Category Archives: Technology

Age of Innocence -1969, Man Lands on the Moon and the end of Innocence

“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.

SHADO Moonbase

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.

Hoax Moon Landing

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!

John Lennon

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.

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Age of Innocence – 1967, Radio Leicester and Cycling Proficiency

The BBC made some important broadcasting changes in 1967. On television it began broadcasting in colour and the first two post monochrome programmes were some matches from Wimbledon and an episode from the American western series, the Virginian. By December BBC2 was broadcasting a full colour service, with approximately 80% of its output now being broadcast in colour.

At Wimbledon incidentally the American Billie Jean-King beat the English tennis player Ann Jones in the women’s final. Two years later however she got her revenge and beat Billie Jean in the 1969 final. On radio, the BBC had a shake-up in order to compete with pirate radio and introduced radio one, two, three and four. Tony Blackburn was the first radio one DJ on the breakfast programme and the first record that he played was ‘Flowers in the Rain’ by the Move.

Also in 1967, Radio Leicester, the first BBC local radio station was launched and this turned out to be a watershed in broadcasting for my dad. Being Leicester born and bred and with a fascination for anything about the city, especially its sport, Leicester City, Leicester Tigers, Leicestershire County Cricket Team and so on, this new radio station provided him with his greatest possible source of entertainment satisfaction. A little while after I think he underwent a surgical procedure and was permanently attached to his transistor radio and he spent about 50% of the rest of his life listening to anything that was on Radio Leicester.

In the 1960s before families had two cars most of us went to school on our bikes. This was a much better arrangement than today when every school morning and evening the roads are clogged up with cars taking lazy kids to school. Everyone had a bike. I had a simple sky blue and brown Raleigh model but what I really wanted was a racing bike with pencil thin tyres, derailleur gears and a saddle so sharp that one false move in any direction would cut your arse to ribbons. My bike didn’t have any gears at all, a very sensible saddle and it certainly wouldn’t have won any races, but it was reliable and solid and everyday I would cycle the two miles or so to school and back and, on account of the fact that I didn’t like school meals, go home for my dinner as well.

I didn’t have one of these either because this is my brother Richard on his Raleigh Chopper in about 1972.

With so many bikes on the road the Government was concerned about highway safety and in 1967 along with a load of other kids I took my Cycling Proficiency Test. Cyclist training began in 1947, although its roots stretched back to the 1930s when cycling organisations were pressing the Government to include cyclist instruction in the school curriculum and finally in 1958 the Government funded the introduction of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) National Cycling Proficiency Scheme and cycling instructors came to the school to prepare us for the test. RoSPA by the way was also responsible for the Tufty Club and the Green Cross Code and were completely detached from reality because we had all been out on the open road for years on our bikes and had already perfected some of the finer points of cycling, such as riding facing backwards or with no hands, for example.

Most of the ‘training’ took place in the safety of the school playground where we had to demonstrate our biking skills by cycling between bollards, learning the Highway Code and how to maintain our machines in good mechanical order. Once we had done all of this to the satisfaction of the instructor there was a final road test under the watchful eye of the examiner. As far as I can remember, I don’t think anybody ever failed the Cycling Proficiency Test and at the end there was a certificate and an aluminium badge to attach to the handlebars so that everyone knew just how safe we were.

Age of Innocence – 1965, Motorway Speed Limits, Woodbine Cigarettes and Exams

1965 was the hundredth anniversary of the end of the American Civil War and to celebrate appropriately the United States started a new one in Vietnam.   American troops had been there for some time of course but on March 2nd, following an attack on a United States Marine barracks, Operation Flaming Dart and Operation Rolling Thunder commenced and the war was official.

An estimated six hundred and twenty thousand soldiers died in the American Civil War and one million one hundred thousand in Vietnam.  There were many more unaccounted civilian casualties in addition to that.

civil war soldiers

In politics Edward Heath became leader of the Conservative Party and began the period when he and Harold Wilson alternated occupancy of 10, Downing Street.  Although these two party leaders certainly didn’t have the stature of Gladstone and Disraeli it is just about the last time in British politics when the two party leaders were almost evenly matched and this generated an interest in politics that has been sadly lacking since.

Around about 1970 I even joined the Young Conservatives but this was nowhere near as exciting as the Boy Scouts and I didn’t renew my subscription when it ran out at the end of the first year.

In the early winter of 1965 there was a lot of fog and a series of multiple crashes on Britain’s new motorways, and in December as a bit of a panic measure an experimental speed limit of seventy miles per hour was introduced.  This really hadn’t been a problem when motorways were first opened because most cars prior to the 1960s would have had difficulty getting up to seventy miles an hour in the first place let alone maintaining this speed for any distance without blowing the engine to kingdom come but by mid-decade they were starting to get more powerful and faster.

It is an interesting fact that car designers and racing car drivers were also using the M1 motorway to conduct speed trials and in June 1964 a man called Jack Sears drove an AC Cobra Coupé at 185 miles an hour in a test drive on the northern carriageway of the motorway.  The press picked the story up and soon there was a crusade for a speed limit.

M1 Motorway

The history of the speed limit is interesting, the first speed limit was the ten miles per hour limit introduced by the Locomotive Act, or Red Flag Act, of 1861 but in 1865, the revised Locomotive Act reduced the speed limit still further to four miles per hour in the country and two miles per hour in towns, which, lets be honest is slower than average walking speed and sort of missed the point of automotive power.  This Act additionally required a man with a red flag or a lantern to walk sixty yards ahead of each vehicle, effectively enforcing a walking pace, and warning horse drawn traffic of the approach of a self-propelled machine.

In 1896 a new Locomotive Act replaced that of 1865 and the increase of the speed limit to a positively reckless fourteen miles per hour has been commemorated each year since 1927 by the London to Brighton Veteran Car Run.  The motorway speed limit of seventy miles per hour was made permanent in 1970.

Genevieve_LC2

Speed limits didn’t make any difference at all to Jim Clark who was one of Britain’s greatest Formula One racing stars and in 1965 he won both the Formula One championship and the Indianoplois 500.  He was regarded as the greatest driver of his time and won twenty-five of his seventy-three grand prix starts but sadly died prematurely in an accident at Hockenheim in Germany in 1968 when his car left the track and crashed into trees.  This was a time when motorsport was a lot more dangerous and the life expectancy of a driver was a great deal less than it is today.

A significant event of 1965 was the banning of cigarette advertising on television.  I am thankful for that because at eleven years old I was at my most impressionable and I am quite convinced that I might otherwise have been seduced by the macho image that cigarette advertisements used to lure teenagers into tobacco dependency.

It was about this time that I enjoyed, or perhaps more correctly endured, my first cigarette.  My friend David Newman had slipped some woodbines from his dad’s half empty packet and we went into the fields behind his house for a smoke.  David’s dad, Harry, wouldn’t have noticed a few fags going missing because he used to smoke about sixty a day and that certainly helped towards a premature death.

Woodbines were untipped and maximum strength and we lit up and I can clearly remember trying to adopt an adult demeanour and puffing away but without inhaling until an unfortunate combination of sucking in and speaking at the same time involuntarily drew the foul vapour into my lungs, filled my brain with noxious gasses and made me giddy and unsteady.  I literally fell over as though someone had punched me in the head, turned an unpleasant shade of green that matched the Woodbine packet and was violently sick.  Much to the amusement of my pals.

I tried cigarette smoking a few more times, as we all did, but I have never forgotten that thoroughly unpleasant experience and gladly never became a real cigarette smoker at any time ever after that.  In 1968 Lotus started advertising tobacco on their Formula One racing cars.  That didn’t do Jim Clark any good did it!

1965 was a mixed year for me when it came to passing exams.  As predicted I failed my eleven-plus in Spring and was sent to secondary school in September in the bottom grade at Dunsmore (or Duncemore in my case) but to compensate for that I did get my Leaping Wolf certificate in the Wolf Cubs and passed my Elementary Test for swimming a whole length of the swimming baths and that was quite something let me tell you, the certificate was signed by the examiner, Mrs Dick, who was a fearsome creature, Councillor Pattinson, the Chairman of the Baths Committee and Jim Duffy, the Town Clerk no less!  Who needed the eleven-plus? Not Me!

Age of Innocence – 1964, The Warren Commission, the Ku Klux Klan and BBC2

The Warren Commission…

In 1964 the United States passed its official verdict on the Kennedy assassination when ‘The President’s Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy’, known unofficially as ‘The Warren Commission’, produced an eight hundred and eighty-eight page report that concluded that the gunman Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the killing of John F Kennedy.

The Commission’s findings have since proven forever controversial, and have consistently been both challenged and continuously reaffirmed.  Debate and speculation however refuses to go away.

Presidential Assassinations…

Kennedy wasn’t the only American President to be assassinated and before him Presidents Abraham Lincoln (1865), James Garfield (1881) and William McKinley (1901) died at the hands of assassins, while many other presidents have survived attempts on their life.

But it is not only being President of the United States that is a high risk job because this is an occupational hazard for other high profile people.  In Russia for example, four emperors were assassinated within less than two hundred years of each other, Ivan VI, Peter III, Paul I, and Alexander II.  In Europe the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in 1914 by Serb nationalist insurgents started World War I and soon after achieving independence from British occupation, Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the freedom struggle was gunned down.  In Britain the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was shot dead by a madman in 1812 but happily remains the only British Prime Minister to suffer this fate.

1964 was a busy year in all respects.  In politics there were a lot of changes around the world; in the USSR Khrushchev was deposed and replaced by Leonid Brezhnev, Lyndon B Johnson became the elected President of the United States with the fourth highest ever presidential victory and in Britain the Labour Party won the general election and returned to power after thirteen years of Conservative rule.  The new Prime Minister was Harold Wilson who was one of the most prominent modern British politicians.  He succeeded as Prime Minister after more General Elections than any other twentieth century Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, with majorities of four in 1964, ninety-eight in 1966, five in October 1974, and with enough seats to form a minority government in February 1974.

In the world of entertainment Radio Caroline became the first pirate radio station which played continuous popular music and directly challenged the BBC light programme for radio supremacy, the Rolling Stones released their first album and BBC2 was introduced.

These exciting developments meant that we needed new entertainment equipment around the house and it was at about this time that we had our first record player to replace a creaky old radiogram that was difficult to tune in and only played 78 rpm records.

Now for the first time we could play singles and long players and the first two records that were bought to accompany the new record player were a Jim Reeves single and a Black and White Minstrels extended play with four medleys on it.  Later that year Jim Reeves was killed in a plane crash so we never added to that collection and thankfully I don’t think we bought any more Black and White Minstrels records either.

Civil Rights and the Ku-Klux-Klan…

I used to hate the Black and White Minstrel show which was generally shown on television at Saturday teatime and after the sitcom ‘Love Thy Neighbour’ was one of the most politically incorrect programmes imaginable with white men ‘blacking-up’ as negroes and singing songs from deep south Dixie.  And this was at a time when the Civil Rights movement in the United States was moving up a gear or two and demands for social justice were leading to violence and confrontation.

During this time there was one of the last great efforts by white supremacists to frustrate the introduction of equalities.  The Ku Klux Klan was a bunch of racist bigots that dressed in white cloaks and pointy hats and advocated white supremacy, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, racism, homophobia, anti-communism and nativism.  These were a bunch of genuinely nasty people who you really didn’t want to find knocking on your door in the middle of the night.  The Klan often used terrorism, violence and acts of intimidation, such as cross burning and lynching to oppress African Americans and just about every other social or ethnic group that they couldn’t get on with.

BBC2 was the third British television channel and unlike the other channels available at that time was broadcast only on the 625 line Ultra High Frequency system, so was not available to viewers with 405 line Very High Frequency sets. This created a market for dual standard receivers which could switch between the two systems and anyone who wanted to receive the new channel was obliged to go to the expense of upgrading their television sets.

This sort of thing still goes on today.  A few years ago I was looking for a new computer and was advised that I would have to buy a PC with Windows Vista which has replaced XP.  This sounded all well and good until I was told that I would have to replace most of my software as well because it would be incompatible with the new operating system.  What a con!

On the subject of computers the computer language BASIC was first introduced in 1964, which was a real breakthrough and led to the greater accessibility and later the introduction of home computers.

Age of Innocence – 1963, US ZIP Codes and X-RAY Specs

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 prevented 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 didn’t know 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.

As it turned out there is nothing secret about it at all.  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.

ZIP codes of the USA

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 and then no one really used it for at least the next twenty years or so.  (Post codes were introduced in Australia in 1967 and in Canada in 1971 although here Trade Union opposition held up full implementation until 1974).

  

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 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 girls’ 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 purchased a pair.

 

Age of Innocence – 1961, The Berlin Wall and Emma Peel

Through 1961 the Cold War continued to worsen with the USSR exploding some very large and nasty bombs during testing and then commencing the building of the Berlin Wall to separate East from West Berlin.

The Wall was over a hundred and fifty five kilometers long and in June 1962 work started on a second parallel fence up to ninety meters further into East German territory, with houses in between the fences torn down and people displaced and forcibly relocated.  A no man’s land was created between the two barriers, which became widely known as the ‘death strip’.

It was paved with raked gravel, making it easy to spot footprints, offered no cover and was booby-trapped with tripwires and, most importantly, it offered a clear field of fire to the watching guards.  Between 1961 and 1989 over five thousand people escaped from East Germany over or under the wall and according to official sources one hundred and twenty five were killed trying to do so although the actual figure may be much higher but we will never know.

A number of walls were built over the years, each becoming more escape proof and sophisticated than the last.  The fourth and final wall was completed in 1980 and was constructed from forty-five thousand separate sections of reinforced concrete, each three and a half meters high and over a metre wide. The top of the wall was lined with a smooth pipe, intended to make it more difficult to scale.  It was reinforced by mesh fencing, signal fencing, anti-vehicle trenches, barbed wire, over one hundred and sixteen watchtowers, and twenty bunkers.  These are the lengths some people will go to simply to subjugate others.

By the late 1980s however the Iron Curtain across Europe was being thrown open and border restrictions between east and west were rapidly disappearing.  Thousands of East Germans were escaping to the west through Hungary and Czechoslovakia anyway and the wall became obsolete.  Finally in 1989 East Germany gave permission for people to leave into West Berlin and the wall was quickly demolished by ecstatic Berliners and normality restored to a great European city.

Also in 1961, to make matters worse, the new American President, Kennedy, financed an anti-Castro Cuban invasion at the Bay of Pigs which was an unmitigated fiasco ending in a humiliating climb-down and withdrawal by the Americans to avert the threat of another major world conflict.

1961 was not a good year for the Americans at all because also this year the Soviet Union beat the United States in the race to get the first man into space when in April Yuri Gagarin was fired beyond the atmosphere and orbited the Earth for a hundred and eight minutes travelling at more than twenty seven thousand kilometres an hour before landing safely back on earth.

It was a blow to the Americans who had hoped to be the first to launch a man into space and they could only follow a month later in May when astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American to do so.  Later in the same year the disgruntled United States announced the beginning of the Apollo Space Programme with the objective of a manned lunar landing.  Some say that this was achieved in 1969 when two men landed on the moon but there is speculation by many that this was an elaborate con filmed entirely in an empty aircraft hanger in Nevada simply to achieve the Kennedy boast that man would land on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

My favourite story about the space race is that because a standard ballpoint pen would not work in zero gravity, NASA spent millions of dollars developing the zero-g Space Pen, while the pragmatic Russians came up with the alternative of using a simple pencil.  It’s a good story but sadly there is no truth in it at all.  The pen was actually developed by a man called Paul Fisher and he did not receive any government funding at all for its development.  Fisher invested millions of his own money and invented it independently, and then asked NASA to try it.  They liked it and bought four hundred at $2.95 each!  After the introduction of the Space Pen, both the American and Soviet space agencies adopted it.   An amusing footnote to the story is that apparently it turns out that a standard biro will work in space after all.

There were two changes to British currency in 1961 when the old black and white £5 note was discontinued because it was too easy to forge and the farthing ceased to become legal tender.  The farthing was one quarter of the old pre-decimal penny and due to inflation had simply outlived its usefulness and minting ceased as early as 1956 even though the farthing’s buying power then would be almost two pence in today’s values.  It is also interesting that but for an infinitesimal difference, the current penny coin, which was introduced when decimalisation of British coinage took effect in 1971, is the same size as the last minted farthings.  The farthing ceased to be legal tender after 31st December 1960 and the fact that the farthing had recently ceased to be legal tender is referred to in the first episode of Z Cars, which was broadcast in January 1962.

The most important television event of the year in the UK just has to be the very first episode of Coronation Street.  The show had been tried out on regional television in 1960 to see what the reaction would be and in 1961 the show went nationwide for the first time.  It went out twice a week, with Friday’s episode being shown live and the following Monday’s edition shot straight afterwards.  Despite some scepticism by the Television bigwigs the nation took Ena Sharples, Ken Barlow and Elsie Tanner to their hearts, and tuned in their thousands.  By the end of the year it was the highest rated show in the country and is now the longest running soap opera in the world.

In the US Dr. Kildare was a medical drama television series starring Richard Chamberlain which ran from 1961 to 1966, with a total of one hundred and ninety episodes.   This sounds like a lot but is easily eclipsed by the British hospital drama Casualty which has been running since 1986 and has had over eight hundred episodes.

These might have been important TV shows but the most significant event for me was that 1961 saw the beginning of The Avengers when Patrick McNee strode onto the small screen as John Steed complete with bowler hat and umbrella and every inch the English pre-Bond secret agent gentleman.  In the early days Cathy Gale who was played by Honor Blackman in a sexy black leather cat suit assisted him but she left the show and went on to be Pussy Galore in Goldfinger and that introduced the delectable Emma Peel played by Diana Rigg.

Emma Peel was my first fantasy pin-up and I used to scour the television magazines and newspapers for pictures of her that I cut out assembled into a scrap book of cuttings that I carried with me at all times.  Once (about 1966, I guess) some school pals happened to mention this to the English teacher, Mr Howe, who demanded sight of the book and immediately confiscated it for a couple of days.  I thought that this was some sort of punishment but I have subsequently reached the conclusion that he must surely have shared my fantasy and probably spent a couple of enjoyable evenings with the book.

In sport there was bad news for dad, when Leicester City reached the FA cup final for the second time and were beaten 2-0 by Tottenham Hotspurs who did the league and cup double that year.  Leicester reached the cup final again in 1963 and lost to Manchester United and again in 1969 and lost to Manchester City.  They had been there before in 1949 and lost to Wolverhampton Wanderers and this means that they have the unenviable record of being the only team to reach four FA cup finals and lose them all.

Age of Innocence – 1959, Missile Mail and Fidel Castro

Since the 1930s there had been various attempts at speeding up postal services.  In 1934 for example a rocket was launched over a sixteen kilometre flight path between two Hebridean islands in Scotland with a fuselage packed with mail.  Unfortunately the rocket exploded and destroyed most of its cargo, which was a bit of a shame if you had put ten shillings in a birthday card to someone!

In 1959 the U.S. Navy submarine USS Barbero assisted the US Post Office Department in its search for faster, more efficient forms of mail transportation with the first and only successful delivery of ‘Missile Mail’. Shortly before noon on 8th June, the Barbero fired a Regulus cruise missile with its nuclear warhead having earlier been replaced by two official Post Office Department mail containers from the Naval Auxiliary Air Station in Mayport, Florida and twenty-two minutes later, the missile struck its target at Jacksonville.

What an utterly absurd concept and probably only the American’s could waste hundreds of thousands of dollars on such a pointless exercise because it must have been obvious even to a five year old that this was never going to be a commercially viable proposition.

Even so the US Postmaster General declared it a great success and instantly proclaimed the event to be “of historic significance to the peoples of the entire world“, and predicted that “before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles.  We stand on the threshold of rocket mail.

This was probably one of the most wildly inaccurate predictions ever made by a Government official and nothing more was ever heard again of ‘Missile Mail’.

Bill Bryson in “The life and times of the Thunderbolt Kid” sums up exactly why:

“Perhaps it occurred to someone that incoming rockets might have an unfortunate tendency to miss their targets and crash through the roofs of factories or hospitals, or that they might blow up in flight, or take out passing aircraft, or that every launch would cost tens of thousands of dollars to deliver a payload worth a maximum of $120 at prevailing postal rates”

In the world of entertainment the big star of 1959 in the United Kingdom was the plinky plonky pianist Russ Conway who had five top ten hits this year with the first two going all the way to No 1.  One of these, Side Saddle, stayed at the top spot for four weeks, and Russ was the top-selling UK artist of the year.  On the sheet music chart, three of his compositions were at number one, in total, for over six consecutive months.  Russ was a big star and famous as a pianist for having only seven fingers having lost the tip of one of his little digits in an accident whilst serving in the navy.

In world politics Fidel Castro became President of Cuba after overthrowing the corrupt pro-American Government and after getting a frosty reception from the United States, partly because he had closed down the casinos and seized the assets of the American owners, declared his friendship for Russia and established the first communist regime in the western hemisphere.

Now we didn’t just have to worry about the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and this was going to be a bit of a problem in the future and Regulus cruise missiles were being quickly refitted with their nuclear warheads!