A Few Rough Years

I wonder why the years of the late 80s are stuck in my memory so much? I think it’s because I was becoming aware of the world and humanity. I was at that age where you start realising that other people exist in their own right and that some people have it hard and bad things happen. The following events are ones that are pinned in my memory and made me think about the world:

  • Chernobyl – April 1986 [100 upto 4000 deaths, maybe]
  • Piper Alpha Disaster – July 1988 [167 deaths]
  • Heysel Stadium Tragedy – May 1985 [39 deaths]
  • Hillsborough Tragedy – April 1989 [96 deaths]
  • Bradford Stadium Fire – May 1985 [56 deaths]
  • Challenger Disaster – January 1986 [7 deaths]
  • Herald Of Free Enterprise Disaster – March 1987 [193 deaths]
  • Bhopal Disaster – December 1984 [more than 2259 deaths]
  • Marchioness Disaster – August 1989 [51 deaths]

These are pretty much the ones I can name from memory. I guess it’s quite sad that horrific events stick in our brains. I’m trying to think of “happy” events from those times and all I can think of are personal or family events. There aren’t any global happy events that bubble up from the depths of my brain, perhaps they don’t exist? I’m sure they are there. I guess there was the 1988 Olympics but I have become quite convinced that sports mostly exist as a distraction from the horrors from everyday life and how we as society don’t really care.

What is the human obsession with reporting death and disaster when compared to the good things or am I suffering from a massive case of confirmation bias? I guess as a species we need to know when bad things happen so we can learn and change the rules to ensure these things happen less. Quite often these lessons are learnt, sometimes those invested in making money and power do their best to subvert the reports and changes so they can continue to make money and stay in power. That could be the Achilles heel of the human race.

While writing this I’ve been thinking about disasters in the 90s and I’m not sure I can come up with any. They must’ve existed and that seems strange that I can’t instantly recall them. If I looked for them I suspect my memory would be jogged but why aren’t they there for instant recall. I’m going to ask around and see what other people think. It would be interesting to see if those of a similar age as me have the same collective memories. That would make sense.

A collective memory would also explain so much about politics and the way it cycles. As a generation dies out the memories of the horrors they faced die with them and History channel documentaries don’t really do it justice. Then the new generation start making the same mistakes and using the same kind of rhetoric that was to blame for the older horrors. Let’s see shall we.

Early Air Pioneers

Until about four days ago I didn’t know that the first powered flight of an aircraft in the UK occurred on the Isle Of Sheppey. The island isn’t that far from here and so I went to have a look at a beach.

Upon some investigating it turns out that the first purpose-built aircraft factory was on Sheppey and built by the Shorts brothers. Then it turns out that they then build the first airfield nearby in 1909. This is amazing and I don’t know why I didn’t know this before this week.

I had previously known that Shorts used to make aircraft at Rochester and used the Medway there as the aerodrome. It is here that they made the Sunderland and other famous planes.

Eventually they moved production to Belfast and now the company is known as Bombardier. It would have been magnificent to see sea planes taking off and landing on the river Medway, such an age of exploration and adventure. This would have made Rochester such a target during the second world war as there was a Royal Navy shipyard and also an aircraft manufacturer there.

On Sheppey I drove to the old RAF Eastchurch site which is now three prisons built on Crown land. It was strange driving to the museum as there was lots of security along a public road. It felt like entering an RAF base. Two of the prisons there are high security and the walls were impressive. The third prison is an open prison and the museum is on the land of that prison with a cafe nearby run by inmates.

RAF Eastchurch
RAF Eastchurch

The key to the things I have marked in the above photo runs such:

  1. The museum
  2. The first aero hangar in the UK
  3. The RAF base water tower
  4. The original airfield control block
  5. The E-W runway
  6. The N-S runway

There are plenty of features there to see and the person running the museum was really friendly and told me loads about the history. It’s strange to me all these old air force bases that are now re-purposed. I guess I hanker for the old days of aircraft everywhere.

One of the buildings on the site still shows the scars of war with bomb damage on the brick wall:

Bomb Damage
Bomb Damage

The museum is based in one of the original base buildings and certainly contains lots of lovely information about the early days of aeronautical exploration in this country.

RAF Eastchurch Museum
RAF Eastchurch Museum

Inside the building was a photograph taken at Muswell Manor on the east coast of the island and one of the early headquarters of the Royal Aero Club. In that photograph the following people are pictured:

  • The Short Brothers
  • Frank McClean
  • Frank Hedges Butler
  • Warwick Wright
  • JTC Brabazon
  • Wilber Wright
  • Orville Wright
  • Charles Rolls

That is an amazing collection of rich people who had the money to start the aviation industry in this country and the world. The Wright brothers had come across the Atlantic with their flyer to try and create interest and also start manufacturing the product. This they managed and the Short brothers built the Flyer under licence. The rest is pretty much history as we know. I hadn’t even been aware that the Wright brothers had come over here!

Near Muswell Manor is a statue to the Short Brothers. It stands as a marker for the start of aviation in this country and the adventuring that started at Shellness.

Shorts Brothers
Shorts Brothers

Things Change

I watched Raiders Of The Lost Ark yesterday. It’s still a great film if you ignore the glaring inconsistencies and “Indy” problem. I think it’s one of those things you should just enjoy rather than tear it apart. Having said that I have an issue with it, something that had never struck me before but bothers me now.

Indiana Jones is a university lecturer who has young women swooning over him in lectures. This is made clear by the number of women in the lecture theatre when he is lecturing, this is 1936 and women weren’t commonly at university then, and the young lady with “Love You” written on her eyelids.

Later in the movie Indiana travels to Nepal to meet with his ex-girlfriend Marion. After an initial greeting she hits him [wrong thing to do]. This is the exchange just after that:

MARION: You son-of-a-bitch! You know what you did to me, to my life? This is your handiwork.

INDY: I never meant to hurt you.

MARION: I was a child!

INDY: You knew what you were doing.

MARION: I was in love.

INDY: I guess that depends on your definition.

MARION: It was wrong. You knew it.

Quite clearly in this situation we have a college lecturer taking advantage of his position of influence over a younger female student. She has every right to be angry at him. He’s even quite dismissive of her feelings in this situation.

You can see that in the early 1980s when this was released this was an accepted form of abuse. We now recognise the problems with this behaviour and treat it accordingly. Let’s be clear, I am not asking for the film to be withdrawn, I’m not saying you shouldn’t watch it but I am saying that times have changed and we need to understand how society is generally self improving over time [or at least the last seventy years].

Given the way things are going in this country and the USA I am worried that society will regress in acceptance and understanding of moral codes over the next twenty years. I mean I’m optimistic about it, but I do worry.

Human Cost

A while back I looked at a BBC News page about the Great Wall Of China. Actually it’s not a news item, it’s more a magazine piece with no bearing on the current world. You tend to see lots of those these days. Anyway back to the point. In our current civilisation we have all these marvellous cultural treasures dotted around the world:

  • Great Wall Of China
  • Egyptian Pyramids
  • Stonehenge [great?]
  • Colosseum
  • Taj Mahal
  • Chichen Itza

We, as a modern “sophisticated” tribe, look at these buildings in wonder and awe. We think they are entirely fascinating. But I suggest a change to this. Most ancient economies and quite a few modern economies and powerful nations were built on slavery. They were built on possession of humans and treating humans like shit.

These buildings and modern economies should have some sort of statistic applied to them to reflect the pain and cost of human misery that went into their creation.

The Great Wall Of China

20% of the country’s population was forced to build it. Many people died during its construction, due to the heavy work, a short time deadline and difficult conditions

The first result on the web doesn’t even mention numbers. The next result:

While the great wall was in construction over 1 million people died in the making of the wall

There seems to be a great number of results in a search that also use the “more than 1 million” people died making the Great Wall. Some sites don’t mention slaves some do. Some sites mention “population forced to  . . . .”, well that sounds like slavery to me. Add into all this the human misery associated with such a large scale project and relocation and the Wall seems an awful lot less glamorous and even fucking ugly. Perhaps it should be renamed the Great Wall Of Death.

Egyptian Pyramids

I have read through a number of pages and I can only find reference to 10,000 workers who may or may not have been slaves. Whether there were deaths or how many there were due to construction is unknown. Records weren’t kept. I suspect that industrial working practices weren’t that great so deaths would probably have been common. We should rename them The Great Pyramids Of Oppression.

Stonehenge

This monument was honestly included as a giggle. Although impressive it’s not as impressive as the others in terms of age, size and deaths. This is another artefact for which deaths in production can’t easily be counted. These are to be renamed the Stones Of Speculation.

Colosseum

According to this site

An estimated 100,000 prisoners were bought back to Rome as slaves after the Jewish War. Vespasian had a limitless work force. In the building of the Colosseum the slaves undertook the manual labor such as working in the quarries at Tivoli where the travertine was quarried.

There are no references to numbers of deaths or the emotional cost and general distress to the workers. Obviously the Colosseum is now considered a magnificent monument to the Roman Empire but the human cost in creating this probably doesn’t justify the rapture we hold it in now. Let’s rename this building the Arena Of Death.

Taj Mahal

That wondrous white stone mausoleum in India was built within written historic times and there is plenty known about its construction. But there’s not a lot on the Wikipedia page about how many workers there were and how many died. There’s a single answer on Yahoo which states 22,000 people worked on the building and thousands perished. This sounds within the levels of plausibility. We could legitimately rename this one Monument To Sadness.

Chichen Itza

This city in Central America has many buildings and is impressive and a symbol that should ruin the natural superiority that the Europeans believe they have. I can’t find any details on people dying while it was in production or who built it, but apparently it was unlikely to be slaves. The city was used by the europeans to collect slaves though. This place should be known as External Factors Will Kill Your Empire.

These great endeavours of human achievement probably wouldn’t have existed if those in charge at the time had given a shit about the welfare of the workers. It’s pretty similar to these days where the little person has so much to overcome in the face of the repression of their rights.

So people fully understand the place these monuments have in our society they should all be forced to have numbers after their names showing the human cost. These numbers should be placed after everything so we cna get a true measure of what our society does.

One Day . . . . .

I consider myself pretty lucky to be living in this part of the island. On Saturday while driving to Essex I noticed a little plane doing a dance over Brands Hatch race track. It was a Spitfire. One of the plucky planes that protected this land in 1940 during the Battle Of Britain. Mind you, the Hurricane got more and was used more, but it’s not quite a pretty is it? The skies above Kent were where this battle took place and it is still where these planes can be seen regularly. One day though, they will be gone. I try to stop and stare when I see them.

Then, while out for a run yesterday I spotted two things that made me think. Another Spitfire flew overhead, possibly heading to Brands Hatch again or maybe just out for a little trip for fun. I didn’t get my phone out quick enough to get a photo and it would have looked terrible as the zoom is appalling. One day, these beasts will be gone.

Later in my run I ran by the Allington Lock section of the Medway. This little boat caught my eye:

One Of The Originals
One Of The Originals

This little ship, just moored there on the Medway took part in the evacuation from Dunkirk. It was originally built as a Watson Class Lifeboat and then named:

  • Rosa Wood & Phyllis Lunn, 1932 – 1973

She’s now in private hands and long may she sail the waters. There’s plenty more information on the National Historic Ships Register. One day, these things will be gone.

It is impressive to see this history around us. It’s everywhere, there’s plenty to see. I don’t even know a lot about the local history but I’m constantly fascinated by pretty much everything I see.