Millions and Billions and Trillions

Here’s an admission. I have not told the whole truth.

For years and years I lectured children (frequently bemused) about the difference between English billions and American billions. I was not aware of the whole story.

Let me explain.

An English billion is 1 000 000 000 000: one followed by 12 zeros, or 10 to the power 12.

An American billion is 1 000 000 000: one followed by 9 zeros, or 10 to the power 9.

Thus, an English billion is 1000 American billions- which is an American trillion.

With me so far? Never mind.


The English system is more efficient. You need fewer number names, for a start. However, the American versions of long numbers are easier to say. (And it’s easier to say you’re a billionaire.)

The American billion has now taken over in the U.K. Whenever we write a billion, it is now always 1000 million. Just another example, I used to pontificate, of the Americanisation of our culture.

It transpired, when I was looking this up recently, that our Continental cousins and lots of others use what I called the English style system. This is apparently called the long scale, based on multiples of a million. The American system is short scale, based on multiples of a thousand.

Just to add to the confusion, the long scale has some alternative names, such as milliard, billiard and trilliard. Confused? I sympathise. If you are really interested, there’s a good Wikipedia article:

Other number systems are available.


Hidden treasures

Stained glass window 1

Stained glass window 2

We came across this in Dublin. It seems that some beautiful stained glass has been hidden away in the office of an Irish government agency.

This post will probably do very little to help make the glass accessible. However, in the words of that very individual and idiosyncratic (and now rather forgotten) Times columnist, Bernard Levin, I am “breaking a lance” for this cause. (That’s a Don Quixote reference, children.) (Don Quixote? Oh, go ask Alexa.)

(We saw some interesting stained glass art in galleries in Dublin. This is not a medium I really knew, apart from churches and decoration.)

Oblique Sites of Dublin

This is purely a personal view. See last week’s blogpost for our general impressions. I have not given any details of locations, etc; it’s all easy enough to find.

St Michan’s Church The church itself is rather dour, but pay the money and take the tour of the crypt. It’s informative and entertaining- and there are mummies.

Along the River Liffey Four Courts features attractive architecture but is probably not worth a detour to see; however the Custom House is well worth a look, especially from the river.

Christ Church Cathedral (Entrance fee) This Anglican church is interesting if you like churches (we do). There is a mummified cat chasing a mouse in the crypt. Really. But see comments about St Patrick’s.

Civic Hall Don’t miss this. It’s got a most beautiful dome inside, and it’s free. There is an exhibition which we didn’t see.Dublin City Hall

Immaculate Heart of Mary Church Only people like us would go to see this…. It’s quiet and unassuming. A little refuge of peace.

Post Office This is famous, a big centre of modern history. We of course didn’t see the exhibition, but looked inside (free) at the lovely Post Office counters and ceilings.

Remembrance Memorial This is to commemorate all those killed in the 1916 Easter Rising. It’s another little oasis in a busy city.

Dublin Remembrance

Dublin City Gallery- The Hugh Lane It’s free; it’s got nice rooms; it’s not too huge. Best of all, at the moment it’s got the wonderful Renoir ‘Les Parapluies’ among other very pleasant things. The café wasn’t really us; it felt a bit upmarket, or would like to be.

Dublin City Gallery

National Archaeological Museum (Free) This is great: one of our top places to visit. It’s got fascinating finds from Ireland and further afield; shoes, clothes, gold and so on and so on. It’s in a beautiful galleried hall, faintly reminiscent of the Pitt Rivers in Oxford.

Dublin Archaeology

National Gallery (Free) This was also a favourite. It’s large, with high, clean modern galleries and also a lovely older part, with fantastic decorated ceilings. It has a very good collection, with some lovely work by Irish artists unnown to us, and a good representation of female artists. To cap it all is a nice little Monet.

Dublin National Gallery

Trinity College We are reliably informed that the library and the Book of Kells are unmissable. We missed them, because of cost and because we had Miss O. with us. The grounds are undeniably pretty.

Dublin Trinity Dublin Trinity 2

St Patrick’s Cathedral This is another very popular attraction. Attraction? Well, the spiritualism of the place is largely lost during the tourist visiting times. It’s a worthwhile visit for the lovely architecture, Dean Swift’s pulpit…. actually that’s not very lovely, but it’s just that the famously satirical author stood and preached there. For hours, apparently. There’s also a great monument to the family of Robert Boyle, the great scientist. Well, I’ve heard of him.

Dublin St Patrick's

St Stephen’s Green An attractive space, with some lovely Georgian terraces to the South. Even further South is the Grand Canal (and the statue of Patrick Kavanagh if you’re interested). It’s all well worth a wander. St Stephen’s Green Shopping Centre is also an amazing building.

Powerscourt Townhouse Shopping Centre is amazing: an old Georgian townhouse, with lovely ceilings and spaces, converted into a rather upmarket shopping centre. Nearby the St George’s Arcade is worth a wander through.

Dublin Shopping Centre

We really liked the Gallery of Photography (free) in Meeting House Square.

Briefly we also liked:

St Aodan’s Church, the centre of the Polish Catholic community;

The outside of Richard’s Hospital;

Merrion Square, which is a pleasant green square, with a strange statue of Oscar Wilde.

There is also, amazingly, a statue of Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy which is strangely moving, with odd flowers from the nearby stalls and plectrums tucked under the strings of his bass.

Dublin Lynott

As well as the aforementioned Custom House the docks feature some brutal modern architecture with no regard to the buildings around, old or modern. Whoops. A tram ride to the end of the line shows these well.

Dublin 5

There’s loads more to see, and looking at the guide book we missed things I would have been interested in. For example Kilmainham Gaol This was the one that got away; it was fully booked. We are assured it’s worth a visit by no less than my brother. Book online. Guinness and Jameson’s? If you must.

The open top bus tours, as I said last week, are a great way of orienting yourself.

Impressions of Dublin

OK, OK. This was a last-minute holiday; the Obliques are notoriously indecisive. We had been talking about Dublin for some time. But in August?

It’s clearly a prestige destination. The Pope was due the Sunday after we left. It’s also apparently a magnet for stag and hen parties, although we saw no real signs of drunken pub crawls. So what was it like for two adults and their developmentally delayed 15-year old?

Dublin 3We stayed in Smithfield, which is an old working-class area that was dramatically remodelled in the economic boom Dublin experienced around the turn of the century. This stalled, and Smithfield is clearly still struggling back. It’s pleasant enough and quite quiet, and we liked the Maldron Hotel, with a great view over the city and down onto the very varied life of the ‘plaza’. (My apologies for the awful photograph.)

Dublin 2 Public transport is pretty good. It’s easy to get the Airport Express into town. We used the very modern trams that run North-South and East-West, getting a seven-day ticket. Miss Oblique the Youngest particularly enjoyed them. They have the added bonus of taking you right through the crowded shopping streets; we travelled to the end of the lines to see a little of the environs of Dublin as well as the dock area. The buses are also frequent and easy to use. Being us, we walked a lot, which is a very good way to get to know a city.

We have repeatedly found open-top bus tours to be a very good way of getting to know a city. There are excellent ones in London and Cardiff, and Dublin is no exception. We used the green “Do Dublin” hop-on hop-off tours. The route is fascinating (so much so we went round twice) and the commentary amusing and informative. (Other tours are available!)

Dublin 1

We also did the “Dublin Discovered” river tour, and this gives a real impression of how the River Liffey is the centre of the city. Again the commentary is entertaining as well as informative, particularly on how Facebook did not want their headquarters address to be on ‘Misery Hill’.

There is plenty to see; so much that I intend to split this post into two parts, with the “attractions” in part 2. For now, suffice to say that we did NOT visit the Guinness Storehouse, or the Jamesons Distillery. We did drink some Guinness: very pleasant. There are very many pubs and bars, which apparently welcome children up to 9 at night. Most seem to have an Irish theme. There are also plenty of restaurants and cafés. The food we had was substantial, with a good beef and Guinness stew, but nothing outstanding. It was expensive, and this is our biggest negative: everything seemed expensive. (We were told that housing is pricey and salaries are high.) We paid £60 to £80 for very average meals for three, especially considering Miss O. favours chips, chips and chips. Some careful searching is needed.

Notwithstanding that, Dublin is in many parts a beautiful city, with some lovely Georgian brick terraces and neo-classical architecture, but with lots of unsympathetic modern building. The people are very friendly, and of course speaking English. (Although all signs are in Irish and English, we heard nobody speaking Irish at all. There is a very small number of people who speak it as a first language.) We found no hostility to the English, despite the history.

It is worth mentioning that we were there at the time of the All-Ireland Hurling Final. On Sunday the streets and trams were flooded with fans in the green of Limerick and the claret of Galway. Limerick, the underdogs, won, deservedly according to the Galway fans we spoke to. There was no trouble, only a lot of drinking and chatting. The report in the Irish Independent the next day was a great piece of journalism.

So August in Dublin worked for us, though it may not be to everybody’s taste and is expensive. See next Sunday for the attractions.

It’s Obvious

Yes, I know it’s not Sunday. But this is too brief to hold back.

According to the Daily Mail (16th July 2018) lecturers at Bath University have been instructed not to use the term “as you know” to students, which could make students feel at fault for not knowing. This is seen as being an example of the fragility of the ‘snowflake generation’.

I do not feel qualified to comment on such language, coming as I do from more robust academic times. I do wonder if there is a basic body of knowledge that students should be expected to know, depending on context.

However, this does remind me of a very good old story about a mathematics tutor. He was giving a lecture one day, chalked something on the blackboard, then said:

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is obvious”.

He stopped and looked again at the equation.

At least, I think it’s obvious.”

He grabbed pencil and paper, then disappeared. After a short interval, he came back, beaming, and said:

Yes, it is obvious.”

This probably says more about mathematics than lecturers and students. But it has the ring of truth about it.

It's Obvious

For your pleasure, the caption to this non-copyright picture reads:

Here is more obvious that the boundary is the union of two Mö-bands along the two borders of the vertical annulus.”

Of course.

Four Funerals and a Wedding

To my amusement, I recently realised that since my retirement I have only worn ties for four funerals and a wedding.

This was a strange thought, as I used to wear a tie every working day as a teacher. I always felt that dressing up for work concentrated my mind better. I hated non-uniform days, which I always felt were counter-productive.

Four Funerals and a WeddingTies were at one point the only way an English gentleman (I cannot speak for gentlemen in other countries) could express any individuality in dress, especially formal dress. Traditionally, ladies (or perhaps traditional ladies) had to spend ages choosing an outfit. It was easy for us chaps. Get out the good suit, pick a colourful tie and maybe a new shirt, shine your shoes and off you go.

There has been a move away from ties in recent years. Former England cricket captain (and all-round Clever Chap) Mike Brearley was famously against ties, even in the hallowed precincts of the MCC.

I can see his point. They really are a thing of the past. They really are only a decoration. However a letter to the Times this week noted that ties were becoming unfashionable, but advocated them for older men to cover their ‘chicken-like’ necks.

No comment.

I have also just read that neurologists have discovered that wearing a tie for as little as 15 minutes restricts blood flow to the brain. (The male brain, the report said. Do women never wear ties?)

I shall probably pick a tie and go thus attired to the few remaining formal events there will be in my life. I have a huge number still. Reasonable hire or purchase options are available.

The Fashion Police reserve the right to comment.

Drop-Dead Serious

My ire has been roused. My cage has been rattled. I’ve tried to keep this blog positive, but I must have a rant. Much good will it do me.

Two recent related news items have started this off- or re-ignited it.

The first was about an atrocious incident in Eastleigh. Ambulance crews were called to a report of a 13-year-old girl having a cardiac arrest. On arrival, they were bombarded with bricks, chairs and other missiles. They were injured. Two girls of 13 and 14 were arrested. At the time of writing there was no further news.

Following this was the news that paramedics in England are to be equipped with body cameras, to help protect them from violent attacks. Assaults have risen by 34% in four years, according to the Sunday Times.

This is of some concern to me, as Miss Oblique #2 and her partner are paramedics. I cannot tell any of their stories, for reasons of confidentiality; nobody has attacked them, but the disrespect they are sometimes shown is breathtaking. (As is the time-wasting.)

What do I feel about this? Furious? Incandescent? Mildly peeved? To be honest, above all I feel utterly bemused, confused and uncomprehending.

Why would anybody want to attack people who are trying to help others? Why would anybody want to hurt them? Why would they want to stop patients from being treated? Surely self-interest should come into play. Surely nobody would want to hurt a paramedic who was trying to treat their loved ones- or themselves.

I have, obviously, no answers or solutions. There is no logic or reasoning I can see behind these acts. Is it idiocy? Madness? Total lack of empathy? Evil?

The biggest question of all is: what good does it do writing this? I don’t honestly think it will make things better. I can’t imagine anybody who might read this who would approve of such acts. I would love to know if anybody can explain them, or find a practical solution.