St. Crispin’s Day Observed

25th October 2017
St. Crispin’s day observed

Saint Crispin’s Day falls on 25 October and is the feast day of the Christian saints Crispin and Crispinian (also known as Crispinus and Crispianus, though this spelling has fallen out of favour), twins who were martyred c. 286.’ Beheaded during the reign of Diocletian; the date of their execution is given as 25 October 285 or 286.

Most people who know of such a day are familiar with it through Shakespeare. ‘It is a day most famous for the battles that occurred on it, most notably the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Because of the St. Crispin’s Day Speech in Shakespeare’s play Henry V, calling the soldiers who would fight on the day a “band of brothers”, other battles fought on Crispin’s day have been associated with Shakespeare’s words.’

This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember’d;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

Henry V. Act IV Scene iii 18-67
Here is Kenneth Brannagh’s version of the speech.
and here is Laurence Olivier’s version (in which the speech is almost drowned out by the background music.)

Painting of Archers at The Battle of Agincourt

These lines appear to be the source for the phrase ‘band of brothers’. So should we associate St. Crispin’s day with brotherhood? Do we want to celebrate brotherhood, or is today’s world too ‘unisex’ to permit that? It is a concept that focuses on the relationships of male siblings. Beyond that, brotherhood is an icon of masculinity and the relationship between men, even if they are not related. In contemporary times, the concept of brotherhood has been transmogrified into Bromance – love between men that verges on romance and simulates brotherhood. It is a genre that is fascinating for today’s audience – of both sexes. The male name Crispin has long been a signifier of effeteness – used to characterise unmanliness and ineffectualness. It is a name associated, traditionally, with curly hair – a feature that, for some, might suggest effeminateness. One website went so far as to claim that the name Crispin denotes ‘People with this name have a deep inner desire to serve humanity and to give to others by sharing money, knowledge and experience, or creative and artistic ability. ‘ What the origins of that might be defines imagination. Might we redesignate St. Crispin as the patron of anti-sexism? A step too far for many people, I would surmise.

So, does St. Crispin’s Feast have any meaning or relevance for today’s world? Is it an emblem of leadership? Does the band of brothers idea suggest manliness and masculinity? Do we want to celebrate glory and brotherhood? How would today’s orators inspire people who are downtrodden and despairing?

Henry V’s St. Crispin’s day speech has been described as ‘…one of the best inspirational speeches in literature.’ But is the speech about misguided loyalty? Do the brothers of Agincourt give their lives and their blood for the sake of the King, for Henry, and his glory? Is this speech a moment of calculation and cruelty? They are about to give their lives to make Henry a great man – not themselves. The speech is an icon of great men and their ambitions to glory. So, Agincourt is about winning; winning for its own sake. Henry V is urging his soldiers to win the war – for him. History now views the battle as inconsequential. As writer Guy Patrick Cunningham put it: ‘Henry’s triumph at Agincourt brings no benefit to the English nation. The whole reason his force is so small is because most of his troops are needed back home to prevent a split among the English nobles from turning into a full-fledged rebellion — a split that Henry makes no effort to heal. ‘

We remember Agincourt on 25th October. ‘The Battle of Agincourt was a battle of the Hundred Years’ War that resulted in an English victory. The battle took place on 25 October 1415 in the County of Saint-Pol, Artois, some 40 km south of Calais.’ It can be recalled as the victory of the English over the French – a nation, that now, we count amongst our friends and allies. History has seen countless thousands of Frenchmen slaughtered by English soldiers; and many thousands of Englishmen killed by the French. History has also seen the English dying to free the French from tyranny. The culture of France is deeply embedded in the heritage of England. The 25th October could be a day on which we commemorate the mutability of history; the way in which international relations change dramatically over time. The day we think about how yesterday’s enemies becomes today’s friends. And vice-versa.

Painting of a Shore-maker

So what should be observe about or on St. Crispin’s day, if anything? In the third act of Die Meistersinger, Wagner has the shoemakers’ guild enter singing a song of praise to St. Crispin. For me, I choose to celebrate shoe-making. ‘Saints Crispin and Crispinian are the Christian patron saints of cobblers, curriers, tanners, and leather workers.’ My paternal ancestors were shoe-makers. For my part, I prefer to associate St. Crispin with footwear. Oh happy band of cobblers.

Character profiling

Writing a character profile for a film

18th May 2017

My character profile for Riffkid in The Trench†

Physical appearance of the protagonist

Riffkid is 18. He is somewhat short in stature. He has a mop of black hair and very bright blue eyes. His face is pretty. He dresses how he thinks rock musicians should dress. His choice of clothes portrays his identity. He is an unemployed teenager living with his parents on a deprived housing estate. He is a dreamer; he has passions and associates with the outcasts who don’t want to be like the other working class kids who have their lives mapped out for them by their parents and community. He sees punk music as his ideal and in it he sees his values. Riffkid’s strengths are his good looks and his passion for music; his weaknesses are his lack of knowledge and skills in guitar playing and his dreams that are out of kilter with reality.

Background note: Riffkid joins the music scene at a time when punk is the predominant style of rock; but rock changes rapidly and soon fans start to prefer the edgier sounds of post-punk. All this is thrown in the air by the generation of the new romantics who come in with their new sounds – the indie bands. Musical tastes are fickle and change rapidly. All the bands play at the venue called The Trench, a dismal, damp basement that traps young musicians and exploits them mercilessly. The bands are trapped in the Trench and only the best manage to escape from it.

The story

Actions taken by Riffkid (include wants and needs) [How he thinks] {affect – consequences}

Act 1.

Riffkid goes to The Trench music venue to ask if he can join The Howlers – a big and successful punk band. His mates have told him that this is the best punk band in Portsmouth. The lead singer likes him and invites him to come for an audition. (Riffkid wants to be in the band he idolises) [He thinks he has to skills to hack it.] {Riffkid goes to the audition but he fails to prepare himself for it. He fails to study the songs of the band.}

Riffkid attends the audition with The Howlers but he is torn to shreds by the musicians. He realises that the invitation was a fake. He’s been strung along. [He thought he had enough skills to do the job but they prove to him how little he knows.] {Riffkid is rejected by the band. He is devastated. His dreams have failed.}

His best mate tells Riffkid not to give up but to go back to The Trench and try to find another band to join. Riffkid is driven by his dreams; his best mate is more practical and realistic. Riffkid goes back to the venue and, by chance, meets Sean, the bassist from the post-punk band Distorted. Sean just happens to be looking for a new guitarist. [Sean thinks that Riffkid would fit in; realises he is not that good as a musician but his personality would fit and make up for his weaknesses as a guitarist.] {Sean does not bother with an audition; he takes Riffkid on and hopes for the best.}

Riffkid joins Distorted. He decides he needs to get a better guitar and people help him to do this. (He is desperate to be in a band.) [He thinks that trying to get into the much bigger band was a bad mistake) {He gladly accepts the offer to be in Distorted as the rhythm guitarist. He buys the new guitar he needs.}

Act 2

Riffkid’s new band is a great success. Everybody loves them. They enjoy considerable popularity in their home town of Portsmouth. (They want to be popular and in demand for their music.) [They think their music will attract people in large numbers.] {They get booked at all the major venues and play to big audiences.}

Two years pass. Riffkid and Distorted become a successful post-punk band. But the scene is changing and fans are beginning to like the new wave of music coming from the new romantics.

Riffkid has an argument about musical style in the band and quits. (He wants to be a success.) [He sees the band failing because it clings to outmoded post-punk songs when the fans are moving over to indie. He thinks that the world of rock is changing and the band must change with it.] {He sticks to his beliefs and leaves the band.]

Riffkid and Jennifer enrol on the music course. (They need to learn about music.) [They think that having skills and knowledge will get them where they want to be] {They are exposed to a lot of new ideas and experiences they never had before.}

Riffkid makes new friends on the music course. He also goes back to his old friends – the ones who supported him when he needed them. (He wants people around him that can help him; people he can depend on.) [He begins to realise the importance of comradeship.] {He visits his old mates from the band he was in.}

Act 3

Riffkid and Jennifer complete the music course. He now has the skills and the knowledge to become a professional musician. (He wants to make a success of himself) [He realises that music is more than just image and passion.] {They both realise that they will get nowhere if they stay in Portsmouth.}

Riffkid leaves Portsmouth with Jennifer; they go to London to start a new career in music and a new life together. They are free of The Trench at last. (Wants a new life) [Thinks about the future] {Chooses to be with Jennifer.}

† The Trench was my second novel.

Explanation

This character profile was written because I was doing a course about screen-writing for films. The course was led by Michael Lengsfield of the University of East Anglia, whose article ‘Thoughts on character’ set out how to compose the profile. I chose to write about my novel The Trench. The protagonist, main character is Riffkid. This provides my choice of story for the exercises to do with script-writing.

Language and Evolution introduced

An Introduction to Language and Evolution

In this article Trevor Locke looks at how language played a key role in the evolution of human species and in determining which species became extinct and which were successful.

A topic that is of fundamental importance to both anthropology and archaeology is the relationship between language and human evolution. The evolution of mankind – a social animal – is marked by the increasing size of the brain. If the size of a brain increases we assume that mental powers also grow. This is, however, an assumption about which we must be careful, as I go on to discuss below. Many groups of animals and insects communicate, some in quite sophisticated ways, such as oceanic mammals. Birds and bees are known to use a variety of methods to communicate with each other and with the group as a whole. Where the hominin (early humans) is concerned, it is likely that communication evolved into language as various groups and species developed. That transition from simple communication (largely non-verbal) to language was very likely to have been driven by changes in climatic conditions, migration to new and more challenging environments and by increasing sophistication in the fabrication and use of tools and artefacts.

Once spoken language became established, we can speculate that writing followed as well as art and ritual. The development of culture in hominid groups required language as a way of expressing and passing on cultural forms. The problem for palaeopathologists and archaeologists is that language leaves little or no evidence in the fossil record or in deposits and strata that provide us with our understanding of early hominin lifestyles. It is only when writing developed that archaeologists were able to find artefacts that confirmed that early people could inscribe symbols and icons on to wood, stone, bone or antler. Some examples of early ‘written language’ come from paintings made in caves, symbols carved into artefacts and the first creation of icons and totems on pieces of material.

Could the very earliest hominid species ‘talk’? Scientists have analysed human bones to see if they could detect whether such remains indicated the ability to speak. In humans, most of the mechanisms used for communication are soft tissues and cartilage and these are not preserved in the fossil record. The skulls and bones of the spinal chord might suggest the size and shape and where the soft tissues of the voice box might have been and the shape of the mouth, suggested by the jaw bones, and the nasal air passages within the skull are thought to provide clues about whether speech – as we know it – was possible in these early hominids. Looking at the bones and skulls of primates might give some clues as to what kind of sounds they made but not as to what gestures they made, posturing or hand and arm movements.

Talking about survival

We can also look at the way that modern apes and chimpanzees communicate and that provides more pointers to how early hominids communicated. Some communication would have involved gesture (including signing), facial expression and possibly touch as well as vocal sounds. Early hominid species, such as Neanderthals – Homo neanderthalensis – appear to have limited verbal capabilities, suggested by the bones and skulls that have been found. Some scientists think that Neanderthals were capable of language but this of course not clear whether this was a mixture of complex signing and vocalisations. The language in this case could be fairly advanced (compared to previous species) and (possibly) the larger brain capacity would have made it possible for there to be a proto-language and this would have supported both increasing technological capability and extensive migration into new environments. Survival in new lands would require early peoples to be able to share effective indications about where food can be found, what is edible and what is not and to give warnings about the approach of predators. Huntings parties would need to communicate in order to track and kill prey.

Once hominids had developed the ability to use words – as opposed to simply making calls or vocal alerts – the number of ‘words’ used in a group would increase and that led to establishing rules about how individual ‘words’ should be combined to communicate understandable thoughts. This requires rudimentary grammar and syntax. Bear in mind that this process probably took thousands of years. The origins of verbal words might have lay in increasingly complex gestures. In evolutionary terms, the species that were most adept at gestures and then verbal communications tended to survive and their communities prospered. It is possible that some hominid groups became communities of speakers. Some groups might have worked up a proto-language which they used amongst themselves. The spread of languages in areas like Africa, Europe or Asia would have required large numbers of people to engage in talking as a means of communication. Using language and talking went hand in hand with the gradual development of thought and culture; as some people thought using words and sentences and gradually developed the capacity to have abstract thoughts rather than just uttering names or directions. Words have meaning; just as gestures mean something to those that see them. It was grammatical speech that allowed abstract thought to emerge.

Talking for generations

For this to happen successfully the brain had to have the capacity to recognise meaning and to retrieve it from memory. That requires members of a language community to have been together over successive generations. Once a group had developed the capacity to share words and the syntax for combining them, the capacity is handed on from one generation to the next and the ability to use language becomes both cultural and genetic. Speaking a language over many generations led to changes in the skeletal and muscular morphology of the body. Language implies the ability to store knowledge and to have collective understandings of the environment and to share things of significance between contemporary members of a group and to pass this knowledge from one generation to the next. Once groups had to the ability to talk to each other, they could transmit their collective knowledge down the generations.

Talking fluently involves speaking words – in the right order and in the right way – and emphasising them with gestures or vocal tones. Modern speakers use spoken words amplified by facial expressions and hand movements and emphasise words or phrases with intonations of the voice. This could well have been true for early hominids making the transition, from communication that was very visually mediated, to proto-language with a more extensive repertoire of calls and signs. As brain power increased, so did the ability to organise sounds and gestures into rules that would enable a more complex level of communication. Groups that shared a common system of communication could speak to each other in more varied ways and share increasingly sophisticated ideas. Giving directions, making warnings and alerts, indicating where good food supplies were located, reacting to good and bad behaviour – all these could be shared among the members of group or tribe as well as taught by adults to their children.

Words and gestures are symbols; they mean something when they are used. They can be simple signals or they can indicate more complex thoughts. One of the key factors in the development of language was very possibly the ability to ask questions. ‘Have you seen any antelopes? Where can I go to collect ripe berries?’ Being able to give detailed and specific replies to such questions requires a more complex ability to communicate than simply pointing in a general direction and giving a sign for antelopes. Migratory groups had to learn what was good to eat and what was poisonous in a new habitat. The group needed to collect, store and share knowledge of the environment in order to live in it. Those that developed enhanced language skills stood more chance of survival than those who did not.

How can we study the evolution of language? Recent advances in the analysis of DNA has thrown light on the spread and distribution of Homo sapiens in various continents. Linguists have looked at modern languages in order to trace their roots in ancient tongues. It is not until we begin to find artefacts, artworks and carved iconographs and cave paintings that we can date anything. Pre-history can only be inferred from the fossil record and remains left in datable strata. There is a growing body of knowledge from studies of DNA about how early man spread out across the world from African origins.

Palaeopathologists have mapped the dispersion of hominids from Africa into Europe and Asia. This pattern of dispersion and migration would be roughly the same for the distribution of languages. Hominid groups that talked to each other had to have some process through which older members could teach verbal skills to children. Groups that broke away from their main migratory community would have settled in a place and their language would have changed to reflect the circumstances and ecology of their new local area. Clearly, even by the bronze age, many different languages were being spoken in various parts of the world. Over many thousands of years, humans would have developed genes for language. That went in tandem with changing skeletal and muscular morphology of the skull, lungs and nervous system that aided the ability to talk. Hominids evolved into talking man.

Passing on skills

Many early hominids made tools from stone, wood, bone and antler. The skills for making these implements were passed from one generation to another. This activity of ‘training’ in skills used to make things either involved fairly elaborate communication or led to the emergence of language. Some skill transmission was simply through imitation – this occurs in modern animals that watch a parent or other adult animal doing something and then copying what they see. No communication is involved in this. The Cro-Magnons tool kit was complex, varied and innovative. This reflects intentional design and planning which are the basis of complex mental processes and can be associated with language. The physical features associated with spoken language, such as the vocal tract, the structure of the brain and the size of the spinal cord, are identical between Cro-Magnon people and humans living today. This means that Cro-Magnon people would have been capable of producing the same sounds we use in speech.¹ Some scientists use the phrase ‘proto-language’ to signify the transition from sophisticated non-verbal communication to the beginnings of language as we know it. Any enhanced verbal communication requires breathing muscles to be controlled in order to vary pitch and tone with the voice box.

It is when we find symbolic artefacts in the archaeology that we can be confident that Homo sapiens had developed language. The existence of artefacts that had no obvious use suggests that they were works of art – connected possibly with the emergence of ritual or expressions of thoughts and feelings about the natural world. ARTefacts are created when people start to think in a abstract way about death, the existence of spiritual forces that control the world, the afterlife and shared reverence for ancestors. The development of symbolism requires sophisticated mental processes and any objects found that unambiguously portray symbols or icons and have no obvious use (as tools) strongly suggests that language has been established. Evidence of art prior to 40,000 years ago is limited and solid evidence of symbolism only occurs after this time. Artefacts were part of an increasing awareness of how the world and life could be interpreted, understood and explained. Art works, physical icons and totems played a part in handing on beliefs from one generation to the next.

This calls into question the meaning of the word ‘language.’ What is the difference between non-verbal communication and speaking using a language? We know from observations of animal communication that fairly complex patterns of communication exist, in some insects, oceanic mammals and the higher apes. Some have gone so far as claim that animals have a language. So, at what point does communication become language? The transition from complex communication to a fully-formed language did not have a clear threshold; the gradual development of verbal language took thousands of years and many generations and required a continuity of community capable to allowing successive generations to hand on language, beliefs and complex ideas used in interpreting the world in which they lived.

Life, death, natural forces, afterlife and ancestors are all highly abstract concepts and require language in order to be thought. Very early man might have had some emotions and intuitions about life and death and these inchoate impressions would have led to the emergence of more sophisticated beliefs, values and concepts; in this process there would have been a mutual interaction between thought and words. As people began to use a word for death, they could then begin to build icons for death and as they began to bury or burn dead bodies, rituals grew around this activity and that led to people using sentences about these things. This suggests that a group of people shared beliefs about death in common with each other and were able to pass on those beliefs from one generation to the next; the sharing of beliefs was not just for one group at one period but was inter-generational and language allowed belief systems to be shared both by the group and its heirs and successors.

When does complex communication become language?

Studies of gorillas’ and chimpanzees’ behaviours has revealed that a variety of methods are used in their communication. One writer used the term ‘the unfolding dance’ to characterise communications in great apes.³ Monkeys use a range of visual and auditory signals to communicate with others either individually or to the group as a whole. Calls are made to warn of danger, gestures are made with hands and arms, a gorilla might beat its chest as a signal, postures and facial expressions are all part of the varied armoury of signals that the great apes can use in communicating with others. Studies of marine mammals indicate that some – such as the Orca – give out calls which are specific to an individual – they call out another animals ‘name.’ A pod of killer whales uses a complex system of communications, particularly when hunting.

Here’s an interesting thought: can we think without words? I wrote recently that most of my thinking is done with language – I hear myself talking, silently, inside my head. I guess this is common for writers who are always figuring out sentences. Poets on the other hand probably think with symbols, images, feelings that occur to them in a non-verbal way. Eventually they have to capture that in the written word but a lot of the mental activity begins non-verbally. Painters probably spend a lot of time thinking with images, colours, scenes, layouts, shapes. Musicians might spend time thinking with sounds, tunes, melodies, notes, riffs, harmonies and rhythms. Artists have to use intuition. Without non-verbal thought our minds would not be agile enough to compose art. This leads me to wonder if animals think what they are to communicate before they do the communication or is what they do – calls, gestures, facial expressions, postures – simply reactive, in response to something they get from another animal or an event in their environment. I guess that is an unanswerable question, although some research on neural activity might throw light on it. A human walking through the jungle or across the plain, would have to feel the landscape intuitively. Some archaeologists believe that early man ‘felt’ the surrounding environment and that a bronze age man would see the landscape very differently to a modern human would see it. Visual recognition works sub-verbally; if we walk through a landscape where there is no written signage – a wood, a field, a lakeside – we ‘see’ trees, grass, water, catch sight of living creatures and we need to know and react to what we are seeing intuitively. Hunter-gatherers would have to react quickly to perceived risks and opportunities in their environment; they did not have time to think verbally, they have to go for it immediately. Otherwise they go home empty handed or become a meal for predator.

Do animals think about what they are about to communicate before they communicate? I think this is unlikely. Humans, on the other hand, with their large and more sophisticated mental apparatus, can premeditate what they are about to say. Premeditation is important to being successful when it comes to survival-related language and communication; issuing warnings and alerts, giving directions to food sources, indicating what is edible and what is not, giving instructions about how to male tools, teaching how to prepare foods – all require communication to be clear and unambiguous. If someone misunderstands what is being said to them, the consequences can be disastrous. Communities that can communicate clearly are more likely to survive and prosper than those than cannot.

The other thing that fascinates me is how people in China and Japan think; these are cultures that use a different, more visual and symbolic, language and writing set, to us in the West. Do Chinese people think differently to users of English? If your written language uses pictograms, does that make you think differently? Words, pictograms, icons, hieroglyphs and other visual representations of thoughts either promote or inhibit the development of culture and belief systems; those that allow sophisticated and complex thoughts are more likely to encourage beliefs and more fluid and flexible interpretations of the world than those that are limited and simplistic. How writing influenced the evolution of technology, culture and civilisation is clearly a very interesting topic but one for another time.

Pictures tell the story

Some of the earliest cave paintings were pictograms. In very ancient times, people would paint very stylised images of themselves or animals on the walls of caves. This might have led, over thousands of years, to the earliest forms of writing, such as cuneiform and hieroglyphs. These early pictograms represented an idea; they were usually mostly used to represent or signify things in the real world. It was much later that icons were drawn to represent an abstract idea – something that did not exist in the real world. That was some 9,000 years BC. Series of symbols that were the earliest methods of writing came into existence about 5,000 years BC. Carvings found on an obelisk in southern Turkey in the city of Göbekli Tepe, are thought to be around 12,000 years old. They could be the oldest ‘written’ language yet discovered. The carvings were pictographs – a series of pictorial images rather than writings that used an alphabet. It can be argued that the use of pictographs is an early form of writing. Written language, as it is known it today, probably appeared several thousands years later; Sumerian writing is known from 3,100 BC. In its earliest phrase it was a system of pictograms; these gradually became simplified into the system of wedge-shaped characters that we know as cuneiform script. Proto-writing (which preceded fully-fledged written language) employed ideographs and symbols. These were representations of things in the real world and did not relate to spoken words. These early pictograms and pictographs could be understood but not spoken. The correlation between written symbols and spoken words developed much later.

It is not yet clear why paintings were made in caves. They were sometimes left very deep inside the caves, where very few people would have seen them. This has led some archaeologists to suggest that cave art was ritualistic, possibly related to beliefs about death, ancestors or the spirit world. Early man was very visual; our ancient ancestors needed to be acutely aware of their surroundings; their safety depended on it as did their ability to hunt. Hunter-gatherers needed to figure out why some hunting expeditions worked well and others did not. Tribes in the Amazon jungle today say prayers or make offerings before going on a hunting expedition. It is possible that our early ancestors began to think that hunting was governed by supernatural forces. The act of painting an animal or a hunting scene on the wall of the cave might have a ritualistic significance, it has been suggested. Early people would have had a much more elaborate set of images than we do; images of their surrounding habitat, images that have significance for them when they see their environment. Psychoanalysts have suggested that dreams play a part in the formation of imagery. Aboriginal people understand a ‘dream world’ that interprets the real world for them. As our ancestors evolved they developed beliefs and this came with the introduction of abstract thought. Over thousands of years beliefs and rituals became religious systems. That happened when human societies became larger and more complex and power systems grew up through which communities were organised by the few to control the activities of the many. Well, that’s one way of looking at it.

How words are made

When I was at Manchester University I did a course in ethnomethodology. What I remember about that course was the way they broke words down into pieces – I think they called them phonemes – the units of sound that words are made from. The way phonemes are made depends on the shape of the mouth, lips, tongue and larynx and vary from one language to another. Language requires speakers to learn phonemes in order to make words; then it is a question of how to arrange words into phrases. When we listen to someone speaking we hear the phonemes and these allow us to distinguish one word from another. There are 44 phonemes in English. The are 26 letters in the alphabet and so some letters have to be combined together to form a sound – ‘ch’ for example. However, ‘ch’ can be spoken in different ways to make different sounds depending on which word is used. Chef, Choir and Cheese all contain ‘ch’ but are said differently. English can be a difficult language to learn because the way it is spoken and the way it is written do not always marry up. The way words are spelt is not always phonetic. English has it roots in many early European languages including Latin, French, Danish, German and now even Asiatic languages. In the Xhosa language of South Africa, a variety of sounds are made with the mouth, that do not occur in European languages, such as click consonants and different meanings that flow from using rising or falling intonation. The clicks are known as dental clicks, lateral clicks and post-alveolar clicks (made with the tip of the tongue at the roof of the mouth, and sound somewhat like a cork pulled from a bottle.)

Despite the many complexities in the way that English is spoken, it is possible for people to understand what each other is saying even if they come from widely different areas of the country. Providing they use standard English (and not regional dialect words) someone from Cornwall should be understand someone from Glasgow speaking in English. Not always the case of course. Almost every language has its regional dialects. There are however some phonemes that occur in other languages that are not present at all in English. Modern standard Arabic has 28 consonant phonemes and 6 vowel phonemes. Moreover, the way that these are pronounced can change in meaning. Some syllables can be given stress that would make them different in meaning those from that are not given stress but then that is true of many European languages. If we learn Latin we have to know how to emphasise or put stress on a syllable – we have to know if the last, penultimate or third to last syllable is stressed in order to speak a language correctly. Some speakers are clear in the way they pronounce words – they are articulate. Others have more sloppy and lazy approach to speaking, using words that are slurred or truncated. This is true of some dialects. English has changed a lot since it was first spoken. When I was doing my A-Level in English Literature I had to learn to speak middle English in order to read the works of Chaucer aloud in class. The English of Chaucer sounded very different to modern English but you could just make out some of it in the written text.

To make sense of the way that spoken language influences human evolution we need to use techniques such as phonemics and the tools provided by ethnomethodology. The way in which a language is spoken changes over time in response to cultural, political and religious trends and the variations in power between different indigenous and migrant groups. Changes in spoken language can itself lead to changes in power relationships and cause conflict within communities of speakers. It is not difficult to observe that process happening in medieval Britain; it might therefore be to safe to assume that similar processes went on in early ancestral tribal societies.

Brain size and hominin language development

As part of my course in the study of Homo floresiensis (human fossils discovered on the island of Flores in Indonesia), I posed this question:

A big, unanswered question is “how big was the brain of the hominin that founded the Flores colony?” We don’t really know what happened but with 700,000 year old tools we urgently need an early skull. This would help us to know how much the brain “shrunk” over a period of over half a million years. The point is that if the brain shrunk over a period of well over half a million years how did the nature of the stone tools vary over the same period. Were later tool-makers with smaller brains better tool-makers than their bigger brained ancestors? It raises an interesting question of the relationship between brain size and intelligence in hominins.

In response to this, a fellow student contributed his own thoughts on the matter; my reply to him was

I liked Christopher’s point until I came to the word ‘intelligence’. I am not convinced that brain size = enhanced intelligence. Because (a) I am not clear what is meant by ‘intelligence’ and (b) there are a lot of other mental activities going on inside the brain other than the kind of things measured by intelligence. The key question for me is whether there is any co-relation between brain size and the development of any kind of language. So far, I have not seen anything on this course which suggests that H.f. had developed language (as we know it.) There is no evidence of ritual or rudimentary religion, two things that go hand in hand with the emergence of language in early hominids.

My fellow student responded by adding:

Perhaps I should have put the word intelligence in quotes, as I quite often do. It is easiest to think in terms of a basic brain functionality, which we have in common with animals at a biological level, and cultural information which is exchanged between individuals. A number of animals apart from human share some cultural information (the great apes, orca, elephants) but we differ in that we use language to “speed learn” cultural information. I think all early hominins had a primitive language to handle social interactions, which developed very slowly over millions of years. There was a critical tipping point (perhaps about 150,000 years ago) when one group discovered how to use language to speed up the teaching of how to make better tools – and significantly you could use language to teach your children how to use language – and the cultural knowledge explosion began with no biological modifications being needed. While H.f. almost certainly did not use language as we know it, if it was alive today I suspect that we could teach it to use language!

This dialogue raises the interesting issue of the relationship between brain size and intelligence (if by that we mean mental capacities including reasoning and abstract thought.) The fossil record shows changes in the size of human brains as evidenced by the skulls that have been found. Simply increasing the size of the brain – as evidence by the capacity of the cranium – does not allow us to infer that the owner’s were smarter. There is no convincing evidence that there is a direct correlation between the total size of a brain and its capacity to think; too many other variables are at play.

My fellow course member went to say

I believe some early hominins developed a highly vocal communication language for use in hunting. It then started to be used to discuss the results of the hunt round the camp fire and young children started to learn about hunting without being put at risk. The language then morphed into a “speed-learning” tool for passing information rapidly from generation to generation. The more efficient the language became the more that could be taught … and human knowledge started to expand exponentially.

Imaginative thinking but it does pose challenging and important questions for palaeoanthropology. It suggests that language developed from life-style, from what early people needed to do to survive in their habitat and what they needed to do in order to survive and meet the challenges of the new environments into which they were migrating. Those species that did not die out and become extinct, were successful in coping with changes in climate, the need to settle in new locations and the demands brought about by slowly moving into new territories that were markedly different from where they had been living before. This process of adaption requires high levels of communication and communal co-operation. Human communication had to become more complex in order to meet the challenges facing the early humans as they migrated into new regions.

I concluded the dialogue by saying

‘we now know the modern humans were migrating through South-east Asia on their way to Australia ‘ Interesting enough but evidence that modern humans settled in Flores would be more important in conjecturing about possible interaction between H.f. and other humans. I speculate that prolonged interaction between species has consequences for both groups and that would leave behind evidence in the strata. Two things would stand out for me (1) evidence of transfer of skills in making artefacts and (2) cultural influences particularly those relating to language. Such evidence already exists from cross-fertilisation discoveries in other parts of the world for pre-historic communities. One last thing is whether species interaction spreads disease. We known from modern interaction between people from different continents that disease has catastrophic consequences for isolated tribal groups. Evidence of disease should be available from bone samples and teeth.

What are the timescales for all this?

By the time we get to the early bronze-age we get the picture of man (Homo sapiens) that indicates the existence of fully-fledged language. Bronze-age people disposed of their dead in a way that suggests they had symbolic concepts of life and death and practised rituals around the remains of the dead. People at this time had developed attitudes to death and attitudes are cultural and that means they must have had language. Intentional burial of human remains appears to have started in the Middle Palaeolithic period (250,000 to 40,000 years ago). Excavations indicate burial practices in Neanderthal and modern humans. In the Upper Palaeolithic period, Cro-Magnons were interring their dead sometimes also placing in the grave objects such as animal bones or ochre powder, tools and jewellery such as bracelets.² By the Bronze age, man had developed a full capability for spoken language, the fabrication of sophisticated tools and jewellery, had started to make clothing, had a variety of cooking methods and had developed conceptual thought to the extent that they could dispose of their dead using ritual, ceremony and the beginnings of religious belief.

People gradually changed from the lifestyle of hunter-gatherers to a settled way of life that permitted farming and agriculture. Human settlements took on long-term timescales in their activities and we see the emergence of buildings and other forms of construction that required high levels of co-operation and crowd endeavour. The construction of monuments and henges required the collaboration of hundreds of people over a long period of time. Art and craft became increasingly sophisticated and we see the emergence of trading, warfare, culture and religion. There is evidence that early communities had a knowledge of astronomy and could tell that changes would occur in the seasons, tides and the weather by observations of the moon. That required abstract thought.

That picture is the end point of the evolutionary process from very early hominids to modern Homo sapiens.

Evolution revisited.

If we look at the work of Charles Darwen and others writing at the time, we get some basic concepts about human evolution. One of the most widely known concepts in early theories of evolution is ‘survival of the fittest.’ Darwen did not have access to the vast array of scientific discoveries of the 20th and 21st centuries that have thrown light on our early ancestors. Our knowledge of the evolution of human species in pre-history has created much more evidence as to why some species became extinct and other survived. If the notion that the fittest humans survived if valid, then we have to ask why we mean by ‘fittest.’ Darwen’s writings focus on the evidence that he could observe, that of physical survival in the world of predators and the ability to hunt or to access natural resources. Those that were successful could multiply; those that failed to protect themselves or to eat well became extinct. Being fit to inhabit an environment, being able to transmit knowledge from one generation to the next, being able to interpret the landscape – these are all skills that relate to survival in early hominid communities. Changes in climate, the intrusion of immigrant groups, the disappearance of food sources, changing sea levels, territories becoming drier and arid, rivers drying up – are all changes that would kill off some communities but which could be survived by those that were adaptable. The capacity to adapt to fundamental change can be seen as being closely related to language, culture and the ability to modify belief systems.

The approach of this article is to try to work out the role played by language in the process of human evolution. I have considered what language is in order to begin to analyse the part it could have played in evolution. Not an easy task; we are dealing with something that does not survive in the fossil record and clues are few until we get to artefacts that represent linguistic behaviour. Much of this is guesswork and assumption. Trying to imagine how language shaped human behaviour is useful in as much as it gives some direction to how remains may be analysed. By looking at artefacts we can arrive at some understanding of the emergence of belief systems, culture and religion. If we make assumptions (in the absence of hard evidence) then they must be credible, accurate and verifiable by observations and data that are available.

Language gave early man the ability to communicate ideas and this aided survival and gave him an advantage over other species that were limited to complex but non-verbal communication. Being able to work with a toolkit of words increased early man’s conceptual powers. He began to think more clearly, use abstract ideas and employ a wider and more sophisticated battery of mental processes.

Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (1896 to 1934) was a Soviet psychologist, the founder of a theory of human cultural and bio-social development commonly referred to as cultural-historical psychology, and leader of the Vygotsky Circle. Vygotsky worked on the relationship between language and thought; that is what I know him for most of all. His books – such as Thought and language, Mind in society, Thinking and speech – establishes the explicit and profound connection between speech (both silent inner speech and oral language), and the development of mental concepts and cognitive awareness. Since Vygotsky, many have worked on the relationship between language and evolution. As new and fresh findings have become available from archaeology and the fossil record, from studies plotting DNA dispersion from Africa, results from linguistics showing how modern language might relate to those of our ancestors, and many other sources, we are becoming aware of how much has been discovered and how much more remains to be discovered about this challenging relationship.

Feeding bigger brains

Life before the bronze age saw people living in small groups that moved around the landscape searching for food. For early man, life was an endless round of finding food, shelter and safety. The development of language gave people the ability to communicate knowledge of their environment and aided the process of passing on skills in the fabrication of tools and artefacts. At some point early man learned how to harness fire and the main use to which he put this was cooking. When our ancestors learned how to make fire and to cook food they gained a further advantage which took them another step up the evolutionary ladder. Being able to eat cooked food improved diet and nutrition and, some have claimed, aided the growth of the brain.

The evidence suggests that as our species learnt to make fire, rather than to just escape from it, we gradually ate more and more food that we had cooked. Over hundreds of thousands of year, the digestive system of Homo sapiens adapted so that it became efficient at extracting energy from food that had been cooked, more so than from food which was raw. Scientific papers have suggested that cooked food provides a higher level of energy, when digested, and this aided the evolution of a larger brain. As an organ, the brain and its activities uses high levels of energy. It was only through the development of cooked food that such large brains could evolve.

There is no evidence, as far as I know, of any other animal species using fire. Several species use tools of various kinds but it is only our species that had learnt how to start fires and then use them. Cooking food using fire goes back many thousands of years in the archaeological record. The remains of cooking appear in nearly all excavations of human settlements in modern times and also occur widely in the fossil record for early hominins. Having more energy meant that early man could think more and that aided the develop of both language and of conceptual capacity. Man being to have abstract thoughts. That led to the construction of ritual and religion to the creation of culture and art. By the time we get to the bronze age we see how far this whole process had come.

It could be said that what characterises modern humans is their ability to cook food before eating it. No other species can do that. The implications are profound. Recent studies found that people who chose to eat only raw food, either meats or vegetables, had a lower body mass than those who lived on a normal (cooked) diet and often became malnourished. Our digestive systems have adapted over tens of thousands of years to eating cooked food. A consequence of this is that we are more able to turn food into energy by cooking it and this provides an ample supply of energy to our brains. Cooking is such a fundamentally important aspect of archaeology and history. We cannot fully understand the lifestyles of human communities without making reference to the way they get their food – either by hunting, scavenging or by farming – and the way they prepared it before eating it. Food preparation gives rise to many cultural characteristics and in some cases to religious rituals. Whether we are studying the fossil record or digging in the period of recorded history, looking at farming, agriculture, food distribution and cooking is completely necessary to understanding the life of any community.

Death – finding the right words

As human species developed, towards the bronze age, their life styles became increasingly complex. Their technologies were becoming ever more sophisticated and varied, they had an increasing awareness of their environment and they began to treat death differently. By the time of the bronze age, people were burying their dead and placing ritual objects in the graves. It is likely therefore, I would argue, that they developed words and thoughts that represented how they felt and thought about the processes of funerals and how the present generation of people related to those who had gone before. Language was being more sophisticated and that created a further element in the advance of their evolution. Funerary arrangements had become increasingly complex by the bronze age and the practice of mummification had become established in Egypt and the British Isles. [Mike Parker Pearson, 2005]

The technology of making bronze would have required new words, I think. It was an activity that had few parallels in anything else that people were doing at the time. Being able to extract ore, smelt it and work it into tools is a fairly complex process and this suggests, I would argue, that people had language and could talk to each other about this process. It would have been very much harder, if not impossible, had they not had language. This would have been between 2150 BC and 1700 BC. [Stockhammer, 2015]

The ability to start and use fire was a major factor in the evolution of early man and is seen as a major adaptive advantage to people in the late neolithic period. [Wrangham, 2010] Newspaper reports on the discovery of a bronze age settlement near Peterborough

Almost 3,000 years after being destroyed by fire, the astonishingly well preserved remains of two bronze age houses and their contents have been discovered at a quarry site in Peterborough. The artefacts include a collection of everyday domestic objects unprecedented from any site in Britain, including jewellery, spears, daggers, giant food storage jars and delicate drinking cups, glass beads, textiles and a copper spindle with thread still wound around it. [Kennedy, 2016]

The site was in use 3,000 years ago. Excavations of the site produced examples of cooking pots and well-preserved metal artefacts. By this time the evidence suggests that these people were farmers. I have already argued that the life style of hunting and gathering required knowledge of the habitats that people moved in. The transition to the kind of settled existence required for farming demanded increasing knowledge, skills and technology and that would have led to a larger number of words and increasingly sophisticated language.
Notes and references

¹ The description of a Neanderthal hyoid from Kebara Cave (Israel) in 1989 fuelled scientific debate on the evolution of speech and complex language. Gross anatomy of the Kebara 2 hyoid differs little from that of modern humans. However, whether Homo neanderthalensis could use speech or complex language remains controversial. Similarity in overall shape does not necessarily demonstrate that the Kebara 2 hyoid was used in the same way as that of Homo sapiens. The mechanical performance of whole bones is partly controlled by internal trabecular geometries, regulated by bone-remodelling in response to the forces applied. Here we show that the Neanderthal and modern human hyoids also present very similar internal architectures and micro-biomechanical behaviours. Our study incorporates detailed analysis of histology, meticulous reconstruction of musculature, and computational biomechanical analysis with models incorporating internal micro-geometry. Because internal architecture reflects the loadings to which a bone is routinely subjected, our findings are consistent with a capacity for speech in the Neanderthals. [from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0082261%5D

² Mesolithic (10,000-6000 years ago). At this period, there was still a hunter-gatherer culture, but a change in technology can be seen in the archaeological record. A different tool kit was now in use compared with that of the later Palaeolithic. For example, the bow and arrow were increasingly used. This is related to a change in the environment to a more temperate climate with increased woodland and disappearance of large grazing herds. Increases in the exploitation of aquatic resources and small game are also evident. Seasonal camp sites such as Star Carr (NE England) and Kelling Heath (Norfolk) have been excavated. Local adaptations to climate can be seen. Burial in the Mesolithic is characterized by a shift from single or small groups of burials to larger cemeteries in the open. No British examples of Mesolithic burials have been identified, with one possible exception. A disarticulated burial in a partially burnt log boat found at St. Albans has been dated to c.4,700 BC, so this could be late Mesolithic or Early Neolithic. … Burial practices in this period, although in open air flat cemeteries rather than caves, seem to continue the later Palaeolithic traditions of burial with the apparent importance of red ochre, ornaments of shell and teeth, and provision of tools and food. Does this mean that spiritual traditions also remained unchanged despite a change of lifestyle? [From http://www.spoilheap.co.uk/burial.htm%5D

³ Alan Fogel referred to in The Dynamic Dance: nonvocal communication in African great apes By Barbara J. KING, Harvard University Press, 30 Jun 2009

References

Mike Parker Pearson, Andrew Chamberlain, Oliver Craig, Peter Marshall, Jacqui Mulville, Helen Smith, Carolyn Chenery, Matthew Collins, Gordon Cook, Geoffrey Craig, Jane Evans, Jen Hiller, Janet Montgomery, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Gillian Taylor and Timothy Wess (2005). Evidence for mummification in Bronze Age Britain. Antiquity, 79, pp 529-546.
Stockhammer PW, Massy K, Knipper C, Friedrich R, Kromer B, Lindauer S, et al. (2015) Rewriting the Central European Early Bronze Age Chronology: Evidence from Large-Scale Radiocarbon Dating.

Wrangham, R. & Carmody, R. Human adaptation to the control of fire. Evol. Anthropol. 19(5), 187–199 (2010).

Maev Kennedy, The Guardian,  A bronze age Pompeii’: archaeologists hail discovery of Peterborough site, 12th January 2016.

John Novembre, Nature 522, 164–165 (11 June 2015), Human evolution: Ancient DNA steps into the language debate.

Kendra Lechtenberg (2014) writing in Stanford Neurosciences Institute, https://neuroscience.stanford.edu/news/ask-neuroscientist-does-bigger-brain-make-you-smarter

Alexandra Horowitz, 2013, Smithsonian Magazine, Why Brain Size Doesn’t Correlate With Intelligence – We can nurture growth, but never really control it. [from: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-brain-size-doesnt-correlate-with-intelligence-180947627/#KbJqgMbq8G7W60cK.99

Viatcheslav Wlassoff, 2015, Is There an Association Between Brain Size and Intelligence?  from http://brainblogger.com/2015/11/22/is-there-an-association-between-brain-size-and-intelligence/

Christopher Bergland, June 2016, Superfluidity: Fluid Intelligence Goes Beyond Brain Size  – Fluid intelligence has two facets that rely on brain size and energy production –  Psychology Today. From https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201606/superfluidity-fluid-intelligence-goes-beyond-brain-size

See William S-Y Wang, Language and the Evolution of Modern Humans, City University of Hong Kong,  from  http://www.ee.cuhk.edu.hk/~wsywang/publications/lang_evo_mhuman.pdf

Transport planning

11th October 2016

Transport and car use

by Trevor Locke

Going to the shops. Something that most adults need to do regularly; some on a daily basis. Back in the 80s there were two cars in our household and we did groceries shopping monthly. We drove to a supermarket and brought home enough produce to feed our family for about four weeks. The supermarket was about four miles away from the house. Petrol was cheap and I had a company car which was provided free of charge by my employer. How times have changed, Now I do not have a car. I take the bus into town to go to the big supermarket; if I need a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread I walk to the local shop. How we shop and where we go to do our shopping raises a number of key issues about how we plan our towns and our urban environments.

Going to the shops

Even when I do what I call a ‘main shop’ I walk around the supermarket with a basket rather than pushing a trolley. Because I have to carry it all home on the bus, I do not purchase more than I can carry – hence the basket. When the basket gets really heavy I stop buying. It’s simple but mainly because I have only myself to feed rather than getting in food for an entire family. And a cat. Apparently there are still many people who get into their car and drive to a shop they could perfectly easily walk to. So I have read. Why? Fear of being on the streets? Idleness? Habit? Who knows; have any surveys ever been done to uncover the facts about this? Which is more pressing as an issue: transport congestion or obesity? Are the British becoming a nation of fat, lazy people? If you agree with that, and many would not, we are lagging far behind the Americans on that score. Walking to the shops is good; it’s a healthy thing to do. It’s an economically healthy thing to do as well. Local shops sustain communities. Someone commented recently that ‘The corner shop has been replaced by the out of town hypermarket and a car became necessary to shop there.’ Prices are higher in local shops than in supermarkets. I know that; I have to take the bus into town to buy food because my local branch (of the same supermarket) charges more for the same products than does its city centre,  bigger branch of the same supermarket chain. Incidentally, I do not pay to use buses; I have a pass that gives me free travel so I do not have to factor in the cost of the bus fare (it would still save money to shop in town even if I did need to pay to get there.)

We all need to get around; whether this is for work, education, shopping, entertainment or visiting people, our choices of how to travel are based on time, money and convenience. Do town planners really see in that way?

What about trams?

In 2015 our local newspaper ran a story about trams. ‘The Big Question: Should Leicester have a tram system?’ reported on a design for a tram network for Leicester. Not the first time this idea has surfaced. As the article pointed out, Leicester had a tram network that closed in 1949. But then there are trams and trams. Today’s trams, like the ones that run in Nottingham, provide clean, comfortable, convenient transport. Great if your destination is near to a tram stop. A poll on the page of the same article indicated that 75% of those who voted said ‘yes’ to having a tram system. The article did not review the case in favour of trams – it just reported that a route map has been designed. Not that anyone was actually planning to start a tram network; it was all hypothetical. The response of the Leicester Mayor – Peter Soulsby – seemed to pour cold water in the idea. The bus service is Leicester is generally quite good; it depends on routes and what time you want to travel but by and large buses run almost everywhere and bus lanes play their part in keeping them moving. They do however burn diesel. That is not good. They can be expensive, in pence per mile compared to alternative forms of transport. Leicester does not suffer from the kind of inner city traffic congestion that we see in many other English cities. I can’t say how they achieve this but we do not see traffic jams much even during peak hours. There are some technical issues with fixed-line transport. Bus lanes and cycle lanes might well have something to do with the difficulty of trying to create the tracks for trams on roads that have for decades been designed for cars. Leicester’s arterial roads tend to be narrower than their equivalents in other cities. This might have something to do with the fact that traffic moves more freely. Single or two lane motorways might allow traffic to move more quickly than three or four lane motorways. It’s a strange thing about road traffic – it does not always work the way you think it would or should.

Centres and suburbs

Leicester is one of the country’s free-standing cities; as the capital of the county of Leicestershire, it is surrounded on all sides by green fields. Not even Nottingham can boast of that. Leicester is a city that sits inside a catchment area of about two million people. That is a statistic of immense importance to the economy of our city. As a key economic and social area within the East Midlands, Leicester depends on the transport infrastructure for the easy movement of people. Our city has various outlying estates and suburbs that house the majority of the resident population. People need access to the city for jobs, entertainment, sport, shopping and culture. They not only have to be able to get into the city but they have to be able to get home again after their visit. As someone who is dependent on buses, I am painfully aware of the importance of a good bus service to the prosperity of the city. With our ageing population, people are increasingly dependent on bus and train services. It’s not just the cost per mile of transport, it is also about the availability of the public transport services. The population of the UK is growing and the older segment of it is increasing, a fact that has important implications for local transport policies and provisions.

One area that has come in for much comment and debate in recent times is the availability of late night buses and trains. Like a lot of cites, Leicester depends on its night-time economy. As a city we have a very vibrant and pluralistic night-time offering, including music, entertainment, sport and culture.

The transport systems do not serve that economy well. As any bus user in this city will tell you, it is easy enough to get into the city during the day but getting home after a show or a festival or a gig is fraught with problems. Buses to outlying suburbs, villages and neighbourhoods often stop at ridiculously early times, making it impossible, for some people, to get into the city and back again. It is one thing to have a catchment area of two million people, it is quite another to make it possible for the majority of that population to make use of Leicester as a destination for entertainment or even for jobs.

Jobs and cars

As the pattern of employment changes, more and more people are becoming dependent on public transport to access employment. The jobs market is offering work but more and more of it is shift work, with the higher-paid jobs being in the evening and overnight. More will need to work beyond the current retirement age and this will increase demand for social transport. Older people may well find it increasingly difficult to run private cars and will become dependent on public transport. The rate of car ownership has been increasing with more families owning more than one car; this has been fuelled by the growth in employment for women and the need to have two cars to be able to cope with both journeys to work and to school.

Congestion is a disease

Trams might well prove to me a positive innovation for Leicester but I doubt we will see them again in my generation’s time. Meanwhile, we have to wrestle with the problem of increasing traffic on the roads for people trying to get into Leicester and those trying to get from it to other parts of the country. Road traffic in England is increasing; it has been going up over the past four years. This, according to the Government, reflects growth in the UK economy and possibly lower fuel prices. Car traffic has been going up. Light goods vehicle traffic has also been increasing; probably, I would guess, due to the increasing use of online purchasing and its consequential need for road delivery.

Over the last twenty years traffic has increased by 17/19% for all vehicle types and for cars has gone up by 12.6% and 70% for light goods vehicles, according to the Government website. Meanwhile, the use of bus services has been going down in the long trend; passenger kilometres have declined by 0.6% since it peaked in 2007. By comparison passenger journeys on light rail systems, such as trams, has reached its higher ever recorded level. The use of buses and coaches has been going down since 2010. In the same time period, the use of cars and taxis has varied by has begun to increase dramatically in recent years.

Living near transport

Access to public transport also affects housing; with the policy of demanding more and more housing in the green belt, provision of adequate transport is of considerable importance. Building housing in the green belt places more pressure on private transport if the provision of buses, trams and commuter trains is not planned to increase. Building houses and flats away from the main employment destinations, inhibits the ability of residents to either walk or cycle to work.

Where city centres have concentrations of work opportunities – particular in retail and hospitality – it make more sense to develop urban accommodation than to hope that people will be able to access affordable housing in the out-lying areas and be still able to get into the city centres to find work.

It is easy for planners and policy-makers to assume that everyone drives their own car and that public transport is just for the poor and disadvantaged. That is a widely held myth, in my experience. Policy-makers want to see a shift away from the car to other forms of transport such as walking and cycling, for environmental reasons. Leicester has pockets of poverty and one that is bound to ensure that they remain is transport poverty.

Transporting the public

Over the next decade and beyond, more people will become dependent on public transport. It is no use providing affordable housing if we fail to provide affordable transport to go with it. Car ownership is not only about being able to afford to buy and car and run it. The cost of owning a house often forces people to stop having their own transport. More and more younger aged people are continuing to live with their parents because it takes them so long to save enough money to afford the deposit for a mortgage. What limit’s their ability to save is owning a car and the costs of having to pay for a car in order to get to work or indeed to get out to do the shopping. So many supermarkets (where the best prices can be had) are situated where only car owners can get to them. Having a transport policy that meets the real needs of urban and outer-urban dwellers must be a key issue for governmental policy-makers and planners. Public transportation needs to address both the availability of buses, trams and taxis and also the fares that are charged. Short distance fares are often more expensive that long-distance ones even where flat-fare tickets are available. One reason why transport issues concerns me is the close connection between the importance of the late-night economy and the availability of transport. The strategy for developing buses services cannot pivot solely on the need for night-time travel but putting this specific issue in a broader context is, in my view, essential.

Planning Leicester

Much of what Leicester is grappling with at present, when it comes to planning and transport policies, is to do with the city centre and, to some extent, the balance of outer-urban and inner-city economics. Our city centre is fairly busy and has managed to avoid some of the problems seen in comparable cities with businesses closing down and high streets shop voids. The shopping area of our city centre is fairly small and compact; it is especially good for pedestrians with its traffic free streets. The distribution of car parking in the centre is probably fairly good – but I am not the best person to know about that because, as I say, I do not drive. If shopping in Leicester’s centre lacks anything it is variety; it is less than good when it comes to the mix of shops and range of goods that are available. Many shoppers, who are looking for something out of the ordinary, travel to other town, such as Nottingham, because they can not find what they are looking for in Leicester. The mix of retail outlets on High Streets is dwindling across the whole country. That goes some way to explaining why so many people are taking to on-line shopping to secure the items they want – small, specialist shops are just not available locally.

Brain Size

Size does not matter

it’s what you do with it that counts

Brain size, language and evolution

This article forms part of a large work on which I am currently engaged (August 2016). ‘Language and  Evolution’ is a subject that flowed from a course I took that studied the discovery of the remains of an extinct hominid called Homo floresiensis, in the Ling Bua cave on the island of Flores in Indonesia.  I tried to discover if this species could talk using a language. It is not possible to know from the archaeological evidence. I will be posting more from my studies of the development of human language through evolution, as sections are completed.

Scientific studies of early hominid skulls and other skeletal parts have provided some understanding of the sizes of brains of early humans, compared to those of modern people and some animals, including modern great apes.

What we do not yet understand, I would say, is the relationship between brain size and capabilities.  The brain governs what animals can do, how they can do it and how much they can learn in order to ‘know’ what to do. The brain is the repository of behavioural characteristics. Just having a small brain does not always indicate lack of behavioural characteristics. Species with smaller brains could still make some tools. Complex communication skills might also have been possible in hominids with relatively smaller brains. The skeletal remains can reveal quite a lot but not what the brain inside the bones could do. It seems fairly reasonable to conclude that Homo sapiens had a large brain, comparatively, and that he also could talk in a language.

Neanderthals left very little in the way of artistic artefacts and this suggests that symbolic thought was limited to a few individuals and not widespread in the species. Scientific work on how Neanderthals spoke suggests a more limited range of voiced sounds that we find in modern man.¹ The size of a brain is not the most important indicator of intelligence. The functionality of a brain comes from various elements including the spinal cord and brain stem; it also involves the nervous system and the extent to which the animal can see, hear and sense its surroundings (its cognitive abilities.) The behaviour of an animal will reflect its ability to learn from experience; the survival of a species, it can be said, is a function of its ability to learn quickly and to adapt to changes in its environment. I will discuss (below) how the acquisition of language increases the functionality of the brain and enhances a range of behaviours that stem from the brain’s capabilities.

But be careful –  brain size it not what you think.  Kendra Lechtenberg makes this point

The relationship between brain size and intelligence, both amongst humans and between different species, has never been particularly well-defined. Humans like to believe that our exceptional cognitive abilities must indicate that we are the kings of the animal kingdom in terms of brain size, or at least that we have the largest brains relative to our body size. As nature would have it, both of these common assumptions are incorrect. Whales and elephants have much bigger brains than humans, and we have about the same brain-to-body mass ratio as mice. Since it would be against human nature to admit defeat, scientists have crafted a third measure of brain size called the encephalization quotient, which is the ratio of actual brain mass relative to the predicted brain mass for an animal’s size (based off the assumption that larger animals require slightly less brain matter relative to their size compared to very small animals). By this metric, at least, humans come out on top, with an EQ of 7.5 far surpassing the dolphin’s 5.3 and the mouse’s measly 0.5.

As Kendra goes on to say ‘there is more to intelligence than brain size.’  The concept of intelligence is difficult; it is both controversial and troublesome. Many have challenged the credibility and accuracy of testing to provide a ‘intelligence quotient.’ What intelligence test measure is not the be all and end all of cognitive ability. When we are trying to analyse and discover how the brain has affected human evolution, we need to look at the whole picture of human functioning. Measuring the internal capacity of a cranium in litres is not really going to tell us all that much. As Alexandra Horowitz pointed out (Alexandra Horowitz, 2013) some animals appear to be smarter because they live in human environments but this is not always the case. As babies grow to adulthood, the size of their brain increases. But this does not give the whole picture; growth and development involve processes going on inside the brain with the growth of synapses. She writes

Consider, though, the strange case of that growing child. Every infant’s brain develops through a period of synaptogenesis—wanton proliferation of synapses, which are the connections between neurons—in the first year or so of life. But one could argue that it is when this intense brain growth ends that the real growth of the child qua individual begins. The next phase of brain development occurs in large part through an increase in synaptic pruning: paring of those connections that are not useful for perceiving, considering or understanding the world the child is facing. In this sense, it’s by downsizing that an individual’s brain is born.

It is possible to compare the mass of a brain with the mass of a body and to see if, on average, some animals – including humans – have a higher score than others. This itself does not answer the question about whether larger brain size co-relates with effective functioning. Many other factors come into play, not least, culture, social integration and knowledge. The intelligence of an individual is a product of how the brain cells work, how neural pathways are connected and many other factors that affect the level of function of the mind. If we want to consider how social groups function, mentally, we have to look at sociocultural factors alongside any analysis of the neurological functioning of the brain and its associated nervous system and cognitive behaviour. The individual Homo floresiensis might have had a comparatively small skull but we cannot conclude from that they were unintelligent. Simply measuring the capacity of its cranium is not going to tell us much. Viatcheslav Wlassoff (2015) commented

There are no doubts that the size of the human brain has increased tremendously in the last couple of million years, from around 600 cm3 in Homo habilis to an average of 1200 cm3 in Homo sapiens. The rise of our intelligence was most certainly linked with this increase of brain size… It is of great interest that the brain size of Neanderthals (1600 cm3) was much larger than in modern humans. We don’t know how Neanderthals would have performed in the IQ test, but we know that they were out-competed by Homo sapiens, even though Neanderthals were physically superior to our ancestors. It is quite likely that our higher level of intelligence played some role in this event.

A new insight into thinking (rather than just brains) comes from Christopher Bergland, (June 2016) who wrote

Fluid intelligence is the ability to think creatively, adapt to new situations, and solve problems you’ve often never encountered before in novel situations. Fluid intelligence generally involves the ability to use critical thinking—along with explicit and implicit knowledge—to identify patterns and connect-the-dots in a personal and original way. As Albert Szent-Györgyi once said, “Thus, the task is not to see what nobody has seen, but to think what nobody has thought, about what everybody sees.”

When it comes to the survival of the fittest and the evolution of human species, this idea of ‘fluid intelligence’ does seem to suggest how some individuals stepped up the ladder and became innovators and then made an impact on the life chances of the group as a whole. To take that iconic example, it was the man who discovered how to make fire that changed the course of human evolution.

This subject is also discussed in my feature article on Language and Evolution.

Notes and references

¹ The description of a Neanderthal hyoid from Kebara Cave (Israel) in 1989 fuelled scientific debate on the evolution of speech and complex language. Gross anatomy of the Kebara 2 hyoid differs little from that of modern humans. However, whether Homo neanderthalensis could use speech or complex language remains controversial. Similarity in overall shape does not necessarily demonstrate that the Kebara 2 hyoid was used in the same way as that of Homo sapiens. The mechanical performance of whole bones is partly controlled by internal trabecular geometries, regulated by bone-remodelling in response to the forces applied. Here we show that the Neanderthal and modern human hyoids also present very similar internal architectures and micro-biomechanical behaviours. Our study incorporates detailed analysis of histology, meticulous reconstruction of musculature, and computational biomechanical analysis with models incorporating internal micro-geometry. Because internal architecture reflects the loadings to which a bone is routinely subjected, our findings are consistent with a capacity for speech in the Neanderthals. [from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0082261%5D

also

It is possible to work out how Neanderthals may have spoken by reconstructing their vocal tracts and then comparing them with those of modern apes and modern humans.

The vocal tract’s structure is revealed in the base of the skull. Modern apes, such as chimpanzees, have a flat skull base and a high larynx whereas modern humans have an arched skull base and a low larynx. Our low larynx allows room for an extended pharynx and this structure enables us to produce the wide range of sounds we use in speech. Neanderthal skull bases appear to be less arched than those of modern humans but more arched than those of modern apes. This suggests that the Neanderthals would have been capable of some speech but probably not the complete range of sounds that modern humans produce.

and

Researchers studying Neanderthal genes discovered that they shared the same version of a gene FOXP2 with modern humans. FOXP2 is the only gene known so far that plays a key role in language. When mutated, it primarily affects language without affecting other
abilities. This gene appears in different forms in other vertebrates where it performs a slightly different function. This suggests the gene mutated not long before the split between the Neanderthals and modern human lines. However, there are plenty of genes involved in language so it takes more than the FOXP2 gene to prove a language ability.

and

The 90,000 year-old double burial from Jebel Qafzeh, Israel is one of the earliest that shows careful placement of the deceased. Burials of modern humans become increasingly complex over time, and Cro-Magnon burials usually include grave goods and other evidence of ritual activity. This pattern of behaviour is also seen at burial sites of other modern human cultures throughout the world.

[from Fran Dorey , Exhibition Project Coordinator]

² Mesolithic (10,000-6000 years ago). At this period, there was still a hunter-gatherer culture, but a change in technology can be seen in the archaeological record. A different tool kit was now in use compared with that of the later Palaeolithic. For example, the bow and arrow were increasingly used. This is related to a change in the environment to a more temperate climate with increased woodland and disappearance of large grazing herds. Increases in the exploitation of aquatic resources and small game are also evident. Seasonal camp sites such as Star Carr (NE England) and Kelling Heath (Norfolk) have been excavated. Local adaptations to climate can be seen. Burial in the Mesolithic is characterized by a shift from single or small groups of burials to larger cemeteries in the open. No British examples of Mesolithic burials have been identified, with one possible exception. A disarticulated burial in a partially burnt log boat found at St. Albans has been dated to c.4,700 BC, so this could be late Mesolithic or Early Neolithic. … Burial practices in this period, although in open air flat cemeteries rather than caves, seem to continue the later Palaeolithic traditions of burial with the apparent importance of red ochre, ornaments of shell and teeth, and provision of tools and food. Does this mean that spiritual traditions also remained unchanged despite a change of lifestyle? [From http://www.spoilheap.co.uk/burial.htm%5D

³ Alan Fogel referred to in The Dynamic Dance: nonvocal communication in African great apes By Barbara J. KING, Barbara J King.

References

Mike Parker Pearson, Andrew Chamberlain, Oliver Craig, Peter Marshall, Jacqui Mulville, Helen Smith, Carolyn Chenery, Matthew Collins, Gordon Cook, Geoffrey Craig, Jane Evans, Jen Hiller, Janet Montgomery, Jean-Luc Schwenninger, Gillian Taylor and Timothy Wess (2005). Evidence for mummification in Bronze Age Britain. Antiquity, 79, pp 529-546.

Stockhammer PW, Massy K, Knipper C, Friedrich R, Kromer B, Lindauer S, et al. (2015) Rewriting the Central European Early Bronze Age Chronology: Evidence from Large-Scale Radiocarbon Dating.

Wrangham, R. & Carmody, R. Human adaptation to the control of fire. Evol. Anthropol. 19(5), 187–199 (2010).

Maev Kennedy, The Guardian, ‘A bronze age Pompeii’: archaeologists hail discovery of Peterborough site, 12th January 2016.

John Novembre, Nature 522, 164–165 (11 June 2015), Human evolution: Ancient DNA steps into the language debate.

Kendra Lechtenberg (2014) writing in Stanford Neurosciences Institute, https://neuroscience.stanford.edu/news/ask-neuroscientist-does-bigger-brain-make-you-smarter

Alexandra Horowitz, 2013, Smithsonian Magazine, Why Brain Size Doesn’t Correlate With Intelligence – We can nurture growth, but never really control it. [from:  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-brain-size-doesnt-correlate-with-intelligence-180947627/#KbJqgMbq8G7W60cK.99

Viatcheslav Wlassoff, 2015, Is There an Association Between Brain Size and Intelligence? from http://brainblogger.com/2015/11/22/is-there-an-association-between-brain-size-and-intelligence/

Christopher Bergland, June 2016, Superfluidity: Fluid Intelligence Goes Beyond Brain Size, Psychology Today.  From https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201606/superfluidity-fluid-intelligence-goes-beyond-brain-size

Analysis: LCFC victory celebrations

The Leicester City Football Club victory celebrations

Preface

This is likely to be a large article. For that reason, I am publishing the first draft and will then update it as research results comes in and as I work through various issues. It will be useful to make it available on the Internet to aid dialogue with others, rather than waiting until the whole piece is finished. This article is, therefore, work in progress.

Article published from 18th May 2016

The LCFC victory parade and celebrations of May 2016

Victoria Park crowd from the air

Monday 16th May 2016 was the day on which Leicester celebrated Leicester City Football Club’s winning the Premier League Trophy. I was there on Victoria Park watching the post-parade show and now I am writing about this event as a local historian. I have a range of other interests in it as a social movement; I do not have an interest in it as a football fan (which I am not.)

This article considers the significance of the victory celebrations, from both social and historical perspectives and draws in narratives about mass observation and the methodologies of local history. The article will look at the wider context of the event as part of a discussion of its significance.

The victory celebrations were also important as a media event. Some of my work will be to look at how the world’s media covered the event and (to a lesser extent) the world media coverage that Leicester had for the Premier League win as a whole. This forms part of the narrative of local history.

Social movements and migrations

Yesterday (16th May) was not a social movement; neither was it a migration. Having said that there are aspects of the whole event that share characteristics in common with social movements per se and with migration as a movement of people.

It is said in the media that 250,000 people were “on the streets of Leicester” to celebrate the LCFC victory. I would like to work out what proportion of those people were residents with LE postcodes compared with those who came into the city from the county of Leicestershire and from further afield. Slight anecdotal evidence suggests that large numbers of people came into the city by train; some of these might have started at stations in the county but it would be interesting to know what level of traffic came into the city from outside the county. The hypothesis here is day that the day was a national event.#edit

Migration is not the best word to use in this context. Movement of people might be an alternative phrase, if only because the era in which we are living is seeing one of the largest movements of people in the history of the world. This is about migration of millions of people from one country to another. This might not seem relevant to the event in Leicester but it provides a bigger picture about the ability of people to move around, access transport and find out what is happening where and when. Movement of people, travel, transit and attendance is a subject worthy of study.

The route of the event was publicised some days before the parade took place #edit The announcement of the location of the festival on Victoria Park however was given out only a couple of days before the parade. #edit. I use the word ‘festival’ to denote the mass gathering on Victoria Park that took place after the victory parade through the city centre; it was rather like a festival – having a main stage and several music acts.

This section focuses on the mass movement of people in geographical terms.

Mass observation

Both sociologists and historians use mass observation as a method for capturing data about events. I will try to find out if there was an organised mass observation of yesterday’s celebrations. #edit

What surprises me is that I knew that this event would happen right from the word go; although I had enough time to organise around it I did not do anything in advance. I could have brought together a team of people to gather mass observations on the streets during the event. I have organised mass observation projects before, in Leicester, but it did not occur to me to organise such a project for this event.

I will however search for any other projects that treat this event as an opportunity for mass observation.

What would we expect to gain from a mass observation of the victory parade? Quite a lot, actually. Even just me being there at the park, I saw a lot of things that were significant. Things that were unexpected, that meant something to me as an observer of life in Leicester. This article will eventually contain examples from my own observations and from comments scraped from social media.

One of these significant observations was the multi-ethnic composition of the crowd and presence of many women wearing hijabs. I noticed this and so did other commentators on social media.

The other thing I noticed were street vendors. Someone commented to me that he had seen “unemployed people selling merchandise on the streets.” In his view, many of those selling goods were people who had jumped on the bandwagon to make a fast buck. That is significant. I saw organised vendors setting up stalls from around 10:30 in the morning. Many of the shops along London road had put sales points at the front of the building, open to passers by. At last one restaurant and removed all its furnishings to create a space that could be filled with customers. This tells us something about business and commerce. #edit Micro-enterprise I suggest is something that merits study as part of what happens at large gatherings of people.

Historical significance-

Was this the largest public event ever to have taken place in Leicester?
Mass public events have taken place before in Leicester. I remember the two One Big Sunday events that were held on Victoria park, which attracted crowds of around 100,000 people.
The history of Leicester contains accounts of demonstrations, open air meetings, pageants and other events that drew large numbers of people. I will look to see how the size of crowds for past events compares to the numbers who attended in victory celebrations. This will set the event in an historical context.
The re-burial of the remains of King Richard III attracted large numbers of people to Leicester. I observed this event. There are other questions that interest me about the Battle of Bosworth, another large event in Leicester that took place 531 years ago.
How many people were involved in the battle of Bosworth in 1485? How many soldiers fought at Bosworth field? How many people saw King Richard III and his retinue depart from the city and how many witnessed the return of the dead King?
This narrative begins to unravel how events are given significance in historical analyses.

-for Leicester

How did such a large number of people find out that this event was about to happen, where it would take place and the time table made for it by its organisers. #edit. What conclusions may be drawn about the size of the crowds lining the streets and at Victoria Park?

-for England and Britain

I have portrayed the LCFC victory celebrations as a national event. It lasted for one day – as many other national events have done and it was focused in just one local area but that is not uncommon for events where the people of Britain mark something that is important for them. Was it a national event? Or, what it simply an event of national significance?

The view from the ground

How did it feel to be there? I spent most of my day walking around the Victoria park area, watching the crowds, the media, observing activities, watching the main stage… how did I feel about that? I plan to write a poem about the event. #edit As a writer I have a fairly wide scope of output, both in creative and non-fiction works.

Capturing history

History is mainly about old documents. But how is current history made? How to today’s historians document things that happen during their lifetimes?
Today’s historians have access to a wide range of media: films, photographs, news reports, comments made on social media outlets, newspapers… a must broader range of source material than was available in the past. How do historians go about capturing contemporary material to form part of a documentation of events and other aspects of history?
Social media produces a tidal wave, a tsunami, of content but it quickly evaporates and can be very difficult to recover. If we scrape Facebook and Twitter for comments, photos and observations we can quickly build up a large-scale picture of an event. We do need to do that quickly because the long it is left the more difficult it becomes to capture.
We might want to analyse such material but if we document it carefully it becomes source material for later historians to use; they might develop a new slant that we not apparent to us now.

Documenting social media

The twenty-first century saw the mass usage of social media both in Britain and in the rest of the world. That made a considerable impact on how people viewed events, happenings, processes, systems, a huge variety of observations and analyses of politics, sport, culture, entertainment, workings of the media, and so on. #edit

Marketing, trade, commerce and merchandising

Mention has already been made (above) of the large number of street vendors present at the event and of the shops, restaurants, bars and coffee houses along the route of the parade. This section focuses on the way that the event was used by a variety of commercial interests to cash-in on the celebrations.

For example:

Catering for those who enjoy slurping the faces of their sporting heroes, the “Vardyccino” was dreamt up by coffee shop owner Hamza Bodhaniya of Bru Coffee and Gelato in Leicester. Selling at £2.15 for a regular cup and £2.45 for a large, the Vardyccinno has proved popular with punters.The drink is elevated from being a mere cappuccino by chocolate powder dusted on top in the shape of Vardy’s head and upper body. [Source BBC website]

Study notes

University of Leicester, Mass Observation online

Social media 1 – Twitter

#Leicesterparade

Media coverage
BBC Leicester City parade: Clean-up after 240,000 people celebrate

BBC World on the move

Leicester city: who is riding the marketing bandwagon?

National

Mass Observation Archive

ends

Music Education

Music Education

This article was published in Arts in Leicester magazine on 23rd March 2016; it has been transferred to this blog.

Arts in Leicester visited Loughborough today (18th March 2016) to look at the work of The Loughborough Music School.

Loughborough Music School is part of the Loughborough Endowed Schools (LES) and is housed in a purpose-built building opened in 2006 by the composer Sir Peter Maxwell Davies.

LES Music Scool. Used with persmission. Photo: Jake Hilder.
LES Music Scool.
Used with persmission.
Photo: Jake Hilder.

My host and guide today was Richard West, Director of Music. We visited several of the rooms in which classes and rehearsals take place; these are quipped with an impressive number of pianos, keyboards and drum kits. Richard showed me the IT room; again, another impressive display of equipment including computers that the students can use to compose music and edit the results.

LES music school interior
LES music school interior

The school also has a large hall suitable for staging concerts. Musical instruments were everywhere: guitars, cellos, harps… clearly this was a place where almost every imaginable musical instrument had a presence. Learning to play an instrument – any instrument – fosters a range of skills and a variety of mental facilities; these are things that stay with individuals throughout their lives.

Loughborough inside the Music School
Loughborough inside the Music School

The school focusses on the classical music repertoire but other genres also find a place in the many bands and orchestras populated by the students, including jazz. It’s not always about violins; there is plenty to suggest that students with an interest in rock music will have their needs met. These days musicians use a large array of things; gone are the days when only wood and cat-gut were all there was; now we have a a bewildering array of electronic gadgets, wires and boxes, all harnessing the new technology that has come to represent modern music-making.

LES Music School. Used with persmission. Photo: Jake Hilder
LES Music School.
Used with persmission.
Photo: Jake Hilder

The building had a light and airy feel to it; bright corridors and well lit study rooms made it welcoming and cheerful. The school is the second biggest specialist music department in the country, Richard told me.

Musician from LES. Used with permission. Photo: Jake Hilder.
Musician from LES.
Used with permission.
Photo: Jake Hilder.

I asked Richard about the career prospects of the more musically inclined students. The School provides musical education for all the students attending the LES. Only some of these will plan to make music their chosen career. It is clear that musical education needs to start at an early age and the classes begin at Kindergarten age, at around three years. Students continue to benefit from the work of the music tutors through to sixth form.

LES spring concert at De Montfort Hall, 2016
LES spring concert at De Montfort Hall, 2016

It was particularly good to see so many full drum kits; I have never seen so many in one room before. Pianos are, of course, stock in trade for music education and the school has the distinction of being one of a select number of Steinway partners.

Musician from LES Music School. Used with permission. Photo: Jake Hilder.
Musician from LES Music School.
Used with permission.
Photo: Jake Hilder.

Being able to see inside this prestigious school was a rare privilege for me. I was delighted to be able to attend the recent LES concert at the De Montfort Hall and was impressed by the high standard of performance shown by both the choirs and the various soloists who were on stage that night (see below for the link to our article.)

Music is an important part of the school curriculum; it always has been, even since the middle ages. There are many reasons why this important; not least the fact that the UK’s export of music is one of the country’s highest revenue earners. The music industry in this country has been thriving for several years and out-pacing several other sectors of the economy. Making music is good in itself but, as many teachers have found, it aids other aspects of children’s lives both personally and educationally. One more thing about music in schools is interesting, I think, it is a leveller. Children today come from a wide range of cultures and communities and all of them have their own musical traditions; being able to learn about the music of other cultures helps young people to appreciate and understand each other.

Loughborough is a town with a growing international notoriety in academia. Its University recently was voted top for students in the UK league tables and its contribution to sporting excellence has been known for a long time.

LES is not the only educational institution locally that has won positive acclaim. The work of Leicester College has also received many accolades, for its music courses and for its work in sound technology. The notable singer and songwriter Howard Rose, for example, is cited as one local musician to have benefited from its work.

We have also written about the work of De Montfort University in music education, technology and innovation (see the link below to our article about Arts Education.)

More information from

LES Music website.

The website for music education in the UK.

The website for Leicester-shire music education hub.

What music means for young people who are disadvantaged.

Leicester College music.

 

Food in the 21st Century

Food in the 21st century

This article was published in Arts in Leicester magazine on 9th February 2016. It has been transferred to this blog (the magazine having closed down.)

The people of Leicester today eat food from everywhere in the world. That is largely because the people of Leicester come from everywhere in the world. This has not always been true. If you walk through the centre of Leicester today, you will see several kinds of people: white Europeans from a variety of origins, Asians who came here from the Indian Subcontinent, Africans and Peoples from the Caribbean, some Asians from the far east, people from the Turkish region of Asia… our population is diverse in ethnicity and cultural heritages. Our popular is so diverse that no one group has a majority.

Well, you can see straight away that Leicester’s demography has important implications for its food. In our city centre there are many restaurants and specialist supermarkets catering for ethnic foods. In our outdoor market you can buy fresh fruit and vegetables from around the world. If you want to be gastronomically adventurous and try out the cuisine of other cultures, Leicester would be a great place in which to do that.

That is where we have got to today but it has not always been so. If we start to explore the history of out city’s eating, we will find that food has changed as the people living here have changed. This great feast of culinary cornucopias has not always been a feature of the Leicester community.

Even going back 50 years in time, we would find things to be very different. Let’s start with the end of the second world war. After the war, rationing was gradually phased out. People began to find more things to eat; the shops began to stock more varieties of food products and the contents of larders became gradually more elaborate. Where did people buy their food? A lot of people would have done their shopping in Leicester’s outdoor market. The market was established in 1229 by King Henry III, who allowed an already established fair to change its day from June to February. A permanent market has stood in the centre of the city ever since. The collection of stalls was given a roof in 1971 and even today the whole area is undergoing change and reconstruction.

Between the end of the second world war and the start of the nineteen fifties, cooks had it hard. Food was meagre, supplies limited and the choice of what most people eat was limited.

In the 1950s things began to change. Supermarkets opened, new food products were introduced and tastes began to change. One thing that changes what people were prepared to eat was foreign holidays. British people started to take packaged holidays in Europe and Spain and Italy were popular destinations. A thousands of British people descended on the fishing villages of the Mediterranean resorts, holiday-makers were exposed to radially new dishes – such as Pizza, Risotto, lasagna, Paella, – and when they got back they looked these foods in the shops and gradually they were introduced into the British diet.

Another thing changed the way people cooked: the rise of convenience foods. As supermarkets grew in number and as kitchen appliances became more affordable – particularly the refrigerator and later the freezer – housewives could buy and keep a much wider variety of perishable foodstuffs. I use the term housewives because in the 1950s it was women that did most of the work in the kitchen. Men did not start to cook at home until the 1970s and 80s. One company that changed people’s eating habits was Birdseye. Clarence Frank Birdseye II is credited with the foundation of the modern frozen food industry. He was a New York businessman whose pioneering work on freezing food led to the formation of the Birds Eye brand of food products. Fish Fingers became a staple of the British diet since their invention in Great Yarmouth in 1946 (although the term fish fingers first appeared in 1900.) Many other foodstuffs began to appear in the freezers of Supermarkets, including pea, carrots, potatoes and other vegetables and the consumption of these foods was promoted by television advertising.

During the period of the 1950s to 1970s, life in the kitchen became increasingly easy as the range of convenience and processed foods grew ever larger. Continental products such as pasta began to appear in the shops and English family developed a liking for dishes such as spaghetti Bolognese and pizza. Olive oil became a common culinary ingredient – though before the 1950s it was available only in chemists shops for the treatment of ear wax.

In Leicester the Indian community developed following the independence of Indian in 1947 and the Nationally Act of 1948. As the Indian community grew so did their shops and restaurants. In the 1960s there were many shops selling the kind of spices and vegetables that would be cooked at home and the number and range of restaurants increased accordingly. Today, many people would claim that Leicester is one of the best destinations in the UK for Indian cuisine. The various communities from the Indian subcontinent might seem to dominate the city but in fact there are a wide variety of ethnic restaurants, cafes and bars that existing today to serve the tastes of the people of Leicester.

Medieval dishes from KingRichardIII website

The culinary world comes to Leicester

Most supermarkets these days have shelves or isles devoted to ethnic cuisine; curry sauce, as a lot of people know it, has become an established product for English people, both as a dish or as an addition to fish and chips. It has become commonplace for people to ‘go for a curry’ during a night out. According to the BBC, the UK has adopted ‘curry’ as one of its national dishes [BBC Food]  and about 23 million in the UK eat curry on a regular basis. But what is curry? Other than a term wrongly applied to all Indian food. If we go back far enough in history, we find that the word ‘cury’ meant simply hot food, from the French word Curie, meaning to cook. The first recipe for curry (in England) appeared as early as 1747. since it began to appear in this country, curry is a term commonly applied to any spicy sauce that could be said to have been inspired by Indian cuisine.

In England, there was an explosion in demand for European cuisines from France, Spain, Italy and Denmark. This was fuelled partly by foreign travel and partly by the appearance of programmes about food and cooking on the TV. From the 1960s onwards restaurants opened that could offer international menus to cater for the increasingly varied tastes of English consumers.

In the early 1960s shops and supermarkets started to stock an odd food product made from milk and called yogurt (or yoghurt.) It quickly became popular and sales of the little plastic pots soared. A Swiss company called Ski was a major force behind the mass production of this stuff, offering it in convenient pots with the addition of sugar and fresh fruit.

 

Leicester Writing 2016

Books, authors, writing and literature

in Leicester for 2016

This is the home page for books, writers, authors, literature and written word in 2016

News just in

9th May

World Book Night success

World Book Night 2016 took place last month on 23 April, when 187,500 copies of 15 specially printed World Book Night titles were given by a network of 8000 volunteer reading enthusiasts and institutions, including prisons, homeless shelters, colleges, schools and libraries around the UK, giving books into the hands of the 36% of the UK population who don’t read for pleasure.

Here in Leicester, Arts in Leicester editor Trevor Locke gave out copies of ‘The Rotters’ Club’ by Jonathan Coe.

Ten years of Quick Reads

This year sees the launch of the 2016 Quick Reads, which set out to show that books and reading can be for everyone. Each year they commission big name authors to write short books that are specifically designed to be easy to read.  They are the same as mainstream books in every respect but are simply shorter and easier to tackle for the 1 in 6 adults of working age in the UK who find reading difficult and may never normally pick up a book. Quick Reads is run by The Reading Agency.

Find out more about World Book Night on Facebook.

Writing School

Writing School East Midlands  is offering creative writing course through to July 2016. Courses are available in Leicester on Poetry, crime fiction, writing plays, short storied, and much more besides.

There is also an open competition on poetry and short fiction.

Find out more from the Writing East Midlands website.

Cultural Exchange

A festival of ideas, insight and inspiration; Cultural eXchanges features a variety of guests and speakers from the cultural and creative industries.

Courses for writers are on the programme.

Find out more from the DMU Cultural Exchange web page.

Writers Club

The Leicester Writers Club holds regular meetings and provides opportunities for writers to meet each other.

The website for Leicester Writers Club

Meet up with other writers at Cafe Bru

on the first Tuesday of the month at Cafe Bru in Granby Street.

Hook up with Farhana Shaikh on Facebook to get more details.

Or check out @LeicesterWrites on Twitter.

Free books

World Book Night takes place on 23rd April this year and various people in Leicester will once again be handing out free books.

The Martian by Andy Weir, book cover from World Book Night 2015
The Martian by Andy Weir, book cover from World Book Night 2015

Last year copies of The Martian were given away and later we also reviewed the film by Ridley Scott which was based on the book.

Find out more about World Book Night on Facebook.

See the website for World Book Night 2016.

See also:

The blog of writer Trevor Locke.

Arts news in 2016

The history of music in Leicester