Category Archives: Blogs

Age of Innocence – 1967, Che Guevara, Torrey Canyon and Francis Chichester

1967 was a quiet and uneventful at home and seemed to slip by almost unnoticed but elsewhere there were some important news stories.

I suppose that one of the biggest news events of the year occurred in Peru, South America, when in October a 1960s icon died at the hands of a firing squad.  Che Guevara was born in 1928 in Argentina and as a medical student in the 1940s became a committed Marxist revolutionary when he became convinced that capitalism created the poverty that he witnessed as he travelled on his motorbike on a journey through South America.

In the year that I was born, 1954, he joined Fidel Castro in Mexico as he set out to overthrow the American backed government of Fulgencio Batista in Cuba, which they achieved together on New Years Eve in 1959.  For five years after that Che Guevara was effectively the number two in the country but then he suddenly tired of revolutionary tribunals and executing people and in 1965 he left Cuba to stir up more revolutionary Marxist trouble first in the African Congo and then in Bolivia back in South America.

In a bungled guerilla offensive he was captured by United States CIA backed army forces and summarily executed.  By coincidence he was caught and killed in Vallegrande which wasn’t so far away from San Vicente where nearly sixty years before the outlaws Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were also trapped and killed.

Butch and Sundance

Odd isn’t it how reputations are built?  Everything about this modern saint is a myth – his love of justice, his romantic disposition, his goodness. The truth is that he was responsible for the deaths of  hundreds of people, ruined the Cuban economy, tried to turn Cuba into a nuclear power and helped bring about many military dictatorships in Latin America in reaction to the guerrillas he inspired in the 1960s and the 1970s.  The man it seems was a menace!

After his death Che acquired an iconic stature and in the late 1960s and 70s his face was seen on tee-shirts and posters in every western university, it didn’t matter that like Robespierre or Stalin he was a thug and a bully and a murderer, he became the symbol of revolution and challenge to the establishment and his famous picture with burning eyes full of defiant intensity and steely resolve became the most famous image of the decade after that of Marilyn Monroe.

The death of Che Guevara probably didn’t register that greatly elsewhere in the world at the time and in Europe there was a coup d’etat in Greece which began a period of military dictatorship, in Spain the Spanish Government closed the border with British ruled Gibraltar and the French, or more precisely General DeGaulle, once more said no to Britain’s application to join the Common Market.  Although there was no spirit of partnership working at the diplomatic level, the United Kingdom and France did however jointly introduce the world to the ambitious aviation project, the Concorde.

At sea the first North Sea Gas was pumped onshore with a promise that Britain would be self-sufficient forever.  That turned out to be a hopelessly inaccurate prediction and forty years later it has nearly all gone and we have to buy our gas from Russia.

In the Atlantic, just off the coast of Cornwall, there was the World’s first major oil spill when the super tanker Torrey Canyon ran aground, broke up and spilled one hundred thousand tons of crude oil into the sea.  The ship was on route to Milford Haven from the Canary Islands and was allegedly being steered by the ship’s cook at the time of the accident while the skipper was trying to make sense of the ship’s hopelessly inadequate charts whilst trying to take a short cut past the Scilly Isles.

As this was the first event of its type the authorities were completely clueless about how to respond to the event and the botched clean up operation did almost as much damage as the leaking crude oil.  The tanker was bombed for two days and the RAF and the Royal Navy dropped thirty tonnes of bombs, twenty thousand litres of petrol, eleven rockets and large quantities of napalm onto the ship.

A quarter of the bombs missed the stationary target and despite some direct hits, and a towering inferno of flames and smoke as the oil slick began to burn, the tanker refused to sink.  To make matters worse, the use of seventy five thousand litres of highly toxic detergent did further huge amounts of additional damage to the marine environment.  Over twenty thousand seabirds were killed and more than a hundred kilometres of beaches were affected and not many people went to Cornwall for their summer holidays that year!

Also on the water in 1967 Francis Chichester in his boat Gipsy Moth IV became the first person to achieve a true solo circumnavigation of the world from West to East via the great capes.  He was later knighted for the achievement and for the ceremony the Queen used the very sword used by Queen Elizabeth I to knight the adventurer Sir Francis Drake who was the first Englishman to circumnavigate the globe.  Chichester became a British hero in the same year as one was lost when Donald Campbell  was killed in January on Lake Coniston whilst trying to regain the world water speed record.

Advertisements

Age of Innocence – 1963, The Assassination of JFK

John F Kennedy 001The first few years of our lives are truly the age of innocence when we have a glorious lack of awareness of the external national and global issues that are going on all around us and shaping the world and the environment to which we will one day grow up into.

For me the end of the world was the bottom of the back garden, the end of the street or the physical boundaries of play imposed by my parents.  I was blissfully unaware of what was going on outside of those boundaries and parents and schoolteachers clearly didn’t think it was necessary for me or others to have knowledge of current affairs.  There was no John Craven’s Newsround, well not until 1972, not even very much television, and no way of knowing what was going on and no real need to find out.

They say that everyone remembers where they were the day that John F Kennedy was shot and I can confirm that my very first consciousness of world news events was November 22nd 1963, the day the President of the USA was assassinated in Dallas in Texas and even then the news itself didn’t particularly register as important but rather it was the reaction of my parents that proved to be my news awareness watershed.

It was early evening, I was at home, mum and dad were round at a neighbour’s house, and I was watching the television.  It was a Friday night so I had probably been watching Crackerjack on the BBC with Aemonn Andrews.  Crackerjack finished at a quarter to six and after that came the news programmes which held no particular interest for me and anyway it was a little too early for news of the shooting to be breaking in England.

Kennedy was shot at half past twelve Dallas time, half past six in England.  On BBC television, the six o’clock News finished at ten past six.  It had been a quiet day; there had been the results of the Dundee West by-election, the announcement of the architect appointed to design the new National Theatre and the departure from the United Kingdom of the new Miss World, Carol Crawford, who was returning to Jamaica.  Ten minutes was more than enough to report the events of a very ordinary sort of day in 1963.

Crackerjack

At seven o’clock I would probably have been watching the game show ‘Take Your Pick’ with Michael Miles but ten minutes in, it was interrupted for ITN’s first ever newsflash.  Kennedy had been shot.  On the BBC, ‘Points of View’, presented by Robert Robinson, was interrupted at approximately the same time and having nothing to watch of any particular interest to me I turned the television off and probably looked for some sort of mischief appropriate for a nine year old boy left at home alone.

Soon after this mum and dad returned home in a bit of a fluster and I didn’t know what could be the matter.  Dad demanded to know why I had turned off the television which was a bit confusing because he didn’t really like us having it on all that much and would always turn it off the minute he thought we weren’t watching it.

He became a bit agitated as he turned the set back on and waited for it to flicker into life.  This was quite a long process in the 1960s because TVs had an antiquated system of valves, wires and resisters instead of today’s micro chips and these took some time to ‘warm up’, after a minute or so you would get sound and then after another minute or so (if you were lucky) a grainy black and white picture with flickering horizontal lines would slowly start to appear.  Most television sets needed about fifteen minutes to warm up, I seem to remember.

TV sets were always breaking down as well, half way through a programme there would be a ‘PING’ and the picture would disappear into a bright white spot in the middle of the screen like a bright star falling into a black hole and that was it until the television repair man responded to an emergency call to come by and fix it by replacing the broken tube in the back, which was a bit like replacing a broken light bulb.

After the first BBC newsflash, ‘Tonight’ came on, but it was ended early when at half past seven the programme was interrupted with the news that Kennedy had been shot in the head and his condition was critical.  A few seconds later a phone rang, the newsreader took the call in front of the viewers and finally said ‘we regret to announce that President Kennedy is dead.’

John F Kennedy

After that the BBC didn’t really have a clue what to do next and what viewers got was the BBC television continuity screen, a revolving globe, for twenty minutes or so that was punctuated by three brief bulletins read by the newsreader.  My parent’s reaction to the news took me by surprise and the event was a significant moment in my young life because subsequently I was always aware of the news after that.

This was a transitional moment when I started to leave the age of innocence behind.

JFK and Jackie Dallas 1963

Because getting transatlantic news in 1963 was still somewhat difficult (Telstar, launched in 1962 was undergoing complicated repairs and not transmitting) eventually the TV stations reverted to their scheduled programming and the BBC continued with Harry Worth and Dr Finlay’s Casebook and the ITV showed an episode of Emergency Ward 10, which was a sort of 1960’s Casualty!

William Hartnell Doctor Who

It’s an interesting fact that on the following day the BBC broadcast the first ever episode of Doctor Who.  I think at the time I found that a lot more interesting than Kennedy’s assassination.

Considering the matter of news awareness has made me think about all of the newsworthy events that occurred during that first ten years of mortal existence when I was sublimely oblivious to what was happening in the world.  Lots of momentous things were going on of course it was just that they were not registering on my personal news alert sensor that was only kicked into life the day that John F Kennedy died.  That is how I started this blog!

Do you remember where you were the day that JFK was assassinated?

JFK Motorcade

Age of Innocence – 1954 Part One, Inclement Weather and Sport

I first started this blog in November 2009 and I called it ‘The Age of Innocence’ and I intended it to be a look back over the first twenty years or so of my life by examining some of the events of the years that were making the big news.

The blog was a slow starter, in the first month the statistics show six views increasing to nine in December.  On the basis of these figures it is fair to assume then that not many people have read my early posts so I have decided that over five years since first publication I will go back and review them and repost:

1954 Part 1 – Inclement Weather and Sport

Weather Forecast 

The weather in England is often, no mostly, disappointing and a source of amusement for people in other parts of the World who have the benefit of warmer and drier climates.

According to official records the year 1954 was especially poor.

The Monthly Weather Report of the Meteorological Office was produced by the Air Ministry and printed by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.  It had been in circulation since January 1884 and a note on the front cover explained that it was a “summary of observations compiled from returns of official stations and volunteer observers”.  It wasn’t an especially exciting publication and at a cost of two shillings, which wasn’t an inconsiderable sum at the time, you would have had to be a really serious weather enthusiast to order a subscription at the newsagents.

For anyone that did buy the June edition (actually published in September), it reported that the month of June 1954 was all rather bleak and depressing, beset with frequent rain, below average temperatures for the time of year and the lowest ever recorded hours of sunshine for June since records began.

Heavy Rain

It turned out to be the worst summer of the century and the official verdict was confirmed by a weather report in the cricket journal Wisden’s Almanack in its annual review of the season including reports on the international matches.

In 1954 the Pakistan cricket team made their first ever tour of England and on Thursday 10th June were due to play their first test match in London at Lords Cricket Ground but heavy rain meant that no play was possible on the opening day.  It rained all of the next day too and the day after that and this became the first test match in England when all first three days were completely washed out.  This was unfortunate for anyone who had bought a ticket of course because unlike the US baseball rain check system if there was no play in a test match then that was just plain bad luck.

I wonder what was going through the minds of the Pakistan team as they sat in the dressing room wearing several jumpers and watching the rain pouring down when they knew that back home average June temperatures were around about 38°; they all look rather uncomfortable in this official team photograph…

Pakistan 1954 Tourists

The weather was providing all sorts of bizarre incidents and raising all sorts of questions but none more freakish than what happened on 12th June when a heavy rainstorm hit the city of Birmingham.  People fled for cover and visitors to a city park heard what sounded like the patter of unusually heavy raindrops beating against their umbrellas and then they were astonished to discover that the rain consisted of not just water but hundreds of tiny frogs!  Reports of frogs falling from the sky go back some way and some scientists account for these strange rains by explaining that frogs and fish are sometimes swept into the air by whirlwinds or tornados, transported along by the winds and then later on unceremoniously dumped from the sky.

It was around about now that I was due to make an appearance and more or less on time I was born in the afternoon of Tuesday 15th June at about the same time that the Midlands and the North of England were experiencing one of the wettest June days ever.

On an average day in the 1950s roughly about 340,000 people were born so there must be a reasonable chance that most people will share a birthday with someone famous.  I’d like to tell you that mine is the same day as someone really, really famous but I have to make do with the actor James Belushi.

Front cover of Look Magazine 15th June 1954 – Grace Kelly…

Look Magazine 15 June 1954

There was another birth, of sorts, on June 15th because this was the day that the footballing countries of Europe got together and founded EUFA, The Union of European Football Associations, as the governing body of European football.  It originally consisted of twenty-five members including three countries that no longer exist in the way that they did in 1954, The Soviet Union, East Germany and Yugoslavia.  Another little know fact is that another founder member was Saarland which was a German Rhine State that was under post war French occupation at the time.

The following day the fifth FIFA World Cup competition began in Switzerland and competitors included West Germany who by a curious twist of fate had qualified for the finals by beating Saarland!  I can’t imagine that would have been terribly difficult, rather like England playing Cornwall or USA playing Hawaii.  West Germany went on to win the World Cup by beating Hungary 3-2 in the final.

Despite the objections of France who wanted to retain the occupied territory on account of its coal and mineral wealth Saarland was reunited with West Germany in 1957 and so was no longer entitled to independent membership of EUFA.

I can’t help wondering now what my dad thought about all of this at the time.  He must have been proud to have a son but he was also mad keen on football but I’ll keep that for a later story…

Next time – wartime rationing and nuclear testing.

Ivan 1954

International Women’s Day

On a visit to Riga and the Hotel Latvia in March in addition to enjoying the Skyline cocktail bar we decided to eat there as well.

The food was excellent and there was a reasonably priced self-service buffet but what was especially good about his meal was that it happened to coincide with ‘International Woman’s Day’ and there were free cocktails for all of us and flowers for the girls.

To be honest I had never heard of ‘International Woman’s Day’ before, it certainly isn’t that big in the United Kingdom, and to be honest I have to say that I thought it was a bit odd to have it on a Saturday, which is a day really reserved for sport, but it turns out that this was just an unhappy coincidence because IWD is held every year on March 8th and is a day of day of global celebration for the economic, political and social achievements of women around the world.

It all started in New York when in 1908 fifteen thousand women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights.

Then, in 1917, with two million soldiers dead in the war, Russian women chose the last Sunday in February to strike for ‘bread and peace’. This turned out to be hugely significant and a contribution to the overthrow of the Romanovs and four days later the Czar was forced to abdicate and the provisional Government granted women the right to vote.  That historic Sunday fell on 23rd February on the Julian calendar, then in use in Russia, but on 8th March on the Gregorian calendar that was in use elsewhere.

It has since become very important in Eastern Europe after a 1965 decree of the USSR Presidium that International Women’s Day was declared as a non working day in the USSR “in commemoration of outstanding merits of the Soviet women in communistic construction, in the defense of their Motherland during the Great Patriotic War, their heroism and selflessness at the front and in rear, and also marking the big contribution of women to strengthening friendship between peoples and struggle for the peace.”

Another interesting thing is that although Latvia doesn’t care to remember or celebrate much about the Russian occupation they seem happy enough to continue with this day off from work arrangement.

In these days of equality it is important to be fair of course and I am pleased to say that ‘International Men’s Day’ is an international holiday, celebrated on the first Saturday of November.  It was first suggested by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1999 and was supported fully by the United Nations.

Scrap Book Project – Cynophobia and My Thoughts on Dogs.

In the UK you need a licence for a shotgun or to keep poison or even weed killer but not for a killer animal!

—————————————————————————————————-

Warning – If you are a dog lover and can’t understand why some people don’t like them then leave now and do not read this post!

If you ignore this and read on and then comment and tell me how lovely dogs are then I will not respond!

—————————————————————————————————-

“Dogs don’t like me. It is a simple law of the universe, like gravity. I am not exaggerating when I say that dogs that have not moved from the sofa in years will, at the sniff of me passing outside, rise in fury and hurl themselves at shut windows. I have seen tiny dogs, no bigger than a fluffy slipper, jerk little old ladies off their feet and drag them over open ground in a quest to get at my blood and sinew. Every dog on the face of the earth wants me dead.”                 Bill Bryson – ‘In a Sunburned Country’

On 12th August 1991 Parliament passed the Dangerous Dogs Act and that was one piece of legislation that I fully approved of.  It made it an offence to allow a dog to be dangerously out of control in a public place or in a private place where it is not allowed to be.  In addition, the ownership of certain types of dog, such as the Pit Bull Terrier was prohibited and also an offence to breed from, sell or exchange (even as a gift) a prohibited type of a dog.

Personally I would have gone a whole lot further – I would have reintroduced the dog licence fee at a minimum of £10,000 per year for all dogs (guide dogs etc. exempt of course) and I would have made people who want to keep a dog pass an exam something equivalent to the driving test just to be sure that they were competent to own one and were aware of their responsibilities!

Apologies here to my canine loving friends (I told you not to read the post) but I really don’t like dogs, I suffer from Cynophobia – I am scared of them, and this isn’t completely irrational because they really don’t like me either – but they are not frightened of me!  As soon as people with dogs realise that I have an unnatural and unexplainable fear of them then they seem to take sadistic delight in subjecting me to the terror of their company.

I did not inherit this dislike/fear from my parents:

Ivan with Dog 1936

Joan petcher

I don’t like dogs because I see no redeeming features in them. They sweat, they are greasy, they smell, they have bad breath, they shit on the pavements and they piss up my garden wall.  What is there possibly to like about them?  If I was Prime Minister I would have them all rounded up and destroyed!

My dislike for them started as a boy when I was taken one day for a walk by my granddad and on a piece of waste land opposite my parent’s house in Leicester an Alsatian dog knocked me to the ground, pinned me down and stood on my chest.  The inconsiderate owner had let it off its leash and I was absolutely terrified.  Lucky for me that granddad was able to shoo it off and chase it away or else I was sure to have been a 1958, child chewed to death by a dog, statistic.

The next detestable canine that I remember loathing was my friend David Newman’s Boxer because although, admittedly, it was almost certainly soft and harmless, it always did that other thing that I hate most about dogs (after biting me of course) and sniffed my groin and left a smudge of dribble on my trousers, which until it dried made it look as if I had a nasty little bathroom accident.  I really do hate that groin snuffling business.

The reason that I don’t want to be bitten (other than it is painful) is that I have always had a fear of rabies!

Rabies is a very serious viral infection that targets the brain and nervous system and once the symptoms of rabies have developed the condition is always fatal.  It begins with feeling a bit unwell, a bit like a severe cold but soon after, the symptoms expand to slight or partial paralysis, cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, insomnia, confusion, agitation, abnormal behavior, paranoia, terror, hallucinations and finally progressing to full delirium and death.

So, I think I have established that it is not very nice and even though there have only been twenty-five cases reported in the United Kingdom since the end of World War Two (and all of these were imported cases from abroad) it still scares the shit out of me!

Although preferable to death, if you are unlucky enough to be bitten by a rabid dog then precautionary treatment isn’t very pleasant either and involves one immediate dose of vaccine and five more over a twenty-eight day period.  Half of the vaccine is injected in the region of the bite with a great big needle so that’s obviously not great news if you have been bitten in the arse!  Even this is better than it used to be however because in the past it was all injected into nerve city central in the solar plexus with a large needle inserted through the abdominal wall, which was apparently extraordinarily painful.

And for those people who say that a dog won’t attack without warning, you are wrong!

Once out with my mother, when I was about nine or ten, she stopped to chat to a neighbour, Mrs Gamble, who was the local Freeman’s mail order catalogue agent, and who just happened to be walking her mangy black mongrel dog, unimaginatively called Blackie, past the house where we lived.  I kept a safe distance  but the woman assured me that it was perfectly harmless and that it wouldn’t hurt me so in a moment of total rashness I extended a hand of friendship to pat the thing kindly on the head and thirty minutes later I was sitting in St Cross casualty department waiting for a handful of stitches in a hand scarred for life and a painful anti-tetanus injection.

Since that day I have never again been taken in by an owner’s reassurance that a dog ‘is only trying to be friendly’ and the estimated four-thousand postmen and women who are bitten each year will probably agree with me.

And I have to say that I agree with Bill Bryson:

“It wouldn’t bother me in the least…if all the dogs in the world were placed in a sack and taken to some distant island… where they could romp around and sniff each other’s anuses to their hearts’ content and never bother or terrorise me again.” 

I didn’t always dislike dogs however:

007

Daily Prompt: Pants on Fire

Friday 22nd April  was the end of my penultimate week working in Local Government.  Monday the following week was the beginning of my last week in paid employment.  Not a full week however because it started with a bank holiday Easter Monday and finished with a Royal wedding and a day off work for everyone.  And not much in between as it happened because with accrued annual leave it meant that I had completed my last shift at South Holland District Council.

The following week I became an unemployment statistic and didn’t need that old suit anymore!

Scrap Book project – Decimilisation and the end of Pounds, Shillings and Pence

The pre-decimalisation British system of coinage was introduced by King Henry II. It was based on the troy system of weighing precious metals. The penny was literally one pennyweight of silver. A pound sterling thus weighed 240 pennyweights, or a pound of sterling silver.

On 15th February 1971, after five years of planning by the Decimal Currency Board, Britain abandoned this medieval currency system and converted to a much simpler decimal system based on pounds and new pence.

This was much simpler because in the years just prior to decimalisation, the circulating British coins were the half crown (2s 6d), two shillings or florin, shilling, known as a bob, sixpence (6d), the tanner, threepence (3d), thruppenny bit and my favourite pre decimal coin, penny (1d) and halfpenny (½d). The farthing (¼d) being practically worthless had been withdrawn as long ago as 1960.

Under the old currency the pound (denoted by the letter l for libra) was made up of 240 pence (denoted by the letter d for Latin denarius and now referred to as “old pence”), with 12 pence in a shilling and 20 shillings (denoted by s for Latinsolidus) in a pound.

Amounts of money were written as l s d, for pounds, shillings and pence.  5s was 5 shillings, often just written as 5/-. And 5s 6d was 5 shillings and sixpence – and was often, instead, written as 5/6.  In spoken English, the “shilling” word was often missed out – so a shopkeeper might say, “that’ll be 5 and 6, please”, meaning 5 shillings and six pence.

In an era before widespread computer use, monetary calculation, such as adding up sums of money, was more complicated than with a decimal currency.  When I was at primary school between 1959 and 1966 I had to learn arithmetic based on this confusing system and in Mrs Bull’s class three it was time for adding up and taking away and we would sit and chant out the times tables over and over again until we knew them off by heart.  That was boring but useful because I have never forgotten them.  Doing sums was a lot harder then because we were still ten years away from decimalisation and had to add things up in pounds, shillings and pence and that was difficult let me tell you. Try adding this lot together and you will see what I mean:

£4.12.06

£1.15.11

£   19.11½

—————

After decimilisation there was a completely new set of coins to get familiar with.  The 50 pence coin had been introduced in 1969 to replace the paper 10 shilling note and in 1971 we had the 10 pence, 5 pence, 2 pence, 1 pence and ½ pence coins. Between 1969 and 1971 we used to take half crowns into the school metal work shop and file down the edges to convert them to 50 pence pieces in a crude attempt to quadruple their value and then try and pass them off in the sweet shop down the road where the shop keeper had poor eyesight.

To commemorate decimilisation the Royal Mint sold souvenir wallets with each of the new coins and a short explanation.  Mum and dad bought one for me and my sister but I just popped the coins out from the cardboard holder and spent them and then a few days later I spent my sister’s as well and I feel really bad about that now!

The 20 pence piece was introduced in 1982. The half penny was withdrawn from circulation in 1984.  A smaller, lighter 10 pence piece was circulated from 1993 and similar changes were made to the 50 pence in 1998.  In June 1998 the £2 coin came into general circulation.

The answer to the sum is seven pounds, eight shillings and fourpence ha’penny.  I told you it was hard!