David’s Bookshelf Issue 2 – Cup of Tea Tales
- David’s Bookshelf Issue 2
- David’s Bookshelf – Issue One
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Lifetime of Global Successes, Disasters and Wonders! Space the Final Frontier.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hetchell Woods (Bardsey) and Crags – A Special Piece of God’s Own Country or County! One of my Favourite Places to Visit.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Wonderful Yorkshire Dales. Trollers Gill, a Place with a Mysterious Legend and the Hell Hole where I Diced with Death.
During my life, I have seen many wonderful things and, unfortunately, some terrible ones. I was born in 1954 and it has been a lifetime of major change, a period where society has been transformed, where science offered a future of wonders, where we have threatened our own existence, and human beings have shown their capacity for kindness and compassion and cruelty. I wonder how many of you remember the same events, and where you were at that time.
The first time I ever became aware that unpleasant things could happen in the world was when there was the Aberfan disaster on October 21st 1966, which would have been when I had just started Roundhay School. I remember watching the television coverage and there was fundraising for the families that had suffered when the slag heap had slipped down into the town and buried the primary school. Television took us into the disaster and, for one of the first times, we saw what had happened. This was followed a few months later by the start of the Biafra famine in Nigeria, which lasted from 1967 until 1970. The television was full of scenes of starvation of biblical proportions, and there was a mobilisation of countries to provide aid to this war-torn nation. The nightly viewing of the effects on the population was terrible and, if nothing else, made me feel very lucky to live in the UK.
It wasn’t all doom-and-gloom as scientific advances offered hope. I remember marvelling at the first heart transplant on the 3rd December 1967. Dr Barnard transplanted a heart into Louis Washkansky. He died eighteen days later, but it was the first of what has become an almost routine procedure, and given many people a second chance on life. At this time, I felt that there were no limits to the benefits that scientific developments could bring. This was particularly apparent on the 20th July 1969. I was fourteen and history was to be made, and we could witness it on television. I remember sitting transfixed in front of the television, watching as the moon landing vehicle detached from the command vehicle. The commentary was informative, and the tension was high. America, the dominant super-power, was going to show the world that they could do what no other country had been able to do, to put a man on the moon. I had watched the Apollo 11 take-off from Cape Kennedy on July 16th, carrying Commander Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin, and waited nervously to see if they could succeed. There was a period of suspense when the landing craft detached and we had to wait to see if it landed successfully. James Burke, Patrick Moore and Cliff Michelmore provided the commentary. This was the first all-night TV broadcast in the UK and aired from 11.30pm until 10.30am the next morning. The first Apollo Moon Landing was something I did not wish to miss. This was before colour TV which came in 1969, and the pictures beamed back were hazy, black and white, low quality but mesmerising. The family watched the landing take place at 8.18pm (BST).
“It looks like a collection of just about every variety of shapes, angularities and granularities, every variety of rock you could find,” reports Aldrin.
“The colours vary pretty much depending on how you’re looking… There doesn’t appear to be much of a general colour at all; however, it looks as though some of the rocks and boulders, of which there are quite a few in the near area… are going to have some interesting colours to them.”
The rest of the family went to bed, but I had pleaded to be allowed to stay up and watch the moon walk live. I sat in the living room, getting colder as the night temperature fell, but my excitement built. The Walk came five hours early, at 2.39 am:
“I’m at the foot of the ladder. The LM footpads are only depressed in the surface about one or two inches… the surface appears to be very, very fine-grained, as you get close to it, it’s almost like a powder.”
At 2.56 am, he finally steps on the surface and utters the words:
“That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
I was completely awestruck. Science fiction had become a reality. What wonders I would see in my lifetime! After this, there were several missions, and it almost became commonplace and the public’s interest waned until in April 1970 the dreadful words, ‘Houston, we have a problem,’ were uttered. I then spent days watching to see if the crew could somehow defy the odds and return safely to earth. Of course, they did, and it was another triumph of human ingenuity. I know I wouldn’t have been alone, and many people were equally gripped by the drama.
I had been too young to take in JF Kennedy’s assassination, but I realised the significance of Martin Luther’s death on 4th April 1968 and Robert Kennedy’s on the 5th of June. I knew exactly where I was when Robert Kennedy died. I was on a weekend camp, with St Stephen’s scouts. It was my last ever camp with the scouts, at Wike, near Shadwell, and it was a nine-acre site. The tents were set up and I remember walking with a friend and we smoked Consulate cigarettes. They were menthol and fairly disgusting things, but we must have had a transistor radio with us as we heard the announcement on the radio. I understood the clamour and the shock, but as I was on a camp, we just got back to enjoying ourselves. That night we played a wide game, and we decided to use a bicycle dynamo to act as a searchlight. Two of us turned a bike upside-down, and I cranked the pedal to produce the power for the light, whilst the other turned the handlebars to move the light. Someone knocked into the bike and my hand went into the chain and was forced over the cog. My finger was trapped, the light went out and was in agony. Cries of ‘get a torch’ rang out. Finally, we could see what had happened. Again, some other scout bumped into the bike and the pedal spun and my finger was released from the chain but stuck between two teeth of the cog. With effort and considerable discomfort, I prised it out. An ambulance was called, but after seeing the doctor, and having an x-ray, nothing was damaged and I went home. I went back to scouts once or twice, but soon I moved on to different interests.
Space exploration never seemed to advance much from then. True, they built Skylab and later the International Space Station, but it wasn’t as exciting as stepping on other worlds. One thing they did that was amazing was building the Space Shuttle. This partially reusable spaceship was a master of engineering. The special heat-resistant tiles were a wonder, but they were soft and a few occasionally dropped off and threatened the craft on re-entry. It was used from 1981 until 28th January 1986. Because of an O-ring leak, the craft became a fireball 73 seconds into its launch, killing all those on board, including a teacher. I remember this very well, as I had just arrived in Papua New Guinea to take up a headship of a school. It was shocking, and we watched it on the television of some American missionaries on a hospital mission, Kudjip, in the Western Highlands.
The world had watched in horror in 1984 as famine ravaged Ethiopia, but in the UK, people rallied round Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas to provide relief. This later resulted in Live Aid, 13th July 1985, where global concerts took place to raise large amounts of funds, but more importantly, Bob Geldof shamed governments into taking action to help millions of people who were starving. I watched this concert, as did millions, and it prompted many to want to do something. The success of this sparked a series of fundraising concerts for many worthy causes until they went out of vogue.
1986 also experienced the Chernobyl disaster. The leak of radiation was a frightening consequence of science being mishandled. It was yet another warning that the world didn’t want to listen to. We were far away in Papua New Guinea, but the fallout covered much of the northern hemisphere.
The coming of cleaner, more environmentally sourced power shows how science can still lead us to a brighter future. Things that were science fiction are now commonplace. Mobile phones are apparently more powerful than the computers that enabled man to land on the moon and return. Medicine is mind-boggling, and diseases that couldn’t be cured have seen major advances. People are living longer, despite the setback from the pandemic, and healthier. As a boy in Leeds, I struggled to get home, as the smog was so thick and it was difficult to breathe. Did we care? Not at the time. It was just how life was, but we hoped for better. Being idealistic could get you into trouble at Roundhay School, but I am amazed at how successful so many of the boys and girls have been.
Education has been weakened over the years. There was the idea that people should be ‘educated’. It made them better people, and more understanding. History showed us the errors of the past, but also where we had come from. The arts were the things that helped make life pleasurable. Kindness, compassion, empathy and resilience, not attitude, dog-eat-dog success, were the qualities to aspire to. A university was a mark of education, not just a means of getting a job. Colleges and universities encouraged free thinking, not just learning knowledge. The values I saw Baby-Boomers demonstrate, in the 1960s, had much to commend them.
Of course, I have missed out many major events and I am sure you will have your own personal choices, but these were some of mine.
If you enjoy my tales then you might like to subscribe so that you don’t miss out each week. There will not be a tale for the next two weeks as I will be having family staying, but I will be back soon.