Tag Archives: Donald Campbell

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.

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Séances, Spooks and Scary Moments

In the late 1960s with imagination fuelled by Dennis Wheatley books like ‘To The Devil a Daughter’, the Rolling Stones and ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ album and Christopher Lee in Hammer Horror films like ‘Dracula’  there was a short time when a group of us used to dabble with the occult.

At this time it was possible to buy a Parker Brothers Ouija Board which supposedly helped people to make contact with spirits on the other side.  This turned out to be completely irresponsible and a number of people were psychologically affected by the experience of speaking to a dead grandparent or the Goat of Mendes and eventually it was removed from sale.

This didn’t matter because it wasn’t at all necessary to have a merchandised version because it was easy to arrange a séance for ourselves without it because all that was needed were the letters of the alphabet on some scraps of paper together with the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and the numbers 0 to 10 arranged in a circle on a smooth table top and an upturned glass and with that speaking to the spirits turned out to be relatively straightforward.

To get the mood exactly right this had to be done in the dark and preferably with a spooky candle flickering on the sideboard and of course parents had to have gone out for the evening.  When everything was arranged and everybody had got a glass of Woodpecker cider then the fun began.

Sitting around the table everyone would put a forefinger on the top of the glass and someone would assume the role of Medium and ask the question ‘Is there anybody there?’  This usually had to be repeated a couple of times because I don’t suppose spooks are just hanging around people’s front rooms on the off chance of someone looking them up for a chat but after a minute or so you could reliably expect the glass to start to wobble and then then move towards the letters and spell out ‘Y, E, S’. No one really knew who they wanted to call up but generally speaking we didn’t really want a poltergeist unless we were in someone else’s house.

Once a spirit had made contact then the Medium would try and establish a name, if the spirit had a special message for someone in the room and whether they were good or bad.  If they had a message then the glass would move towards that person and when that happened believe you me the hairs really stood up on the back of the neck.

It was most likely of course that someone was playing a prank and was pushing the glass around to try and scare the shit out of everyone else but I have to say it did seem to glide rather effortlessly and had sufficient self momentum to be convincing.  If it slowed down the Medium would ask ‘Do you need more power?’ and then the glass would speed up and dash around the table in a circular movement until the spirit had supposedly built up sufficient energy to continue.

 Anyway, that’s the background so I will move on to the point of my story.  On one occasion a spirit in the glass claimed to be Donald Campbell who had died on 4th January 1967  in an accident whilst trying to set a new water speed record on Lake Coniston in Cumbria in the Lake District.  I think we asked the question about more power but as it was this that had killed him in the first place Donald obviously was a bit cautious on this point.

 

We asked him some questions that anyone around the table could have answered, such as did it hurt when you crashed? and how fast were you going? but then a really spooky thing happened.  Because of the impact of the crash Campbell’s boat disintegrated and his body could not be found so we asked where he was and the glass replied with some map co-ordinates, 54°21′N 3°04′W, which, when we checked the school atlas just happened to be right in the middle of Lake Coniston!  What the ….

Now, it is quite possible of course that someone could have planned all of this in advance but I’m not certain that anyone around that table was capable of organising such an elaborate deception and I am sure that we collectively panicked at this stage and brought the séance to an abrupt end just in case this really was happening.  Perhaps one of my pals went home that night smirking all over his face but that is something I shall never know.

Anyway, the fascination with séances and devil worship quickly passed and I thought no more about it until one night in 1977 when Linda and I were spending an evening with our next door neighbours Neil and Nettie and the conversation turned to the subject of the Ouija board.  I told the Donald Campbell story and Neil laughed it off as nonsense and just to prove it set up a séance table.  Sure enough we managed to make contact and Neil was dismissive of everything that happened.  Then I suggested that I should take my finger from the glass and ask a question only I could know the answer to.  We all agreed and I asked the spirit if he could tell us my middle name.  Without hesitation the visitor spelled out ‘J.A.C.K.’ and I had to admit that this was wrong so we wound the session up.

While we poured more drinks Neil looked up  Jack in a dictionary of names and read out its foreign language equivalents and when he got to Russia he read out IVAN and I had to stop him there because Ivan is my middle name.  Perhaps Donald Campbell was talking to us that night after all?

I haven’t ever bothered with spooks again but one night in 2004 something strange happened in the middle of the night.  For some reason I used to keep my driver (golf club) in my bedroom and this particular night it fell over and woke me up with a bang.  It didn’t slide down the wall or slip it turned over on itself and fell over.  The odd thing was that it was propped up in a corner and if you are familiar with the design and shape of a driver then it is physically impossible for it to fall over in this way!  I have often wondered since if it was Donald Campbell getting his own back on me for disturbing him in the underworld that night!

A Life in a Year – 4th January, Donald Campbell and an Ouija Board

In the late 1960s with imagination fuelled by Dennis Wheatley books like ‘To The Devil a Daughter’, the Rolling Stones and ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ album and Christopher Lee in Hammer Horror films like ‘Dracula’  there was a short time when a group of us used to dabble with the occult.  At this time it was possible to buy a Parker Brothers Ouija Board which supposedly helped people to make contact with spirits on the other side.  This turned out to be completely irresponsible and a number of people were psychologically affected by the experience of speaking to a dead grandparent or the Goat of Mendes and eventually it was removed from sale.

This didn’t matter because it wasn’t at all necessary to have a merchandised version because it was easy to arrange a séance for ourselves without it because all that was needed were the letters of the alphabet on some scraps of paper together with the words ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and the numbers 0 to 10 arranged in a circle on a smooth table top and an upturned glass and with that speaking to the spirits turned out to be relatively straightforward.

To get the mood exactly right this had to be done in the dark and preferably with a spooky candle flickering on the sideboard and of course parents had to have gone out for the evening.  When everything was arranged and everybody had got a glass of Woodpecker cider then the fun began.  Sitting around the table everyone would put a forefinger on the top of the glass and someone would assume the role of Medium and ask the question ‘Is there anybody there?’ This usually had to be repeated a couple of times because I don’t suppose spooks are just hanging around people’s front rooms on the off chance of someone looking them up for a chat but after a minute or so you could reliably expect the glass to start to wobble and then the glass would move and move towards the letters and spell out ‘Y, E, S’. No one really knew who they wanted to call up but generally speaking we didn’t really want a poltergeist unless we were in someone else’s house.

Once a spirit had made contact then the Medium would try and establish a name, if the spirit had a special message for someone in the room and whether they were good or bad.  If they had a message then the glass would move towards that person and when that happened believe you me the hairs really stood up on the back of the neck.

It was most likely of course that someone was playing a prank and was pushing the glass around to try and scare the shit out of everyone else but I have to say it did seem to glide rather effortlessly and had sufficient self momentum to be convincing.  If it slowed down the Medium would ask ‘Do you need more power?’ and then the glass would speed up and dash around the table in a circular movement until the spirit had supposedly built up sufficient energy to continue.

 Anyway, that’s the background so I will move on to the point of my story.  On one occasion a spirit in the glass claimed to be Donald Campbell who had died on 4th January 1967  in an accident whilst trying to set a new water speed record on Lake Coniston in Cumbria in the Lake District.  I think we asked the question about more power but as it was this that had killed him Donald obviously didn’t need any more at this stage.

 

We asked him some questions that anyone around the table could have answered, such as did it hurt when you crashed? And how fast were you going? but then a really spooky thing happened.  Because of the impact of the crash Campbell’s boat disintegrated and his body could not be found so we asked where he was and the glass replied with some map co-ordinates, 54°21′N 3°04′W, which, when we checked the school atlas just happened to be right in the middle of Lake Coniston!  Now, it is quite possible of course that someone could have planned all of this in advance but I’m not sure anyone around that table was capable of planning such an elaborate deception and I am sure that we collectively panicked at this stage and brought the séance to an abrupt end just in case this really was happening.  Perhaps one of my pals went home that night smirking all over his face but that is something I shall never know.

devils footprints

Anyway, the fascination with séances and devil worship quickly passed and I thought no more about it until one night in 1977 when Linda and I were spending an evening with our next door neighbours Neil and Nettie and the conversation turned to the subject of the Ouija board.  I told the Donald Campbell story and Neil laughed it off as nonsense and just to prove it set up a séance table.  Sure enough we managed to make contact and Neil was dismissive of everything that happened.  Then I suggested that I should take my finger from the glass and ask a question only I could know the answer to.  We all agreed and I asked the spirit if he could tell us my middle name.  Without hesitation the visitor spelled out ‘J.A.C.K.’ and I had to admit that this was wrong so we wound the session up.

While we poured more drinks Neil looked up  Jack in a dictionary of names and read out its foreign language equivalents and when he got to Russia he read out IVAN and I had to stop him there because Ivan is my middle name.  Perhaps Donald Campbell was talking to us that night after all?

I haven’t ever bothered with spooks again but one night in 2004 something strange happened in the middle of the night.  For some reason I used to keep my driver (golf club) in my bedroom and this particular night it fell over and woke me up with a bang.  It didn’t slide down the wall or slip it turned over on itself and fell over.  The odd thing was that it was propped up in a corner and if you know the design and shape of a driver then it is physically impossible for it to fall over in this way!  I have often wondered since if it was Donald Campbell getting his own back on me for disturbing him in the underworld that night!

A Life in a Year

In the first week of my new project, ‘A Life in a Year’ I will explain the significance to me of the introduction of the Euro in 2002, the birth of James Wolfe in 1719 and the discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun in 1924.  After that it is the death of Donald Campbell in 1967, the Prague Spring of 1968, St Stephen’s Crown returned to Budapest in 1978 and the closure of the Leaning Tower of Pisa for safety reasons in 1990.

It all makes perfect sense to me but if you are confused check out this blog on 1st January 2011.

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.

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.  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 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.