Saturday, 20 August 2016

Michael Schumacher - Formula One Debut

Michael Schumacher
Thursday 25th August will be the 25th anniversary of Michael Schumacher’s debut in Formula One.

The seven time World Champion, now regarded as one of the greatest drivers of all time, made his bow as a 22-year-old unknown at the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa

After learning the ropes, initially in karting events where he gained his licence in Luxembourg at the age of 12 (the minimum age in his native Germany was 14), he went on to race in German Formula Ford, Formula K├Ânig and Formula Three, progressing into the World Sportscar championship.

Bertrand Gachot
He made his debut in Formula One for the Jordan-Ford team, replacing the imprisoned at the time Bertrand Gachot, who was serving a 2 month sentence after spraying a London taxi cab driver with CS gas in a traffic altercation.

The Race

At the time Schumacher was a contracted Mercedes driver, but after impressing the powers that be at a Silverstone test drive the week before the race, he was given the drive and promptly went on to learn the intricacies of the Spa track by cycling around it on a fold-up bike he had brought with him.

Testing the Jordan 191 car
He qualified in 7th place on the grid, but sadly when the race came he retired on the first lap when his clutch failed. The late Ayrton Senna went on to win the race, with his McLaren-Honda team mate, Austrian Gerhard Berger following up just behind.

Skiing Accident

In December 2013 Schumacher was skiing with his son in the French Alps when he fell and hit his head on a rock. He was airlifted to hospital and placed in a medically induced coma.

In November 2014, it was reported that he was paralysed and in a wheelchair; was unable to speak and had memory problems. 

In a later interview with his manager, she stated that he was slowly improving “considering the severity of the injury he had sustained”.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

"Moon the Loon" at 70!

Tuesday 23rd August 2016 would have been the 70th birthday of Keith Moon, former drummer of British rock band The Who.

Affectionately known as “Moon the Loon”,  he was renown for his madcap antics and eccentric behaviour, which included driving a Lincoln Continental into a Holiday Inn swimming pool on his 20th birthday (this has often been wrongly reported as being his 21st birthday, being probably due to the legal age of drinking in the US being 21).

As a drummer he had few peers. Voted the 2nd greatest drummer in history by a Rolling Stone poll, he played the skins similarly to his lifestyle, with a sense of wild abandon that blew the minds of fans and admirers alike.

But he is mainly remembered for his life of excessive drinking and partying which eventually took it’s toll. He regularly smashed his drum kit on stage, and became infamous for trashing hotel rooms along with the obligatory throwing the TV out of the window. He was also fascinated with blowing up toilets with explosives (cherry bombs). Is it any wonder that many hotel chains refused to accept him on their guest list.

 Keith Moon drum solo

Moon died on 7th September 1978 at the age of 32 from an overdose of the prescription drug Heminevrin. 

Used to combat alcoholism or withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, he was given 100 tablets to use “as he pleased” but to take no more than 3 a day. 

32 were found in his system with just 6 digested (certainly enough to kill an adult).

He died at a flat in London’s Mayfair, rented to him by musician and singer Harry Nilsson. 

Spookily that same flat was also the location for “Mama” Cass Elliot’s death 4 years previously and Nilsson was concerned about letting it to Moon, considering it to be cursed. 

Fellow Who member Pete Townsend wrongly assured him that “lightning would not strike in the same place twice”. Sadly it did.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

The Baird Undersock

John Logie Baird
On Tuesday 14th June 2016 it will be the 70th anniversary of the death of Scottish inventor John Logie Baird. Baird is usually remembered for being the first person in the world to demonstrate a working television system

However it is not so well known that one of his previous inventions was a thermal style undersock, which gained him moderate success around the time of the Great War.

Devised in around 1916, the Baird Undersock was an unbleached sock sprinkled with an anti-fungal compound called Borax, that when worn under normal footwear, kept the feet dry and warm. 

These socks gained positive testimonials from servicemen serving in the trenches in France and eventually they not only helped him quit his mundane job at an electrical power company, but also move away from Scotland to a warmer climate.

Baird had always suffered from poor circulation. He felt cold nearly all of the time and often wore heavy coats even in milder weather, in an attempt to try and keep warm. His cold feet caused him major problems and over time he tried different ways to try and keep out the chill. 

He wrote in his memoirs that a favourite method he used was to remove his socks, wrap his bare feet in newspaper to absorb any moisture, and then put the socks back on again, over the paper.

Taking this idea forward, he managed to get a supply of half-hose socks from a company in Yorkshire, sprinkled Borax on them and packaged them up with a leaflet outlining their advantages. 

They were then advertised in The People’s Friend - a British national periodical magazine - for sale at a price of 9 old pennies a pair, inclusive of postage. However from this original advert, he only managed one sale causing a major re-think to his advertising and sales strategy.

Baird then set out as a travelling salesman, placing the socks in pharmacies and drapers in and around his native Glasgow area and soon enough the repeat orders started to come in. 

It wasn’t long before he was in a position to take on a team of salesmen, supplying not only to Scotland, but down into England as well. 

He also employed a team of women wearing sandwich boards, who walked around Glasgow city centre advertising the socks. This was a masterstroke as it not only took the advertising out on to the street, but captured the attention of the local press thereby creating even more business.

In one advertisement he stated that “The socks are perfectly pure and antiseptic, and, when worn under the ordinary sock, keep the feet beautifully warm in winter. In summer the socks may be worn alone, and worn thus keeping the feet wonderfully cool and fresh in the hottest weather.” 

This message was immediately followed by three testimonials from soldiers serving in the British Expeditionary Forces in France.

In the latter stages of the war the sales of the Baird Undersock started to take off and by that time he was earning the same amount in a week as he would have done back at the power station in a year. 

But as hostilities came to an end, the business slowed down and during a period while Baird was suffering another bout of ill-health, it came to a grinding halt.

Because of his aversion to the cold, he decided to relocate to a warmer climate and with the money made from the Undersock, he went to live in Trinidad where it is believed he secretly started to experiment with bright flashing lights!

After suffering bouts of malaria and dysentery, it wasn’t long before he returned home to the UK and within seven short years his Caribbean adventures resulted in what was to ultimately become his most famous invention.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

Chicago Cubs' Anniversaries

Wrigley Field
The next few days sees two anniversaries for the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

100 years ago on 20 April 1916, they played their first game at Wrigley Field (then known as Weeghman Park), defeating the Cincinnati Reds 7-6 after 11 innings. The stadium, which opened in 1914, was renamed Wrigley Field in 1927 after the chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jnr.
The iconic red marquee

Based on the north side of the city, it is known for its ivy covered brick outfield wall, the red marquee over the main entrance and the hand operated scoreboard.

75 years ago on the 26 Apr 1941, the first organ was played in a Major League Baseball stadium when the Chicago Cubs brought one into Wrigley Field as a one-day gimmick. It proved popular and the tradition soon became established.

The War That Never Was!

Scilly Isles off the Cornish coast
30 years ago today, the 335 Years’ War between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly ended with a peace treaty being signed. This war had been long forgotten and many people regarded it as a myth until historical records were unearthed showing they were technically still at war.

The origins of the conflict can be found in the mid-17th century with the Second English Civil War, fought between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians.

Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell had managed to push the Royalists out to the edges of the kingdom, leaving Cornwall as the last patriotic stronghold, but in 1648 a further advance sent the Royalist Navy to retreat out to the Isles of Scilly (off the Cornish coast).

Meanwhile after being assisted by the English on numerous previous occasions throughout the Eighty years war, the Netherlands decided to maintain their alliance by entering the conflict on the side of Cromwell and the Parliamentarians, after identifying them as the most likely victors. This act infuriated the Royalists who considered themselves as their long term allies, causing them to avenge their former friends by raiding Dutch shipping lanes in the English Channel.

Admiral Tromp
In 1651 the Dutch, seeking an opportunity to recoup losses incurred from Royalist raids, sent a fleet of 12 warships to the Isles of Scilly to demand reparations. After receiving no satisfactory answer from the Royalists, the Dutch Admiral Maarten Tromp subsequently declared war on the Isles of Scilly on the 30th March 1651.

3 months later in June 1651, Cromwell’s army forced a Royalist surrender reverting the Islands back to Parliamentarian control and subsequently the Dutch fleet sailed home forgetting to ever declare peace with the Scilly Isles.

Netherlands Embassy
In 1985 a Scillonian historian Roy Duncan wrote to the Dutch embassy in London in an attempt to clear up a long talked about myth of a war. Imagine the shock on both sides when they came across a number of documents suggesting the two were still technically at war with each other.

Consequently Dutch ambassador Rein Huydecoper was invited to visit the Islands and peace was finally declared by the signing of a treaty on 17 April 1986, 335 years after the "hostilities" began.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Helen Rollason

Every year at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) ceremony, there is an award given "for outstanding achievement in the face of adversity". This award is named after the former BBC sports presenter and journalist Helen Rollason, who died in August 1999 after a 2 year battle with cancer of the colon, spreading to her liver.

After her diagnosis, she helped raise over £5m to set up a cancer wing at the North Middlesex Hospital where she received much of her treatment.

Recipients of the award include the likes of horse racing trainer Jenny Pitman, Paralympian sprinter Oscar Pistorius, boxer Michael Watson, snooker player Paul Hunter and Grand National winning jockey Bob Champion.

Helen would have been celebrating her 60th birthday today (11th March 2016)

Sunday, 31 January 2016

RIP January 2016

Glenn Frey
January 2016 has rapidly come to a close and it is noticeable how many celebrities have left us during the month.

Amongst others, these have included:

Actors, Alan Rickman 69 (Harry Potter, Die Hard, Love Actually - pancreatic cancer), Dan Haggerty 74 (The Life and Times of Grizzy Adams - spinal cancer) and
Frank Finlay 89 (Bouquet of Barbed Wire - undisclosed causes).

Musicians, David Bowie 69 (liver cancer), Glenn Frey 67 (Eagles - complications following intestinal surgery and Paul Kantner 74 (Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship – multiple organ failure.

Earlier in the month British disc-jockey and radio broadcaster Ed Stewart died aged 74  after suffering a stroke, and today the sad news has broken of the passing of Irish-British radio and TV broadcasting legend, Sir Terry Wogan at the age of 77, after a short battle with cancer.

I always put Sir Terry in the same bracket as Cilla Black (who left us in the latter half of 2015). Both were UK TV/Radio institutions, with Cilla being the face of ITV and Sir Terry performing a similar duty with the BBC. Both of them were greatly loved, seemed perfectly at home with all sections of the population and were reportedly genuinely nice people.

 Cilla interviewed by Sir Terry

I grew up listening to Sir Terry on radio and watching him on TV. No-one is immortal, but you always had this notion that he would be around forever and even his colleagues on BBC Radio 2 were expecting his return to his Sunday morning programme next month.

The fact that he pulled out at the last minute of last November’s BBC Children in Need appeal on TV maybe should have brought about an idea that he was not in the best of health, but until today there would not have been too many people who wouldn’t have expected him to front the 2016 appeal.

January 2016 has been a sad month for many reasons and this has certainly not been improved by the loss of Sir Terry Wogan. RIP.