Inventions

A Red Letter Day

Are you on social media? Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok ? The options, it seems, are endless.  

But once upon a time, even before the invention of the telephone, if people wanted to contact their business contacts, friends, or family when they were apart, the best way was to write a letter.

I love letters. I love handling them, thinking of the person who has taken the time to pick up a pen and write down their thoughts.  Cards also work for me and it’s about this time of year we file away or recycle last year’s Christmas cards.

The letters people have written to each other in the past are also accounts of history, of facts and feelings handed down to us from people who have long since departed our world.

A few years back I even wrote a book based on the love letters exchanged over nearly 40 years in the 19th century between the founders of The Salvation Army - William and Catherine Booth. I have to say, reading their letters, which are held in the British Library in London, and writing 'William and Catherine' not only helped me to understand their personalities and motivations in life, but also to get an insight into their deep Christian faith and how that helped to create what is now a global church and charity movement!

But back to the point of today's 'thought'.

It was on January 10th 1840 that the Penny Post was introduced in Great Britain. This meant that mail was delivered at a standard charge. Until that point every letter was paid for individually by the recipient and it was a cumbersome system.  It was at the end of the 1830s that a chap called Rowland Hill published a pamphlet entitled ‘Post Office Reform’, which proposed a uniform postage rate of one penny, wherever in the country the letter was posted or received.  To prevent postage fraud, he came up with the idea of an adhesive label to pre-pay the postage. So the postage stamp was born.  

The 'Penny Black' was that first ever stamp and its inventor was eventually knighted by Queen Victoria and became SIR Rowland Hill.

Red post box (edit)

Today we can still find old red postage boxes dotted about, and whenever I spot one it draws me right back into history. It's a link with the past!

Not so many people use ‘snail mail’ today, but every time we place a postage stamp on an envelope perhaps we can think again of those who have left  their impact on the world through letters.

In the New Testament we hear accounts of the life of Jesus Christ, and the early church through epistles, or letters.  Letters which contain wisdom which is as true today as when it was conceived and written down a couple of thousand years ago.

Like St Paul’s words to the early church in Corinth - ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love!’ (1Corinthians 13:13)

If that’s not a great blast from the past handed down to us in a letter, what is?

Note - http://www.victorianweb.org/history/pennypos.html


Remembering Uncle Mike

Today is World Braille Day.

If you’re not already aware,  braille’ is a system of reading and writing for people with no sight. Put simply, although there is a lot more to it than this - it’s a series of raised dots which spell out letters and words. It’s brilliant.

I first came across braille when I was a child.  ‘Uncle Mike’ was a great family friend, and he was blind. I remember his many braille books – large bound copies sitting on a sturdy book shelf, and I was fascinated by the bumps and dots on the pages. I wish now I’d asked him to teach me a bit about reading that way.

Because Uncle Mike WAS a teacher, a headmaster actually at a secondary school for blind pupils in a place called Thika in Kenya in East Africa. Mike was not just an intellect, he was also a man of deep faith, a loving family man, a talented musician (a pianist, playing by ear and blessed with a gorgeous singing voice) very funny and tremendously adventurous – he once climbed Mount Kenya!

But back to the braille and why January 4th is World Braille Day.

It’s because it was on this day back in 1809 that the creator of the reading and writing system - Louis Braille – was born. He was French and was born sighted. Unfortunately, at the age of three he had a terrible accident which blinded him in one eye. An infection followed and spread to both eyes, and by the time he was five, he was completely blind. I read that because he was so young he didn’t realise he had no sight and often asked why it was so dark. His parents were apparently determined that their youngest child would not miss out on life and he was educated and learned to make his way around his village using a cane.

Louis was very bright and eventually received a scholarship to France's Royal Institute for Blind Youth, where he first began to investigate reading and writing systems, including a military cryptography system devised by a chap called Charles Barbier, which allowed night time reading and writing. By 1824 Louis was ready to show his ideas to the world and the system he devised has become a window on to the world for blind and partially sighted people down the years. Although it’s been slightly tweaked from time to time, the system even today remains virtually changed from Louis’ original concepts.

Today – it’s simply known as ‘braille’ and is used across the globe!

And so today – January 4th – is World Braille Day and this month is Braille Literacy Month in some countries, helping us all to celebrate not just Louis Braille’s incredible invention, but also encouraging us to understand the needs of people who have no sight.

As ‘Uncle Mike’ proved to me all those years ago – not by telling me but just by being who he was - just because one has a disability doesn’t mean that the world is closed to us! We can all climb our mountains, even if we think it might be impossible!

Louis Braille - Wikipedia / Braille - Wikipedia / What is World Braille Day? - Braille Works