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Letter From England Number 6

27 July 2009

I hope things have been good with you since I last wrote. This week we'll have a look at thrifty living. Also, I have some rather interesting developments to tell you about, which hopefully you will have a look at.

Poundland And The Destitute Programmer

A Hobo On A Fence

Now I have a confession to make. I am currently a very poor Englishman. The good times have rolled ... right out the door and down the street to be replaced by a life of poverty with the day only brightened by the occasional drink of water and a crust of bread.

But luckily I have access to a Poundland store. Now this is a leading retailer that started in 1990, and has been growing at quite pace. The current recession is being very kind to the business.

In case you haven't guessed Poundland is a discount store and every item costs .. a pound.

The Frontage Of A Pounland Shop

Poundland claims to offer a range of over 3,000 products. They have over 200 stores, 4,600 staff and 1.5m customers every week and this is growing.

Now the strange thing is that most of the products are genuinely good value. So this is a little tip if you are visiting England, especially if you are backpacking or self catering. The chances are you will have forgotten to bring something or need an item or two. Try Poundland first. Also they sell toys so it's a cheap way to keep a child quiet for an hour or two.

Last weekend with what is left of my fortune I popped in Poundland and invested £2, in a couple of interesting items. These have transformed my life .... well they have changed it a little bit anyway.

Joining The Broadcasting Revolution

Wireless Speaker and Headset

Here are the two items.

The first is a wireless speaker and it solved a problem I have had for quite a while. And it is something that you might be interested in. It's a smart idea that you can use!!

Just to explain a wireless speaker set contains a speaker or speakers and a transmitter. You can think of the speaker just like a radio and the transmittor as one of those giant masts you see.

Now for my problem, my favourite radio channel is TalkSport which because of where I live I quite often get a very bad signal. So I listen to it over the internet. This is fine as I spend most of my time on the PC, but if I am in the kitchen then I can't listen to it. I have looked at other options such as Internet radios but they are pricey.

But now I have a solution. I plugged the wireless transmitter into my sound card. Switched on the wireless speaker .. and BANG no there wasn't an explosion what I mean is that I am listening to the radio that is playing on my PC. Taking it downstairs the speaker worked fine in the kitchen. Great a solution, a bit of a small speaker but better than nothing. I can now listen to whatever is playing on my PC.

BUT wait there is more. I thought "Hey this transmitter is just sending an FM signal" and this little speaker is really just a small radio. So I got a bigger radio and set it to FM and tuned it in to the same channel as my transmitter. And it works!!! Perfect signal. So I now have a mains powered radio tuned into whatever is playing on my PC all for one pound!! Now I can't promise that it will work for you but if you can get hold of a wireless trasmitter it's work a try.

Tony Hankcock In The Radio Ham

Flush with my own brilliance I then turned my attention to the headset. Plugged it in and it worked perfectly. This got me thinking, why not podcast my letter?? I downloaded some great free software called Audacity. I have now created downloadable podcasts for all the letters along with a streaming audio version.

Then I thought (in case you haven't noticed my brain was in overdrive this week) "Hey why not use the images from the website combine them with the audio and create a video version. So with a bit of practise with Windows Movie Maker I have created webcasts. I will be finishing them off this week. They will be available on letterfromengland.com and also YouTube.

Screen Shot Of My Software

I apologize for my voice and the rather amateur presentation but I promise I will get better. Also my clunky English was noticeable but I think making the web and podcasts will also make it a better written site.

Pepys And What's That Smell?

Drawing Of Old London

Last week we met Samuel Pepys. Now we will find out about his life and times. This week I want to give you a feel for what London was like when he was born. Pepys entered this world on the 23rd February 1633. His father was a tailor and his mother appears to be a baby machine, as he was one of eleven children. Please do not think that this was unusual. Nor was the fact the Pepys was the only one who lived to old age. Most of his brothers and sisters either died in infancy or early age. Of the eleven only four made it to adulthood.

A Drawing Of Old London Houses

Thomas died at 30, John at 35 and his sister Paulina the longest surviving sibling managed to get to 49 before she died. Death stalked every family.

If you think that this is bleak then I have more. London was filthy, it stank. It was the largest city in the world with a population of approximately 130,000 people. The total for the country at the time was about 5 million. The houses were wooden, tall and narrow. All the households and businesses burnt coal. Often a huge cloud of smoke hung over the city. Everywhere there was coal dust, so bad that you would literally "spit black". Also, there was no sanitation, I will leave this to your imagination. Bathing was rare and washing of hair was virtually unheard of.

A Drawing Of London Poverty

Pepys grew up in this environment with the additional problem of a suffering from kidney stones. They were so bad that he often passed blood. It is a very painful condition and there were no pain killers. So it must have been agony and also with death everywhere very frightening. I won't spoil this bit of the story but let's just say he found a very risky solution to this.

Also to add a just a little bit more spice to life, a civil war was brewing.

Next week a king rather carelessly looses his head.

It's Just Not Cricket 2

Last week I introduced you to the Bodyline controversy that happened way back to 1932. To recap Australia had the world's best batsman in Don Bradman and the English had a plan to deal with him, by using very unsporting means. That was to bowl the ball as hard and furiously as possible and to aim it at the batsman.

Bill Woodfull and Douglas Jardine

Here are the two captains the Australian captain Bill Woodfull who emerges as a real sportsman and the England captain Douglas Jardine who unfortunately doesn't.

Douglas Jardine came from a rich and privileged background and Woodfull was the son of a Methodist preacher.

Harold Larwood and Bill Voce

Now we have another two of the central characters two English fast bowlers: Harold Larwood and Bill Voce. They came from the other side of the tracks than Jardine. Larwood started working down the mines when he was 14 and Voce also came from a coal mining district.

Well these two did as just their captain told them and made a good job of it. They battered the Aussies, Bradman could not cope with the bowling. But the tactics and behaviour meant that the crowd were close to rioting it was getting dangerous not only for the Australian batmen!!

Two major incidents that fanned the flames ironically where not from a bodyline ball. Woodfull was hit by a ball just under the heart and when he was bent down in terrible pain Jardine shouted "Well bowled, Harold". The next day Bert Oldfield had his skull fractured by a mishit ball. Here is a picture of that incident.

Bert Oldfield Being Hit By A Ball

The situation was getting rapidly out of hand causing a diplomatic incident. As the England team (with support from the British public) stated that fast leg theory tactic was harmless and took great offence at being branded "unsportsmanlike" and demanded a retraction. The Australians in turn threatened to walk off the pitch and refuse to play anymore. To avoid further escalation the Australians eventually retracted the allegations of unsporting behaviour.

Bert Oldfield Being Hit By A Ball

Now the tour is over but the English haven't finished with their outrageous behaviour. Under pressure, the laws of cricket were altered making bodyline illegal. But also a scapegoat was needed. They reprimanded Larwood and told him to sign a letter of apology addressed to the Australians. Larwood refused, as he was following the orders of his captain. Larwood never played test cricket again. Jardine the captain and major architect of bodyline carried on playing test cricket as England captain.

During the tour Woodfull was under immense pressure to use similar tactics by using their fast bowler Tim Wall. He refused and came close to being sacked as the captain. Quite rightly I will leave the the last words with Woodfull

"There are two teams out there. One is playing cricket and the other is not."

"There is no way I will be influenced to adopt such tactics which bring such discredit to the game. I know Tim could do it but I am not going to participate in actions that can only hurt the game."

What's News

Official Nasa Portait Of The Apollo 11 Crew

The story that grabbed my attention happened at the beginning of the week with the reunion of the Apollo 11 crew. This was to celebrate the first manned moon landing 40 years ago. They met with Barack Obama in the Oval Office.

The Apollo 11 Crew Meeting President Obama

One thing that I just cannot get my head around is the widespread idea that the landing was in fact a big hoax.

There are numerous versions of why the hoax was perpetrated and also evidence "proving" that the landings never happened." Well it's the biggest load of nonsense ever. Just get real. How the hell could NASA ever manage to fool so many people, and keep up the pretence for forty years.

This also gives me an opportunity to show you one of my favourite video clips. If you haven't seen it before here's a great video of Buzz Aldrin letting us know his feelings on the matter.

Bart Sibrel is a leading conspiracy theorist. This happened in 2002 when Buzz Aldrin was 72 years old. Now I don't condone physical violence but sometimes you get what you deserve. It also proved that Sibrel was wrong about Aldrin being a coward. Lois Aldrin, Buzz's wife said of Sibrel:

"He said things I can't repeat. He was not a nice man, and it really upset Buzz a lot."

Well Mrs Aldrin, I wouldn't worry about your husband too much. I think he's proved yet again that he can look after himself.


I hope you enjoyed this letter and please check out the pod and webcasts.

I hope you have a good week!