Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Having the grace to apologize

Having the grace to apologize

Nobody likes apologizing – it seems like confessing that you are in the wrong – that’s probably why people dislike it!

Not liking it is probably also partly to do with our sense of self-worth, the esteem that is vital to our personality – to our standing with others.  

Apologizing can be seen as a weakness looked at this way  - when it is seen as little more than a confession – an admission almost that you are less than perfect.  An apology in this light seems to be saying that you are weaker – not as good – not as intelligent or able as the person you are apologizing to.  Apologizing means losing face.

Yet the ability and the willingness to apologize for having wronged someone or done something wrong is more a sign of strength than weakness.  After all, everybody makes mistakes – nobody’s perfect, and admitting that you are only human after all is surely a reaffirmation of one’s strength – a statement that says that you are proud to be human, or at least that you are not ashamed of it.

And yet apologizing is rarely done, and when it is done, it is often because someone in a more influential position thinks you should or has told you that you should.  Actually, apologizing because you have been told to is no apology – not a real one – not an apology from the heart, which is where all valid and honest apologies must originate.

No, an apology that has been forced on a person is no apology at all.  Or if it is, then the person apologizing has come to realize that one was necessary after all – that the forcing itself was inevitable – that the person forcing you to apologize was right to do so.

An apology from the heart – if it really is from the heart, has a tremendous effect on the person being apologized to, unless the offence is so great that no apologies can ever atone for the wrong done.

A sincere and timely apology has the effect of a sort of metaphorical bowing to the other, an elevating of the person being apologized to, and, on the face of it, at first at any rate, of a lowering of the person apologizing.

Remember sitting in a motionless railway carriage in a station when the train on the next tracks begins to move forward.  For an instant, it feels as if you are moving backwards.  It is an illusion, of course, and when you look at the platform after the other train has gone, you quickly realize that it was just that; an illusion.

So it is when apologizing; at first the elevating of one feels like the lowering of the other, but that too is an illusion - of a different sort.  What is really happening is that both are being elevated in each other’s mind.  

Apologizing means that everybody wins – it is the opposite of a zero sum game – where nobody wins, which is what happens when offences are left to fester – when no one apologizes despite one being needed.

In some cultures, losing face is the very last thing to do – so situations where an apology is necessary are avoided – people try hard to make sure that they don’t transgress – and for a while this works – a society in which people try not to offend others must be a pleasant one.  However, and unfortunately, no such society exists, for no collection of human beings can be without them.  Apologies are needed in any society if it is going to run along smooth and peaceful paths.

An apology, particularly one made in a society where apologizing is a rarity, is either taken as a sign of weakness, or as a sign of strength.  It is up to both to work on which way it is to be taken; for the person apologizing should know that having the honesty and self-confidence to say he is sorry for what he has done amounts to a huge affirmation of his humanity; for the person being apologized to, the other person’s apology amounts to what is in effect a tribute from the other – a laying at his feet of the thing the other one holds most dear: his self-esteem.

When a person apologizes sincerely, he is paying the other a great complement, and sometimes new friendships are formed  – apologizing makes us more human.

Robert L. Fielding

The Digital Future

The Digital Future: Something to look forward to, or something to fear?


Robert L Fielding

  Advances in technology produce patterns in the communities with which they interact and into which they become assimilated.  Some facet of life is replaced, enhanced, or altered forever, sometimes for the worse.  Our ability to predict which of these paths the advance will take on in our lives never seems to improve.  What look on the face of it like huge benefits to society often turn out to be less so, to varying degrees.
  The advent of the television into our lives, for example, gave us an opportunity to disseminate information, to educate the masses, and to entertain.  However, the television, it has been said, is largely responsible for the atomization of society, the breakdown of family ties and traditional forms of entertainment in the home, and worse, the spreading of ideas detrimental to the well being of society in general.  None of this was foreseen when John Logie Baird's flickering images first entered our lives.
  Where formal education is concerned, the digital 'future' is already upon us.  The Internet, we are constantly told, promises to revolutionize education, the laptop computer will enter classrooms changing forever the dynamics of the classroom.
  There is no doubt in many people's minds that these advances have indeed the potential to radically alter that way we educate our children, and ourselves.
  If, however, these particular advances in technology follow the patterns outlined above, the benefits might be outnumbered by the detrimental effects on our lives as educators and as learners.  If computers are going to enter the classroom, will they enhance, replace, or change forever what traditionally goes on inside them? Or will they have an effect none of us could have predicted beforehand ?
  Before such advances are transferred into our lives in the classroom, our motives for wanting such changes should first be examined.  Then the things that already happen in the classroom should be considered in order to ascertain whether in fact we want to change them.  Do we, for example, want to replace the interaction between teacher and student, and that between fellow students with something else?  Do we want to reduce the importance of books in teaching?  Do we want to alter the individual's private domain?  And last but certainly not least, are we able to say with any degree of certainty whether these changes can be controlled ones?
  The personnel often charged with responsibilities in the decision making process when considering whether or not to adopt such technology in classrooms are usually found to be those people least affected by the changes they so eagerly and persuasively propose.
  Technological determinism is not and does not have to be the route educational establishments take, and yet it often is.  Having a modern outlook, or just keeping up with new technology, are all poor reasons masquerading as good ones when it comes to the way we talk ourselves into buying new gismos and installing them in places they probably ought not to be.
  Consultation, a great deal of thought and research, common sense, and honesty should be the watchwords, rather than ones like fashion and modernity.  How we benefit from today's wonderful advances tomorrow will depend on whether we ask the right questions to the right people, and most importantly, whether or not we have the will to say no.
  The vexed question of how new technology is going to affect us, however, is not a new one though.  
  To return, two questions, I have said, need to be addressed.  First, why do we want to introduce technology into our classrooms, and second, do we want to change the things that already happen in the classroom?
  The answer to the first depends to a certain extent upon the answer to the second.  Part of the answer must surely be though, because we want to improve the quality of learning, and this will surely have implications for the type of learning too.  If the answer is anything less than this wish to improve learning, then we should expect other things to be different.
  What goes on in the classroom without digital aids?  Teachers teach, and students learn, or at least that's what should happen.  If this new interface replaces existing ones, can it perform the functions necessary for the conditions of learning to be improved?  Here we would need to say that technological innovations would not necessarily replace all interaction in the classroom.
  Of the four language skills taught in our classrooms, it seems to me that reading and writing could well be aided by the introduction of computers.  This has already happened in many institutions, including our own.  What seems to be lacking in many is some sort of check on whether CAL assists learning or not, and if it does, how much and in what particular direction.  Does, for example, completing cloze-tests on computer screens improve a student's ability to use those structures in his or her own written work.  Merely installing what appear to be learning opportunities does not ensure that they are really of value to learning.
  The provision of a spell checker on a computer does not really mean that a student’s ability to spell correctly improves with the use of the device.  It may only mean that the learner remembers to activate it at certain intervals in his or her writing.  A good thing for one person is not necessarily a good thing for all.  Time is saved for those who can already spell, but time is lost for those who cannot.  Technological innovations in any field do not of themselves mean improvement in our lives.  Remember the TV.
  Students' learning styles and teachers' styles of teaching need to be catered for by applications of new technology in education.  At present, I think it is fair to say that the former is encouraged by educationalists, while the latter is sometimes actively discouraged.  However, if students have different learning styles, then teachers must be both responsive and versatile.  Any change in interface between learner and educator would need to be similarly so.  Such versatility and responsiveness should surely be possible using new technologies in language classrooms.  If this does not happen, it will not be the fault of technology but rather the lack of will to want to install such versatility.  For this seems to be a feature of current thinking on the issue, that
some believe that the introduction of computers in classrooms will enable greater control over what happens in them.  I equate control with power, the power to impose one's views on others.  If those views do not include a wish to retain diversity amongst teachers to facilitate diversity among students, the outcome may be an unintended one.  Remember the TV.                      

                                               Robert L Fielding

Constellations of significance: the crossword compiler's art

Constellations of signification: the crossword compiler’s art


Robert L Fielding

The first crosswords appeared in the 19th Century, but the first appearance of a crossword in a British publication was in Pearson’s Magazine in February, 1922, and the first Times crossword appeared on February 1, 1930.  Although crosswords appeared first in America, English crosswords developed their own style, and were and still usually are considerably more difficult than their American counterparts.  Indeed, the type of crossword we know as ‘cryptic’ is peculiarly English, and so are many of the cultural references and encyclopedic clues in them.  However, that is not to say that they cannot be completed by people from other places, and the vast majority of clues are sufficiently universal in construction to be accessible to any user of the English language from any community.

As users of words, we are used to dealing with their meanings, how they collocate with other words, their pronunciation and their spelling.  However, when trying to solve cryptic crosswords in newspapers we are often called upon to look at other aspects of words: what they signify as a whole, or what each of their individual letters signifies, as well as their semantic meaning.
The confusion between semantics and semiotics, between meaning and signification, is at the heart of what the compiler does, how he confounds, puzzles, and misleads.

Edward de Bono has coined the term ‘lateral thinking’ to refer to ways of thinking that differ from more ‘normal’ ways.  Categorizing items in ways that are unconventional and so leading us to think of alternative possibilities of thinking, is one such way.

For example, if we find the item ‘knife’ in the location ‘living room’ it sounds incongruous.  That item is probably more often accompanied by the item ‘food’, or ‘lunch’ or a similar culinary term, and hence more often found in the location ‘dining room’.   If neither of these is present, then it might be suggestive of other scenarios.  Appearing in a play based on an Agatha Christie novel, for example, it might be associated with the words ‘stab wound’, ‘bloodstain’and labeled  ‘murder weapon’.  If it does not appear, it may be labeled ‘missing murder weapon’.

Considering the item ‘knife’, it may accompany the item ‘letter to be opened’ in the location ‘living room’, or something akin to ‘makeshift screwdriver’ in the event that the plug on the TV needs a new fuse.  And it is precisely this alternative way of viewing items; words and letters that compilers of crosswords utilize to confound and puzzle us in the morning over our tea and toast.  Instead of looking for meaning, which is one of the ways we view words, perhaps the main way, compilers use an array of means, more often closer to semiotics than semantics.  They use the constellation of significations and associations as well as using  ‘meaning’ in its traditional semantic sense, to lure us into their traps.  As users of words, we habitually look for the meaning of a word, and it this that causes the delicious confusion in the mornings.

Academics traditionally look for some sort of order to the chaos that is their particular universe.
There is an order to the confusion in  crossword clues that appear daily in the newspapers we read, and to substantiate my claim (something else that academics do) I have included a taxonomy of clue types with examples and explanations below.  While it is hoped that would-be solvers and even would-be compilers like myself will find it useful and thought provoking, it is admitted that there is no real substitute for doing crosswords; trying to solve them, and looking at the solutions the next day in order to be able to complete one successfully some day.

Conventions, specific uses of terminology, and abbreviation are all common in any discipline.  The discipline of the compiler is no exception, and accordingly a list of the more common conventions is provided to help newcomers.

Generally, anagrams are by far the most numerous type of clue to be found in most cryptic crosswords, closely followed by clues in which the whole word appears.  Less frequent, but still popular are clues based upon encyclopedic knowledge, clues based around common collocations of words, and clues based upon the sound of a word or letter.  Clues that use symbols other than letters, and those that cross word and syllable boundaries are much more unusual, but still worthy of comment and attention.

Conventions in crosswords

Crossword clues are liberally sprinkled with certain conventions, appearing again and again, making them noteworthy here.  This list is not fully comprehensive, and you may find ones to add to it.  The main thing to understand in thinking about conventionalized pieces of ‘information’ is that they must be sufficiently universal to be understood.  Crossword compilers have idiosyncrasies, but they can be recognized with sufficient practice.  If you can explain it in rational terms, any crossword clue or any part to a clue is valid; there are no rules except this one.

  1. v/c/d/x as Roman numerals

  2. weekend = K

  3. dunderhead = D/fathead = F etc
4.    Fourth of July = Y / air terminal =r
  1. middle of week = EE/E

  2. Ac = account or bill

  3. R = Right/L = Left

  4. North = N etc

  5. E, G, B, D, F = Notes in music, thus ‘noted’

  6. Sapper/engineer = RE (Royal Engineers)

  7. Again = re

  8. Navy = RN

  9. Pound Sterling = L

  10. Team/side = eleven

  11. banker = river  

  12. The German = Der/Das

Items associated with the letters of the alphabet, including some common abbreviations associated with each letter.

All standard, well-known abbreviations can be and are used in crossword clues, but the associations of letters with other items are sometimes special, in the sense that they may not strike one as such immediately.  Reading the solutions to crosswords does help in this respect.  Here are some that readily spring to mind.  Be on the lookout for others though.  

1.A – article/A1 at Lloyds/A-grade/Grade -A
2. B – bee/spelling bee/B-roads/Bea for Beatrice/Grade B/Musical note
3. C – Hundred (Roman numerals)/ many/see/sea/circa=round about
4. D – old penny/exam grade/note in music/River Dee
5. E - =MC2/east/musical note/East
6. F – Fail grade/musical note
7. G – G-men( Feds)/GI/musical note/Gee!
8. H – dropped aitches/Ho for house
9. I – eye/I/ego/one/1/upright/perpendicular pronoun
10. J -  1st of July/January/jay
11. K – Kay/Quay/thousand/grand/kg
12. L – pounds Sterling/Hell/
13. M – many/abbreviation of Emma
14. N – North/No/Nil/None
15. O – zero/duck/nil/hole
16. P – Pen/originator of writing (pen)/pea
17. Q – queue
18. R – Right/Aarr!
19. S –/South/plurals/ SS for ship/steamer
20. T – tea for two/to a T/T-junction/T-shirt
21. U – U-bend/corner/up/you
22. V – shape/V/VI/IV (Roman numerals)/V-bomber/V-neck
23. W – West/with
24. X – cross/ten (Roman numerals)
25. Y – fourth of July/last of January/you/Why?/Y-fronts
26. Z – last letter/omega/A to Z/Zoo

Anagrams are ‘signposted’ in many ways, but there is a more or less definable pattern.  The words,  ‘agitatedly’, ‘bad’, ‘broken’, misguided’, ‘upset’, and ‘possibly’ are used in the examples here.  The alert reader will notice that all these words are broadly synonymous with the word ‘chaotic’ or ‘mixed up’, signifying that an anagram is called for.  In the first example, it as anagram of the word ‘strode’ that is being asked for, with the words, ‘around the head of a bank’ supplying the letter ‘B’(See Conventions above) to complete the conundrum and provide the solution ‘DEBTORS’.

If we were to read the sentence from the traditional point of view of semantics, using the system we know as grammar, we would be able to paraphrase the clue as something like the following:- ‘The people who had borrowed money from the bank surrounded the manager in a worried fashion.’    
Appearing as it does in a cryptic crossword however, it means nothing of the sort.  The remaining examples are similarly constructed, with some minor differences.  See what you make of them.
     Borrowers strode agitatedly around the head of a bank  7   DEBTORS
     When an East ender gets a bad cigar it’s not funny   6   TRAGIC
      Something sticking a broken stapler   7  PLASTER
     Gangs of assorted mates    5   TEAMS
     It definitely shows one’s a poor misguided fathead   5  PROOF
     If upset by the dog having no tail, it’s still a pet’s name   4  FIDO
     Possibly useless harangues at the airport.   6    HANGAR

  1. The word appears in the clue in full
This type of clue is probably the easiest to solve, but they do sometimes confound us.
Take the clue: ‘Capital city in Czechoslovakia.’  A colleague of mine gladly and quickly supplied his answer, PRAGUE, and was astonished when I told him the answer was ‘OSLO’.
The words in the clue that include the solution are usually phrased in such a way as to mislead, but the semantic clue is invariably given to assist in the solution, though as already stated, it may be ‘hidden’.
             No love from a stranger     5    ANGER
             In the dictionary, a word meaning ‘ruling’     5     EDICT
             For me also loveless, they can be sustaining.    5     MEALS
       Repair a bad situation in the Aleutians   HEAL

  1. Collocations

Were it not for the fact that much of what we say and write is idiomatic in the sense that it is heavily collocational, the job of crossword compilers would be far more difficult.  All the clues point to well known collocates.  With the clue for the word ‘duty’, the compiler could have used the other word that collocates with it; ‘free’, for example.  Hence, the clue might have read,  ‘Drinks are free of it outside the country.’  To take a dim view of something is quite a common utterance, though these things do go out of fashion.

      Piping?    3    HOT
      One is obliged to do it or pay it    4   DUTY
      Sort of view one may take of a power cut     3     DIM
      Actor’s assistant, possibly Welsh     7    DRESSER

  1. Encyclopedic knowledge
With General Knowledge crosswords, the trouble is that you either know the answer or you don’t.  If you don’t, knowing where to find the answer is the next best thing.  So it is with clues calling on one’s encyclopedic knowledge, and for that reason they are not as rewarding.  You either know the answer or you do not, whereas all the other types of clues invite you to think laterally.  Here are a few examples to illustrate my point.  If you have never heard of Charles Dickens’nom de plume, then there isn’t much to be done except hope the other lines fill in the squares for you.
              Spider on the snooker table    4   REST
              Writer of Dickensian sketches    3  BOZ  (‘Sketches by Boz’ is a series of short stories by Charles
              Moorish battle location    7  MARSTON  (Marson Moor is the site of a very famous battle in English
              South African boys     5   NATAL  (Nat and Al are both boys’ names. NATAL is a province in South

  1. Collocations from encyclopedic knowledge

Again, if you do not know the name of the song known colloquially as Danny Boy, or The Londonderry Air then there isn’t much you can do about it.  However, even if you do, you might not understand the conundrum, which is why the compiler phrased it in the way s/he did.
       That boy with an air   5  DANNY   (‘Danny Boy’ is in first line of the song ‘The Londonderry Air’)
        Are they all named Atkins?   7  TOMMIES   (Tommy Atkins-name of British soldier)
        It’s deep in old Ethiopia  ABYSS  (Abyssinia is the former name of what is now Ethiopia)
  1. Plays on letters

With these types of clues we are back in the realm of thinking about words and letters in a different way.  The clue that reads, ‘White, like a layer of eggs’, the pun works several ways. The semantic clue is ‘white’, and the words ‘like’ provide ‘AS’, the words ‘a layer of eggs’ providing the remaining part ‘Hen’ giving the completed word ‘ASHEN’.  Thinking of a hen as a layer of eggs, which is precisely correct, but not usually stated that way, provides us with the difficulty.  Splitting the word ‘ashen’ into two parts also adds to the confusion.
In all the examples, the semantic portion of the clue is ‘hidden’ in a sentence or phrase written in such a way as to deceive.  Having the solution does help though.
       Speak rhetorically of the love for speed   5   ORATE
       American soldiers method of operating a device   5  GISMO
       White, like a layer of eggs    5  ASHEN
       Trouble the medical officer just in case    6  MOLEST

  1. Conundrums based upon encyclopedic knowledge

       Mendelssohn’s cat    5   FELIX  (The composer Mendelssohn’s first name was Felix, which is also the
                                                                                name of a cat in a well known cartoon.)
       Simple saint    5    SIMON  (‘Simple Simon’ is the subject of a well known children’s nursery rhyme.  Simon
                                                                      was one of the apostles.)
       When to make a start as PM    2,4   AT NOON  (PM is the abbreviation for Prime Minister, and, in
                                                                                                                 lower case, post meridian.)
       Game in which men get pushed around   5   CHESS  (The pieces in a chess set are known as ‘men’.)
       Conqueror written of as “Just”   WILLIAM  (William was the name of the incorrigible schoolboy in
                                                                                                          Richmal Compton’s novel ‘Just William’.)
  1. Clues based on sounds
       When high suspicion is voiced, avoid being  discovered    4,3  FIND OUT  (Fine doubt=high
       She sounds Indian.   3   SUE (Sioux Indians)        

  1. Clues that cross word and syllable boundaries

       Get away from the house adjoining the mine   3,2   HOP IT  (Ho = house/pit = mine)
  1. Clues that use symbols other than letters

        Of these beasts, the wild one is about to get a cross    4  OXEN
        Does it mean nothing chaps    4   OMEN
        See a bar as smart  C-LEVER

  1. Combinations of types of clue

   I leave the air terminal with a Russian    4  IGOR (air terminal =r)
        Fear of an ancient deity, I see  PAN-IC  
  1. Clues that use coincidence  

         A films star’s gratitude    6  T-HANKS  (Tom  Hanks)

  1. Clues that use the different meanings of a word.

            Concealing a bad defeat  HIDING

  1. Clues that use conventions

       Sorceress accompanied round about  WITcH

The compiler’s ‘constellation of associations’ for the word ‘damage

The common enough word ‘damage’ provides the compiler with a mine of possible clues and their sources.  Here are just some of them.   Being aware of the possibilities open to the compiler helps the would be solver, but there is no real substitute for attempts, and looking up the solution the day after.  In that way, it is possible to ‘get used to’ the way the compiler works, though well constructed crosswords are seldom simple, and that is their chief appeal, perhaps, that and the fact that cryptic crosswords, if completed, yield insights into certain facets and aspects of letters, words, and their meaning and associations.  Above all, I feel that solving cryptic crosswords of the kind dealt with above is a valuable means of staying sharp, and seeing language for what it is, a system of manipulations of symbols that accords with certain of our cerebral networks, and a means of enlarging and increasing them.

Word                     damage (6 letters)  
Parts of speech     Noun (countable) Verb (transitive/regular/infinitive)
Colloquial use      What’s the damage? = How much does it cost?
Collocation           No damage/brain damage/extensive damage/fire damage
                                   Collateral damage
Associations          D = Grade/Capital of Denmark/4th letter of the alphabet/Delta/
                               Shape of letter
                               Dam---Reservoir bank/mother/sounds like the curse word
                               Am—morning/ante meridian/part of the verb ‘to be’ reversed Master
                               Age—Length of time/long time/adjective meaning to grow old
Conventions:        d = capital of Denmark  
                              d = head of Dudley
                              D =Name = Dee (Simon Dee/ Dee as first name)
                              D = dunderhead
                              D = first of day
                              D = last of the dead
                              D = third consonant in the alphabet
                              D = sound of prefix in ‘detoxification’/ ‘devalue’ etc
                              D = last letter in regular past tense verbs
                              D = Exam grade (ie. Just passed/lowest pass grade)
                              D = Musical note  (Doe, a deer, a female deer)
Synonyms of        harm, injury, destruction, hurt, abuse, vandalism, ruin, havoc,  
of ‘damage’:        accident, loss, suffering                                                        
Possible clues      Era of the mother
based upon          Mother’s years
associations:        How old the reservoir is
                             Reservoir’s time
                             Length of time reservoir has been there                                    
Anagrams:          Made with the leader of Guernsey
                             Madge mixed up with Ann initially
                             Dunderhead with time in the morning
                             Dingus Magee first, initially
Clues that include anagram:
            Hurt Madge and Ann initially.   Dam(A)ge
            Possibly meade in the capital of Germany, it’s destruction.  Dama(G)e
            Dunderhead with time in the morning to hurt D(am)age
            Dingus Magea initially broken up to injure D(amage)                    
Sounds: Curse +Less quiet page (Page-p / Note convention of p for quiet/ pianissimo)
                                                                                                                                                    Dam(n) + page-p = age
Clues based on sound:  Soundly curse less quiet page means destruction
                                        Sound blasted era
Distortions-------------------dam + age— d + am + age  

NB. If you are not aware that a particular word even exists, the constellation of associations and meanings surrounding the word will be unknown to you are unlikely to get the solution.   The real beauty of this type of puzzle is that it is possible to work out what the word you need is by using the ‘logic’ I have outlined above.  In this sense, crossword clues are not merely time fillers, but do exercise the mind in ways that are sufficiently unusual for them to be novel and appealing.

More often than not, compilers of cryptic crosswords use words that are in current use, it depends, possibly, on what sort of a fix they get themselves into doing the compiling.  Crossword compilers are human too, you know.

                                                                                                                             Robert L Fielding

The use of the definite and indefinite article

The indefinite article, 'a'/an', and the definite article 'the' are perhaps the most commonly used words in the English language. Read the passage below and try to formulate some rules for their use.

  One day, I saw a dog in the garden.  It was lying on the lawn.  I am a vet, and so I could tell that the dog wasn't well.  I had been treating dogs with illnesses for years, and had always told the owners of dogs to give them worm tablets three times a day.
  The Queen keeps corgis, and can sometimes be seen walking with at least one of the dogs in the parkland that surrounds the palace.  I also saw her in the Houses of Parliament the other day, and wondered whether she had one of the corgis with her.  I wanted to tell her that the biggest of them didn't look too well.  I have always wanted to tell her what beautiful dogs she has, and what a splendid pet the corgi makes, but unfortunately, I have never had the opportunity.
  At the time, she was planning a visit to the United States of America and Canada, where she wanted to visit The Rockies, and Mount Louise in particular, as the mountain was known to be one of the most beautiful peaks in the state of Alberta.
  I would have liked to suggest to her that all of the dogs in the palace should be given medicine at least twice a week, preferably in the morning before they are given anything to eat.  
  Rabies and other fatal diseases were the subject of a course I once took at The Royal Veterinarian College in the district of Hampstead in London.  I could have gone to one of the many other colleges around the United Kingdom, but preferred to live and work in the capital so that I could visit the Tate Gallery as often as possible.
  Art has always been my favourite subject, and the artist I admired the most is Van Gogh, the famous Dutch artist, who spent the last years of his life in the south of France, in the lovely town of Arles.
                                                         Robert L Fielding

The wheel and the microchip

The wheel and the microchip


Robert Leslie Fielding

Man's most important invention was the wheel, or so I was led to believe at school.  In the years since leaving school the wheel has played a significant part in my life, as it inevitably has done in the lives of everyone.

Since the first wheel appeared, in Mesopotamia, some 5,500 years ago, its impact upon the lives of those who used it has been dramatic.  Its first uses most probably would have been close to its primary uses today; aiding the movement of something or somebody over some distance, with other uses including the milling of wheat to make flour, for example.

Later, some 4,000 years ago, the henges (stone circles) of Britain were built and used to mark the days of the year, early calendars, and used to study astronomy generally with the portals marking the solstices and the stones arranged in a circle to mark important times in the year.  In what was then becoming an agricultural world, seeds could be sewn with some predictability, and crop harvests increased because of the optimum use of the growing season.

During most of the 20th Century, and more particularly in the latter half of it, the wheel figured prominently in the developments that changed the lives of everybody.  In the fields of science and technology, in mechanical engineering, the wheel was and still is instrumental in producing everything from the airplane to the knitting needle.  Even flat surfaces, toothed racks and the teeth of gearwheels are all generated using the wheel, revolving as a cutter, milling flats and shapes into metal, grinding precision components to dimensions accurate to tenths of thousandths of an inch.   The sleek profiled curves of automobiles and planes, and the round plastic surfaces of children's toys are all manufactured using the rotation of the wheel at some points in the manufacturing process.  Presses and drop forges make their mark on huge, red hot billets of steel, and gleaming sheets of aluminium and stainless steel, die-casting machinery moulds hot, malleable plastic or alloy into familiar household containers, tubes, bottles and packaging, all using the rule of Pi and its circular derivative creations to complete the  pressing into shape of the submissive and ubiquitous substances: iron, steel, plastic and glass.

In the shaping of our landscape, in the damming of rivers, culverting of streams and draining of swamps, and in the construction of bridges, motorway flyovers, canals and docks, the wheel has been and continues to be the prime mover.

Circularity is so pervasive today that is has become part of our thinking.  We talk of circular arguments, vicious circles and the like, probably without always consciously realizing the extent that the geometrical shape influences our lives, but a shape approximating to the circle would have only been evident prior to the invention of the wheel because of the natural world: through the sight of the moon and the sun in the Heavens above, and in the shapes of flowers and in cross sections of felled trees.

Similarly, in the related fields of history and culture, the wheel, the circular shape,  figures prominently.  The myths surrounding Camelot, and King Arthur and the Knights of the  Round Table have become metaphors for justice and right; forums and meetings are ideally held around round tables.  Theatres in the round dominate the cultural life of many British cities.  There is something democratic and empowering about the circle, and its utility in the form of the wheel is inestimable; the round table has no corners, and everyone sitting at it has no more advantage due to their position on its circumference than anyone else.

As a concept as well as a shape, the circle is related to revolution, the overthrowing, often violently, of the social order.  In Thomas Kuhn’s terms; “political revolutions aim to change political institutions in ways that those institutions themselves prohibit.” (Kuhn 1962)  Essentially, in simpler terms, the coming to the top of those that were formerly underneath, the underlying principle of the circle and the wheel, and this suggests the principle of 'catastrophism' (Palmer 1999), which assumes that conditions on Earth during the past were so different from those existing at the present that no comparison is possible.

Similarly, in terms of scientific revolutions (Kuhn 1962),  the concept of ‘catastrophism’ also seems to apply more closely to developments in the advance of scientific progress.  In Kuhn’s own words, a scientific revolution occurs “when an existing paradigm ceases to function adequately in the exploration of an aspect of nature to which that paradigm itself previously led the way.” (Kuhn 1962)

Finally, in mathematical terms, the circle remains an unfathomable puzzle, with the ratio between circumference and diameter evading a truly definite, absolute value, pi.

Now, when half the world has moved away from primary industries such as mining, and even partly away from manufacturing, to tertiary, service industries, pride of place is given to the center of the technological revolution, the microchip.  The wheel is still as useful as it ever was, but in a world where the movement of information is dominant, it has virtually no place.  For in terms of anything substantial moving along the so called ‘information super-highway’ and telecommunications generally, little in the way of physical material actually moves.  The advent of the microchip clearly marked new ground in terms of what had gone before it.  

For Daniel Bell ('The Coming of Post-Industrial Society'), and other writers such as Alvin Toffler ('The Third Wave', 'Future Shock'), the tertiary/post-industrial phase is characterized, not by man overcoming nature (primary industry) or man overcoming the man-made world (secondary manufacturing industry), but by overcoming man himself, putting curbs and checks on ‘human nature’, and using it in fields such as marketing.  In this last ‘conflict’ the microchip is arguably as important as the wheel was to those who invented it and subsequently came to use it.  

There is something as mysterious in the microchip as there is in the circular form, particularly to the uninitiated.  The chip is a marvel of miniaturization, and the functions it can perform are staggering, but the dimension that is truly amazing is the time taken to perform an operation.  With miniaturization has come the furious pace of micro-processing.

Consequently, in terms of what has gone before, the spectacular changes in velocity and range, made possible by the advent of the micro-processor, amount to or will amount to, in retrospect, something more closely related to the principle of 'catastrophism' (Palmer ibid.), and while that notion is generally applied to the geological formation of the planet, it is a useful concept in any explanations relating to the history of the wheel and the micro-processor.   Social and historical commentators looking back on the events that surround these two technological developments, viz the wheel and the microchip, may well come to view the history of them in precisely that way.

The other major differences between the two inventions are the visibility or otherwise of each event, and the dissemination of each.  With the wheel, the concept of rotation would have been well known, visible and logical, and thereafter the wheel would have become freely available to those needing it, in the area in which it came into being. The introduction of the microchip, on the other hand, involved relatively small numbers of specialists with technological expertise and access to certain resources not freely available, and the invention would not have been 'visible' to those not involved, and nor was it freely available initially, being protected by patents and by secrecy.

The massive, almost cataclysmic change in the temporal velocity of the processing of data made possible by micro-processors is most easily demonstrated by the following comparison.  At a time when England was most productive, the Victorian era, when manufacturing industry was in its heyday, and virtually everything produced had the words ‘Made in England’ stamped on it, the cutting of material into the shape of a gentleman’s jacket was dramatically speeded up by the introduction of powerful and accurate presses that had been modified to cut shapes in cloth rather than metal.  Thousands of suits could be cut daily, removing the onerous task of cutting each one by hand.

By the time the micro processor had made its mark on the same process, different sized jackets could be cut just as accurately and far quicker one by one than the multiple cuttings of the heaving presses of Victoria’s age.   Furthermore, the machine could be programmed to cut each length to different dimensions, a feat that would need a major re-tooling operation in former days.  Many different sized jackets can now be cut individually much quicker than could a single stamping of say twenty uniform sized pieces of cloth.

This comparison of modus operandi may be a simple one, but it is one that can be readily comprehended by those only used to thinking in terms of mechanical movement and limited speed.

In the waging of modern warfare, from the horrors of the Great War in Europe, and more recently, to the ultra high-tech deluge of weapons raining down on those below, the wheel is still a force to be reckoned with.  Tanks and guns, tank transporters, personnel carriers, helicopters and planes all rely on the predictability and certainty of the wheel.  Shells and bullets fly more accurately and deadlier to their targets because of rifling in circular barrels.  However, now, instead of a speeding bullet or shell going in a straight line, we have the so called ‘smart bomb’, which is directed to its target by computer, turning right and left as the need arises.  The rifling in the circular barrel suddenly has much less importance.

For this is the nature of the world we inhabit, and in which the microchip holds sway; one in which a once productive sector of the economy has become virtually extinct, and with it, a significant proportion of the working population has found itself in a world it doesn’t understand, nor feels it will ever be able to.

The transition from a world where the wheel was the dominant form/icon to one in which a motionless piece of silica is dominant, has been a swift and unnerving one for many, and a welcome and empowering one for those who can adapt.

Wheels run on tracks, roads and lines, and have probably contributed to perceptions tending to be linear. The directions around which the micro-processor operates, on the other hand, are numerous and have causes us to challenge our ways of thinking, so that now, a more lateral rather than linear approach to the solving of problems is more usual and indeed vital.  The old remedies and ways are giving way to a new, sometimes confusing plethora of answers and possible solutions.

Guns still fire bullets out of circular barrels, and four-wheeled tractors still plough land, but in the management and governance of people and how they spend their time, both in and out of the work place, more traditional modes of thinking have given way to what I will call a ‘multi-path approach’ to management.

Now, many more dimensions can be called up and utilized because of the speed and power of the micro-processor, and consequently, people have to attempt to ‘keep up’ or perish as others progress and succeed.

The development in information technology that has changed all our lives, of course, is the Internet.  The World is a ‘global village’ and everyone is linked to everyone else.  This is not quite true though; perhaps a majority of the people inhabiting the planet Earth still do not have access to clean, running water, proper sanitation or electricity, let alone a telephone connection to the Internet, or a pc to communicate with the rest of the world online.

For many of those unfortunate people crowding round the peripheries of our biggest cities, living in sprawling slums and ghettos, there is little use for the microchip or even the wheel.  Manpower, or more usually womanpower, is still the dominant force; without roads or any sort of infrastructure, these poorest areas have little provision for the wheel, none at all for the micro-processor.

The Earth is round, but some of those living on its surface are differently positioned with regard to its wealth and opportunity.  The true benefits of the wheel and the microchip have still not reached all four corners of the Earth.

Kuhn, Thomas (1962)   The Structure of Scientific Revolutions  University of Chicago Press
Palmer T. (1999) Controversy: Catastrophism and Evolution  Plenum

Robert L Fielding


Inter-textuality: ‘there’s nothing new under the sun’


Robert L. Fielding

Looking inward – introspection, is valuable to those who possess the knack.  H.G. Wells’ Mr. Polly didn’t and blamed the world around him for his imagined dilemmas, even though they were more a product of his poor digestion than anything done by those with whom he came in contact.

Looking outward is also valuable – regarding the world as teacher, learning from everything you see, hear, feel, taste and smell.  We do this automatically every day of our lives, of course – unconsciously and consciously too.

When reading though, we should be aware that some writing promotes some world- views and not others; that problematic areas of life can often go unnoticed and unmentioned by art in its various forms.

With outward looking art we get references to people, situations, dilemmas and activity out there in the real world.  In the world of music, for example, composers such as the Frenchman, Hector Berlioz, an early exponent of what is now referred to as Romantic music, wrote characters and particular episodes of their famous lives into his symphonies and symphonic poems.

In literature, Dickens modeled some characters in the pages of his best loved novels on well known personalities of the day, and his readers would not have been slow to spot who they were.

The poet, Walter Savage Landor, for example, is said to be the model for one of Dickens’ characters in his enormous novel, ‘Bleak House’.  All Landor’s idiosyncrasies – love of justice, impatience, forthrightness, and a healthy distrust of the rich and powerful in the society of his day come out admirably and clearly in Mr. Boythorn’s dispute over land with Baronet Sir Leicester Dedlock.

On stage, and in the plays of people like Shaw and Shakespeare, we get parodies of people of stature and renown, and not always in a favourable light either.

Professor Higgins from Shaw’s ‘Pygmalion’, later to reappear more sensationally and famously to modern audiences in Lerner and Lowe’s musical masterpiece, ‘My Fair Lady’ was based, it is said, on the character of  Frederick James Furnivall, the well known lexicographer of his day, who “cared little for convention, never understood the quality of tact, who married a lady’s maid, but who would have married a flower girl just as readily.”

Now, it is left to writers like the late Anthony Burgess in his enormously knowledgeable and entertaining book reviews for The Observer newspaper to point out such parallels – the readers at the time Shaw was writing though would have easily spotted them.  

These days, however, the practice of using known characters from real life and weaving them into one’s stories is probably rare, if it is done at all.

Fear of litigation has probably put an end to it, that and the plethora of personalities who are usually flatteringly photographed, and sometimes less so.

The ‘paparazzi’ fill this need of the public (if it is a need) to examine under spotlight the lives of the rich and famous.  The camera does not lie, as we know, but nor does it do much of anything else.  Personal traits and idiosyncrasies can only be inferred from photographs, and opinion is then subjugated to little more than tittle-tattle and gossip.

Complaints that many characters in today’s novels are flat, mere cameos of real people rather than skillfully drawn and fleshed out protagonists probably stem from this under-utilisation of real people in the world of popular literature.  

Dickens rarely characterized fully, usually not at all, but his canvases were so broad and wide-ranging, catching the full panoply of society, from Baronet Sir Leicester Dedlock to Jo, the crossing sweeper, and from Inspector Bucket to the dancing master, Mr. Turveydrop, that characterization would have made his already sizeable novels double in length, unwieldy and  probably not as readable.

Dickens touched on them merely, they were as flicks of his paintbrush as he painted in the life of the teeming metropolis – the London of his day.

What he did manage to do with the help of drawing upon these recognizable others, was to criticize unjust institutions (Chancery in the case of Bleak House), hold them up to public scrutiny, and hence bring about much needed change.

Is any form of art capable of that today?  There is every bit as much need, and yet the public’s gaze rests upon the trivialities focused on by the lens of the photographer rather than on anything of real importance from the pens of writers.

Robert L. Fielding

What drives you?

What drives you?


Robert Leslie Fielding

Are you driven by needs beyond your control – are you motivated by the need to create, or are you on automatic pilot, moved only by your basic needs?

Finding out answers to those questions could improve your life.

Believing that man is basically trustworthy, self-protecting and self-governing, and tends towards growth and love, the psychologist Maslow, put forward his hierarchy of needs to indicate what motivates and drives people.  

He moved away from the pessimism of Freud and the behaviourism of Skinner to show that things like war, murder and deceit tend to occur when human needs are thwarted.

He divided people’s needs into physiological needs – our basic needs for food, air and water, safety needs – these are connected to establishing stability and consistency in our lives, and include such things as security and safety, love needs – belonging to others (family, group, community, nation, religious groups) we need to feel loved and accepted by others, esteem needs – the self-esteem that comes mastery or competence of tasks, and the recognition and attention that comes from others.

His final division is self-actualization – the desire to become everything that one is capable of becoming.  It is this fulfilling this drive that makes the difference between an ordinary life and one that takes the road less traveled.

With Mums and Dads this can take the form of wishing the best for the children and in doing the best for them so that they achieve their true potential.  It used to be said that success was improving on what your parents achieved.  

For younger people though, improving on what Dad used to do might not cut it – individuals have a need to be just that, to strike out in some direction that takes them to their own ambitions.  

In these terms, successful parents are those who give their children roots and wings – roots in the home and in the benefits and advantages that being properly brought up can give, and wings to fly, to find new space, room to move and be yourself, to do the things you truly want to do, not because your parents want it for you, though that is nice if it coincides with your own ambitions, but because they are of your own making and choosing.  

But there can be conflicts here – between what is accepted by your peers and what are truly your own needs.  Too many young people seem to put the need for esteem before the need for self-actualization.

For Maslow, the need for esteem comes before self-actualization – and here I think he is wrong.  Your own ambitions and achievements, if they are truly your own, should ensure the admiration of those around you.  If they do not, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are not worth admiring, but rather that they interfere with others’ sense of self-esteem and worth.  “To thine own self be true!” was good advice to Laertes in ‘Hamlet’, and it’s good advice to you too.  

In modern parlance, “Give it your best shot.”  Achieve what you are really capable of achieving and your life will not have been wasted.
Robert L. Fielding

Links to useful sites for teachers and students

Links to useful sites in the Cal Lab

Robert Fielding

1. For grammar exercises

2. Writing sentences

3. For reading and exercises

4. For vocabulary exercises

5. For links to dictionaries and encyclopedias

6. For links to newspapers

7. For links to help with fiction + stories

8. Writing Index

Have fun with these – try them out first to check on their suitability for your students.
Robert L. Fielding

Protect your kids in the car

Protect your kids in the car


Robert L. Fielding

What’s the first thing you do after you put the key in the ignition and started the car?  Fasten your seat belt, right?  Right!  You wouldn’t dream of going one yard without your seat belt on – that’s dangerous, right?  Right!

Then why do you let your child travel without wearing a safety belt.  Answer: I don’t.  But many do.

This morning, I saw a little girl, maybe three or four – climbing over the gear shift into the front seat, probably to be with her Dad.  I drew level at a signal and pointed to my belt.
  “Fasten her belt,” I shouted.  Nothing.
We both wound our windows down and I shouted again.  The guy’s reply was unbelievable.
  “She refuses!” he said and threw up the palms of his hands to the sky – “What can I do?”

I stuck at it.
  “Just do it!” I said, smiling.
He made his daughter sit straight and he fastened her belt.  The lights changed, we both waved and drove off.    “One kids life saved,” I thought.

Next question: “Why don’t parents make their children wear seat belts?”  “You got me!”

Now wearing a seat belt must be onerous to a child – kids like to move around, explore – all that.  But their safety in a car is paramount.
  “What to do if my kid hates putting the belt on?”
  “Give her a teddy bear and tell her that Ted needs protecting – them belt ‘em both up.  Bingo – Teddy and kid safe, and you can concentrate on the road in front of you.  Use your head.

  “That makes sense, doesn’t it?”

Help your children to read

Help your children to read


Robert L. Fielding

Being a good reader is important in every facet of life – being a poor reader means you’re not going to learn about the things you need to know, plus you will miss out on the joy of reading – reading newspapers, magazines and novels.

For younger learners, being a good reader means being a good learner.  Here are some ways you can help your child to become a better reader.

  • Read to your child every day
Hearing words read out loud improves a child’s own grasp of language.  Start early – just because your child can’t talk yet, doesn’t mean they don’t learn from you reading to them.  Children don’t just wake up one morning and start talking, they learn language all the time – especially from their Mums and Dads.

  • Have something your child can read everywhere
If children have books and comics to pick up and read, they will do.  They will soon find out that reading is fun and want to read more and more.  Encourage by example, and by providing things they can read.

  • Have a time when all the family sit down to read
It’s sometimes difficult for anybody to find space and peace and quiet to sit and read.  If everybody in the family sits down together, reading becomes easier – children enjoy it – they see their brothers and sisters enjoying it, and they don’t have to isolate themselves in their rooms to enjoy reading.

  • Encourage your child to read with activities
Never miss an opportunity to encourage children to read.  Play word games in the house – on the way to the mall – in the mall – everywhere.  Children will soon pick up clues to where to look to find information, and that’s vital to anyone these days.

  • Get into the habit of visiting the library
Libraries used to be dull and dusty places – not anymore – now libraries are places where children can enjoy choosing books while their parents do the same.  Reading then becomes something that shows a child she is growing up.

  • Watch your child’s progress and learn about how they learn to read
Visit your child’s school – learn what they have to be able to do at each stage of their education.  This will have several important effects – it will show them that you are interested in their schooling, and it will keep you in touch with where they are and whether or not they are on target at school.

  • Watch out for any problems your child your child has with reading
Teachers with large classes of children reading can miss problems one child is having.  Have your child read to you and listen out for pronunciation problems or difficulties with certain sounds, words, or consonant clusters.

  • Get professional help quickly if there are problems
If you detect a problem, try to remedy it, but if you suspect your child has some form of dyslexia, for example, get professional help.  Don’t let your child suffer from something that will hinder her progress at school.

  • Use different ways of showing your child written text
These days, words are all over the place – on advertising hoardings, on products, and on their pc – use those places to help your child identify what they need to learn and what they don’t.  Looking at the ingredients on a packet of breakfast cereal, for example,  will help children to learn more about how they can stay healthy.
  • Be enthusiastic about your child’s reading
Show your child that you are pleased how well they are reading – often it is only their teacher who seems to show this – giving praise where it is deserved works wonders for a child’s confidence.

Between 5% and 15% of school-aged children are behind when it comes to reading – don’t let your child fall into that category – give them the chances they need and deserve – help them to read well.
Robert L. Fielding

Ways to get your stress levels down

Ways to get your stress levels down if you’re a teacher


Robert Leslie Fielding

Teaching is a wonderful profession; it can be and usually is very enjoyable and rewarding, but it can be the worst job too – frustrating and stressful.  

Teaching is also like appearing on stage;  when you’re on, you’re on – there are no easy days – no days when the students leave you alone – why should they –you’re their teacher, right!

Teaching is stressful most of the time, but there are ways of coping – not just coping, but dealing with stress and getting it down to acceptable levels.  

Here they are:-

  1. Drink plenty of water
Good advice everywhere – not just in hot climates.
  1. Don’t skip meals
Going without food should not be an option when time is tight.  If your blood sugar levels get too low, you’ll feel tired very quickly, compounding your problems in class.
  1. Take vitamins regularly
Taking multivitamins regularly helps you fight off colds in winter (Vitamin C) and keeps you calm (Vitamin B)
  1. Eat iron-rich food
Women are more prone to iron-deficiency than men are – eat dark leafy greens such as spinach and lean red meat
  1. Cut out caffeine
Coffee and some soft drinks contain this stuff that keeps you awake at night – too much caffeine is definitely not good for you
  1. Don’t smoke
This one is obvious – the evils of smoking are well documented and should be known to everyone – if you smoke but can’t stop – get help
  1. Do some physical exercise
Swimming is the best, it doesn’t jar your bones like jogging does.  Cycling is good but where can you do it safely.  Make time for a daily work out – it pays off.
  1. Don’t sit for too long
Energy levels will drop if you sit for too long – get up – walk about – take regular breaks from sitting at your desk – walk about in the classroom too
  1. Have more fun
Laughter is the best medicine – so is having fun, which leads to laughter.  Having fun makes your heart light, puts bad times into perspective – have fun and then have some more – every day
  1. Try to be cheerful and happy
You are a child of the Universe -  you have a right to be here – all that!  Be happy, live longer and better.

Follow these 10 tips and notice the way your life changes – your students will notice it too – they’ll react more positively to you – you’ll do the same to them and your stress will vanish and stay away for longer and longer.  Teachers, teach yourself something for a change.
Robert L. Fielding

A personal view



Robert L Fielding

  A book of verse, once opened, leads me through a life that is half over.  Innocent and hearty, I read Lewis Carroll, wondering if I would ever see the Jabberwock with eyes aflame on my way home from school on those winter evenings when ice and darkness enveloped my path up the hill to the dancing fire and the roasting smell of my mother's cooking.
  Later, standing in rows, our neckties strangling us, we sang,
                             'Who is Sylvia, what is she?
without wondering in the slightest who Sylvia was, or what she was.  We just presumed she was a girl and left it at that.  Singing by rote, high and straining to reach Mrs. Smith playing the piano, her face grimacing at our reckless rendering of her favourite song.
  And later, listening to 'I wandered lonely as a cloud', we started to hear the words and see the daffodils waving beneath us.  All was forgotten though, when, as pupils in pride of place in Miss Schofield's English class, we had to read the words out loud to the whole class, listening and giggling till it was their turn.
  With Dot Squash, and later with Fez, we trod the paths through Hardy's Wessex, waited on Egdon Heath with Eustacia Vye for her wild love, Damon Wildeve, come in secret from the tavern below.
  Fez, Donald Radcliffe, Mr. Radcliffe to our parents, Sir to us who even adoring him and his booming voice, were petrified when we had somehow annoyed him, Fez made Weatherbury live, made Gabriel Oak a real person to us, and Bathsheba Everdene a real woman, vivacious with a mind of her own, headstrong, some said foolish, and passionate.
  Dot Squash, Dorothy Schofield, Miss to us, apples of her scolding eye.  She led us, walking alongside Tess to her doom, stopped us from berating Angel Clare for his purity and his foolish, pious pride, remonstrated with us for asking the question, "Miss, didn't Thomas Hardy ever write happy stories?"   What did we know of Greek tragedy, or any other kind of tragedy, save one of our number running under the wheels of a car one afternoon after school.
  Years later, still reading, though with a more alert eye, enjoying less for not being taken in as much, but still enjoying, I traversed a purple moor, stepped through heather and ling, waist deep bracken to a little house on the edge of Egdon Heath, whistling Holst's tune of the same name, I came to Clym and Eustacia's house in the woods.  Admiring it through the lens of my Minolta, shutter clattering up and down gaily in the late summer sunshine, a little head poked through a bedroom window, and apologizing for intruding, was invited in to see for myself, Alderworth, the house where the newly weds dwelt before everything started going wrong, Eustacia finally and tragically realizing she had fallen in love with a man who did not exist, the native returned to his heath, but now, after his wandering days were done, content to practise the work of a furze cutter, and the beautiful but willful Eustacia, her raven haired, proud head leaning into the wind coming off the English Channel, dreaming of lands she would never see.
  Working up to examinations, looking at university entrance, Shakespeare in hand, the Scottish play, which, not being in the acting profession, we can call by name, 'Macbeth'.  Selling petrol at weekends to stay at 'Tech' till I passed, memorizing the 'dagger soliloquy between cars, for Mrs. Christou, who encouraged us with her enthusiasm and her joie de vivre, and her laughing face.
  Mr. McCann, a Scot, who did the Guardian Cryptic Crossword everyday whilst eating his sandwiches, leading us slowly through Burns' 'Tam o' Shanter', the words, the accent, the meaning, coming in his rich, ringing tones beneath his bristling moustache.
  Discovering Kipling, Wordsworth, and Robert Service in the hushed, warm stillness of the Municipal Library, the monologues of 'Nosmo King', Stanley Holloway breathed out on cold mornings cycling to work, each word visible as if I had been exhaling smoke.
  The trustees from the toolroom where I worked, wondering about a turner who read poetry in his breaktimes, instead of The soaraway Sun.  Struggling with Thomas Mann, wondering if I should even be trying.  A different perspective has its distractions and its detractors, all around me it seemed at times till my sister, Gill, reassured me that what I wanted to do was worth doing.  
  And now, writing words of my own, the long journey still not half done, thank God, retracing my steps through Central Asia, recalled to life, Sultan Sancar, and the love of his life, Yasemin, mourning her father, newly buried beneath the hard ground of Mary, across the wastes of Turkoman country, to the land of Anatolia, high, stony, beautiful Anatolia, and to Nazan.

                                                                                                                                             Robert L Fielding  

Important Information



Robert L. Fielding

  1. Investing in gems
Diamonds are forever, they are a girl’s best friend, and they are precious.  But the terms ‘precious’ and ‘semi-precious’ have little meaning in reality.  ‘Investment grade’ is a better guide to the value of gems.  It may surprise you to know that ‘precious’ gemstones are not as good an investment as ‘semi-precious’ stones; they often appreciate in value more and are easier to ‘liquidate’ – sell, to me and you.

You can make money investing in gemstones, but you need to know what you are about – don’t expect to buy from retailers and increase your investment in a short time.

‘Primary’ dealers offer the best prices – they mine and cut the stones

‘Secondary’ dealers buy from wholesalers and ‘primary’ dealers and sell to retail outlets – still well below retail prices.

You can find ‘pre-owned’ gems at flea markets, pawn shops and estate sales, but again you have to know what you are looking for and what you find.

Look on the Internet, and in trade magazines for listings of dealers.

Beware!  Low priced gems get a higher price markup than expensive gems – up to three to five times higher.

Cut gemstones are not the only things to look at – rough gems, mineral specimens and finished jewelry also have potential for investors.

Selling your gemstones is the next step – realizing their value in places like jewelry stores, auction houses and online auctions.

The greater the difference between wholesale and retail, the more chance you have of making a profit – but everything is relative – you would surely accept 10% profit on a $40, 000 stone, but might not be prepared to accept that on a more modestly priced item.

A lapidary can turn low value into high – buy rough and allow enough markup to justify the work you put in.

Gem cutters can up the price of your gemstone – if you do your homework, this is one of the best ways of adding value to your gemstones.

  1. Diamond buyer’s guide
The 4 Cs – Clarity, Colour, Cut, Carat and of course, Cost, are the main considerations when buying diamonds.

Diamonds invariably contain ‘inclusions’ – natural identifying blemishes, known as nature’s ‘birthmarks’ or ‘fingerprints’.  The greater clarity - fewer inclusions, the more valuable the diamond.

Inclusions that are visible to the naked eye affect the flow of light through the diamond – sparkle can be lost.

Diamonds with inclusions visible to the naked eye are graded 11-12 – those with small inclusions are graded S11-S12, and those with very small inclusions are graded as V11-V12, or smaller still, VV11-VV12.

Rare diamonds with no inclusions are ‘flawless’ (FL) or internally flawless (IF)

Diamonds seem colourless, but many have faint colouring – the more colourless the diamond, the more valuable it is.

Set in gold, warmer colours are better, in white gold, silver or platinum, white or near colourless diamonds look gorgeous.

Gem weight was once done using the weight of a carob seed – hence the term, ‘carat’.

One carat weighs one fifth of a gram, and a carat is divided into 100 points – a .33 carat diamond is the same weight as a 33 point diamond.

The larger the carat, the more valuable the diamond, but two diamonds of the same weight can have differing values because of their Cut, Clarity and Colour.

The word ‘cut’ refers to the physical shape of the diamond, to the angles and the proportions a craftsman creates to release sparkle and fire from within the diamond.

A diamond’s cut allows light to be dispersed and reflected from one facet to another.  Well cut diamonds allow the greatest amount of fire and sparkle to be reflected from one facet to another, and of course, this will increase the value of the diamond.

A well cut diamond is more valuable than other diamonds of the same colour, clarity and weight.

The cost to you, the buyer, will increase because of any one of these (Colour, Clarity, Cut), but what is beautiful is really a matter of taste – but value is a function of the three, plus its setting, which must also enhance the diamond’s qualities.

  1. Choosing a diamond
Diamonds are graded into many categories, which can be a source of confusion for the uninitiated, but are generally graded on the ‘4 Cs’ – colour, clarity, cut and carat.

Colours D, E, and F designate the highest grades – colourless
             G, H, I, and J are next down – ‘near colourless’ or ‘white’.
             K to Z are tinted – ‘yellow’ or ‘yellowish’
             K, L, and M are “set white” – they will appear white if set in gold.

Along the alphabet, tinting gets stronger and value lower, until you reach extreme colouring – a ‘fancy coloured’ diamond – the price of these goes up again.

Colour grading is simply a matter of comparing diamonds’ colours and seeing which is closest.  This is relatively expensive though.

More commonly, batches of similarly coloured diamonds are grouped together as GH or IJ – the diamonds are in those ranges.

If you have a verty expensive diamond, you could have it graded (grading can cost over $100), but this is not cost effective for the majority of diamonds.

Clarity is determined by size and number of inclusions in it.
Clarity grades use the letters V, S, and I (Very, Small, and Inclusion)

Flawless diamonds are graded: VVSI1 (Very, Very Small Inclusion One) through VVSI2, VSI1, VSI2, and SI1 and SI2.

Down the scale, there are: I1 and I2 – ‘eye’ visible inclusions but still gem grade diamonds.

Grades P1 and P2 are not usually considered gem grade because of the fact that little light passes through them.

Caveat emptor. “1 carat diamond rings costing $299 – may not be a gem but an industrial grade of diamond.  

Cut can be a hard property to judge.  Watch out for:-
  • Brilliance of the gem

  • Terms – “Single Cut” or “Old Mine Cut” (These may only have 17 facets – a brilliant diamond has 57!)

  • Shape of the gem (ideally symmetrical, not lop-sided)

  • The girdle of the gem is the widest part seen from the top and the thinnest viewed from the side (if cut too thin, it will have a weak area that may give trouble later)

  • If two diamonds are the same grade, but one is brighter than the other, the cut is different.

Carat is the easiest to fathom – smaller diamonds are commoner than larger ones – smaller ones cost less.

Robert L. Fielding