The ZIP code is the system of postal codes used by the US Postal Service. The letters ZIP are an acronym for Zone Improvement Plan and were chosen to suggest that the mail travels more efficiently, and therefore more quickly, when people sending post use it.
By the early 1960s improvements were needed in the postal service due to increasing volumes and on 1st July 1963 ZIP codes were announced for the whole country. This might not sound like a really really big news item but I mention it because for many years I had a lot of difficulty understanding what a ZIP code was as post codes were not introduced to the whole of the United Kingdom until 1974.
As a teenager I used to read American superhero comics like DC and Marvel and I was always tempted to respond to the full page advertisements for such things as a complete two hundred piece civil war army for $1.49, a miniature secret camera for only $1.00 or a free Charles Atlas body building course. What stopped me filling in the order form and sending off the cash was not the rather critical fact that I had no idea how to exchange my paper round money into dollars but rather the fact that I had no idea what a ZIP code was. I concluded that it was some sort of secret code that prevented overseas orders from being processed and so never had the pleasure of sending off my order form for those intriguing items.
Most of all I wanted a pair of X-ray specs, mostly because the advert seemed to suggest that whilst it might be fun to be able to see the bones in your hand, it would be a whole lot more fun to be able to see through girls clothing and there was always a curvy girl in the advert that suggested that this was a real possibility. But, let’s think about it for a minute. This is how my science dictionary explains X-rays:
‘X-rays are a type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths of around 10-10 metres. When X-rays are being produced, a thin metallic sheet is placed between the emitter and the target, effectively filtering out the lower energy (soft) X-rays. This is often placed close to the window of the X-ray tube. The resultant X-ray is said to be hard. Soft X-rays overlap the range of extreme ultraviolet. The frequency of hard X-rays is higher than that of soft X-rays, and the wavelength is shorter. During an X-ray the electrons decelerate upon colliding with the target and if enough energy is contained within the electron it is able to knock out an electron from the inner shell of the metal atom and as a result electrons from higher energy levels then fill up the vacancy and X-ray photons are emitted.’
Well, that all sounds rather complicated to me, and X-ray machines costs many thousands of pounds so thinking back it seems highly unlikely that a pair of cardboard specs costing a mere $1.00 was going to be able to deliver the sort of advanced level of technical process that would enable me to see through girl’s clothing.
Actually the lenses consisted of two layers of cardboard with a small hole punched through both layers. A feather was embedded between the layers of each lens and the vanes of the feathers were so close together that light was diffracted, causing the user to receive two slightly offset images. Where the images overlapped, a darker image was obtained, supposedly giving the illusion that one is seeing an X-ray image of dark and light. I know now of course that this isn’t a real X-ray machine at all and I would never have been able to see through girls clothing after all and I am retro spec tively glad that I never sent off my money and purchase a pair.
1963 was a bad year for railways and the Beeching report in March proposed that out of Britain’s then twenty-nine thousand kilometres of railway, nearly ten thousand of mostly rural branch and cross-country lines should be closed. The name derives from the main author of the report ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’, Dr. Richard Beeching, and although this report also proposed the development of new modes of freight service and the modernisation of trunk passenger routes, it is best remembered for recommending the wholesale closure of what it considered to be little-used and unprofitable railway lines, the removal of stopping passenger trains and closure of many local stations on other lines which remained open.
The report was a reaction to the significant losses which had begun in the 1950s as the expansion in road transport began to transfer significant passenger and goods traffic away from the tracks and British Railways continued making increasingly large losses despite the introduction of the railway modernisation plan of 1955. Beeching proposed that only drastic action would save the railways from increasing losses in the future. Thousands of kilometres of railway track were removed and hundreds of stations were closed in the decade following the report and many other rail lines lost their passenger services and were retained only for freight.
This was significant for us because the Beeching Axe closed the Great Central Railway that ran from London Marylebone to Manchester Piccadilly but rather critically for us connected Rugby to Leicester and my grandparents. Every other Saturday we used to use the steam train to Leicester via Lutterworth, Ashby Magna and Whetstone to Leicester Central and then a bus to Narborough Road (if we were lucky) to visit the folks. With no convenient alternative route available to visit them, or to get to the football matches, this must have been an important factor in dad’s decision to learn to drive and join the motoring age.
In 1963 President Charles de Gaulle denied the United Kingdom access to the Common Market. Membership applications by the United Kingdom to join the European Economic Community were refused in 1963 and 1967 because de Gaulle said that he doubted Britain’s political will and commitment so really quite prophetic.
It is generally agreed however that his real fear was that English would become the common language of the community and replace French. Britain was not admitted to the EEC until 1973, three years after the pompous stubborn old farts death. And the French are still precious about their language even today but their reluctance to communicate in or even simply acknowledge English gives me the opportunity to demonstrate my fluency in everyday essentials and I have to use all of that knowledge on my occasional visits there:
‘Vin blanc sil vous plait’
‘Vin rouge sil vous plait’
‘bier grande sil vous plait’
‘bier grande vite’. And so on. As Ricky Gervais advises if they don’t understand you, talk louder, if they still don’t understand you, then trash the place!
This was the year of the Great Train Robbery when Ronnie Biggs and his gang stopped a train in an audaciously simple sting and stole £2,631,784 from a mail train in Buckinghamshire, that is the equivalent of about forty million pounds at today’s values so was a fairly important event.
On a black note Myra Hindley and Ian Brady began their campaign of abduction and murder of young people in the United Kingdom and in the United States the notorious San Francisco jail of Alcatraz was closed and the prisoners dispersed to more hospitable establishments.
The world finally came to its senses and realised that a nuclear war would most probably destroy the entire world and everyone in it, including those who dropped the bomb, and the United States, the USSR and bizarrely the United Kingdom (this must have been a recognition of former greatness) signed the partial nuclear test ban treaty which banned nuclear tests in the atmosphere, underwater and in space, sadly however, neither France nor China, signed the treaty and continued with the dangerous practice of exploding nuclear devices.
Popular music was becoming increasingly culturally important in the world and in 1963 the Beatles released their first long playing record ‘Please Please Me’ and Beatle mania followed almost immediately. I never understood this; I was a Rolling Stones man and always considered the Beatles to be overrated, which was a shame because I had a lot years without enjoying their music. My personal conversion came in 2003 when I bought ‘Let it Be, Naked’ and the penny finally dropped. Since then I have bought the entire back collection and kick myself for not having appreciated it the first and original time around.
On November 22nd 1963 President John F Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas…