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The symbol collections on both pages of this year’s card are grid refences from the National Grid of the Ordnance Survey. This system of identifying positions within Great Britain is referred to a Transverse Mercator map projection with its central meridian running up the centre of the country at longitude 2° west. The grid references are then simply cartesian co-ordinates (known in cartography as eastings and northings) with a false origin just south-west of the Scilly Isles; this choice ensures that all co-ordinates in Britain are positive. (Northern Ireland uses a different grid.)
Distances in grid references are specified in metres, though – quaintly – the 100-km digits are effectively reversed and replaced by letters placed together at the beginning of the reference. Two letters and four digits, as used here, locate a position to within a 1-km square. See the Ordnance Survey’s explanation of the National Grid system.
Each grid reference used in the code is that of a named city, town, village or other feature. These were obtained from the index to The Ordnance Survey Atlas of Great Britain, Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1982. Each reference then represents in the code the initial letter of its place name. For example, SP 7561 is the grid reference for Northampton and represents here its initial letter, “N”.
Recipients of the cards may notice that the places used were chosen with care: most are places with which recipients have connections, some are irrelevant places which happen to have the same name as a recipient, a few have names with a (tenuous?) connection with Christmas, and a few were chosen randomly, mostly in extreme parts of the country. Some choices fitted more than one of these categories.
Sons of Manchester will no doubt think its double appearance in the code only appropriate! In fact, this duplication was an error introduced when I was juggling places to fit the message and was noticed only after the cards had been dispatched – by a recipient.
SJ 4066 TL 1829 TQ 1388 SU 7272 TQ 0704 SP 2143 SU 7423 SU 1429 SP 7145 SE 6813 SE 6052 SJ 8397 TQ 2080 SU 9779
This translates as:
TQ 1388 Harrow, Greater London TQ 0704 Angmering, East Sussex SU 7423 Petersfield, Hampshire SP 7145 Paulerspury, Northamptonshire SE 6052 York SJ 4066 Chester TL 1829 Hitchin, Hertfordshire SU 7272 Reading, Berkshire SP 2143 Ilmington, Warwickshire SU 1429 Salisbury, Wiltshire SE 6813 Thorne, South Yorkshire SJ 8397 Manchester TQ 2080 Acton, Greater London SU 9779 Slough, Berkshire
SK 4953 SP 7561 SU 8758 SE 4936 SE 2422 SP 5305 SM 8519 SK 0418 NX 4736 SP 9907 SV 8608 TQ 1781 SJ 8397 SK 5741 TM 1215 NB 0131 SK 4387 HU 3620 TQ 4069 SY 5785 SP 3509 NJ 4510 SC 4594 TQ 5854 TQ 0987 NL 9946 TQ 1692 TQ 4665 TL 5380 SE 1416 HP 6019 SZ 5084 TQ 4283 ST 6280
This translates as:
SK 4953 Annesley Woodhouse, Nottinghamshire SP 7561 Northampton SE 2422 Dewsbury, West Yorkshire SP 9907 Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire TQ 1781 Ealing, Greater London TM 1215 St Osyth, Essex SK 4387 Treeton, South Yorkshire SP 3509 Witney, Oxfordshire TQ 5854 Ivy Hatch, Kent TQ 1692 Stanmore, Greater London SE 1416 Huddersfield, West Yorkshire TQ 4283 East Ham, Greater London ST 6280 Stoke Gifford, Gloucestershire SU 8758 Frimley, Surrey SP 5305 Oxford SK 0418 Rugeley, Staffordshire SJ 8397 Manchester NB 0131 Mangersta, Isle of Lewis HU 3620 Inns Holm, Shetland NJ 4510 Frosty Hill, Grampian TQ 0987 Ruislip, Greater London TQ 4665 Orpington, Greater London HP 6019 Muckle Flugga, Shetland SE 4936 Barkston [Ash], North Yorkshire SM 8519 Rickets Head, Dyfed NX 4736 Isle of Whithorn, Dumfries and Galloway SV 8608 Annet, Isles of Scilly SK 5741 Nottingham TQ 4069 Bromley, Greater London SY 5785 Abbotsbury, Dorset SC 4594 Ramsey, Isle of Man NL 9946 Kennovay, Tiree TL 5380 Ely, Cambridgeshire SZ 5084 Rookley, Isle of Wight
The name of the new year was slightly problematic in this code. Without any digits at my disposal, I couldn’t use “2001” but had to spell it out. I couldn’t bring myself to use the amazingly common but silly “two thousand and one” (I do not believe that the Battle of Hastings took place in “one thousand and sixty-six”) – still less “the year two thousand and one” – and couldn’t be confident about how to spell “twenty oh-one”: hence the recourse to roman numerals. (I toyed with “... for the new millennium”, but that would have confused all but the purists!)
Observant recipients (of those receiving their cards by post) may have noticed that – like last year – I couldn’t resist the silly air fares to Dublin. Unlike last year, we were stuck at Stansted for ninety minutes waiting for an aircraft delayed by the closure of Dublin airport. Apparently Bill Clinton (who had muscled in on my act) was doing a Boris Yeltsin impression at Dublin airport and refusing to leave his plane. Anyway, I eventually posted most of the cards there.
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Version 37: Revised 18 December 2019