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Letter From England Number 8

10 August 2009

The weather here has been very changeable, but even so we have a holiday special letter. We'll take a short trip to the seaside, buy a couple of gifts and see the sites.

A Walk Along The Pier

An English Pier

A lot of seaside resorts in England have pleasure piers. Most of these were originally built by Victorian engineers and businessmen. Unfortunately, since their heyday a lot of piers have disappeared, so we now have about fifty left.

Brighton Pier

When railways were first introduced it meant that for the first time working people could travel away for leisure. The piers sprung up allowing the holiday makers to promenade and view the sea no matter what the tides. Some piers are really not much more than a jetty that juts out to sea. Others are more like fair grounds with: food, rides and amusements.

A Very Long Pier In Southend-On-Sea

They also vary in length. The pier in Southend-On-Sea is the world's longest which if you were to walk to the end and back you would have covered over 2 1/2 miles (over 4,300 metres).

Seaside Rock

The first gift we are going to take back is some rock. No, I haven't gone completely mad, this rock is made from sugar. It is a sweet (or candy as our American cousins call it).

A Shop Selling Rock

If you visit any English seaside resort you will find sticks of rock for sale. They come in a variety of colours and flavours. Basically it's a very hard stick of sugar.

A Stick Of Rock From Blackpool

The stick normally has the seaside resort's name on it. Now, the interesting thing is the lettering, that runs all the way through. As a child I couldn't quite work out how the letters were put in and I have to confess; I am still no more the wiser.

A Rock With Lettering Showing

Some More Postcards

After ruining our teeth, we ought to send our friends a postcard. So I thought, we'd have another look at a couple of postcards. The culture of the English is often a cause of amazement and I think these two are no exception.

A Saucy Picture Postcard

A Saucy Picture Postcard

Pepys Takes A Big Gamble

If you remember back a couple of letters ago, I wrote that Pepys was suffering from severe discomfort and he found a drastic solution to his problem. Well, this is what he did!

Pepys, unable to bear the pain from his kidney stones made the decision to have an operation and remove them. As a little indication of how risky this was, patients were advised to make their peace with God before undertaking the procedure.

An Operation For Gall Stones At The Time Of Samuel Pepys

The operation, as you can imagine was not a very pleasant ordeal. To help his chances Pepys found a surgeon with thirty years experience.

So it was on the 26th March 1658, Pepys had a bath and drank a prescribed drink. The drink had no medical qualities that we today would recognize.

His arms and legs were then bound very tightly, so he could not struggle. But, just to make sure there were a few helpers to keep him pinned down whilst the surgeon began work.

Did you notice there was no mention of anesthetics? Also no mention of antiseptics? Well, that is because there were none in those days. I will spare you the details, but will just let you know that a cut about 3 inches long was made and the surgeon extracted a kidney stone that was only slightly smaller than a modern tennis ball. It was big!

Pepys would now have be in agony and most likely passed out. However, the ordeal for Pepys was not over. He would have spent a week in bed. During which time he would have been very worried about the cut healing and also it not getting infected. This would undoubtedly have killed him.

But it is Pepys' and our fortune that he survived and was soon to begin his diary.

As a little side note, Pepys kept the stone and used to show it to his friends. He also started celebrating the anniversary with a meal. Well, after that I don't blame him.

What's News

The breaking of 43 swimming records in Rome is the big sports story.

A Victorian Bathing Beauty

This is entirely due to a revolutionary polyurethane swimsuit, which is causing much controversy. It has been announced that it will be banned in competition from the beginning of next year.

Now, I can see both sides of the argument, but I think that the sport of swimming has got it spot on.

Swimming up to this point was one of those sports where virtually any amateur could afford to but equipment similar to that used by top professionals. Namely, a swimming costume, a pair of goggles and a access to a pool.

You can't and shouldn't halt progress but, 43 records broken in a week I think should sound warning bells. Therefore, it is good that the suits have been banned. However, the records set by swimmers wearing them will stand. This does mean that barring an exceptional performance no world records will be broken for some time.

Maybe it's the media and sponsors wanting a record broken at their meetings that has caused this. But let's be honest it's not so exciting watching and knowing that a record that is a couple of weeks old is going to be broken yet again. The excitement is not knowing and then seeing a record that is a few years old being smashed.

Jonathan Trott

As a parallel, a guy called Jonathan Trott has been called up to join the England cricket squad. A distant relative of his was Albert Trott. He is the only man to hit a cricket ball over the pavillion at Lord's cricket ground. That was in 1899. Considering the 100 plus years of advances that is one hell of a record. But one day it will be done again, but hopefully in the right way and not using a spring loaded bat, which is the way I see the swimming costumes.


That's the end of our little break and unfortunately it's back to work.

I hope you have a good week!