Apollo 11 – the Moon landing’s legacy

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Hand’s up who remembers 21st July 1969? Did your parents wake you up, in what felt like the middle of the night, to watch on a small black and white TV screen the moment that Neil Armstrong, leader of the Apollo 11 mission, stepped out of the Lunar Module (‘Eagle’) to became the first person to walk onto the lunar surface? There are a handful of childhood events, including this momentous step, that this viewer, as an eleven year old, remembers with absolute awe and clarity.

The enormity of men being shot into space ahead a giant fuel canister to orbit the Earth and then be pointed in a different trajectory to the Moon’s orbit and surface, there to land safely, open the sealed hatch and climb out. Simply breathtaking both in its spirit and execution. The First Walk on the Moon was simply awe inspiring.

Armstrong was followed onto the Moon’s surface by his co-venturers, Buzz Aldrin. They spent a couple of hours making auspicious speeches and collecting rocks. After nearly a day in the Sea of Tranquility they blasted back to the command module (‘Columbia’) piloted by Michael Collins. They were returned to terra firma having safely splashed down in the Pacific on 24th July 1969.

I was certainly old enough to realize that the Mission to the Moon was the most magical blend of evolutionary technology of semi-conductors and computers, the guile of America’s military aviators, the obviously immense resources of the NASA Space Program. It was also the culmination of the dream of a brilliant and driven leader, the late President John F. Kennedy, who in 1961 launched his country’s aim to land a man safely on the Moon before the end of the decade.

Aside from the warm and fuzzy feeling of all things vintage and American, Coke fridges, leather sleeved varsity jackets, Levi’s and classic muscle cars what else can be seen as the legacy of man’s early musings with space travel?

The Apollo mission kick-started a series of major innovations the legacy of which continue to be seen, felt and enjoyed today. Some of the many spin-offs from the Space Race include the following:

The Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT) scanner now more regularly used to detect cancer and other abnormalities was used to identify any imperfections in space components that would only be magnified by the unique stresses and environmental issues associated with zero gravity and the g-force associated with space travel.

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The Computer Microchip, the integrated circuits and semi-conductors used in the Apollo mission’s guidance software spawned the modern microchip that appears in everything from you laptop, to you TV remote control and your oven’s regulatory systems.

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Cordless tools. Lacking the inability to plug in electrical tools on the Moon’s surface, power tools including cordless drills and vacuum cleaners were developed – initially by Black & Decker in 1961 – with integral battery packs enabling the collection of rock and dust samples.

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In-Ear Infrared thermometer. A detector of infrared energy that is felt as heat that was developed to monitor the birth of stars found an alternative use with In-Ear thermometers.

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Freeze-dried food. Since the Moon mission we have been fascinated by rehydrated food, Thai pot soups, noodle dishes and the like. Originally devised to minimize weight these packets of goodness fueled the men in space. This technology had first been developed in the Second World War for carrying blood long distances without refrigeration. Nasa was first to create freeze dried iced cream – but it doesn’t seem to have been that popular amongst the astronauts.

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Home Insulation materials. If you have ever unrolled in the your attic reflective insulated matting you may not know that the shiny material used was developed to deflect radiation away from spacecrafts.

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Invisible braces. Each of my three children has received the attention of the dentists and the application of braces that resulted in perfectly straight teeth. The process has been improved by the use of transparent ceramic brace brackets made from materials developed for spacecraft.

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Joysticks as used on computer gaming consoles were devised for Apollo Lunar Rover.

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Memory foam – for many, me excluded, they say that sleeping on a memory foam mattress or pillow results in a splendid night’s sleep. For me they are usually too firm but the underlying tech was created to improve the comfort of aircraft seats and helmets.

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You may not be surprised to hear that satellite television technology, primarily devised to repair relay signals from spacecrafts and to unscramble satellite sound and images sent from space now sits at the core of home satellite driven services.

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At the optician when ordering a new pair of glasses you will almost certainly have been asked if you would like a ‘scratch resistant coating’ to be added. Substantially improving the long term wear and tear on glasses these coatings were developed to make astronaut helmet visors scratch resistant.

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Whilst shoe insoles have been around for years, indeed the likes of trusty beach worn Birkenstocks are based on the eponymous insole a challenge for athletic shoe companies was to adapt an insole for the Space missions boot designs to maximize on ventilation and springy comfort.

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An absolute must around any home is a smoke detector with good batteries. It may surprise you to know that Nasa invented the first adjustable smoke detector that was programmed with a level of sensitivity that prevented false alarms. Just as essential in the small cabins on board spacecrafts.

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The design of a space rocket is perhaps a classic example of drag reduction. Interestingly Nasa deployed the same principles of drag reduction to help create for Speedo a world beating, but highly controversial, swimsuit the LZR Racer.

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Aside from bottled oxygen, filtered and clean water was one of vital elements needed in space. NASA developed a filtering technique that killed bacteria in water. This has subsequently been used to deliver filtered water in millions of homes.

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Velcro – whilst not strictly a product developed for the Space Race, the system of a hook-and-loop fastener was originally conceived in 1941 by a Swiss engineer George de Mestral. NASA made significant use of touch fasteners in myriad of ways including the closing of astronauts’ suits, anchoring equipment during maintained and for trays at mealtimes to avoid them floating away.

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Artificial limbs – Nasa is a world leader in the science of robotics devised primarily to remotely control space vehicles. The technology had been adopted to give artificial limbs greater functionality.

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If you have ever completed the London Marathon, for example, you may recall crossing the line to be shrouded in a silver foil blanket. These blankets were developed in 1964 they are excellent at  reflecting infrared radiation but they also enable the body to they retain heat and reduce the risks from hypothermia.

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The Bacon hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell celebrated British engineer, Tom Bacon, developed an existing and century old technology to create a patented fuel cell that provided electrical power for the Apollo mission. The science that combined hydrogen and oxygen to create a reaction that caused heat that could be converted to electricity also had a useful by-product, water: which the astronauts drank. Fuel cells have been used to create electric vehicles including the Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity and Mercedes-Benz F-Cell, where the technology is seen as a having great green credentials.

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The Omega Speedmaster Moonwatch is part of a range of manually winded chronometers launched by the Swiss watch brand in 1957 and used as part of Omega’s role as the official timekeeper for the Olympic Games. The “Moonwatch”, a combination of both timepiece and stopwatch, was water-resistant, shock-proof, and could withstand 12Gs of acceleration endured by the astronauts during their mission. It was first worn during NASA’s Gemini missions that included the first space walk. The Moonwatch was on the wrists of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, when the former two took their first steps on the Moon. It remains a firm favourite with those who love this Swiss watch brand which has created a series of Special Editions to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the first Moon landing.

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Crocs

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They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, if so, the bosses at Crocs must have been be swollen with pride. Or were they?

Perhaps the most blatantly ripped off shoes, er… in the history of jelly shoe rip-offs – Fakes infringing the patents owned by Crocs – called “croc-offs”- can now be purchased at leading hyper markets at a bargain basement price point. A supermarket pair of knocked off at €7.99 are a sorry challenge to the real thing that you can buy on Amazon from €19.00. The hookie versions are not as good as, or even similar, in quality to the originals, but how often can that be said.

Why is this product so clearly ripe for rip-off? Crocs are “good” but they are not a Louis Vuitton handbags or a Rolex watches.

The manufacturers has striven to make a distinguishable difference between their better designed and better made products in an apparent ambivalence to the knock off version. 

Fluffy linings, flip-flop versions, extreme paint jobs and themed versions have not save this iconic product from throwing itself on its sword as it was announced in August 2018 that in the light of the wholesale rip-off market Crocs will be ceasing production and closing its manufacturing facilities. Curiously the announcement went on to say that production would be shifted to third parties “to meet the growing demand for Crocs.” It seems the future for a version of Crocs is “bright and bold”. May be its worth storing in your wardrobe a pair as they become scare and increase in value.

I have a pair that resemble a French maritime uniform they are unbelievably comfortable and comprehensively over deliver in most respects. That said they are a little prone to make already hot feet a little stickier. They are not particularly good looking but neither were their wooden antecedents.

See here a piece I did for Aestheticons on Jeremy Atkinson a Master English Clog Maker Jeremy Atkinson – The Last English Clog maker

What’s the story of these favoured jelly shoes that have become the guilty pleasure for many of us.

Founded by Scott Seamans, Lyndon “Duke” Hanson, and George Boedecker, Jr. who had acquired the design from a third party. Originally intended for the boating community the injection mounded foam clog was launched at the Fort Luaderdale Boat Show in 2002 with two hundred pairs being sold.

Word has it that over 300 million pairs of shoes have been legitimately made. In plants in Mexico and Italy. There have been many colourful variations including those decorated with bling called “jibbitz” – the company that created these was acquired by Croc in 2006 – that clip into the holes on the upper. In 2008 a pair of Croc styled golf shoes called “the Ace” were launched.

The subject of some controversy Crocs had become the preferred footwear for the medical profession. Now effectively banned for anti-static reasons; though Croc has responded producing pairs that dissipate static. The shoes have featured in more contentious situations including several claims, particularly in Japan from parents that argued their kids Crocs had become dangerously lodged in escalators.

Image Credits – Crocs

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Hobie Catamarans

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Like many I suffer from seasickness. The only real way I have ever been able to cure my “Mal de Mer” is to do one compellingly easy thing. If you are on a small sailing craft, a refurbished Thames Barge lunging down the East Coast of the UK or on a Cross-Channel ferry – stay outside. There is something in the combination of salt air, the roll of the sea, and the wind in your face that combines to prevent the inevitable heave!

Years ago a couple of friends suggested I should try wind-surfing. It was long before the invention of kite surfing and years before I was to fall in love with Tarifa on Spain’s Costa de la Luz. It was my second sailing experience but like my first it was on a reservoir this time, a former gravel pit, St Mary’s Reservoir near London’s Heathrow Airport.

After not many lessons I mastered the trick of standing on the surf board, lifting a knotted rope to engage the mast and triangular sail, a few square metres of clear plastic, and a wishbone that required quite careful control. It helped to have some understanding of the way of the wind. I was soon pelting across the water jibing and tacking to avoid a drop into the merkey depths. A bright spark then suggested I should consider a sailing holiday.

Sunsail – still a respected operator – in Bodrum (Turkey) was the preferred location and after a barrel of Turkish beer, a fight in the Halikanas night club and shots of raki, I found myself at the shoreline wearing an orange life vest. The wind surfing was wonderful, great beach, good waves and a brilliant hippy vibe but the one thing that really caused my adrenaline to pump was riding the Hobie Cats!

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One of the instructors who’d already spent years in Mirror Dingys, GP14 and the like was an excellent coach. We hit the trampoline of the Hobie and he explained to me both the agility of this excellent craft and the fact that, if I felt up to it, I could find my self on a trapeze hanging at perilous angels over the side as it approached maximum speed. They were amazing and whist I never really mastered the tiller of these simple crafts or the full extent of the trapeze the ride was breathtaking.

So where did the iconic Hobie Cats come from?

In the early 1960’s, at Laguna Beach (California USA) a foam and fiber glass surf and skate board manufacturer and surf team entrepreneur, Canadian born Hobart Alter, set up, with his Father’s help, a surf shop. He had determined at a young age that he wanted to make a living that didn’t involve wearing “hard soled shoes”!

Hobart saw and was influenced by the Aqua Cat catamaran designed by Arthur Javes. For Alter, the Aqua Cat suffered as it needed a dagger board to ensure under-sail stability. He set to work to re-imagine the catamaran.

The first dagger-boardless Hobie Cat, that could be easily beached and launched into the surf, was built in 1965 with two asymmetrical – banana shaped – hulls, a connecting trampoline and aluminium mast.

The Hobie Cat Company was founded in 1967 and in 1971 the Hobie 16, designed by Alter and Phil Edwards was launched.

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The robust Hobie 16 – which I sailed in Turkey – has become the world’s most popular catamaran, with over 135,000 manufactured to date in the US and France. Later versions of the Hobie 16 included a two piece fibre-glass composite mast after the families of owners in the US successfully sued the Hobie Cat Company arguing that deaths by electrocution had been caused by hoisting the aluminium mast near overhead power lines…..

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Image Credits – images used with grateful thanks Pinterest, the Hobie Cat Company and Wikipedia.

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Deck Chair

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As the Summer swelter continues, up goes an impassioned plea “Lead me to my deck chair!!”.

The humble deck chair ….Perhaps? Or the well travelled ship’s “deck chair” – if this linen and teak could talk imagine the gossip it holds – from a Golden Era of luxury transatlantic ocean liner travel. Or the End of The Pier, seagull serenaded, fish and chips frying, spearmint rock munching of Brighton, Cromer or Southend – the World’s longest.

Called a Lawn Chair in the US, the Deck Chair has an illustrious history. It was the victim of some on board snobbery. Around the turn of the 20th century, first class passengers would typically enjoy the padded loveliness of a “Steamer” deck chair -Port Out Starboard Home – their legs raised and clad in a woolen rug, invariably sipping broth, if the climate demanded, whilst more lowly passengers would enjoy their trip on a slung hammock canvas and teak deck chair that could be positioned to follow the sun around the deck and be folded for easy stowage.

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The origins of the folding chair has its history in Ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt. More recently, patents were obtained in the 1880’s in the US and UK for the classic steamer chair. R Holman & Co of Boston (Mass) were the manufactures of the Steamer Deck Chairs that graced the deck of the SS Titanic. Of the 600 supplied only six survived – below is a shot of one.

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There is some debate as to the precise origins of the more rudimentary wooden framed version. Primarily it comprises two rectangualar wooden frames, hinged, with an adjustable back piece and a single length of canvas forming the seat and backrest. Some sources  attribute it to a British inventor, Atkins, in the late 19th Century whereas others credit its design to being similar to “The Yankee Hammock Chair” as advertised in 1882.  The name “Brighton Beach Chair” also seems to predate our currently understood use of “Deck Chair”.

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In my Grandmother’s house in Hertfordshire – I think it was 1976 – she had a row of Edwardian faded green canvas chairs which not only had arms and a footrest but also a large sun canopy that flapped in whatever pathetic excuse for a breeze we had that summer. I recall that the covers perished quite frequently and the local nurseryman supplied rolls of 18” wide canvass to restring your chair. The look was completed by a white parasol, two Lloyd Loom chairs – see our previous post here – Lloyd Loom Chairs – and a bentwood table covered in a circular linen tablecloth with a jug of iced lemonade and tall glasses covered in weighted net – to avoid the flies.

Similar products are still made today by people such as Southsea Deckchairs Southsea Deckchairs

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Images used with grateful thanks – Southsea Dechairs and The V&A Museum

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The Stone Roses

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Music has for close to fifty years been a key component of the jigsaw of my life. I have loved music since I was a child captured by the exotica associated with some fine recording artists including Three Bob’s, Dylan – see my earlier post here – Bob Dylan  – Marley and Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, The Eagles, The Doors, Paul Simon, The Rolling Stones and Tom Waits.

In later years, and for the best part of quarter of a century, I earned my living in the Law, specifically Music Law representing some fascinating entrepreneurs, vagabonds and minstrels. It paid the bills and kept my music opiates topped up. I met some truly extraordinary people, who often lived complicated but wonderful lives devoted to engaging and entertaining others. Equally, I have met a fair proportion of consummate egoists, disinterested in those who don’t pander to them.

Simply put, music talks to my soul. It evokes memories. It causes the recall of sights, sounds and emotions.

Asked for my favourite song – that’s easy – U2’s “One”. I can rarely listen that complete wonder of a composition without tears in my eyes.

My favourite – what we used to call “Album” – being a collection of several songs that the artist (or their record company) has deliberately chosen to join together in some overall theme, concept or message. Honestly, again, that’s an easy one, the 1989 iconic debut album of the Manchester band “The Stone Roses” is simply one of the most complete and luxuriously beautiful bodies of work ever collected onto a 12” vinyl record, 4” digital CD or stream.

Depending on the format and country of release, “The Stone Roses” comprises a minimum of 12 recording that lasso a time, a mood and a vibe of the UK pre-BritPop explosion of the early 1990’s. Along with fellow Manc, The Happy Mondays, this album defined an era and is the soundtrack to the lives of me and many of my contemporaries.

Ian Brown (vocals) and John Squire (guitars) who had known each other from Altrincham Grammar School For Boys – somewhere I often played rugby on Saturday mornings in the late 1970’s – formed and disbanded several bands prior to being joined by Gary “Mani” Mounfield (bass) and Alan John “Reni” Wren (drums) to form The Stone Roses (Squire’s name), a guitar indi-rock band that sprung from the vibrant Madchester scene of the UK’s second city.

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Having composed and recorded songs for a demo, the band sent out 100 demo cassettes that featured the artwork of Squire, a very talented fine artist. This was followed by touring, further production and the release of some tracks to little commercial effect.

In August 1988 the band played Dingwalls in London in the presence of A&R representatives from South African owned label, Zomba and Geoff Travis one of the founders of the seminal indie, Rough Trade.

Rough Trade paid for some studio time and suggested Peter Hook bassist with New Order as a potential producer, when Hook was unavailable, Geoff suggested John Leckie a former Abbey Road award winning producer with an amazing production pedigree including Pink Floyd, XTC and Radiohead. The Stone Rose were signed to Zomba by Roddy McKenna and appeared on Andrew Lauder and Andy Richmond’s  Silvertone inprint. Rough Trade sold their tapes of “Elephant Stone” to Zomba.

Singles from the eponymous album were released in early 1989 and drew the attention of the all important Radio One. The Album, with John Squire/Jackson Pollock inspired artwork, was released on 2nd May 1989, went on to win the NME Reader’s Poll for Best Album of the Year. The Album is certified in the UK as triple platinum, notching sales in excess of 900,000 units.

To add a copy of The Stone Roses to your collection – click the link below the image:

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The Stone Roses (20th Anniversary Legacy Edition)

Images used with grateful thanks – Sony Music and Ian Tilton/NME

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Radio Flyer

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If you, like me, are a fan of US movies and TV series, then the iconic Radio Flyer will be more than familiar. Indeed, I know they must be sold in other parts of the world, but like so many everyday iconic items of US life – check out our earlier post on Iconic US Sweets/Candies –  Iconic American Candy – Part 1 – I don’t think I have seen one for sale in the UK. Certainly, when my kids would have loved such a product they weren’t available.

For generations, US kids have carted themselves, several siblings, pets, toys and other important treasures in these charming red trolley wagons. A wonderful item  of great simplicity that’s use is limited only by the depths of a child’s imagination. As American as “Milk Duds” but what’s their story?

2017 saw the celebration of the first hundred years of the Radio Flyer. Antonio Pasin, a Venetian born son of a cabinet maker who, aged 16, in 1913 arrived in New York City to start a new life. In 1917, in Chicago, he started building wooden toy wagons and selling them to local shops. He was a jobbing joiner who built the wooden wagons to carry his tools.

Demand for the wagons led to Pasin forming the Liberty Coaster Company in 1923, and ten years after he made his first wooden wagons he was making pressed steel versions and selling them for just under $3.00. He was very interested in the many production techniques used in the local car industry, earning himself the nickname “Little Ford”. In the 1930’s he produced several versions of his “Liberty Coaster” including The Streak-O-Lite” and The Zephyr that echoed the Chrysler Airflow.

Renaming the company in 1930 the Radio Steel and Manufacturing, the brand name “Radio Flyer” stemming from Pasin’s fascination with the pioneers of Radio (Marconi) and Flight (Lindbergh).

Production was interrupted during the latter stages of the Second World War and turned to oil drum manufacture but the company survived. In 1987 Radio Steel and Manufacturinf became “Radio Flyer Inc” which has been overseen by Pasin’s grandson, Robert as CEO, since 1997.

The company’s range of Radio Flyer and associated products grows annually and aside from being voted a great company to work for, its iconic products are rooted deep in the warmth of the American psyche.

Images used with grateful thanks – Radio Flyer Inc., ClassicCars.com and Vintage Vending Inc.

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Black Cabs – London’s Taxis

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Any visitor to London cannot fail to notice that aside from the usual array of private cars, bikes/scooters and delivery vans that the streets are punctuated with two of perhaps the World’s most recognizable and iconic vehicles. The red London Bus – see our previous post here that features the New Routemaster Bus – Thomas Heatherwick – and the Black Cabs – London’s Taxis or more properly “Hackney Carriages”.

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It may be just an impression but certain parts of the West End, that are not already bus and taxi only, but fall within the Congestion Charge Zone – and a daily rate of £11.50 – have taken on a new character. They seem to flow better and are sparsely occupied by private vehicles but are dominated by well managed public transport provided by Transport for London (TfL) – see here our piece on the iconic London Transport Roundels –  London Transport roundels  – and the Carriage Office – the body responsible for the Black Cabs.

The Black Cab is undergoing a revolution. The streets are a battleground where private mini-cabs, recently licence-reprieved Uber cars and Black Cabs vie to secure a ride but they reflect a clash of cultures. The Black Cab driver knows where he/she’s going having successfully completed the Knowledge see our previous post here – London A-Z street atlas – The Knowledge  – whilst the mini-cab or Uber drivers world is linked to one of the many digital street services following pre-selected routes that guide the driver to the chosen post code. Simple but not foolproof!

Price is an issue but I tend to prefer the comfort of Black Cabs. However, with respect to those Uber drivers that I have met, the London Cabbie is often overall much better “value”. They tend to be better informed about London, its Mayor and its political life, the perils of supporting one of London’s eleven football teams, the most recent celebrity they carried and the best route to avoid congestion.

Cabbie’s opinions matter. In a recent and highly effective Twitter piece, Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson, the US Ambassador to the UK – probably as a result of looking for someone to go “Sarf of the River” to the new US Embassy in Vauxhall – toured several of the thirteen remaining London’s Green Cabbie’s shelters. The driver’s opinions on Brexit and the US President seem very welcome. US Ambassador Cab Shelter Tour 

A new Black Cab appeared on the streets of London at the end of 2017 competing with the most recent diesel version of the iconic Black Cab, the TX4, that was produced between 2007 and 2017. Called the LEVC “TX” and seen below next to an older TX4, the cab is built in a new Chinese owned factory outside Coventry and combines a 1.5l petrol engine with a 110kW lithium battery driven electric motor. Conforming perfectly to the zeroing of diesel emissions and the promotion of the recharge economy.

 

A recent journey in the new cab, that tend to be rented by Cabbie’s for under £200 per  week on a five year deal, suggests the comfort is still very much there. The new cab’s driver explained the electric motor delivered around 70 to 80 miles on one 50p electricity recharge and whilst the TX leasing arrangement is slightly more costly, the fuel saving is expected to be around £100 per week. Will this bring cab fares more in line with Uber’s prices?

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Other cities around the world have their own distinctive cabs, the canary Yellow Cabs – Medallion Taxi – that have superseded their checker forerunners – in New York, the Black Body and Yellow Doors in Barcelona but in its own right London’s iconic Black Cab – a vehicle designed and built for a single task – should be seen a beacon of security in an unfamiliar city. Just don’t try and flag on done if its yellow roof light is not illuminated – its occupied!

Images used with grateful thanks – Transport For Londons, Daily Telegraph and LEVC TX.

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