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Two of the things which have changed most radically during my lifetime are the speed of travel and the speed of communication. At one time they meant the same thing, but not anymore! It comes as something of a shock to realise that until the coming of the steam railway in the early 19th century, nobody anywhere could travel faster than a man on horseback, news as well!

When I travelled from Tilbury in London to Hong Kong in China in 1933, the voyage took six weeks on a steamship. This was admittedly, a shorter time than the Portuguese, Dutch and English traders and adventurers of the 15th century took when they sailed from Europe, not to be seen or heard of for years, even if they did return at all. The same journey can now be completed by air in a matter of hours.

The news of the outcome of the battle of Waterloo in 1815 in Belgium only reached London days later, today the news of an earthquake in Taiwan is on the screen or radio in every country around the world in minutes. Discoveries in the field of electronics and radio communication have placed these facilities within the reach of everyone of almost every age, country or social group. The convenience of being able to communicate with anyone, however distant, overrides other considerations, just as the convenience of using a car often overrides considerations of obesity, pollution, obstruction of essential services and conversion of green space into car parks.

At a time when robots, and not only man operated machines are displacing human effort in industry it is even more necessary to encourage physical exercise and outdoor activities, to travel at a speed which enables you to see, and if necessary stop to examine the wonders of nature, to stop talking and listen to the silence, to be where you are and not somewhere else in an electronic world of virtual reality.

To have crossed the Indian Ocean at a gentle 16 knots especially at night, leaning on the rail watching the phosphorescence flashing on the bow wave of the steamer in the faint starlight, and looking up to see the stars themselves, brilliant against a black velvet sky, the only sounds being the hiss of the water and the muffled throb of the engines, maybe an experience which is unrepeatable, but is unforgettable.

Bob Weighton

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