American Pi(e) Day 2018 – for Professor Stephen Hawking

Today I awoke to the sad news of the passing of Professor Stephen Hawking. The word ‘genius’ is bandied around far too much – from pop singers who may have written one good song to the self-proclaimed ‘stable genius’ allegedly being Presidential in the USA. But Professor Hawking really deserved the attribution, if for no other reason than everything he did being so far above my level of comprehension that he must have been super-intelligent, right?

As coincidence would have it, the fates aligned for his passing to have occurred early on the day the Americans celebrate as Pi Day. For the uninitiated, this relates to the abbreviated version of Pi – 3.14 – matching the date for today in their calendar. Yes, I know they have it backwards, but that’s the way they do it, even if it is completely illogical. As this is as close as I’ve ever got to talking about anything scientific in this blog, it does seem an appropriate way to mark Professor Hawking’s passing and his genius to reissue this piece from last year, as my tribute.

And in case you haven’t noticed, Google have again marked Pi Day in their own inimitable style today. I mention in the piece that they have done this before, this is today’s offering:

RIP Professor Hawking.

Take It Easy

As every schoolkid should know, the fattest knight at King Arthur’s Round Table was Sir Cumference. He got that way from too much pi.

Or maybe not.

Readers of longer standing may recall that I used to post occasional Dates To Note and originally ran a version of this post in that series two years ago. I rather like this one, as it gives us Brits a chance to marvel at how weird the USA can be so, for newer readers, here’s a reworked version.

In the UK last week was British Pie Week, whilst in the USA 14 March is National Pi Day. Being a good British citizen of proportions that make me the answer to the football fans’ chanted question ‘Who ate all the pies?’ I was naturally drawn to this. However on further investigation I found that it was in fact a ‘celebration’ by Jus-Rol who make…yes…

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For Mother’s Day

This coming Sunday, 11th March, is celebrated here in the UK as Mother’s Day. This day has longstanding religious tradition and history behind it, although you’d be forgiven for not noticing that nowadays. These traditions vary, depending on the religion. Here the day is actually recognised in the church calendar as Mothering Sunday, and falls on the fourth Sunday in Lent. Because Easter is early this year, this means that for the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man, Irish Republic and Nigeria, who use this date, Mother’s Day is also earlier than in some years. There are in fact 32 different dates around the world on which Mother’s Day is celebrated, the most commonly used of which is the second Sunday in May, which is the day in North and South America, and across large parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. The modern version was first celebrated in the USA in 1908, after a campaign by a lady called Anna Jarvis to have a designated day for mothers. Commercialisation began in the 1920s, when Hallmark began selling cards, and Jarvis was arrested for a public protest against this. But the date and nature of the celebration have since been widely adopted.

The commercialisation of the date means that it is ubiquitous. Apart from all of the advertising which uses the day as the basis for promotion – often in incredibly dubious and convoluted ways – there are TV programmes, articles in papers and magazines etc, which are very difficult to avoid unless you become a hermit. And in this modern technological age, I’d also need to stop checking my emails too. Some of the bombardment is unbelievable: I even had an email the other day from a clothing company which only sells men’s clothing, inviting me to purchase one of a choice of outfits to wear when celebrating with my mother, from the formal suit to go to the posh lunch to smart casual if cooking her a meal at home, complete with an apron!

Mother’s Day is a hard one for me. My Mum died nearly ten years ago, on 15th May 2008 and, whilst the immediacy of the feelings of loss is somewhat diminished by the passage of time, those feelings are still there. Many millions have lost their mother, and could do without the commercial juggernaut reminding us of what we have lost and what we could have otherwise been doing. It’s a difficult time of year. I find myself wishing that all of the companies stuffing this down my throat would roll up their promotional material very tightly and insert it where the sun doesn’t shine. And I’d bet I’m not alone in that. I shall be spending this Sunday in quiet reflection, remembering the person who brought me into this world and all that she did for me. I don’t need any marketing to tell me how to do that. I find myself agreeing with Anna Jarvis: this should be a day to celebrate our mothers, not to spend loads of money. Whilst the cards, flowers, chocolates and wine – especially the wine! – may be very welcome, do mothers really need this to know that they are appreciated? Wouldn’t telling them, face to face, be much better? And doing things for them, to show them that you care? Not just on Mother’s Day either: our mothers are very special people and deserve to know that our love for them is always there, with or without the giving of physical gifts on a particular day to make the statement for us.

If you’re going to be spending Mother’s Day with your Mum, I hope you – and she – have a fantastic day, full of the joy that families give us. And long may you be doing that: the happiness of days like Sunday will build into cherished memories. To repeat myself: Mums are special people, they deserve our love.


Mum, Dad, my sister, a cousin (top) and me, c.1960 I think.