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2000: Ordnance Survey Grid References

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.

Front page

              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:

Inside page

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:

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
Brian Barker