to do the cigarette butts. Indoors, I had a whole range of ashtrays – silver, earthenware or glass for instance or the empty beer can (yuck!). If you smoked in your car, you could stub the cigarette out in the ashtray, which then required you to empty and clean it …… or simply open the window a fraction and let the slipstream whip it away – to wherever it went; it didn’t seem your concern! In the same way when sailing and it was Gin & Tonic time (ie every hour). If the tonic came in glass bottles, the game was to launch the empty Gin bottle into the air and throw the empty glass bottles at it, trying to smash it. Such fun! No thought to the bottles sinking to the bottom. Now we are aware this is not right!

A week ago the local paper, The Argus, ran a story about a Council Warden chasing a woman onto a bus; the woman had thrown her cigarette butt on the pavement and that’s against local bylaws. She wasn’t charged but the social media storm contained, as it always seems to, every shade of opinion, some vitriolic and others of the ‘leave her alone’ type and how the authorities should be worrying about more serious things.

This news item prompted these scribbles as, every morning on my way back with my newspaper, I pass the Smart Sea View Brighton Hotel. This is a misnomer, as it’s in Hove and not Brighton and it looks like a real dump certainly from the outside; smart? Nah! Anyway, the smoking staff and visitors prefer to throw their butt ends onto the pavement – as they have always done!

The figures are interesting. Here in the UK twenty six billion cigarettes were sold in 2019 to the seven million people, 14% of the population, who still smoke (Note 1). That number is fortunately decreasing annually, as is the number of cigarettes each smoke, down to below 15 a day. In 2007 smoking was banned in pubs and restaurants which, as a now non-smoker, I welcomed. But it produced a dichotomy; if you wanted to sit outside on a summer’s day and have lunch on the terrace or in the pub garden, you had to put up with the second-hand smoke that drifted across your grilled sole. Or go inside!

It’s been recognised for decades that smoking is not good for your health and yet people still smoke: “It’s my right, my choice! I know it’s bad for me but I enjoy it.” Here the health figures speak for themselves: 400,000 cases of respiratory disease, 775,000 cases of circulatory disease and 360,000 cases of cancer – all caused by smoking.

Effects to mitigate the harmful effects of burning tobacco resulted in the filter, introduced in the 1950s. If ever you needed a visual demonstration of the stuff you were sucking into your lungs, you only had to look at the end of the filter! Interesting, my brother’s Royal Navy career encompassed a time when cheap filter-less cigarettes, a unique brand called Senior Service, were available. That 200 year old tradition ended on 1988.

The disposal of the butt was always an issue, but everyone was ignorant of the problem. The cigarette filter is 99% cellulose acetate which is a plastic. We have changed our thinking about plastic bags and about plastic straws and now we need to focus on how we get rid of our butts.

For those who still smoke, I imagine they are aware of the health risks but enjoy it too much for them to quit. The Singaporean Government has banned smoking in certain areas of the city and fines heavily those who throw their cigarette butt into the street; it seems society accepts this and the city streets are remarkably clean. Here in the UK the government has a target to create a smoke-free society by 2030; given some people’s continuing love of smoking, good luck with that! (Note 2) But smokers need to understand how to dispose of their butts in a more environmentally-friendly way. Currently most butts are washed into gutters by rain and thence to the oceans, creating a plastic hazard for marine life.

There’s an adage – “Take care of the pennies and the pounds take care of themselves.’ If we can change habits about the disposal of the tiny butt, maybe those habits will also translate into dealing more considerately with other rubbish, such as pizza boxes or burger wrappers.

Discarding your cigarette stub has been described as “The Last Acceptable form of Littering”. Let’s all try to make this completely unacceptable and a rare event, like not wearing your seat belt or drinking and then driving. So no “But ….”; just “No Butts!”

Richard 11th June 2021


Note 1 Up until 1975 the British billion was a million million. Now we use the American-driven definition of a thousand million.

Note 2 Cigarettes here cost over £10 for a packet of 20; 80% of this is government tax. One way for the government to further discourage smoking would be to make them prohibitively expensive.

PC 233 Am I Obese or just overweight?

Am I obese or just overweight? I don’t feel ‘obese’, a bit wobbly maybe, and think that’s a label for the Billy Bunter character, or Noel Edmonds’ Mr Blobby; so no! But overweight? We probably have all had periods of being fatter or thinner than we would like, than we feel comfortable with, but overweight? What follows are my personal thoughts, reflecting that what’s right or wrong for me isn’t necessarily right or wrong for someone else. And I accept that advice changes – ‘butter is good for you’, ‘butter is bad for you’, ‘eggs are good for you’, ‘eggs give you salmonella’. Sedentary lifestyles during lockdown initially saw lots of people turning to exercise, but the novelty’s worn off and weight, well certainly mine, has been going up incrementally!

This was me just over two months ago – 100kg and a BMI score of 28 whichever way you look at it! (Overweight!)

Our headlines scream: ‘Britain has been the ‘Fattest Nation in Europe’ for a while’ and recent reports indicated the percentage of the population overweight or obese is increasing! So, does it matter?

We have been measuring our childrens’ growth in schools for ever, establishing whether their health and growth were in line with the norms. The Body Mass Index (BMI) was introduced in the 1830s by a Belgian mathematician, Lambert Quetelet, as a way of estimating whether a person had a healthy weight, to measure the degree of obesity in the general population and therefore assist the government to allocate enough resources. I suspect we all know that BMI equals your weight in kilogrammes divided by your height in metres squared – kg h²

But this is simply measuring height and weight and doesn’t take into account other variables, for instance overall fat or lean tissue content. In 2013 Professor Nick Trefethen from Oxford University suggested that the height term ‘divides the weight by too much when a person is short and by too little when they are tall. This results in short people being told they are thinner than they really are, while tall people (that’s me!) are made to think that they are fatter than they are (‘tis true!!) Trefethen thinks a more accurate measurement would be multiplying the weight by 1.3 and the height by 2.5 and not squared. The same ranges would apply. (Ed. Doesn’t make that much difference to mine – still overweight!)

More recently it’s thought a waist-to-height ratio might be a better predictor of cardiometabolic health. Measure your waist mid-way between your bottom rib and hip; make sure it’s level and measure after you have breathed out. A healthy waist measurement should be less than 80 centimetres for a woman and less than 94 for a man. (Sorry? Not a circumference I recognise!) Your waist circumference should be less than half your height.

The urgency of tackling obesity here is the UK has been brought into focus by the evidence of the link between overweight and susceptibility to Covid; who knew? It’s estimated that 64 % of British adults, some 32 million people, are overweight (BMI over 25). This includes 28% who are obese and that’s double the figure for 30 years ago; of these almost a million people have a BMI of 35 or more. For those in this last category there is good news and bad news. The good news is that scientists have identified a gene, MC4R, that, if faulty, causes the brain to assume we have less fat than we do and signals we have to take in more calories. This might be the cause of an extra 16kgs. The bad news is it is likely to affect only 200,000 people in the UK; the other 800,000 obese are obese for other reasons!

Eating has become a continuous process – snacking or drinking coffee ‘on the go’. Mrs Fedup had a microphone stuck under her nose and the reporter asked her for her thoughts about the three hour delay from Magaluf to Manchester: “Shocking! No one tells us anything and no one provides us with any food. Haven’t eaten for 90 minutes. I’m starving!” We use words like hungry and starving too readily – it would be extremely difficult to find someone starving in the UK.

The leather belt by RM Williams shows the struggles, up and down!

Some people feel healthy even if they are overweight, particularly if they have been overweight most of their lives. Sadly being overweight often runs in families through bad eating and drinking habits; deaf to the warnings about the damage they are doing to their bodies and lacking the desire to self-educate about being healthier – but does that matter? We probably think that those who work in the health sector would understand and be role models of fit and healthy – but we are simply human and our doctors and nurses are just as likely to be overweight as the normal population. In Portugal last year the doctor we saw to get our Covid tests smoked and was overweight; I am sure he was happy, apart for the little monkey in his brain which every now and again said ‘Do something’. Some of us of course have a fatalistic approach to life.   

 Here we are making it easier to live with being overweight. Seats are being made wider, ambulances have stronger stretchers, you can find some clothes in XXXL (Well, maybe!). Instinctively this seems the wrong thing we should be doing; we should make it more uncomfortable as an incentive to lose weight. Part of my move away from 100kgs has been that, in order to get the jeans to do up, I have to breathe in; when I am zipped up, I breathe out and it’s uncomfortable. So I could go and buy some bigger jeans ……. or lose weight.

After decades of telling myself that breakfast is the most important meal in the day, I now skip it completely so actually fast from 2100 to 1230 the following day. Fasting changes the metabolism and from 100kgs I am on my way down ………

Some argue that the obese and overweight will actually save the NHS money as their life expectancy is lower than those of a healthy weight; bit morbid but probably true! However issues like heart disease and diabetes, brought on by being overweight, occur in middle age so there will be a bigger bill for the bigger nation. It matters and it matters big time!

Richard 4th June 2021


PS Suggestions one should get back to the weight you were at 20 are common. For me this would have been at The Royal Military Academy weighing 73kgs (11.5 stone) – with a BMI of 20. Ha! Ha!