Afternoon by the canal

THE VILLAGE OF APSLEY, now a suburb of Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire, has no connection with Apsley House at London’s Hyde Park Corner. The house, once home to The Duke of Wellington, derives its name from Apsley in Sussex. The place in Hertfordshire, which we visited with friends today, derives its name from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning ‘aspen’ (a kind of tree). We had lunch with our friends at a waterside pub called The Paper Mill.

Although the pub appears to be of recent construction, its name recalls the fact that it is built near the site of a once innovative paper making establishment. John Dickinson (1782-1869) was the inventor of a machine that made paper continuously as opposed to the previous manual methods that produced sheets of paper rather than rolls of it. He also invented a range of other practical products including security paper impregnated with silk threads, which was known as ‘penny post’, and, still in use today, the envelope with a gummed flap.

During the early part of the 19th century, Dickinson bought several mills in and around Apsley. He converted these for the manufacture of paper products. Only one of his three mills still stands today. The mills were located close to the then recently built Grand Junction Canal (now ‘Grand Union’). The canal provided a practical mode of transport for raw materials and finished products. The pub where we ate lunch is named to honour the memory of what was once a thriving industry in Apsley. It is located next to the canal and contains a framed family tree of John Dickinson’s family.

After a lazy lunch in the sun by the waterside, we took a leisurely stroll along the canal. Modern housing developments line parts of the stretch of water flowing through Apsley. Other parts are lined with shady trees and dense bushes, which hide modern office buildings that are served by a main road running parallel to the canal. Unlike other stretches of the canal, which we have walked along, there was a notable absence of waterfowl, except for a couple of swans with their four cygnets, and a pair of ducks. Other signs of life on the canal were the occasional slow moving narrow boat and the inhabitants of stationary craft moored along the banks and in a marina near the pub.

It was a hot afternoon and being beside the canal was pleasant. Occasional gentle gusts of cool air added to our enjoyment.

Carbon dating

I HAVE JUST DISCOVERED an unopened pack  of ten sheets of 13 x 8 inch carbon paper. Carbon paper is something younger readers might never have heard of or used. For those unused to this product, I will explain. More mature readers must bear with me, please.

CARBON

Carbon paper is a thin sheet of paper, one side of which is loosely coated with particles of ink. The other side of the paper is plain. If carbon paper is placed on plain paper (eg typing or writing paper) so that its inked face is in contact with  the plain paper, and then pressure (e.g. with a stylus or typewriter letter) is applied to a point on its un-inked side, the ink beneath the pressure point is transferred to the plain paper beneath the carbon paper, making a copy of the shape of the object (e.g. letter or shape) creating the pressure. 

Carbon paper was commonly used when typing on a typewriter. The letters that sharply hit  the paper to create a letter, number, or symbol, can be transmitted to a second or third piece of paper by carbon paper. The second and third pieces of typing paper are placed below the top sheet, but  each is separated from the  sheet above by layers of carbon paper with their inked surfaces facing down on them.  Thus, several copies of the same document can be created simultaneously.

This was a useful method of creating up to four reasonably distinct copies of a typed document in the era that preceded photocopiers, laser and inkjet printers, and word processors. For larger numbers of copies, one needed access to something like the now obsolete Gestetner machines. And, the copies they produced were not always easily legible.

The sealed pack of carbon paper that was lurking amongst unsorted stationery in our home  bears the name of the supplier, WH Smith  & Son. The company still exists. It has retail outlets in the UK  and abroad. I have seen branches of the company in the departure lounges of airports in the Gulf States.

The price of our pack is given as “3/-” (three shillings) or “15p”. The UK adopted decimalisation of its currency in 1971. Prior to this change, £1 was 20 shillings, each of which was 12 pennies. Thus £1 was 240 pennies (abbreviated as ‘d’, from the Latin word ‘denarius’).  After the decimalisation,  £1 was divided into 100p (‘pence’).

Given that our unused pack of carbon paper bears a price in both the old and the new currencies, I imagine that it was bought around the time that the British abandoned its old currency, when the new penny, 1p, became worth 2.4d (old pennies).

In 1982, I qualified as a dentist and began tackling the dental problems of the general public. After not having used carbon paper for several years, I found myself using a form of it daily. It came in short narrow rectangular strips of thin paper, sometimes with only one surface loosely coated with ink, but more often both sides. It was/and still is known as ‘articulating paper’. It is used to check how the teeth in the mandible (lower jaw) meet their opposite numbers in the maxilla. Determining this is very important for diagnostic purposes and for checking that crowns, bridges, dentures are in occlusal harmony with the rest of a patient’s dentition. If, for example, a crown (‘cap’) is high on the bite when it is being fitted, articulating paper can be used to detect which part of the cap has excess material that is preventing the patient’s teeth from meeting comfortably.

When I  came across my vintage pack of unused carbon paper, I thought that it was a reminder of times past, but it is not. A quick search on Google revealed that carbon paper is still widely available from stationery suppliers. Rymans now sells ten sheets of A4 carbon paper, not for 15p, but for £5.99. Carbon paper still has many uses apart from typing. For example, sheets of this paper are often used in pads of bills or invoices to make copies of the bills etc handed to customers.

I will not throw away our 3/- pack of carbon paper. It is a souvenir of a historic moment in British monetary evolution and a painful reminder of how much the purchasing power of £1 has diminished in almost 50 years

On a roll

loo roll

 

Here is a subject that might not appeal to the squeamish.

Currently in the UK, toilet paper is in very high demand. So great is the desire of people not to run out of this commodity that the supermarket shelves are empty of toilet rools. Or, if they are available, they are priced much higher than usual.

The panic buying of toilet paper is quite ridiculous. Alternative methods of posterior hygiene are widely available, and often used. Years ago, I visited a monastery in Greece. The toilet was not supplied with toilet paper. Instead, there were properly sized pieces of newspaper threaded on a string. There is plenty of newspaper about – no shortage. So, why not use it instead of the scarce once used toilet paper. Using newspaper will not only wipe away what is not desired, but also by being used, the newspaper is being uemployed more than once – recycled. A word of advice if you plan to move to newsprint, most of which is more suitable for wiping posteriors than for reading. The advice is do not flush newspaper down the toilet. Instead, put the used pieces in a bucket with a lid, and dispose of it hygienically.

If you are not keen on using newspaper, then do as millions of people do in the Middle East and Asia. Just use water and your left hand. Many toilets in Asia are supplied with small showers that can be used to purify your posterior. Some toilet seats have a conveniently and appropriately located spray attached. A jet of water from this device cleans your bottom like a car wash.

After reading this, you might stop panicking about buying ‘loo’ paper, BUT remember to always wash your hands frequently.

Page or screen

Many readers are moving from the printed book format to the ebook format, where text is read on a screen instead of on a paper page.

Recently, we visited the small but magnificent book shop, Modern Book Depot, next to New Market in Calcutta. We passed a pleasant hour chatting with its charming and erudite owner, Mr Prakash. One of the topics we discussed was ebooks versus old fashioned paper books. Mr Prakash suggested that ebooks were a useful backup for paper books, but that they were no substitute for the latter. I agree with him.

Paper books engage more of the reader’s senses than ebooks. A ‘real’ book has its own smell. I am not alone in sniffing the books that I read. Each book has its own odour whether its the smell of the paper and printer’s ink or of where it has been stored. Books differ in their tactile properties. Different kinds of paper vary in how they feel. The weight of a book and its degree of flexibility (if it is a paperback) add to the reader’s enjoyment or experience. None of these secondary characteristics associated with paper books can be experienced while reading a text on a screen. Although they do not affect the primary property of the text, its content, they do affect the reader’s whole reading experience, albeit subliminally.

So, give me a paper book any day, rather than an ebook.

Slurp, don’t suck

Currently, many people want to “save the planet”. This is a worthy desire.

One way to help save our planet is to ditch plastics, which are not biodegradable, and replace them with paper that can be degraded biologically. Thus, plastic bags are giving way to paper and cloth bags. Supermarkets in the UK are now charging customers, who have not brought along their own reusable bags, a fee to buy a new plastic bag in which to carry home the goods which the supermarket companies have packed in non-biodegradable plastic!

Now, enter your café and order a drink with a straw. Trendy cafés, which are trying to be eco-friendly, supply biodegradable drinking straws Instead of the old fashioned plastic ones. This offers no problems if you suck your drink rapidly. If you prefer to linger over your drink, the paper straw absorbs fluid and becomes soggy. You might well need to use more than one paper straw to finish your drink. This will result in creating more rubbish than using a single plastic straw.

One solution to the straw problem, which I favour, is not to use one, but to put your lips to the glass or bottle that contains your drink: slurp, don’t suck!

Finally, to escape from the humble drinking straw, let us raise our heads to the solar panels with which we adorn our roofs in order to reduce our consumption of the rapidly reducing sources of natural fuels. A learned friend once told me that in order to manufacture these panels, more fossil fuel energy is expended than will ever be saved by the panels!

Save the planet by all means, but make sure that these means will actually save the planet, rather than simply salve our consciences.