Rotary Club of Plympton
Grand Hotel Fire – Malcolm Carmichael
Our own Malcolm Carmichael gave a talk in March 2007 on the Grand Hotel back in 2003.
He started off his talk with some background information on the fire service of Plymouth in general. We have 5 fully manned stations – Greenbank, Camels Head, Crownhill, Plympton and Plymstock who in 2005/06 had almost 4,500 callouts. Most of us will be aware of the fire at one of Plymouth finest buildings back in September 2003.
It was at 11.48 that the fire brigade received the call that a fire had broken out at the Grand and the first appliance arrived on site within 4 minutes.
Sadly, at 11.55 the fire broke through the roof - something made easier due to the common roof space and by 12.09, Malcolm explained that they knew the roof was a lost cause and that it was now a case of saving the rest of the building. It took until 5pm to get the fire out and then a further 18 hours to damp down the remains but most of the structure of the building was saved.
Once out, it was then a case of finding out how the fire broke out. The occupants of room 407 recalled smelling a "curry" like smell the night below and Malcolm explained how they were able to trace the fire to the electrical wiring under the floor to this room.
Being a topic on many people's minds in recent times due to the Herald reporting that the site owners stating they will let the building rot for the next 50 years if they are not allowed to turn
the building into flats, Patrick was able to explain that this will not be an option but also that the owners had spent the insurance money not on repairing the Grand but had used it elsewhere! Let us hope that one day soon this jewel on Plymouth Hoe is returned to its former glory.
How Long has English been spoken? – Win Scutt
Did the Anglo-Saxons bring English to Britain? Did they drive the "Celts" to the western margins of Britain? Were many of the "Celts" massacred in a wave of ethnic cleansing by continental immigrants?
These were the questions raised by our own Win Scutt who gave a talk to club members recently on a theory he has on the English language.
Since the 17th century, it has been believed that England was invaded by immigrants from the Germanic speaking areas of north-western Europe. The earlier inhabitants, believed to be Celts, were thought to have been conquered, subjected, annihilated or displaced to the western fringes of Britain. The ancient languages of Cornwall, Wales and Cumbria are indeed similar to each other. The English language is indeed to be found in much of England and Scotland since medieval times. But now a small group of scientists are challenging this view. Win has discovered, through studies of archaeology and place- names, that an ancient form of English was being spoken in eastern Britain before the Anglo-Saxons arrived - perhaps thousands of years before. And Peter Forster, using phylogenetic methods to analyse the Germanic languages, has found that English is a much more distant relative of continental Germanic languages than previously thought. Stephen Oppenheimer has followed the genetic ancestry of the Celts and English and he too has found that their pathways are very different from previously believed.
The idea came to Win following a conference in Dublin where it was explained how two sub-species of the natterjack toad found their way to Britain-could the same have happened with what was to become the English language.
Win explained how there is a lot of resistance to his idea, especially from linguists and that it may take years to win them over, but certainly from what he told the club, there appears to be something in his theory.
Devon & Cornwall Speed CameraPartnership
Following the talk by MPC Geoff Harding and Natalie Hatswell of the D&C Speed Camera Partnership, Ifelt it was only right to touch upon this subject once more.
Geoff Harding is like any other driver – when the issues of safety cameras and speeding penalties come up, he joins in the debate with vigour. In the past ten years, he has probably seen more speeding motorists than most of us put together. However, MPC Geoff Harding takes his point of view after seeing the roads through a safety camera lens rather than a windscreen.
Geoff co-ordinates four mobile safety camera units across Devon and Cornwall – two in the Plymouth area and two around Bodmin – but with around 13,000 miles of roads to monitor in the two counties alone, his job involves much more than simply capturing speeding drivers. Geoff explains: "There is a complex process that decides where we actually place the mobile units. I know that some people may think we just put cameras wherever we think we can catch the most drivers, but in fact this is untrue. We constantly review the information we have to try to identify where we can be most effective in reducing the number of collisions. Once an area of concern has been identified we then decide which times will be the most effective in deterring people from breaking the speed limit. By tailoring our use of the safety camera units to each specific location in this way, we hope to prevent casualties caused by inappropriate speeds."
One of the most surprising elements for the majority of motorists according to Geoff, is that many people assume that the cameras are activated automatically by vehicles moving above the legal speed limit, as with fixed cameras. In fact, the initial evidence of speeding is detected by the opinion of the highly experienced Speed Detection Officer. The officer uses his or her professional judgement to ascertain if a particular vehicle is exceeding the speed limit. The vehicle is then tracked by the camera, where the actual speed is recorded by the finely calibrated equipment.
According to Geoff, many drivers simply don't see the longterm benefits of keeping to the speed limit and reducing accidents. Although it may cost an offender £60 in fines or a court appearance each time they speed, for every fatal accident it is estimated that it costs the tax-payer around a total of £1.2m, through emergency services and closed routes.
"The biggest cost of a crash, though, is always the life of the person or people involved," adds Geoff. "It is traumatic to be the one that knocks on the door of a friend or relative of the victim to break the news that they have lost a loved one. It is even harder when it transpires that if they had been travelling at an appropriate legal speed, they might have survived. A few miles an hour really can make the difference between life and death." Yet a number of drivers in the region still don't take the warnings seriously. The Devon & Cornwall Safety Camera Partnership has recorded top speeds of over 140 mph and has heard some weird and wacky excuses.
Geoff explains: "We've heard it all - from pigeons fighting on the back seat of a car to gusts of wind pushing vehicles over the speed limit. The excuses can be ridiculous, but recently they have become more and more technical. With so much information on the internet, drivers believe they won't be prosecuted by citing a technicality, but it simply isn't true. If you're caught speeding, you will be punished."
Geoff and his team may have a while to go before they convince everyone that they are doing a public service, but those who have been involved in a road traffic collision know only too well how much sticking to the speed limit is worth.