Category Archives: Russia

Space Quiz – the Answers

1  How many men have walked on the Moon?

12 (allegedly)

2 Who was the third person to walk on the Moon?

  Charles Pete Conrad (allegedly)

3 How many orbits of the Earth did Yuri Gagarin complete in 1961?

  Just the 1 (allegedly)

4 In what year did Leicester City win the Premier League Title?

2016  (confirmed)

5  James T Kirk.  What does the T stand for?

Tiberius

The National Space Centre in Leicester

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.”   –  John F Kennedy                                   

I was born in Leicester (for overseas readers it is pronounced simply as Lester) in June 1954. My family left the city for the nearby town of Rugby six years later. When asked I always say that I am from Leicester and I am always proud to say so.

Last year I visited the city for the first time after sixty years and went to the Richard III exhibition, this time round I went to the National Space Centre in the heart of the city.

Leicester has the National Space Centre because the University of Leicester has played a significant role in Space exploration and the research and development of Space technology.  Not a lot of people know that.  I didn’t!

Despite the so called Tory ‘Levelling Up’ agenda most National Museums are in London but as well as Space in Leicester there are National Museums in York (Railways), Beaulieu (Motor Cars), Wakefield (coal mining) and Portsmouth (Royal Navy).

I am not sure exactly what I thought might be there, after all  I have been to Cape Kennedy in Florida so why did I need to go to the National Space Centre in Leicester.

The place certainly surpassed my modest expectations.

I was immediately impressed.  The centre is four stories high and clad in inflated pillows made of toughened plastic – the same material used on the Eden Project domes in Cornwall.  This material is 1% of the weight of the equivalent amount of glass and post construction was described by the Guardian newspaper as “one of the most distinctive and intriguing new buildings in Britain”.

I imagined that it might take an hour to go round – it took four and the last one was rushed so I will have to go back.  It has sections about the Solar System, the creation of the Universe , a Planetarium, full size rocket displays (I kid you not) and a top floor dedicated to the first moon landing.

I found it really interesting, this member of staff has seen it umpteen times and is clearly bored with it all.  Bored enough to take a nap…

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.

he most predominant theory is that the entire human landing program was a complete hoax from start to finish. Not a Giant Leap but a Giant Cheat.

Some claim that the technology to send men to the Moon in 1969 was not available 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

My favourite story about the space race is that because it was supposed that a standard ballpoint pen would not work in zero gravity because the ink woudn’t flow to the nib, 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 or a wax crayon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Quiz Time…

1  How many men have walked on the Moon?

2 Who was the third person to walk on the Moon?

3 How many orbits of the Earth did Yuri Gagarin complete in 1961?

4 In what year did Leicester City win the Premier League Title?

5  James T Kirk.  What does the T stand for?

A to Z of Statues – Peter The Great of Russia

In 2012 I went on a two city touring holiday in Russia.

This is a statue of Peter The Great which has the distinction of being the eighth highest statue in the World and commemorates three hundred years of the Russian Navy.

I thought it looked rater grand but perhaps a little unfairly this statue has been included in a list of the World’s top ten ugliest statues.

No doubt embarrassed by this, in 2010, Moscow offered the statue to Saint-Petersburg – who promptly turned it down.

The other nine in the top ten ugly statues list were…

Peace and Brotherhood Statue, Turkey (now demolished)

Kim II-Sung, North Korea

Victory Arch, Iraq

Tear of Grief, New Jersey USA

Michael Jackson, Fulham FC, UK

Rocky Balboa, sebia

Patient Zero, Mexico

Yuri Gagarin, Moscow, Russia

Johnny Depp, Serbia

Frank Zappa, Lithuania

St Petersburg didn’t need the statue because they have one of their own…

Read The Full Story Here…

A to Z of Statues – L is for Lenin in Moscow

When Lenin died in January 1924 he was acclaimed as ‘the greatest genius of mankind’ and ‘the leader and teacher of the people’s of the whole world’.  Time Magazine named him one of the one hundred most important people of the twentieth century (Albert Einstein was first and Mahatma Ghandi and Theodore Roosevelt close runners-up).

According to the article in Encyclopaedia Britannica: ‘If the Bolshevik Revolution is, as some people have called it, the most significant political event of the twentieth century, then Lenin must for good or ill be considered the century’s most significant political leader… he has been regarded as both the greatest revolutionary leader and revolutionary statesman in history, as well as the greatest revolutionary thinker since Marx’.

Read The Full Story Here…

On This Day – Jurmala in Latvia

In January 2007 we made our third visit to the Latvian capital of Riga and on 28th January we took a ride to the nearby seaside resort of Jurmala…

We walked along the frozen shore and enjoyed every minute of kicking through snow and picking our way along tracks made of ice. None of us had seen a beach frozen solid before and none of us had walked on water before either.

Read The Full Story Here…

On This Day – Napoleon Bonaparte and La Colonne de la Grande Armée

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 18th August 2013 I was in Boulogne in Northern France…

La Colonne de la Grande Armée

La Colonne de la Grande Armée is a monument constructed in the 1840s and is a fifty-three metre-high column topped with a statue of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

It marks the location of the base camp where Napoleon  assembled an army of eighty thousand men all reeking of garlic, singing  ‘La Marseillaise’ and impatient to invade England.  It was initially intended to commemorate a successful campaign, but this proved to be rather premature and as he didn’t quite manage that it now remembers instead the first distribution of the Imperial Légion d’honneur.

Like most of history’s tyrants there are not many statues of Bonaparte but although there are no statues of Stalin or Hitler or Franco for example a few of Napoleon remain.  In addition to this one there are two in Paris at Les Invalides and another at Place Vendome, there are two statues of him depicted as Mars the Peacemaker, one at Aspley House in London (the home of the Duke of Wellington) and another in Milan and there is a monument to him in Warsaw in Poland to commemorate the establishment of the Duchy of Warsaw by Napoleon in 1807.

I confess that I have always been an admirer of Napoleon, setting aside his aggressive military ambitions I tend to concur with the assessment of British historian Andrew Roberts…

“The ideas that underpin our modern world—meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances, and so on—were championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon. To them he added a rational and efficient local administration, an end to rural banditry, the encouragement of science and the arts, the abolition of feudalism and the greatest codification of laws since the fall of the Roman Empire.”

Read The Full Story Here…

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On This Day – The Moscow Metro

While the current travel restrictions are in place I have no new stories to post so what I thought that I would do is to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

On 26th May 2012 I was underground on a tour of the Moscow Metro…

Moscow Metro

Whilst visitors to London would be unlikely to consider the ‘Tube’ to be a tourist attraction, in Moscow the Metro is a ‘must visit’ place and not just for getting around the city because each station has a unique design using elaborate decorations and materials from all over the country.

Read The Full Story…

Click on an image to scroll through a Gallery of the stations…

Newark-on-Trent, The English Civil War and The Castle

Newark Civil War Statue

After leaving the church I made my way through the elegant streets of Newark passing by half timbered medieval houses, grand Georgian mansions and rows of traditional shops.  In places it reminded me of The Shambles in York but without the crowds or the tourist tat shops.

My next destination was the National Civil War Museum because since my Dad bought me an Airfix model kit of Oliver Cromwell in about 1960 I have always been fascinated by the English Civil War.  I think this was a defining moment in my life, I immediately became a Roundhead, a Parliamentarian and later a socialist, on the side of the people fighting against wealth, influence, privilege and injustice.

There was also an Airfix model of Charles I but I had Cromwell first.

Crowell Charles Airfix

I also blame a book my Dad gave me about British heroes in which Cromwell was included but Charles Stuart wasn’t.

An illustration from the book…

Oliver Cromwell

In 2002 the BBC conducted a poll to identify the Greatest Briton and Cromwell came tenth, hard to believe that he could come behind Diana, Princess of Wales  and John Lennon but there you are, such is the nature of these polls and the mentality of the people who vote.  Two thousand years of history and Princess Diana and John Lennon make the top ten.  It leaves me speechless.

Due to its strategic significance linking north of the country with the south Newark had an important part to play in the Civil War and the town and its castle supported the Royalist cause and suffered in three destructive sieges which brought destruction, pestilence and disease to the town.  Parliamentary forces and their Scottish allies were desperate to oust the Royalist garrison. The last siege saw over sixteen thousand troops seal off the Nottinghamshire town and dam a river to stop water mills producing bread and gunpowder. An outbreak of typhus and plague added to Newark’s woes as the population swelled to six thousand as people fled to the town from the countryside, creating near starvation conditions.

A third of the inhabitants died and one in six buildings were destroyed.  Despite this calamity, the Royalist troops refused to give in.  The garrison were brave supporters of the King and the Cavaliers but eventually were obliged to surrender upon the inevitable capture of Charles.

It is an interesting museum but I found it a little disappointing, it is rather small and although it has some interesting exhibits the information boards and displays give only facts but not interpretation.  I wanted more than iron breast plates and plumed hats, more than flintlocks and helmets but I guess museums like these are for tourists rather than historians.

Newark Civil War Museum

I have always considered the English Civil War to be the most important conflict of modern Europe because this was a revolution which provided a blueprint for those that followed, principally the French Revolution of 1789 and the Russian Revolution of 1917.

The revolution begins with the moderates calling for reasonable and restrained reform for the exclusive benefit of the aforementioned wealthy and privileged who wanted even more power and wealth.  The problem with moderates of course is that they are on the whole reasonable people but by beginning a process of reform they provide an opportunity  for radicals and agitators to go much further and the English Revolution like those that followed swiftly gained pace.  After the radicals came the extremists, then war, then terror, then regicide.

The English Civil War swept away the supremacy of the Church of England, ended the Divine Right of Kings and embodied the principal of Parliamentary Sovereignty into UK politics.  It was the end of medieval feudalism and paved the way for the agrarian and industrial revolutions of the next century.  At its most radical period it introduced the principals of socialism and even communism through the power of the New Model Army and the social ambitions of the Diggers and the Levellers, both proto-socialist political movements.

It is a shame that King Charles had his head cut off but even after sixty years or so of being given that Airfix model I confess that I remain a loyal Roundhead rather than a Cavalier.

One thing that I did learn at the museum is that musket balls were made from lead and that 1lb of lead would make twelve balls and that this is the origin of the twelve bore shotgun.

Newark Castle 01

I finished my day at the ruins of Newark Castle. Prior to the Civil War it was a grand medieval showpiece fortress but today it is an empty shell. The Parliamentarian forces blew it up and left it derelict to make sure that it could never again be used as a royalist obstacle to parliamentary supremacy.  After the troops were obliged to leave it fell into disrepair and to the mercy of stone thieves who dismantled it as a convenient supply of building material until we are left with what we see today.

It is still rather grand, especially when viewed from the opposite bank of the River Trent but beyond the outer east wall nothing remains except the ghosts of history and pleasant modern gardens.

I had enjoyed my day at Newark-on-Trent and as I drove away I thought to myself that it was about time that I spent more days in the United Kingdom.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

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

European Capital of Culture 2016, Wroclaw in Poland

Wroclaw Dwarfs Postcard

In 1985, Melina Mercouri, the Greek Minister of Culture came up with the idea of designating an annual Capital of Culture to bring Europeans closer together by highlighting the richness and diversity of European cultures and raising awareness of their common history and values.

The European Union enthusiastically endorsed the idea and as a consequence The European Capital of Culture is a city designated for a period of one year during which it organises a series of cultural events with a strong pan-European dimension.

The first city chosen was Athens which was fair enough I suppose.  In 2016 it was Wroclaw in Poland.  A very good choice in my opinion, I have visited the city twice and would gladly go back again.

Read the full story here…

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If you want to know about the Dwarfs you can read about them here…

Dwarf Spotting