Anno Domini or simply a year in the Common Era ?

October 18th, 2015

The Daily Mail in one of its strident editorials, recently launched a vigorous attack on the BBC for its declared intention of using the terms "BCE" and "CE" rather than "BC" and "AD" when referring to a year within a given date, - "BC" and "AD" of course being the well familiar "Before Christ" and "Anno Domini", while "BCE" and "CE" are purportedly the more modern usage that stands for "Before Common Era" and "Common Era". The editorial for all its vitriol had a serious content that was thought provoking and struck a chord with me. I am a regular Daily Mail reader, - it is my daily paper of choice, although I am probably not a typical Daily Mail reader. I read the Mail for the quality of its journalism rather than its political stance, but of late I have been finding myself in sympathy with the Mail in at least one regard: its oft repeated contention that the BBC is prepared to disavow almost every custom or tradition of the British Isles, in order simply to be piously multicultural and "politically correct". I was therefore as exasperated as the Mail was indignant to learn that in future the BBC was to use the designations of BCE and CE instead of AD and BC. The BBC's explanation that it was simply conforming to modern usage did not carry with it the ring of conviction that it might have hoped. This is probably unsurprising given that the BBC's has in recent times introduced a number of practices which it may well characterise as being "modern" but which in fact are arguably motivated by "political correctness". One such "modern" practice that has now been introduced by the BBC, for example, is the use of the term "settled communities" when reporting on immigration issues. The BBC now prefers to use this bizarre Orwellian term to refer to the native English of the British Isles, rather than referring to them simply as "the English", lest the term "the English" should give offence to recent immigrants. Given this kind of BBC "modernity", I felt quite justified in being smugly confident that what I was witnessing was not at all a BBC about to embrace modernity, rather a BBC that was descending further into political correctness. I was however, soon to discover that I might have been over-hasty in decrying the BBC's actions in this instance, - for I have learned to my consternation that the terms CE and BCE, which I thought were indicative of the BBC's desire to disassociate itself from the Christian origins of the modern calendar, are in fact being used by no less a Christian body than the Jehovah's Witnesses. I am no stranger to Jehovah's Witnesses. A very charming lady regularly knocks on my door and engages me in a gentle discourse about the Bible, as well as inquiring about my well-being. She always ends these door-step conversations by pressing a copy of the Watchtower (a publication of the Jehovah's Witnesses organisation) in my hand and urging me to read some article therein together with some additional Bible reading that she recommends. Although I have little inclination to be a Jehovah's Witness, I quite look forward to my encounters with our Jehovah's Witness lady, not least because she is such a mild mannered gentle old soul. I also like reading the Watchtower as it contains not just the usual evangelical message but also articles about historical events and personalities referred to in the Bible, - such as for example, the kings of Persia and the Babylonian Empire. Interestingly, these articles always refer to dates as either CE or BCE. Seeing these articles referring to the Year of Our Lord as years of the Common Era, was to me an unexpected discovery and it just occurred to me that the BBC might have a point after all, and that CE and BCE might indeed be modern usage, and not as I had imagined an attempt on the part of the BBC to eschew practices that happen to be rooted in Christian tradition. It is always chastening to have to admit to one's misjudgements and I am obliged to do so this on this occasion since the BBC can clearly substantiate its case by reference, at the very least, to the Watchtower. But this episode is illustrative of how institutions, like individuals, are frequently judged on their reputation rather than their actions. The BBC has acquired a dubious reputation as an incorrigible recidivist when it comes to acts of political correctness. On this occasion the BBC's reputation would appear to have gone ahead of it and those like me who value the role of the BBC as a public service broadcaster might be forgiven for attributing to it motives that it did not in fact harbour.

Web Advertisements

October 11th, 2015

The facility that the HTTP protocol provides for extracting the IP address of a Web user's computer and its subsequent use by many Websites to determine the country or the geographical region in which the computer is located, has always seemed to me to be an unnecessary intrusion of my privacy. For Websites of course this information is quite useful as it facilitates the display of highly targeted advertisements that focus on products and services that might be of local interest. However, a slightly unnerving aspect of this type of IP-targeted advertising is sometimes witnessed by those of us who occasionally visit foreign-language websites. Here we find to our alarm that the website's advertisements suddenly change of their own volition from the local language to English, as if sensing somehow that we are actually native English speakers. Of course as IT experts know, the website has no such sensory perception, - only the ability to associate the visitor's IP address with the appropriate geographical location and thereby determine his native language. I am a student of German and frequently visit the website of the German newspaper "Bild", with the aim of improving my German, - although that might well be a forlorn hope. To my chagrin, the "Bild" website is also given to this propensity to recast all its advertisements from their normal German into English, the instant it recognises my UK-based IP address. I am now resigned to this, and try to console myself with the thought that as the products being advertised are usually of the kind that have an international market, such as Nokia mobiles or BMW cars, their advertising can not really be characterised as deliberate targeting of unsuspecting UK-based web-surfers, - even when facilitated by the unscrupulous use of surreptitiously obtained IP-address data. However, I was not so sanguine about one particular advertisement that recently appeared on the "Bild" website' The advertisement was in fact a recruiting poster for the Royal Air Force, exhorting its readers to enlist and promising them a rewarding career as an airman. I found this poster bizarre. I could not imagine something so definingly British as service with the RAF being allowed to be sponsored by a foreign website. No rational being in the Air Force, I would have thought, would ever have authorised such a course of action , - not least because of the obvious potential for cruel parody that such a poster had, with its use of a German website as a recruiting agency for one of Her Majesty's services. In my mind's eye I could well see a Monty Pythonesque sketch, with a Prussian recruiting sergeant barking at cowering English recruits. It occurred to me that such thoughtless form of advertising could only be encountered in the wholly computerised world of the Internet, where human wisdom takes a back seat and so-called intelligent software undertakes action and decisions which in the real world belong to humans. Reflecting on this extra-ordinary advertisement and chuckling to myself with amusement as well as disbelief, I could not help wallowing in a certain schadenfreude at the amazing faux-pas that this advertisement had managed to commit. For it told me that the so called artificial intelligence of modern computers, that we humans are constantly reminded of, is in reality only a step away from artificial stupidity, as this astonishing advertisement has clearly demonstrated.


September 28th, 2015
It is quite well-known that when you are retired, the distinction between holidays and working days is blurred and holidays become nothing special as every day tends to be yet another rest day. Life as a continuous holiday is not necessarily a boon as some, as yet unretired, might imagine. It has some distinct drawbacks, not least of which is the state of oblivion it induces in which the individual is completely unaware of the many real world holidays such as Bank Holidays and school vacations which form an integral part of normal working life. Just how easy it is to succumb to this peculiar affliction became apparent to me only last week when I went on a shopping trip to Morrison's accompanied by our great-granddaughter Chenelle. Chenelle had been baby-sitting for her little nephew and niece, so they came along as well. Naturally with youngsters in tow, our first stop was not the store's groceries' section, rather its cafeteria. Two youngsters on school holidays, descending on a counter full of scrumptious goodies, can cause a mayhem that some individuals of a certain age can scarcely cope with. I was never good at controlling grandchildren. My late wife would never entrust me with them, on my own that is, without her presence to keep them in order. It was entirely predictable therefore that I should rapidly be beset, as I was on this occasion, with helpless bewilderment, - not knowing what the children had ordered, nor indeed what I had agreed they could order. As I came up to the cash desk, the man at the till noticed my obvious harassment and said sympathetically, "Well, they should be back at school tomorrow, shouldn't they ?". It took me a little while to comprehend the relevance of his comment. It had completely slipped my mind that schools had been on holidays for the past four weeks. I could only reply sheepishly that I had no idea when the kids were going back to school. "They are our grandchildren you see", I offered by way of an explanation. He laughed, "I have seen more kids in here with their grandparents in the last four weeks, than with their parents", he said, "it seems to be the thing to do". It didn't really surprise me that more kids had been there with their grandparents than their parents. And I had no doubt at all that their grandparents had derived immense pleasure from taking them there and giving them a "treat", as indeed I had. But I did wonder how many of these grandparents had had the awareness to realise that what was for them a normal day, was in fact a day in their schools' holidays for the kids. I like to think that I am not the only, uniquely sad, person who had lost his ability through old age, to distinguish between holidays and normal working days.


September 27th, 2015
Remembering birthdays has always caused me some difficulties, and on occasion my indifferent memory has inevitably been the cause of some acute embarrassment and even guilt-ridden shame. My late wife Doris fortunately always kept a book in which she carefully listed all the birthdays. Every grandchild, son, family relation and close friend appeared in that book. Indeed the book has proved to be just the idiot's guide that I needed for remembering birthdays. So much so that I have been able to put it to good use over the past year and gain much kudos through it as someone who does not forget birthdays. Family members and friends have been genuinely pleased at of my thoughtfulness in remembering their birthdays and I have been basking inwardly in the feeling of warm glow that their expressions of appreciation have engendered. Yet last week, despite all the help available from the "birthday book" , I nearly slipped up with the date of our great-grand-daughter Jessica's birthday. Having got Jessica's birthday card ready, I phoned our grand-daughter Shelby last Thursday to announce that I was going to take the card over to them, adding smugly that I knew Jessica's birthday was on the Friday and I did not want to miss it. To which Shelby informed me, rather deflatingly for my ego, that Jessica's birthday was actually that Thursday rather than the Friday. Squirming with embarrassment, I blurted out that I had got the date from Nan's birthday book and never imagined it would be wrong , but Shelby knew exactly why I had got it wrong. Apparently, she had had a conversation every year with Nan about the date of Jessica's birthday and every year she had had to remind her that it was the 25th of August and not the 26th. Quite clearly Shelby's reminders had gone unheeded and Nan's birthday book had remained steadfastly unaltered as far as Jessica's birthday was concerned. It was of course all my own fault. I should have expected something that, - after all these are the endearing ways of grandmothers that make them so lovable.


September 26th, 2015
It has been just over a year since my wife Doris passed away and I cannot really say that I have coped with bereavement as easily as I had hoped I would have done, - being as I am, an adult of 71 years. Of course, my family have been the greatest comfort to me in getting through my sad times. I hate even to think how difficult it might have been otherwise, had I not had their support and their concern for my well being. At the time of the funeral, the vicar had said to me that it takes something like 18 months to get over a bereavement. I had been disbelieving of that, - imagining that whilst that may be true of the grandchildren, who would undoubtedly miss their nan, I as an adult of 71 years would do better than that. I now realise that the vicar was right. Each one of us copes with his bereavement in his own way. For me bereavement, amidst its sorrow, has also been about an intense feeling of missing someone constantly. Friends and family often ask me solicitously if I am lonely. I am not in the least bit lonely but I have this intense feeling of missing Doris at every turn, whether it is in the morning when I am making myself a cup of coffee, or hoovering the front room or even shopping at Morrisons. The feeling that someone, who was always by my side and whose presence in my vicinity I had always taken for granted, should no longer be there, is a feeling of sad bewilderment and even helplessness that is difficult to describe. Certainly I had not experienced it before, either with the death of my mother or my father, both of whom passed away some years ago. I harbour every hope that I will in time get over my bereavement, not least because I have always believed in the old maxim of "picking yourself up and carrying on". Perhaps my memories of Doris and those of our years together, ever increasing in preciousness to me, and which often give me a feeling of both happiness and elation, will give me the strength to "carry on", as they say.