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  • Writer's pictureGethin Thomas

1917, 1918, 2020

Originally published on Photoblog by Gethin Thomas FEBRUARY. 01, 2021

[184-365] 1st. February 2021- Happy February, it's a full year since our last normal month started. This is a bit of a sombre post but I do think there is much to be positive about and I do believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

A year ago we were about to book a trip of a lifetime to South Korea but some people there had started coughing a lot and there were undercurrents of things not being quite right. We decided to wait a couple of weeks to see what was happening and by then people had started coughing all over the place.

We travelled to Germany for a concert but were nervous at the airports coming back. A lot of people in Italy were coughing, a lot of people at the airport were wearing masks, I had only ever seen that in the Far East. This trip made us aware and it made us prepare.

We cancelled our planned trip to London the following week, although there was no mention of any coughing there. London is a world city with huge movements of people. We were going to a concert which involved several hours on a train, two tube journeys across London, a stay in a hotel and a night in a hall full of music fans. Music fans tend to cough a lot at the best of times, particularly in the quiet bits. There was no financial compensation because people had not started cancelling things yet. Were we overreacting?

The rest is history.

We went into town this morning and I don't know why but I took this photo of our cinema, it just felt forlorn sitting there closed. It later occurred to me that it is almost exactly a year ago that we went to the cinema. We saw 1917 and it opened on the 4th of February. It was set 103 years earlier.

This was the first time we had been to this cinema, only having moved here a month before. It's hard to believe it looking at this photo, but it has three teeny tiny screens inside, that seat about thirty people each. The lobby is what was the town hall, and there are local produce markets held there in normal times. It is a large double height hall, all stone walls and arches. It was built in 1850 and the clock tower was added in 1875. Thirty eight years after it was built as the Town Hall a French inventor Louis Le Prince created a motion picture.

Roundhay Garden Scene (1888)

The world’s earliest surviving motion-picture film, showing actual consecutive action is called Roundhay Garden Scene. It’s a short film directed by French inventor Louis Le Prince. While it’s just 2.11 seconds long, it is technically a movie. According to the Guinness Book of Records, it is the oldest surviving film in existence. (

When buying the tickets we joined the cinema loyalty scheme which gave us a membership card and discounts for future films. After buying the tickets the receptionist got up came through a little door in the side of the booth, carrying a torch, and escorted us up a grand staircase to the door of the screening room, where he ushered us inside and showed us to our seats. I have never experienced service like this before in any cinema in my life.

Usher - "servant who has charge of doors and admits people to a chamber, hall, etc.," late Middle English (denoting a doorkeeper): from Anglo-Norman French usser, from medieval Latin ustiarius, from Latin ostiarius, from ostium ‘door’.

So this usher showed us the door in one sense but not in the other. In the other sense to "show someone the door" is an expression used when you want someone to leave, in the sense that they don't really have a choice about leaving.

Back in the cinema, wrapped in the movie 1917 we were in blissful ignorance of what was going to happen to the world in only a few weeks.

As for the loyalty card, we remain loyal but we've never used it.

In the year 1917 it is almost certain that the world's worst pandemic was already under way and in all likelihood it was encouraged by the chaos of the First World War, or as it was called before the Second World War, The Great War. This is great in it's original meaning of very big, not it's modern meaning of very good.

The 1918 influenza pandemic was the most severe pandemic in modern history. It was caused by an H1N1 virus with genes of avian origin. Although there is not universal consensus regarding where the virus originated, it spread worldwide during 1918-1919. In the United States, it was first identified in military personnel in spring 1918. It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide.

Mortality was high in people younger than 5 years old, 20-40 years old, and 65 years and older. The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 year age group, was a unique feature of this pandemic. While the 1918 H1N1 virus has been synthesized and evaluated, the properties that made it so devastating are not well understood. With no vaccine to protect against influenza infection and no antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections that can be associated with influenza infections, control efforts worldwide were limited to non-pharmaceutical interventions such as isolation, quarantine, good personal hygiene, use of disinfectants, and limitations of public gatherings, which were applied unevenly.

On a personal note my paternal Great Grandparents had only two children, both toddlers when this pandemic arrived. Both children died three days apart and there was a single funeral. If they had not gone on to have two more daughters I would not be here today.

My maternal Grandfather was fighting in the trenches in Northern France. If he had not survived being wounded by a shell and being gassed I would not be here today. This is a page from one of the forty letters he wrote to my Grandmother from the trenches. They had not long met before he was sent to France and they both wrote loyally to each other for over a year during his time spent there.

That means I had dodged the bullets of both pandemic and war before I was born. I expect most of us have similar tales.

When you get to the essence of evolution, probably the most awe inspiring and mind bending fact, is trying to imagine the innumerable successful encounters between varying life forms that make up our ancestral line, that had to take place throughout the last 4 billion years for any of us to be here today. There was absolutely zero room for error with any single ancestor. Your ancestors and mine all have a 100% success rate all the way back to single celled life forms dividing in a watery soup and possibly the crystal like forms that came before them.

Notwithstanding the fact that every single one of those creatures led an ephemeral life, like all of us. One slip here, one sniff there and any one of those ancestors would have failed in their mission.

Of course it is worth remarking that it is not because of them that I am here so much as because I am here that they are remembered.

Addendum - Here we are with war in Europe once more.

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