Tag Archives: Bill Bryson

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 Shortly before noon on 8th June, the Barbero fired a Regulus cruise missile with its nuclear warhead having earlier been replaced by two official Post Office Department mail containers from the Naval Auxiliary Air Station in Mayport, Florida and twenty-two minutes later, the missile struck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!

Travel Inspiration

“The three most exciting sounds in the world: anchor chains, plane motors and train whistles.”                                                                                                                        George Bailey – It’s a Wonderful Life

When it comes to foreign travel three men have changed my life: Bill Bryson, Tim Berners-Lee and Michael O’Leary.  Let me explain:

When I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s family holidays came once a year and were rotated tri-annually between a caravan in Norfolk, a caravan in Cornwall and a caravan in Wales.  I’m not being ungrateful because these holidays were great fun and in those days it was all that my parents could afford.  To be perfectly honest the very idea of going to Europe was faintly absurd, I might as well have made plans to go to the moon!

Despite these severe limitations on travel opportunities I developed a desire to see interesting places after visiting them through the stories that my father used to tell me.  He was a well read and an educated man who passed on to me his love of history and geography.  The family house was never short of books and encyclopaedias and he always had an abundance of time to enjoy them and share their stories with me.  Through his inspiration I learnt about Paris, Rome, Athens and Madrid and travellers like Marco Polo and Captain Cook and I vowed that one day I would see these places for myself.

Mundesley 1959

As I grew older I became even more aware of the wider world and in my teenage years started to think ambitiously about overseas travel, a bit like George Bailey in ‘A Wonderful Life’, and I promised myself that one-day I would travel.  Really travel.  Since then I have been here and there but I hadn’t really travelled until those three men changed my life.

Bill Bryson was born on 8th December 1951 and is one of my favourite authors (not counting people like Shakespeare of course, and I am sure that Bill wouldn’t mind that), because his books make me laugh and he has put fun into travel and reawakened for me the teenage dreams that I used to have of endless globetrotting to far off interesting places.  His books made me want to be an independent traveller, to make my own arrangements and to discover the places that I had always wanted to see but was never quite sure how to go about it.

And then I discovered the Internet and the World Wide Web and this opened up vast new horizons for me and I thank Tim Berners-Lee for that.  It is quite likely that I will be technically challenged on this point so just to be clear the Internet and the World Wide Web are not the same thing: the Internet is a collection of interconnected computer networks and the Web is a collection of interconnected documents and other resources, linked by hyperlinks and URLs. Anyway the technical details do not really matter, what it means to me is access to information and unlimited travel opportunities.

In the 1970s and the 1980s for most people it was only really possible to travel if you used the services of a High Street Travel Agent because only they had the necessary network of connections to the big holiday companies and overseas hotels.  And then the Web came along and opened up vast new horizons.  Suddenly it was possible to delve into previously unknown dimensions and start to think about the unthinkable.  Arranging your own overseas holidays directly and bypassing the travel agents and their 10% commission (possibly more, I don’t know).

That was all well and good but how was one to get to these new locations and the opportunities that were opening up?  The answer came thanks to Michael O’Leary and Ryanair.  Low cost air travel!  That was what I was waiting for and thanks to St Michael that is what now makes European travel available to us all.  I like the cheap flights and have set out to take advantage of them for as long as they are available and see as much of Europe as I possibly can.

 

Missile Mail

People have forever been looking at ways of speeding things up and since the 1930s there had been various attempts at making postal services quicker.  In1934 for example a rocket was launched over a sixteen thousand metre flight path between two Hebridean islands in Scotland with a fuselage packed with mail.  Unfortunately the rocket exploded and destroyed most of its cargo. Then in 1959 the United States Navy submarine USS Barbero assisted the United States 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.

It is difficult to imagine why any organisation would waste 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 Postmaster General of the United States 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 inaccurate predictions ever made by a Government official and nothing more was ever heard 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”

Another bad call was made by Thomas John Watson, Sr. who was president of International Business Machines (IBM) and was responsible for the company’s growth into an international force from 1914 to 1956.  For a man who achieved all this it is perhaps surprising that he made one of the least ever accurate predictions when he said in 1943, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers

Travel Inspiration

On 5 March 1496 King Henry VII of England gave the explorer John Cabot letters patent with the following charge:

…free authority, faculty and power to sail to all parts, regions and coasts of the eastern, western and northern sea, under our banners, flags and ensigns, with five ships or vessels of whatsoever burden and quality they may be, and with so many and with such mariners and men as they may wish to take with them in the said ships, at their own proper costs and charges, to find, discover and investigate whatsoever islands, countries, regions or provinces of heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed, which before this time were unknown to all Christians

Henry VII might have got John Cabot started but when it comes to my own foreign travel three men have changed my life: Bill Bryson, Tim Berners-Lee and Michael O’Leary.  Let me explain:

When I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s family holidays came once a year and were rotated tri-annually between a caravan in Norfolk, a caravan in Cornwall and a caravan in Wales.  I’m not being ungrateful because these holidays were great fun and in those days it was all that my parents could afford.  To be perfectly honest the very idea of going to Europe was faintly absurd, I knew of people who had been to France or Spain of course (or said that they had) but I always regarded them as slightly eccentric and wondered if they were telling the whole truth!  As for going further than Europe I might as well have made plans to go to the moon!

Despite these severe limitations on travel opportunities I developed a desire to see interesting places after visiting them through the stories that my father used to tell me.  He was a well read and an educated man who passed on to me his love of history and geography.  The family house was never short of books and encyclopaedias and he always had an abundance of time to enjoy them and share their stories with me.  Through his inspiration I learnt about Paris, Rome, Athens and Madrid and travellers like Marco Polo and Captain Cook and I vowed that one day I would see these places for myself.

As I grew older I became even more aware of the wider world and in my teenage years started to think ambitiously about overseas travel, a bit like George Bailey in ‘A Wonderful Life’, and I promised myself that one-day I would travel.  Really travel.  Since then I have been here and there but I hadn’t really travelled until those three men changed my life.

Bill Bryson is my favourite author (not counting people like William Shakespeare of course, and I am sure that Bill wouldn’t mind that), because his books make me laugh and he has put fun into travel and reawakened for me the teenage dreams that I used to have of endless globetrotting to far off interesting places.  His books made me want to be an independent traveller, to make my own arrangements and to discover the places that I had always wanted to see but was never quite sure how to go about it.

And then I discovered the Internet and the World Wide Web and this opened up vast new horizons for me and I thank Tim Berners-Lee for that.  It is quite likely that I will be technically challenged on this point so just to be clear the Internet and the World Wide Web are not the same thing: the Internet is a collection of interconnected computer networks and the Web is a collection of interconnected documents and other resources, linked by hyperlinks and URLs. Anyway the technical details do not really matter, what it means to me is access to information and unlimited travel opportunities.

In the 1970s and the 1980s for most people it was only really possible to travel if using the services of a High Street Travel Agent because only they had the necessary network of connections to the big holiday companies and overseas hotels.  And then the Web came along and opened up vast new horizons.  Suddenly it was possible to delve into previously unknown dimensions and start to think about the unthinkable – arranging your own overseas holidays directly and bypassing the travel agents.

That was all well and good but how was one to get to these new locations and the opportunities that were opening up?  The answer came thanks to Michael O’Leary and Ryanair.  Low cost air travel!  That was what I was waiting for and thanks to St Michael that is what now makes European travel available to us all.  I like the 1p flights and have set out to take advantage of them for as long as they are available and see as much of Europe as I possibly can.

A Life in a Year – 8th December, Travel Inspiration

When it comes to foreign travel three men have changed my life: Bill Bryson, Tim Berners-Lee and Michael O’Leary.  Let me explain:

When I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s family holidays came once a year and were rotated tri-annually between a caravan in Norfolk, a caravan in Cornwall and a caravan in Wales.  I’m not being ungrateful because these holidays were great fun and in those days it was all that my parents could afford.  To be perfectly honest the very idea of going to Europe was faintly absurd, I might as well have made plans to go to the moon!

Despite these severe limitations on travel opportunities I developed a desire to see interesting places after visiting them through the stories that my father used to tell me.  He was a well read and an educated man who passed on to me his love of history and geography.  The family house was never short of books and encyclopaedias and he always had an abundance of time to enjoy them and share their stories with me.  Through his inspiration I learnt about Paris, Rome, Athens and Madrid and travellers like Marco Polo and Captain Cook and I vowed that one day I would see these places for myself.

Mundesley 1959

As I grew older I became even more aware of the wider world and in my teenage years started to think ambitiously about overseas travel, a bit like George Bailey in ‘A Wonderful Life’, and I promised myself that one-day I would travel.  Really travel.  Since then I have been here and there but I hadn’t really travelled until those three men changed my life.

Bill Bryson was born on 8th December 1951 and is one of my favourite authors (not counting people like Shakespeare of course, and I am sure that Bill wouldn’t mind that), because his books make me laugh and he has put fun into travel and reawakened for me the teenage dreams that I used to have of endless globetrotting to far off interesting places.  His books made me want to be an independent traveller, to make my own arrangements and to discover the places that I had always wanted to see but was never quite sure how to go about it.

And then I discovered the Internet and the World Wide Web and this opened up vast new horizons for me and I thank Tim Berners-Lee for that.  It is quite likely that I will be technically challenged on this point so just to be clear the Internet and the World Wide Web are not the same thing: the Internet is a collection of interconnected computer networks and the Web is a collection of interconnected documents and other resources, linked by hyperlinks and URLs. Anyway the technical details do not really matter, what it means to me is access to information and unlimited travel opportunities.

In the 1970s and the 1980s for most people it was only really possible to travel if you used the services of a High Street Travel Agent because only they had the necessary network of connections to the big holiday companies and overseas hotels.  And then the Web came along and opened up vast new horizons.  Suddenly it was possible to delve into previously unknown dimensions and start to think about the unthinkable.  Arranging your own overseas holidays directly and bypassing the travel agents and their 10% commission (possibly more, I don’t know).

That was all well and good but how was one to get to these new locations and the opportunities that were opening up?  The answer came thanks to Michael O’Leary and Ryanair.  Low cost air travel!  That was what I was waiting for and thanks to St Michael that is what now makes European travel available to us all.  I like the cheap flights and have set out to take advantage of them for as long as they are available and see as much of Europe as I possibly can. 

Click here for my travel journals blog…

Greece 2008 124

A Life in a Year – 8th June, Missile Mail

Forever people have been looking at ways of speeding things up and since the 1930s there had been various attempts at making postal services quicker.  In1934 for example a rocket was launched over a sixteen thousand metre flight path between two Hebridean islands in Scotland with a fuselage packed with mail.  Unfortunately the rocket exploded and destroyed most of its cargo but in 1959 the United States Navy submarine USS Barbero assisted the United States 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. 

It is difficult to imagine why any organisation would waste 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 Postmaster General of the United States 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 inaccurate predictions ever made by a Government official and nothing more was ever heard 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”

A Life in a Year – 5th March, Travel Inspiration

On 5 March 1496 King Henry VII of England gave the explorer John Cabot letters patent with the following charge:

…free authority, faculty and power to sail to all parts, regions and coasts of the eastern, western and northern sea, under our banners, flags and ensigns, with five ships or vessels of whatsoever burden and quality they may be, and with so many and with such mariners and men as they may wish to take with them in the said ships, at their own proper costs and charges, to find, discover and investigate whatsoever islands, countries, regions or provinces of heathens and infidels, in whatsoever part of the world placed, which before this time were unknown to all Christians

Henry VII might have got John Cabot started and when it comes to my own foreign travel three men have changed my life: Bill Bryson, Tim Berners-Lee and Michael O’Leary.  Let me explain:

When I was a boy in the 1950s and 1960s family holidays came once a year and were rotated tri-annually between a caravan in Norfolk, a caravan in Cornwall and a caravan in Wales.  I’m not being ungrateful because these holidays were great fun and in those days it was all that my parents could afford.  To be perfectly honest the very idea of going to Europe was faintly absurd, I knew of people who had been to France or Spain of course (or said that they had) but I always regarded them as slightly eccentric and wondered if they were telling the whole truth!  As for going further than Europe I might as well have made plans to go to the moon!

Despite these severe limitations on travel opportunities I developed a desire to see interesting places after visiting them through the stories that my father used to tell me.  He was a well read and an educated man who passed on to me his love of history and geography.  The family house was never short of books and encyclopaedias and he always had an abundance of time to enjoy them and share their stories with me.  Through his inspiration I learnt about Paris, Rome, Athens and Madrid and travellers like Marco Polo and Captain Cook and I vowed that one day I would see these places for myself.

 

As I grew older I became even more aware of the wider world and in my teenage years started to think ambitiously about overseas travel, a bit like George Bailey in ‘A Wonderful Life’, and I promised myself that one-day I would travel.  Really travel.  Since then I have been here and there but I hadn’t really travelled until those three men changed my life.

Bill Bryson is my favourite author (not counting people like Shakespeare of course, and I am sure that Bill wouldn’t mind that), because his books make me laugh and he has put fun into travel and reawakened for me the teenage dreams that I used to have of endless globetrotting to far off interesting places.  His books made me want to be an independent traveller, to make my own arrangements and to discover the places that I had always wanted to see but was never quite sure how to go about it.

And then I discovered the Internet and the World Wide Web and this opened up vast new horizons for me and I thank Tim Berners-Lee for that.  It is quite likely that I will be technically challenged on this point so just to be clear the Internet and the World Wide Web are not the same thing: the Internet is a collection of interconnected computer networks and the Web is a collection of interconnected documents and other resources, linked by hyperlinks and URLs. Anyway the technical details do not really matter, what it means to me is access to information and unlimited travel opportunities.

In the 1970s and the 1980s for most people it was only really possible to travel if you used the services of a High Street Travel Agent because only they had the necessary network of connections to the big holiday companies and overseas hotels.  And then the Web came along and opened up vast new horizons.  Suddenly it was possible to delve into previously unknown dimensions and start to think about the unthinkable – arranging your own overseas holidays directly and bypassing the travel agents.

That was all well and good but how was one to get to these new locations and the opportunities that were opening up?  The answer came thanks to Michael O’Leary and Ryanair.  Low cost air travel!  That was what I was waiting for and thanks to St Michael that is what now makes European travel available to us all.  I like the 1p flights and have set out to take advantage of them for as long as they are available and see as much of Europe as I possibly can.

1959 – M1 Motorway and Rocket Mail

In 1959 there were two important news items that celebrated significant events in British motoring.  First of all the southern section of the M1 motorway which started in St Albans in Hertfordshire and finished just a few miles away from Rugby at the village of Crick was opened in 1959.

I have always thought this to be a curious choice of route.  Starting in London was sensible enough but it didn’t actually go anywhere and ended abruptly in a sleepy village in Northamptonshire.  Surely it would have made more sense to build a road between London and Birmingham?

The motorway age had arrived and suddenly it was possible to drive to London on a six-lane highway in a fraction of the previous time, helped enormously by the fact that there were no speed limits on the new road.

This encouraged car designers and racing car drivers were also using the M1 to conduct speed trials and in June 1964 a man called ‘Gentleman’ Jack Sears drove an AC Cobra Coupé at 185 MPH in a test drive on the northern carriageway of the motorway, an incident that started the calls for a speed limit.  In fact there wasn’t very much about the original M1 that we would probably recognise at all, there was no central reservation, no crash barriers and no lighting.

The new motorway was designed to take a mere thirteen thousand vehicles a day which is in contrast to today’s figure of nearly one hundred thousand vehicles a day.  When it first opened this was the equivalent of a country road and it certainly wasn’t unheard of for families to pull up at the side for a picnic!  This first section was seventy-two miles long and was built in just nineteen months by a labour force of five thousand men that is about one mile every eight days.

M1 Motorway

In 1959 cars were still rather old fashioned and basic design hadn’t changed much since the 1940s but the new motorway age needed a new breed of car and in August 1959 the world saw the introduction of the Austin Seven, Morris Mini-Minor and Morris Mini-Minor DL 2-door saloons, all with transversely mounted 848cc engine and four speed gearbox and known collectively as the MINI!

The car was designed by Sir Alec Issigonis who had previously designed the Morris Minor and was intended as a small economic family car.  The Mk 1 Mini was immediately popular and sold nearly two million units and by the time production ceased in 2000 a total of 5,387,862 cars had been manufactured.  Nearly everyone has owned a Mini at some time, I did, it was a blue 1969 model, registration BUE 635J.

Mini BUE 635J

Not that all of this mattered a great deal to us however because like lots of families in 1959 we didn’t have a car and dad didn’t even learn to drive until the early 1960s and mum not until ten years after that. 

His first car was an old fashioned white Austin A40 Cambridge, SWD 774, which was a car with few refinements and even lacking modern day basics such as seat belts, a radio, door mirrors or satellite navigation!  There were no carpets and the seats were made of cheap plastic that were freezing cold in winter and if you weren’t especially careful burnt your arse in the summer. 

After that he had a white Ford Anglia, 1870 NX, which I always thought was a bit chic and stylish with that raking back window and after that he had a couple of blue Ford Cortinas before he moved on to red Escorts before finally downsizing to Fiestas, and back to blue again.  My first car was a flame red Hillman Avenger, registration WRW 366J, in which I did hundreds of pounds worth of damage to other peoples vehicles because it had an inconveniently high back window which made reversing a bit of a challenge for a short person.

I remember car registration numbers because this was something we used to do as children.  Car number plate spotting was a curiously boring pastime and on some days it would be possible to sit for a whole morning at the side of the road outside of the house and still only fill one page of an exercise book.  These days you would need a laptop and a million gigabytes of memory.  Ah happy days!

Since the 1930s there had been various attempts at speeding up postal services and in 1934 for example a rocket was launched over a sixteen thousand metre flight path between two Hebridean islands in Scotland with a fuselage packed with mail.  Unfortunately the rocket exploded and destroyed most of its cargo but 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.

Only the American’s could waste 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 inaccurate predictions ever made by a Government official and nothing more was ever heard 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 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.  This was going to be a bit of a problem in the future.