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When I put some nesting boxes in the garden I was hoping for a Robin or a Blue Tit!
The Sparrowhawk as well as being a magnificent bird is a ruthless killer and designed to hunt expertly from the air. It tracks at great speed, darting out of cover with extreme dexterity combined with deadly accuracy to kill its prey. It doesn’t hover, like the Kestrel or the Hawk, but relies on pace, momentum and surprise to catch its food and for this it is well designed with long slim legs, large sharp talons and a very efficient hooked beak that it uses for piercing and tearing up its prey.
The male Sparrowhawk was formerly called a musket, and the gun was named after the bird which perhaps gives a clue as to just how deadly they can be. They are expert hunters and very fast fliers, and often make quick dashes over hedgerows or along the ground when chasing prey, which is often spectacularly captured using a downward plummet from the sky with closed wings.
Each adult Sparrowhawk will kill and consume a couple of small birds a day for themselves and when they are breeding a pair needs to catch another ten or so just to feed the chicks. According to the RSPB there are forty thousand breeding pairs in the United Kingdom so by my calculation that is twenty thousand nests with an average of three chicks each so to feed themselves and their offspring this means three hundred thousand murders a day. As Thomas Hobbes said in his philosophical treatise, Leviathan, ‘Life (in the state of nature) is nasty, brutish and short”.
“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
The Apollo 11 space flight seemingly fulfilled US President John F. Kennedy’s aspiration of reaching the Moon before the Soviet Union by the end of the 1960s, which he had expressed during a 1961 speech before the United States Congress.
But not everyone was convinced and almost immediately some theorists began to produce evidence that disputed the Moon landings claim.
Different Moon landing conspiracy theories claim that some or all elements of the Apollo Project and the Moon landings were falsifications staged by NASA and that the landings were faked in some giant hoax. Some of the more notable of these various claims include allegations that the Apollo astronauts did not set foot on the Moon at all but instead NASA and others intentionally deceived the public into believing the landings did occur by manufacturing, destroying, or tampering with evidence, including photos, telemetry tapes, transmissions, and rock samples.
The most predominant theory is that the entire human landing program was a complete hoax from start to finish. Some claim that the technology to send men to the Moon was insufficient or that the Van Allen radiation belts, solar flares, solar wind, coronal mass ejections and cosmic rays made such a trip impossible with a success rate calculated at only 0.017%. Others argue that because The United States could not allow itself to be seen to fail to achieve Kennedy’s aspiration, the obsession with beating the USSR and the huge sums of money involved (US$ 30 billion) had to be justified, that the hoax was unavoidable.
As the theories gathered momentum it seemed that rather than being filmed on the Moon all of the action actually took place on a film lot and in the middle of the Nevada desert.
For a while I must confess to having been taken in by these conspiracy theories but when I think about it the size and complexity of the alleged conspiracy theory scenarios makes it wholly unlikely. The most compelling reason of all is the fact that more than four hundred thousand people worked on the Apollo project for nearly ten years and all of these people, including astronauts, scientists, engineers, technicians, and skilled labourers, would have had to keep the secret ever since and that, I suggest, would be completely impossible.
In the final year of the 1960s other things were changing as well; pop music for example. At a Rolling Stones concert in Altamont, California, a fan was stabbed to death by Hells Angels, a biker gang that had been hired to provide security for the event and in retrospect, some commentators have concluded that the violence signaled the end of the ‘hippie’ movement, which espoused an ethos of free love and peace.
In 1969 the Beatles began the process of an acrimonious split and it was a shock to discover that Lennon and McCartney were not best buddies at all and John was preparing to leave the band. First he released his own solo single ‘Give Peace a Chance’, staged his ‘bed-in’ with Yoko and at the end of the year returned his MBE in protest at the British Government’s support for the United States in the Vietnam war. Even rock stars weren’t what they were previously thought to be and John Lennon was evidently going mad!
In between misbehaving at school I used to hang about with a gang of pals making a nuisance of ourselves in a way that would be called anti-social behaviour these days and when we weren’t hanging around shop fronts or on street corners frightening the old folk we had an old barn to meet in. It was in David Newman’s back garden next to the canal and we decorated it, filled it with old furniture, hung posters on the walls and listened to loud rock music on an old record player while drinking cider and puffing on Woodbine cigarettes that David had stolen from his dad. We called it the ‘Doski’ because it was half disco and half doss house and I spent most of my evenings and weekends there but even this was about to change.
After going to see the film ‘Helga’ and with hormones in overdrive we voted to allow girls into the Doski and naturally enough we started to pair off. My ‘girlfriend’, in the loosest sense of the term, was Elizabeth and one night in November she suggested that we leave early and go back to her place because her parents were out for the evening at a bonfire night party. I took some persuading because I liked being with my pals and couldn’t understand why she would want to leave. Eventually however we left and about half an hour later in Elizabeth’s front room I said goodbye for ever to my age of innocence.
I don’t know how well the bonfire party went but in Elizabeth’s front room it was as just though someone had dropped a match in a box of fireworks and they had all gone off together at the same time! This bought a whole new meaning to ‘light up the sky with Standard Fireworks, and I never went to the Doski again but I did spend every available weekend at Elizabeth’s house every time her parents went out drinking to the Working Men’s Club in Deerings Road and from then I had to allocate some of my paper round money for contraceptives.
At some point in our young lives the ‘Age of Innocence’ must end and for me this was 1969 as I slipped into my sixteenth year and with raging puberty and a testosterone fuelled curiosity abandoned bike rides and picnics as I discovered a new murky world of sex and rock ‘n’ roll (but no drugs).
Prior to 1969 going to the cinema meant Saturday morning pictures, Walt Disney or Cliff Richard in Summer Holiday but this was the year that I managed to trick my way into the Granada Cinema to see an X rated film. This was by no means easy because I always looked younger than my age and at only fifteen it was only possible to deceive the cashier by getting someone else to buy my ticket while I kept out of sight. Well, it worked because I got away with it (or perhaps she just didn’t care?) and my first adult film was ‘The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’ which included a scene where a an undressed girl was posing for an artist and which set my pulse racing towards danger levels.
In film censorship the original X certificate was issued between 1951 and 1982 by the British Board of Film Censors in the United Kingdom. From 1951 to 1970, it meant “Suitable for those aged sixteen and over’ and from 1970 to 1982 as films became more explicit and violent this was raised to eighteen and over.
Censorship was a bit more vigorous in the 1960s than it is now and Lord Harlech and his Board would slap an X certificate on anything considered remotely unsuitable. Miss Jean Brodie certainly wouldn’t get an X certificate forty years on and neither would the second X film that I managed to sneak into see which was ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’ where there were no undressed ladies, no swear words and not much violence either. I really liked that film and it remains one of my all time favourites but my final X film was ‘Midnight Cowboy’ and I really didn’t really understand it all and I don’t think I even stayed until the end. Despite my critical dismissal of it, ‘Midnight Cowboy’ went on to become the only X-rated film ever to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Another cinema experience in 1969 was a school trip to see the sex education film ‘Helga’ which was designed to make up for the fact that our parents and school teachers were all too embarrassed to tackle the subject head on so we were all bussed to the Granada Cinema to watch a German government sponsored film about sex, pregnancy and giving birth. Even though it didn’t have an X rating this was certainly more explicit than any of the adult films that I had deceived my way in to see and it had ladies without any clothes on and far from putting me off I left the cinema thinking about how much I’d like a bit of that!
Before 1969 everything was ‘Enid Blyton’ with Sunday School, Boy Scouts and weekends playing football with chums but this was the year when suddenly things were not really so simple.
Some of this is retrospective of course because when Richard Nixon became the thirty-seventh President of the United States no one could predict that five years later he would resign the office in shame rather than be dismissed by impeachment for being guilty of Federal crimes as a consequence of the Watergate Affair.
The term Watergate has come to describe a sequence of illegal activities undertaken by members of the Nixon administration. The activities came to light when five men were caught breaking into Democratic party headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington, D.C. on 17th June 1972. The Washington Post uncovered the story and discovered a series of dirty tricks involving the Committee to Re-Elect the President.
Nixon’s alleged role in ordering a cover-up came to light in July 1973 when a White House aide testified that Nixon had a secret taping system that recorded his conversations and phone calls in the Oval Office. The tapes were subpoenaed but The White House refused to release them. A deal was reached in which the White House would provide written summaries of the tapes but when they turned up there was an unexplained eighteen minute gap. The first deleted section of about five minutes has been attributed to human error by the President’s personal secretary, who admitted accidentally wiping the section while transcribing the tape. A likely story!
So politics was corrupt and here was the evidence and then people stared to cast doubt on boy’s stuff and heroes and it became possible that people could cheat, or be accused of cheating, at almost anything because on 20th July man landed on the moon. Or did he?
If 1967 had been a quiet year, much without incident, 1968 turned out to be an especially violent year and the news was dominated by assassinations and shootings. I turned fourteen years old in June and I was becoming more aware of news events around the World.
In the far-east there was a war that was going from bad to worse for the United States as they tried to support South Vietnam and prevent the spread of communism from the north, but the war was not popular with many people there and in February there was a watershed event that became a public relations disaster for the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidency.
Nguyễn Văn Lém was a member of the Viet Cong who on 1st February was shot dead in Saigon during a major Viet Cong offensive. The execution was captured on film by a photojournalist called Eddie Adams and the momentous image became a symbol of the brutality of war.
During the fighting Lém was captured and brought to Brigadier General Nguyễn Ngọc Loan, the Chief of National Police of the Republic of Vietnam. Using his handgun, General Loan summarily executed Lém in front of Adams and an NBC television cameraman. The photograph and the footage were broadcast worldwide, everyone who saw it witnessed Lém’s brains being blown from his skull and decorating the pavement and it galvanized the anti-war movement in the United States.
Adams won a 1969 Pulitzer Prize for his photograph. What he captures there in the faces is exceptional, the matter of fact look expression of the executioner, the exhiliration and encouragement from the soldier in the left of picture and the look of expectation and certain impending death in the face of the victim.
In April there was another high profile shooting. Martin Luther King Jr. was an American clergyman, activist and prominent leader in the African American civil rights movement. In 1964 he became the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end racial segregation and discrimination through civil disobedience and other non-violent means. By the time of his death in 1968, he had refocused his efforts on ending poverty and by opposing the Vietnam War.
He was assassinated on April 4th 1968 in Memphis Tennessee by James Earl Ray.
In late March King went to Memphis in support of the black sanitary public works employees who had been on strike for higher wages and better treatment. King was booked in room 306 at the Lorraine Motel and just after six o’clock he was standing on the balcony of his room when a single shot rang out from a sniper’s rifle. The bullet entered through his right cheek, smashing his jaw, then travelled down his spinal cord before lodging in his shoulder. He was pronounced dead just over an hour later.
The assassination led to a nationwide wave of riots in more than one hundred cities. Presidential candidate Robert Kennedy was on his way to Indianapolis for a campaign rally when he was informed of King’s death. He gave a short speech to the gathering of supporters informing them of the tragedy and asking them to continue King’s idea of non-violence. President Johnson declared April 7th a national day of mourning for the civil rights leader
Just four days later he signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968 which was meant as a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and expanded on previous acts by prohibiting discrimination concerning the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, religion or national origin.
And gun violence wasn’t restricted to war and politics because in early June it spilled over into the world of art when a radical American feminist, Valerie Jean Solanas, attempted to murder the artist Andy Warhol. When he arrived at his studio called ‘the Factory’ with a couple of friends, she was waiting for him and produced a handgun and shot three times, hitting him once. She then shot art critic Mario Amaya and also tried to shoot Warhol’s manager, Fred Hughes, but her gun jammed as the elevator arrived and she escaped. Warhol was seriously wounded but survived the assassination attempt and Solanas was arrested the following day.
All of these events were shocking enough but on June 5th they were eclipsed by the biggest shooting of the year. Robert Francis Kennedy, affectionately known as Bobby, was a prominent and popular politician, a Democratic Senator from New York and a noted civil rights activist. An icon of modern American liberalism, he was a younger brother of President John F. Kennedy and acted as one of his advisers during his presidency when from 1961 to 1964 he was the United States Attorney General.
Following his brother John’s assassination in 1963, Kennedy continued to serve as Attorney General under President Lyndon B. Johnson for nine months but in September 1964 he resigned to seek the U.S. Senate seat for New York which he won in November and within a few years he publicly split with Johnson over the issue of the Vietnam War.
In March 1968 Kennedy began a campaign for the presidency and was a front running candidate of the Democratic Party. In the California presidential primary he defeated Eugene McCarthy, a fellow U.S. Senator from Minnesota. Following a brief victory speech delivered just past midnight in the ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, Kennedy was assassinated.
Leaving the ballroom, he went through the hotel kitchen after being told it was a shortcut, despite being advised to avoid the kitchen by his FBI bodyguard. In a crowded passageway, Sirhan Sirhan, a twenty-four year-old Christian Palestinian-American (who felt betrayed by Kennedy’s support for Israel in the June 1967 Six-Day War), opened fire and shot Kennedy three times. Following the shooting, Kennedy was rushed to Los Angeles’s Good Samaritan Hospital where he died early the next morning. He was forty-three years old and America was poorer for his passing.
Later in the year the Republican Richard M. Nixon was elected thirty-seventh President of the United States.