Category Archives: Literature

Simple Pleasures – I-SPY Books

I-SPY Badge

I-Spy books were small paperback volumes that were popular in the 1950s and 1960s.  Each book covered a subject such as I-SPY Cars, I-SPY on the Pavement, I-SPY on a Train Journey, and so on and so on.

The object was to be vigilant and spot objects such as animals, trees, policemen, fire engines, sea shells etc. etc.  and they were recorded in the relevant book, and this gained points.  More points were available for the more difficult spots.  Once you had spotted everything and the book was complete, it could be sent to Big Chief I-SPY for a feather and order of merit.

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Early Days, 1955 Part Two – From Little Acorns to Globalisation

ray kroc mcdonalds 1

Some World changing developments were happening around about the time of my first year, most of them in the America where the USA was emerging as the wealthiest and most progressive country in the World.

Apart from the Atomic Bomb no development was more dramatic than the hamburger.

The  original McDonald’s restaurant opened in San Bernardino, California in 1940, with a diner owned by two brothers, Richard and Maurice McDonald.  The present McDonald’s Corporation however dates its founding to the opening of a franchised restaurant by Ray Kroc, in Des Plaines, Illinois in April 1955.

The McDonald brothers were interesting, some would say rather eccentric characters who were inspired by the assembly line manufacturing method of Henry Ford in his car factories and in 1948 without warning they suddenly closed their traditional and popular establishment for several months and set about applying the principles of mass production to the restaurant industry.

1955 mcdonald_brothers

They pared the service back to only the essentials, offering a simple menu of hamburgers, french fries and milkshakes, which were produced on a continuous basis rather than made to order and with no alternatives on offer.  Basically just ‘take it or leave it’.  This was whole new idea that they called ‘fast food’ that went against all service conventions which could be served to a formula, almost instantaneously and always with absolute consistency.

They also removed any distractions like jukeboxes and payphones so it wouldn’t become a hangout spot for young people and that there would be a continuous turnover of customers.

mcdonalds speedee

The brothers reduced labour costs because there were no waiting staff and customers presented themselves at a single window to place and receive their orders.  They made the food preparation area visible to the customers to demonstrate its high standards of cleanliness and they eliminated all plates and cutlery serving only in paper bags with plastic knives and forks.

Their introduction of the ‘Speedee Service System’ established the principles of the modern fast-food restaurant. The original mascot of McDonald’s was a man with a chef’s hat on top of a hamburger shaped head whose name was ‘Speedee.’  Speedee was retired in 1962 and replaced by Ronald McDonald which I always thought was the weirdest possible merchandising mascot.  He was just plain scary!

1955 ronald mcdonald

Ray Kroc was a multi-mixer milkshake machine salesman and he was intrigued by an order from the McDonald brothers who had purchased eight of his Multi-Mixers, which to him seemed rather a lot for a small restaurant.  Immediately after visiting the San Bernandino restaurant he became convinced that he could sell exceptional numbers of mixers to every new restaurant that they opened and so he offered the McDonald brothers a deal.

Although they were truly innovative the it turns out that the two brothers were not especially ambitious and were they were satisfied with their one restaurant that provided them with a comfortable lifestyle and regular income.  Their only indulgence was to treat themselves to a new car every year.  But Ray Kroc realised the potential of their idea and with much bigger plans proposed a chain of new McDonald’s restaurants and he tried to convince them to expand the operation.  They refused.  He eventually became frustrated with their lack of vision and forced them into an agreement.

Kroc prepared a business proposal but insisted that he could not show all of the details to the potential investors so the agreement was made with a handshake (as opposed to a milkshake). The brothers dithered and Kroc became impatient and annoyed that they would not transfer to him the real estate and rights to the original unit.  Kroc walked away from the transaction and then refused to acknowledge the royalty portion of the agreement because it wasn’t in writing.

The McDonald brothers were clearly poor businessmen and no match for the ruthless Kroc, they even neglected to register the name McDonalds so to force the issue Kroc opened his new McDonald’s restaurant near the brothers diner which they were forced to change to “The Big M”.

In 1961, he finally purchased the company from the brothers. The agreement was for the McDonalds to receive $2.7 million for the chain and to continue to receive an overriding royalty of 1.9% on future gross sales and very specifically 1.9% because when negotiating the contract the McDonald brothers said that 2% sounded greedy.

Nowadays McDonalds and Greedy are virtually synonymous!

McDonalds didn’t reach the United Kingdom until 1974 and now there are over a thousand of them and the Company business plan is to open thirty new restaurants every year.  I don’t remember when I first started using McDonald’s, probably at about the time my children started to request it as a dining option, and now, apart from the occasional breakfast bun, I would only use it if I am absolutely desperate!

One place where Kroc failed to make an impression was at Disneyland.  In 1955 he wrote to Walt Disney offering a deal: “I have very recently taken over the national franchise of the McDonald’s system. I would like to inquire if there may be an opportunity for a McDonald’s in your Disneyland Development.”  The story goes that Walt was too busy to deal with the matter personally so he passed it on to the President in charge of concessions.  Allegedly he agreed but wanted to increase prices by 50% with all the extra profit going to Disney.  Kroc refused and it was to be another thirty years before they worked together.

mcdonalds world

Early Days, 1955 Part One – Disease and the Origins of Obesity

andrew age 1

Now I am one year old and sitting up.  My parents hoped that my next steps will be walking around on those chubby little legs but this was something that could not always be guaranteed in the 1950s.

Early life was full of many dangers, mostly disease and in 1955 one in twenty children would die before they were five years old.  It had taken one hundred and fifty years to reduce this statistic from one in three.  I cannot begin to imagine living with that sort of fear, I brought up children in the 1990s when the risks were significantly reduced.

In 1955 there was a major medical breakthrough with the introduction of a vaccine to prevent the spread of an illness that caused widespread panic and fear amongst parents.

Polio!

Polio, or to be strictly correct Poliomyelitis is all but eradicated now, there are still some cases in Africa, but was previously right up there along with smallpox, cholera and tuberculosis with the World’s most deadly contagions.

1955 polio vaccine

Polio is a highly infectious and unpleasant disease that affects the nervous system, often resulting in paralysis or death. It is transmitted through contaminated food, drinking water and dirty swimming pool water.   Even though the disease had been around for much of human history, major polio epidemics were unknown before the twentieth century and only began to regularly occur in Europe in the early nineteenth century and soon after became widespread in the United States as cities got bigger and a lack of hygiene and poor sanitation created serious health hazards.

By 1910 much of the world experienced a dramatic increase in polio cases and frequent epidemics became regular events, primarily in these big cities during the summer months.  In the USA there was a devastating epidemic in 1952 and after the nuclear bomb it became the thing that most Americans feared most.  In the UK there were about four thousand recorded cases every year.  There was no known cure for the disease and it became an imperative to discover a vaccine so when this came along this was really good news and the World breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The man responsible was a medical researcher and virologist called Jonas Salk.  Salk was subsequently revered as though he were a Saint not least because with no interest in personal profit there was no registered patent for the vaccine.  Rather belatedly, on May 6th 1985, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed that day to be ‘Jonas Salk Day’.

1955 jonas salk

There were a number of forms of polio with varying degrees of seriousness but the one that you really didn’t want to catch was spinal polio which was a viral invasion of the motor neurons in the spinal column which rather importantly are responsible for movement of the muscles, including those of the body and the major limbs.

When spinal neurons die degeneration takes place leading to weakness of muscles and with the destruction of nerve cells they no longer receive signals from the brain or spinal cord and without nerve stimulation the muscles becoming weak, floppy and poorly controlled, and finally completely paralysed.  Progression to maximum paralysis is as quick as two to four days.

1955 polio collection box

Not being a qualified doctor I have massively simplified the medical details here of course but one thing that was absolutely certain was that polio was a very nasty business indeed and parents were understandably worried sick about it because if you caught it at best you would spend the rest of your life in leg irons or at worst in an iron lung (or to give it its proper name a negative pressure ventilator).

1955 iron lung

The vaccine was administered by an especially nasty injection which if you were unlucky left an ugly crater in the top of the arm but that was a small price to pay for peace of mind.  Later it was administered orally with a few drops on a sugar cube but I suspect health and obesity fanatics would frown upon that now.  I’ll deal with that later.  Thankfully, polio is now practically unheard of in those countries that use the vaccine.

Polio wasn’t the only killer of course and there were also vaccines and injections for other unpleasant nasties like smallpox, typhoid and tuberculosis.  I can still remember the mere mention of suspected smallpox leading to mild panic by my mother.  And then there were the common children’s diseases like measles, mumps, rubella and chicken pox which could also be killers themselves but generally just made you feel rather poorly for a day or two.

To protect against them there were regular trips to the doctor’s surgery for inoculations against them all and there were so many pricks in your arm that by the time you were six years old your arm began to look a bit like a needle worker’s pin cushion.

Today in the UK infant deaths before the age of five are over one in two hundred.

Just out of interest, as well as being ‘Jonas Salk Day’, May 6th is now also celebrated as ‘International No Diet Day’ (an annual celebration of body acceptance and body shape diversity and for raising awareness of the potential dangers of dieting).

I mention this here because with the  nightmare of polio finally under control another health problem was started in 1955 because  a man called Ray Kroc came along and unwittingly unleashed a new monster and the beginning of the western world obesity problem when he opened the ninth McDonalds franchise restaurant, in Des Plaines, Illinois, which eventually led to the McDonalds Corporation and a world domination that Ersnt Blofeld could only have dreamed about.

More about this next time…

1955 obesity

I have still got the chubby legs…

Moroccan Tea Garden 10

Early Days, 1954 Part Four – More about the Nuclear Arms Race and TV News

nevada-test-site

“As you can see Mr Bond, I am about to inaugurate a little war. In a matter of hours after America and Russia have annihilated each other, we shall see a new power dominating the world.” – Ernst Stavros Blofeld (You Only Live Twice)

Last time I took a look at nuclear weapons testing and finished with the bikini swimsuit.  Swimsuit stuff is great but back now to the serious stuff of destroying the World!

Nuclear testing was big business in the 1950s as the United States and the Soviet Union prepared with stubborn enthusiasm for wiping each other permanently off the face of the earth.  The fact that a major explosion even on the opposite side of the World might have serious consequences for both protagonists and pretty much everyone else in between just didn’t seem to occur to them.

What were these people thinking?  The bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki caused the deaths of almost 250,000 people which is killing on a scale that Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot could only have dreamed about.

nuclear-attack-survival-guide

What also seems foolish to me is that both the US and the Soviet Union carried out nuclear testing within the boundaries of their own countries which is rather like setting the chip pan on fire in the kitchen of blocking up your own WC – dumb!

Compare this with the strategy of Great Britain which was much more sensible in this regard and who carried out its own modest nuclear bomb experiments on the other side of the World, in Australia, and Australians continue to complain about this alongside the introduction of the fox and the rabbit.

Years after all this nuclear testing stuff, in 1996, I visited the United States and although I didn’t know this at the time travelled along a road that was only sixty miles or so southwest of the Nevada Test Site.  This was a United States Department of Energy reservation which was established in January 1951 for the sole purpose of testing of nuclear weapons and analysing just how much damage that they could do.

Forget Bikini Atoll, this location is infamous for receiving the highest amount of concentrated nuclear detonated weapons in all of North America.

I’ll say that again.  Forget Bikini Atoll, this location is infamous for receiving the highest amount of concentrated nuclear detonated weapons in all of North America.  Not satisfied with dropping nuclear bombs on other countries they detonated them within their own – dumb!

The Nevada Test Site was the primary testing location of American nuclear devices during the Cold War and began here with a one kiloton bomb in January 1951.  From then until 1992, there were nine hundred and twenty eight announced nuclear tests at the site, which is far more than at any other test site in the World and seismic data has indicated there may have been many unannounced and more secretive underground tests as well.

During the 1950s the familiar deadly mushroom cloud from these experiments could be seen for almost a hundred miles in all directions, including the city of Las Vegas, where they instantly became tourist attractions as Americans headed for the City to witness the spectacle that could be seen from the downtown hotels.  Even more recklessly many others would thoughtlessly drive the family to the boundary of the test site for a day out and a picnic to view the free entertainment.  In doing so they unsuspectingly acquired an instant suntan and their own personal lethal dose of radioactive iodine 131, which the American National Cancer Institute, in a report released in 1997, estimated was responsible for thousands of subsequent cases of thyroid cancer.

Continuing the nuclear theme, the world’s first atomic power station was opened near Moscow in Russia and knowing now how careless the Russians were with anything nuclear this was probably something that the World needed to seriously worry about.

Fast forward to the Chernobyl nuclear plant in the Ukraine in 1986 when a reactor accident at a nuclear power plant resulted in the worst nuclear power plant accident in history.  They incident was the only one to ever to record level seven on the International Nuclear Event Scale which might not sound too bad but on a scale of zero to seven, believe me, that’s pretty serious!

The accident resulted in a severe nuclear meltdown and a plume of highly radioactive fallout released into the atmosphere and over an extensive geographical area to the extent that (except for a handful of foolish people and some wild animals) it remains virtually uninhabitable today and almost certainly for many more years to come as well.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mind you, we British could also arrange a nasty little nuclear disaster of our own and on 10th October 1957 the graphite core of a nuclear reactor at Windscale in Cumberland caught fire, releasing substantial amounts of radioactive contamination into the surrounding area. For twenty years, the event, known as the Windscale fire, was considered the world’s worst reactor accident until Three Mile Island in 1979, before both incidents were dwarfed by the Chernobyl incident.

Here are the results of the Cold War: The West 3 (Bikini Atoll, Three Mile Island, Windscale) – USSR 1 (Chernobyl)  – four own goals by the way!

I leave 1954 with some thoughts about news coverage, which is what has stimulated these posts in the first place.  It is significant that the very first television news first bulletin in the UK was shown in 1954 on BBC TV, which is obvious of course because there was no ITV until 1955, and presented by Richard Baker, who was also by coincidence born on the same day as me, 15th June but a few years earlier in 1925.

He was required to give off screen narration while still pictures were put in front of the camera, this was because, and I really find this hard to believe, television producers were concerned that a newsreader with facial expressions would distract the viewer from the story.

On screen newsreaders were only introduced a year later, in 1955, and Kenneth Kendall was the first to appear on screen.  Kenneth Kendall , it has to be said, was unlikely to distract viewers from the important stories of the day but on the other hand even today some viewers in the UK find it difficult to concentrate on the weather forecast when the lovely Carol Kirkwood is presenting…

Carol-Kirkwood

Early Days, 1954 Part Three – The Nuclear Arms Race and the Bikini

1954 Nuclear Testing 1

“Approximately five hours after detonation, it began to rain radioactive fallout at Rongelap. Within hours, the atoll was covered with a fine, white, powdered-like substance. No one knew it was radioactive fallout.  The children played in the snow. They ate it.” – Statement by Rongelap Atoll Local Government

I confess to finding it an intriguing fact that it was only in 1954, the year that I was born, that Germany and Finland finally made peace and declared the end of the Second World War.  I find that sobering, European conflict was still going on during my early lifetime! There were no serious hostilities or gun-fire of course but I still find that a chilling fact.

While some were making belated peace other countries elsewhere continued preparing enthusiastically for hostilities and in 1954 the United States began serious nuclear testing in the Pacific Ocean on the island of Bikini Atoll and they carried out the detonation of a truly massive bomb codenamed Castle Bravo.

The result was rather unexpected. Rather like a bunch of ten year old’s messing with a box of fireworks, they really had little idea what they were doing and when it was detonated it proved much more powerful than any of the boffins responsible for developing it had predicted.  Combined with meteorological factors prevailing at the time (high winds I imagine) it created serious widespread radioactive contamination which even today has prevented people from ever returning to the island and has cost the US taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in on-going compensation payments to the unfortunate islanders that were affected.

Bikini Atoll evacuation

 

Sadly, it seems to me, military people anywhere don’t mind spending millions of taxpayer’s dollars/pounds/roubles/euros anywhere that suits their inherent belligerent redneck tendencies. Between 1940 and 1996 it is estimated that the United States spent a massive $5.8 trillion on its nuclear arms programme or about $21,000 per US citizen.

Figures as massive as this are impossible to imagine, it is as meaningless as telling me that the Earth is one hundred million miles from the sun when I only drive my car about eight thousand miles each year. It is as meaningless as telling me that UK national debt is rising by two billion pounds each week when I only get £130 a week state pension. It is as meaningless as telling me that the Earth is five billion years old when I struggle to believe that I have reached sixty!

To try and help, someone once calculated if you attempted to count $5.8 trillion at the rate of $1 a second, it would take almost twelve days (non stop) to reach $1 million, nearly thirty-two years to reach $1 billion, thirty-two thousand years to reach $1 trillion and about one hundred and eighty-five thousand years to reach $5.8 trillion.  If after all that time you had counted it correctly you would certainly be guaranteed a job as a bank clerk!

chemistry set

A piece of advice – never trust a scientist – especially a nuclear scientist. With a yield of fifteen Megatons Castle Bravo was the most powerful nuclear device ever detonated by the USA. The scientists were completely surprised because this far exceeded the calculated yield of four to six megatons, which by any standards is a fairly serious miscalculation.  I would have liked to have been in the control room at the time to see the reaction because if the sky was red the air would certainly have been blue!

This margin of error would mean that man would never have landed on the Moon in 1969 because they would have missed it by several thousand miles and Armstrong, Collins and Aldrin would have travelled further into deep space than the Starship Enterprise;  but then again perhaps man never did go to the Moon!  I previously wrote a post about the hoax here.

As Charlie Croker famously said in the film ‘The Italian Job’ – “You’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off”

1954 Italian Job

or as Sundance Kid similarly remarked – “Do you think we used enough dynamite there Butch?”

1954 Butch and Sundance

More big figures – to put that into some sort of perspective the bomb was the equivalent of fifteen million tonnes of TNT and was about one thousand two hundred times more powerful than each of the atomic bombs which were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

This is what happened in Japan in 1945…

1954 Hiroshima

This isn’t the biggest test bomb ever however because that distinction belongs to the Soviet Union who in 1961 exploded a test version of the biggest bomb ever made, the Tsar nuclear bomb, which was between fifty and sixty megatons, so enormous in fact that no one can be absolutely sure just how powerful it was!

Castle Bravo was important for two reasons, firstly it signified the state of tension in the world called the Cold War (more about that later) that was around for the next thirty years or so which wasn’t such a good thing but secondly and much more importantly it inspired the introduction of the bikini swimsuit and I’ve always been grateful for that.

The new swimsuit pushed at the boundaries of what was previously considered acceptable in respect of flesh exposure.  Devout Catholic countries like Spain banned people from wearing it in public places.  The swimsuit, that was a little more than a provocative brassiere with tiny g-string pants, was invented by a French engineer called Louis Réard and the fashion designer Jacques Heim. It was allegedly named after Bikini Atoll, the site of the weapon tests on the reasoning that the burst of excitement it would cause on the beach or at the lido would be like a nuclear explosion. Plenty of fallout and very hot!

Read here about the War of the Bikini in Benidorm Spain

Thankfully in 1996 the nuclear powers signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty’ and since then only North Korea has continued to test nuclear weapons.

The USA remains the only country to use a nuclear device in a combat situation.

Famous actresses wearing bikinis.  Can you name them? Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Every Picture Tells A Story, Friends on Holiday 1946

Ivan with pals

This is a picture of my dad and two of his pals and I guess was taken in the summer of 1946 when he was fourteen year old.

I like the picture, it has a swagger and a jauntiness about it, it looks like three boys on holiday and off to the beach.  My dad, in the middle, has spade and his friend on the right has a metal bucket, the tall boy on the left has a cricket bat which suggests beach cricket to me.  I always wonder who took the picture, it isn’t posed but is a walking action picture.

These were surely days of optimism with a country led by a Labour Government that had been elected in the summer of 1945 with a landslide majority and a promise to make everything better and which had embarked on a radical programme of nationalisation including coal mining, electricity supply and railways.

These were the days of the new National Health Service and the Welfare State all based on the optimistic principles of socialism.  And to add to all this good news the United States announced the Marshall Plan to pay for the reconstruction of Europe and that meant over three billion dollars was on the way to the United Kingdom to rebuild its bombed-out cities and its shattered economy.

So where were they?  The picture isn’t dated accurately or gives any specific location, but it does give a couple of clues.

In 1945 my dad lived with his family in the town of Rushden in Northamptonshire where his parents ran a corner shop.  The nearest seaside to Rushden was North Norfolk and I think that this picture was taken somewhere near the seaside resort of Hunstanon, about eighty miles away and easily reached by a Midlands Railway train to King’s Lynn and then a change to Hunstanton on the Great Eastern network.

The properties on the left of the picture certainly have a north Norfolk look about them.  But then again they could be South Lincolnshire, I am open to being corrected.

Dad is wearing a sleeveless cricket sweater, his shirt sleeves are rolled up above his elbows as they always were and he is wearing socks with his plimsolls.  Dad always wore socks with his plimsolls.  This is him on holiday in Sorrento in Italy in 1976.

Ivan Sorrento 1976

Favourite Places in Spain, Palencia in Castilla y Leon

This is the last (for the time being) of my favourite places in Spain…

palencia 03

“Sometimes the Spaniard will resent your attempts to use it (Spanish).  Sometimes he believes it to physically impossible for an alien to understand it.  Sometimes he cannot actually convince himself that you are speaking it…”   Jan Morris – ‘Spain’

Catedral?” I enquired and the poor man (victim) that I had selected just stared back at me with an expressionless face as though I was a visitor from the planet Mars.  So I tried again but this time, remembering that upside down question mark thing at the beginning of the sentence I tried to sound a bit more Spanish, ¿Catedral?” but his face went so blank that I thought that he had surely died from shock and premature rigor mortis had set in.

Directions

I don’t know if you agree but I have to say that Catedral sounds a bit like Cathedral to me so I don’t know why this was so difficult but his solution was to call someone else over who was an obviously educated man who spoke excellent English and with optimism I tried again ¿Catedral?”

To my horror he adopted exactly the same blank face as the first man so I tried again in various different accents and voice inflections. ¿Cat-edral?”  “¿Catedraaal?”  “¿Caaatedral?”  Nothing, Nothing, Nothing.  I really could not understand why this should be so difficult.

If a Spanish man came up to me in Lincoln and asked for directions to the Cathedral, however he might pronounce it, I am fairly sure that I could make out what he was asking for!   Eventually I gave up, added the Anglo-Saxon h sound and just asked in English for directions to the Cathedral and amazingly I immediately made myself understood and the man smiled and said “Ah, Catedral!” which, I am fairly certain is exactly what I said in the first place and then having cleared up this little confusing matter he went on to give very clear and very precise directions on how to find it.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…