Thursday 21 January 2021

Robin Hood


In archery, the term ‘Robin Hood’, refers to a particular type of archery event where one arrow hits an already target embedded arrow directly on the nock. This obviously refers to the story in the ‘Tales of Robin Hood’ where Robin of Loxley performs the same feat during a competition.

Robin Hoods don’t tend to happen too often and are to be actively discouraged as it generally results in the destruction of two expensive arrows. It has to be admitted that while Robin Hoods look cool, the loss of two arrows offer scant consolation. With regard to highly accurate compound bows and competition recurves, Robin Hoods would be relatively common if a single target was continuously used. This is why competition targets often consist of several targets, thus diluting the possibility of direct hits.

Imagine my horror mixed with chagrin when I performed a ‘Robin’ the other day. The picture above is a true representation of the event. As this was performed at about 50 yards with a primitive horse bow, without sights, this would represent a rare event indeed. To be honest I’m not that good of an archer to perform this shot by intent and skill. The whole exercise was a fluke. Luckily only one arrow was damaged as the other arrow bounced out unsullied, after impact. As can be seen, the arrow left in the target was split asunder. However, the shaft was not split all the way through and subsequently I have been able to repair the wooden arrow with a little glue. Truly, I have been favoured by the gods that look after this sort of thing, and most importantly, both arrows remain serviceable.

This is my first ‘Robin Hood’ after shooting many thousands of arrows at distances various and it is my fervent hope it is my last.

                                                       Kevin Hicks is a fella worth listening to

Wednesday 20 January 2021



When I started attending primary school, at the tender age of 5, my form teacher, Mr. Mugumbo (names have been changed to protect the protagonists/dead) tied my left hand behind my back to force me to use my right hand for sundry pencil inspired activities. My father was none too chuffed with this turn of affairs and came to the school next day and, to the great delight of the assembled students, threatened my form master with incipient violence if he ever tried/tied to restrict my left handed proclivities, again. Needless to say, my left handed scrawl was never restricted, going forward (I hate this expression).

This story illustrates a few foibles about 1960s British society. Tying up students and corporeal punishment in general was considered acceptable and even encouraged. My father, per se, was not against the teacher administering the cane, slipper or back handed slap to my well-formed arse (arse, well-formed arse). If I had willfully transgressed some vague unwritten rule then my rear would glow cherry red accordingly, much to the delight of the assembled students. What my father objected to was the restriction of my natural, free and obviously innate expression. Good man my dad, even though he had a natural and innate expression of thumping folk, willy nilly.

Society, of the time, had grave misgivings toward the 10% of the population who favoured left handed pursuits. Indeed, prejudice to ‘lefties’ has a very long pedigree and has been enshrined in our language. Thus, sinistral is a Latin derived word, meaning left sided, and is the root of the ‘English’ word, sinister. Conversely, dexterous is associated with the Latin dextral, meaning right handed. The British were not alone in forcing a change in handiness. The American public school system also ‘encouraged’ the sole use of the right hand well into the 60s. Even the scientific community had a hand in perpetuating the negative association of left-handedness. In the late 1980s/early 1990s, researchers found evidence that left handed folk, on average, died 10 years earlier than their right handed brethren. Subsequent research has found these earlier studies to be essentially flawed and the consensus amongst researchers, these days, is that right handed people are not particularly favoured, at least in longevity terms, over lefties.

Genetics certainly plays a role in the trait of handedness, however, the evidence suggests that environmental factors are paramount. From identical twin studies it appears that about 25% of the variance is due to genetics, whilst the remaining 75% is controlled by environment. Thus, It seems handiness is ‘polygenic’ in nature. In other words, a relatively large number of genetic loci (at least 40) are involved. The environmental influences are largely unknown. A number factors impinging on the developing foetus or affecting the child shortly after birth are hypothesised. Due to the complexity of the factors involved it has proved difficult to identify specific genes and environmental influences. 

While being left-handed is not associated with premature demise, there are negative associations. Recent studies have shown a correlation of left-handiness (what God gives with one hand, he takes with the other) with a variety of mental disorders, including: schizophrenia; bipolar disorder; depression; autism; cerebral palsy and anxiety. This probably explains why I’m as mad as a bucket of frogs in vinegar.

Tis not all gloom and doom. There are positive attributes associated with left-handiness. For instance, studies indicate that interactive sports including badminton, cricket and table tennis favour left handed athletes. Intriguingly, 50% of competitive fencers are left handed.

During the 1960s, in English schools at least, pupils were issued with scratchy, dipping ink pens together with the delightful Indian ink wells secreted flush with the desk. However, of all my class mates I was the only one denied this rampant pleasure as it was deemed that I was ‘too messy’ to be allowed such an advanced writing implement. Consequently, I had to make do with a scratchy pencil instead. To be fair to the educators, my writing was particularly atrocious. Not only could I not spellicate proper, I couldn’t write proper either. Lefties are at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to writing. Right handers, writing from left to right, pull the pen along in a graceful, almost poetic, motion. Lefties utilise a pushing stroke and instead have to be content/contempt with a rather clumsy and stilted movement. The pen, therefore, does not glide effortlessly, faultless, but snags, leaving behind blobs of inks in dismal disarray. When I was about 9, my form teacher thought it was time to take a chance and let me partake of the pleasures of the ink pen. I promptly rewarded my teacher’s trust by flicking ink all over the back of the poor bastard sitting in front of me. For a reason, that escapes me now, the pupil in question was called ‘Inky Dobson’ (true story). Inevitably my ink privileges were instantly revoked and for the rest of  my time as a Primary school student I languished in inkless shame. 

As regard intelligence, it appears the evidence is mixed. Lefties are over represented in individuals with intellectual deficiencies to the extent that they are twice as likely to be impaired than their right handed brethren. Conversely, there is good evidence that lefties are over represented in those endowed with profound intelligence. As for mediocre individuals, in the centre of the bell curve, (i.e. average intelligence) there appears no  particular preference for handiness. Thus, it seems that morons and geniuses have something in common.  Nuff said.

Saturday 9 January 2021

The Triumph of Science in the 17th Century


Behold the countenance of two Great men

Following my much awaited previous post: ‘The Life and Times of Sir Thomas More: an Exposition in Sepia’, I thought it profitable to introduce a topic very dear to my heart- the rise of science in the West, during the 17th century.

Our modern world owes much, and has been shaped by the rise of the scientific process in the 17th century. The noted men of science, in the 17th century, are of a different intellectual temperament than their predecessors in several, important and fundamental ways: they no longer demand the asceticism that the ancient and medieval scholars felt was of paramount importance. Previously, a hypothesis had to be ‘beautiful’ or ‘perfect’ according to prevailing notions. Thus, celestial motions had to be perfectly circular as a circle was deemed a perfect figure, according to ancient Greek philosophers. When Kepler, in the early 17th century demonstrated that the planets followed elliptical orbits, contemporary savants were horrified (it was going to get a lot worse); scientists began to understand the importance of astute (and accurate) data gathering as an important prelude to formulating their theories. This was something that many found irksome but necessary for exactitude; the application of the scientific method. The scientific method is simplicity itself but had been sorely neglected, or undervalued, in preceding centuries due to the baleful intellectual influence of the great ancient Greek philosophers who favoured deduction over induction; the break with the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. The works of these great ancient philosophers were held in great intellectual esteem even though these works had been formulated nearly 2,000 years ago. Men of intellectual quality, in the 17th century, came to realise that Plato and Aristotle were in error on all areas of their ‘scientific’ endeavour.’ They began to realise that the reverence for these ancient Greek scholars had stymied scientific investigation for 2,000 years. This was a shock but also a goad to press on into exciting uncharted scientific territory, anew. There are other salient factors to be considered, however, these are of lesser importance and for brevity they will be omitted (arse, bucket akimbo, arse).

Clearly, the 17th century was an amazingly fertile period for scientific investigation. The word ‘genius’ is banded about with sickeningy frequency in our modern world. Let me be clear: Newton was a genius and so was Tesla- John Lennon, for all his talents, was not. The list of individuals, of true genius, during this period is astonishing and without prior precedent. Let us ponder a few of the greatest scientists in history.

Galileo (1564-1662) kicked off and founded the scientific revolution although it is undoubted that he was influenced by notable and important, earlier savants: Copernicus; Tycho Brahe and Kepler. Galileo is remembered for his work/laws on motion- I don’t have space to write about them here. Galileo was also the first to use the new fangled (not a real word) telescope thingy to scour the heavens and made some very significant discoveries in the field of astronomy. His astronomical observations and his acceptance of the heliocentric model quickly aroused the ire of the Catholic church and poor old Galileo was forced to recant, thus destroying Italian scientific investigation for centuries to come.

Newton (1642-1727) is an extremely interesting topic for discussion. I wrote a a post about him several years ago: find it here. Newton was a genius’s genius, a man of profound intellectual gifts, but he was also exceedingly odd. Although scientific in the conventional sense, he performed a lot of work in the area of Alchemy in the misguided notion that he could turn lead into gold. He was extremely pious, secretive, disputatious, petty, peevish, timid and a life long virgin. For all his genius he would have been a rather dull dinner guest. Newton contributed to the science of optics, light, astronomy (invented the reflecting telescope), formulated the theory of ‘Universal Gravity’, formulated his famous three laws of motion and founded integral calculus. Quite an achievement for one man! In addition, Newton wrote voluminously on religious topics, multi-various (twat).

Gottfried Leibnitz ( 1646-1716), deserves a honourable mention. Although not primarily concerned with science, he made innovative contributions to mathematics, including being the co-founder of differential and integral calculus, with Newton, and created the modern binary system. As an aside, Newton and Leibnitz did not collaborate on the discovery of integral calculus (nuff said). Leibnitz was essentially a philosopher, and his contribution to philosophy was the introduction of Monads, go read, for it makes for an interesting story. I will say no more about Leibnitz as most of his work is outside the remit of this essay, except, that to my mind, he ranks as one of the greatest intellects to have ever lived, together with Newton, Pythagoras and Archimedes (prove me wrong in the comments- if you dare).

There is a litany of great men who made their indelible mark on science, in the 17th century. Here is a list (not exhaustive, nor complete) of the prominent, great men of science, of the 17th century. Each made admirable contributions to science and/or mathematics. Sadly there is no space to consider these men in detail, each require a separate post; keep tuned in: Blaise Pascal; Robert Hooke; Van Leeuwenhoek; Huygens; Halley; de Fermat and etc, and etc.

We are apt to forget the singular and profound importance of the 17th century as a modernising influence on the men of intellectual quality who subsequently changed the world. Most of our modern science is based on, and follows upon 17th discoveries. Perhaps of more importance is the change in the temper/timbre/tempo of mind that occurred. Nothing in the past could compare, and it remains with us today as a thoroughly modern scientific mindset. What a legacy! The importance of this intellectual revolution is worth stressing, especially because of its rapidity in societal terms: in the year of our Lord, 1600, the mind set of educated men was medieval; in 1700, the mind set was thoroughly modern. In England of 1600, witchcraft trials were still in vogue; this would have been unthinkable 99 years later. In addition, human kind had been humbled. No longer was our insular little bubble the centre of the universe. Everything had to be revaluated in terms of our utter insignificance. Church doctrine lagged behind, by degrees. The Catholic church outlook is essentially medieval to this day.

Thursday 7 January 2021

Sir Thomas More

                                                       Sir Thomas More in Repose  

Greetings loyal readers. I have had a rest from writing over the Christmastide, but I'm back with a vengeance. I'm entering a long awaited manic period. Tis always a harbinger to episodes of vigorous writing, and mayhap doom. Hold on to your hats......   

Most folk remember old king Henry VIII in caricature: a rollicking great lump of a king with a prodigious appetite for food, wine, women, jousting and decollation; this simple expression of the king's nature and character cannot be denied, and indeed, a more detailed exposition of his reign would make an interesting, future foray. However, this essay is not directly concerned with the king, but of a man, who in many ways, is a much more interesting character to consider. But before I introduce this rather singular and remarkable man it is necessary to relate a little background information. 

King Henry's reign spanned a time of great turbulence in terms of religious thought, political transition, and intellectual curiosity. And, in retrospect, it will be viewed as the inception of the Renaissance in the northern European countries, including Britain. New learning was vigorously disseminated and assimilated. It heralded the beginning of the demise of the medieval mindset in terms of scholasticism and intellectual thought. Times were a changing and into this volatile mix, was added Luther's vehement rebellion against the criminal excesses of the Catholic clergy. The Reformation seized the minds of men, especially in northern Europe where it spread like a contagion. Henry, forever the opportunist, grasped the prospect the new religion offered with gusto and the wealth of the monasteries flowed into the royal coffers, with alacrity. From now on the English would be Protestant and Henry, as head of the new church, repudiated the religious authority of the Pope.

Let me introduce Thomas More. He was born in London in 1478 to a well to do family. His father was a prominent lawyer, thereabouts. He studied at Oxford University for a time but was kicked out due to his radical views. He was a humanist and despised the antiquated Scholasticism which vied to strangle intellectual progress. However, he was a pious man and would have no truck with this new fangled religion of the Protestants. His intransigence with regard to religious belief would ultimately cost him his head. Subsequently, More continued his education in London and in 1501 became a barrister (his coffee was terrible). 

Thomas's rise was rapid. He was a man of profound intellect, witty, engaging and a gifted writer. In 1505 he became a Member of Parliament and was knighted in 1514. Henry the VIII recognised More's dedication, work ethic and intellectual talents and after the fall of the incumbent Chancellor Wolsey, Henry appointed More to take on this prestigious position. This represented More's high water mark of power, and at the time, he was a trusted confident of the king. When complemented for his favour and good grace with the king, More commented with prescient wit: "If my head could win him a castle in France it should not fail to go".  More was under no illusions when it came to this unpredictable and irascible king. 

His good fortune would not last and his fall from grace was swift. The king wanted to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry the strumpet, Anne Boleyn. Sir Thomas was mortified, and as a true Catholic, could not countenance the divorce and remarriage. Although invited to the marriage, More did not attend- it was not going to end well. This proved a turning point in his relations, with by this time, a paranoid, erratic and blood thirsty ruler. It has been estimated that Henry executed 57,000 of his subjects in his 36 year reign. Henry was a king who was used to his own way and woe betide the fool who stood in his way. More's position as Chancellor was now untenable and in 1532 he resigned. In 1534, Parliament passed the 'Act of Supremacy' (some of the older members passed wind) and Henry was now the head of the 'Church of England'. The Pope no longer held sway over the king or the English people. Under the new religious regime the king demanded an 'Oath of Supremacy' from his citizens: More refused, and was tried for 'High Treason'. On rather flimsy evidence he was convicted and on the 6th of July 1535 his head become detached from his emaciated torso, and Sir Thomas More, was no more. His final words before dispatch: "I die the king's good servant, and God's first". Sir Thomas was a true martyr and remained unwavering in his attachment to the Pope and Catholicism.

More was unlucky to have been born in a time of great societal change and disorder. Although an intellectually curious man, and a man willing to embrace the new learning, his education was desperately rooted in the medieval curriculum of Latin with a strict adherence to the religious dogma of Catholicism. One wonders what would have happened if he had been born a 100 years later. Undoubtedly he would have been Protestant and an adherent to the well established 'Church of England'. By then the old moribund Scholasticism had been replaced by a new wonder, Science. A man of his intellect would have thrived in the new intellectual optimism: medieval systems had gone to be replaced by unfettered enthusiasm for the new methodology that promised so much. Antiquated strictures on novel thought had been replaced by unbounded intellectual optimism. Men of intellect could espouse their theories without the threat of religious stricture. Of course, the Church was not happy, but the church had lost its authority and no longer acted as a break to intellectual innovation. Alas, speculation along this path is fruitless. More remains a man of his time and sadly, was fated to be born at the cusp of major intellectual development. O, what wonders he missed!

Sir Thomas's body is buried in a common grave at St Peter ad Vincula Chapel, Tower of London. His head resides elsewhere and body and noddle are fated to remain apart unto eternity. Sir Thomas is revered as a Saint and a true martyr to the Catholic Church.   

                                                   Who's that Fat Bastard?