In the area where I live in north London there used to be several chain off licences/wine shops.

Nicolas is a French chain that always had a good selection of wines and spirits. It closed, and was taken over by Oddbins, even though there was another Oddbins shop, a huge converted garage, just a few hundred yards away.

Actually, the large shop was really great. The selection was enormous, the staff were helpful and there was even a place to sit and sample wines. They always got my business, and it’s a sign of a good shop if, every time you go in, you find something interesting.

Well, the small shop closed. Last time I visited the larger shop, the shelves were empty. I went past recently, and they were removing what stock was left.

So now, if you want wine, you go to a small specialist shop, which is fine, or a supermarket. I think Majestic is still on the go, but is many miles away.


I used to enjoy Maths. At school, it was my favourite subject. I was not the greatest at it, but it made sense to me.

Partly, i suppose, I got it from my dad, who had that kind of mind and was good with numbers. I had some great teachers. But mainly, it was logical, more so than History, for example, which was all about learning unrelated facts, something I can never do. I mean, look at the dates of Kings and Queens of England and tell me the logic behind it. None, of course. Chemistry was similar. Possibly there was some kind of logical system in naming organic and inorganic compounds, but it was never explained to me.

We didn’t have calculators in my day. We used books of tables, and great fun it was. You really understood sines and cosines, and could do logarithms like nobody’s business.

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Someone once told me, quite genuinely, that I ask stupid questions.

Now, as a teacher, or ex teacher, there is no such thing as a stupid question. There are things you probably should know, but at least you are showing inquisitiveness about something, and if I can explain I will. If you still don’t understand, I will try a different approach.

So, one question I asked was “what would the world look like if no-one had invented glass?” Given that pretty much every building ever built, almost every vehicle, mobile phones… the list is pretty much endless, rely on glass for a variety of things, including for looking through, if it didn’t exist, how would we cope?

We rely on glass for drinking vessels, but we could easily find something else for that, but glass is such an important product for so many things. For example, how would aeroplane pilots cope without glass windows?

Now, you could say that we can always find an alternative, perspex or something.

A more deeply philosophical answer is that someone always would have discovered glass, or invented it. All life on all planets similar to ours would at some point have found something similar to glass. It’s fundamental, like the wheel and fire. Without it, civilisation cannot progress, or will progress slowly or differently.

Or maybe the answer is that we wouldn’t have, for example, planes if we did not have glass. Buildings would be different. Glass keeps heat in. We could live with holes in building walls, but not in cold climates.

I do wonder if there are things not discovered or invented that are so simple, or fundamental perhaps, that life on Earth might have been very different, hopefully better, with it than it is now.