I am at the council recycling depot, wanting to recycle some books, but the book recycling thing is full. On enquiring, the high-vis man thinks me stupid. “Chuck them in the waste card and paper, then,” he says, like the answer is obvious, and I suppose it is. But he doesn’t understand; these books are important, and must be recycled, as books. I have no idea if that is indeed the function of the book recycling thing, but have persuaded myself it is for, though I do not want to see them on my shelves any more, I cannot have them actually, knowingly, destroyed. The knowledge in these books, though precious and hard won by the toil and intellect of centuries, is no longer relevant to me, though I have clung to them for forty years, thinking that it was. Destruction is, perhaps, the more powerful symbol, a truer sacrifice…
A very large bouquet of flowers arrived at home from my boss. He had checked in on Wednesday to see if she knew where I was! I had phoned during the night, so she knew. I did call him later of course.
Communication with the Airline and crew was via a large notice board in the Hotel reception. We were told to check back at least at meal times to find out about how we were getting home. But that did give us time to wander around the town. Not that there was much to see.
Much of the town was left over from the Ernest Harmer US Air Base. Built during the second World War, it was extended to allow long range bombers to refuel on their way to USSR. Through the wire perimeter a long long runway disappeared into the distance. The end where our planes were parked had been built into the sea. Wide roads spread out from the base, built by the US AF engineers. Passers-by told me that when the military left, in 1961, the buildings were made into community buildings and the college. Many from the other planes were sleeping there, on camp-beds in the gym and halls.
We had heard that it was around 36 hours before the last of the 10 planes here at Stephenville had de-boarded. They must have had a bad time on board. It had taken the locals a long time to find accommodation for the last 250 or so. Most ended up in private houses high up in the hills a couple of hours drive away. I felt really really lucky to have been one of the first off, although we did hear great stories of the fabulous hospitality. Many told me off being taken on tours of the area and way out to the coastal edges to go whale hunting.
So I went off to find the whales. The small harbour advertised day long Whale spotting tours, but as we had to check in every few hours, I decided to walk along the coast looking out for myself. It was a rocky beach, looking like rubble from the airport extension, with low bungalows along the coastal road. A lovely sunny day, great spotting weather, but the bay was more of a natural, an unlikely spot to see whales or dolphins. A local said you were more likely to see an iceberg there than a whale.
So I wandered back to town, returning to Paddy’s Pub. A few of us from the hotel had found this the previous evening. A 10 minute walk up Main Street. Paddy’s Pub also was a Bookkeeping and Accounting shop, Laundromat; Tatto Parlour and Denture Clinic. (Its still there, I just checked, with the same sign outside). Beer was cheap and local people were friendly and wanted to hear our stories.
I was still mainly dressed ready to go straight into a business meeting on Tuesday afternoon. The trousers and shirt were getting a bit stale, so I decided to go Canadian. Walmart had some jeans, but how about a checked shirt, none left in the whole town. A nice gift shop, Beavercraft, was doing a good trade in t-shirts and jumpers, but had quickly sold out of normal sizes. I had to make do with a red jumper with Puffins and Whales embroidered across the front. It’s one of those jumpers you only wear to prompt a conversation about Newfoundland.
After dinner, a few of us wandered back down to Paddy’s Pub. The weather had changed, it was raining so we dashed along the street, arriving at a packed bar, steaming and rocking with singing. Not the traditional folk songs, it was Karaoke night. And surprise, there was our planes crew.
The crew had been separated from the passengers straight after we got off the plane on Tuesday, to stay in separate accommodation, for their security. But this was probably our last night, so they hit the town. Was singing, some of the local people so this as their chance of fame and sang their hearts out for us. Quality varied, from diabolical to emotionally lovely.
I suppose in our long or short lives we have occasionally woken to strange feelings, strange thoughts. What happened, where am I, what am I doing in this place? Wednesday 12th September 2001 was like that for many people. I do recall thinking – did that really happen yesterday?
Many in the hotel didn’t get to bed until late; with being on a plane flying to New York on 9/11 that is; held on the plane for 6 hours; registered with the Red Cross as a refugee and welcomed by the Salvation Army into a country you had not expected to be in. I was in a hotel with a free bar and buffet. When I couldn’t stay up watching CNN any longer, I headed to the shared room. Carlos the Columbian, my bed mate, who I was chatting to earlier in the bar, had stayed down there. So I had the king size bed to myself for now. The nice english couple I shared the room with were tucked up on the sofa-bed. I offered to swap, but thankfully they decided to stay where they were. So that morning I woke to find I had the bed to myself and my thoughts about what had happened yesterday.
Carlos was at breakfast; he stayed up drinking and then decided he didn’t want to share a bed so had slept on a sofa in the hotel reception. He stayed there each night until we left. The hotel staff thought he was a drug baron, on his way home after successful trip to Manchester. Thinking about him now he definitely had a look of Pablo Escobar and was distinctly reticent about his business, so perhaps he was in the drugs business.
I checked in with my boss back in the UK. Phil was great, nothing was too much – charge everything to the business. Not that I needed anything really, our kind hosts provided everything in the hotel, apart from a change of clothing. He sounded as if it was his fault we were stuck in this lovely place. Almost apologetic for not knowing which flight I was on, he was so relieved as I told him the event of yesterdays jounrey. Travel arrangements were our responsibility then, no agents to help us and keep an eye on our costs and where we were going. Phil he they rushed out and bought a TV for the office to watch the events unfold. Eventually, they worked out that we were not on the lost planes, but still didn’t know where I was until I called in. He mentioned, in passing, that a conference call had been set up that morning for the project I was working on.
I was supposed to be helping negotiate unwinding Concert, BT’s short lived joint venture with AT&T. A team of BT executives were flying into White Plains, New York, from all over Europe. We were on different flights, and now spread across different airports; St Johns, Gander, Boston, while some planes had turned back as they hadn’t got across the Atlantic. The call was awkward, I was in a shared hotel room, on a hotel telephone line. The head of the project, Tim Smart, checked around those on the call; were we OK, did we need anything any help? As though they could actually do anything? After concerns were expressed and stories of our nights were swopped, the call turned to what work we were going to do today. There was a silence; clearly those back in London hadn’t properly understood what was going on and particularly the effect this was having on our American partners. Or maybe they had and saw an opportunity to get one over them. So I explained that our mobiles didn’t work, our laptops couldn’t connect to the email systems, and anyway, none of the power plugs we had fitted in the unique Canadian sockets so my battery was dead. We left it that we would try and keep in touch and went our ways.
Outside, the weather was lovely; blue skies; a gentle sea breeze and a slight smell of fish. Something was different though, it was difficult to put a finger on it. Someone later said, Look up, what is missing. At first you couldn’t work it out, but then realised – no flying aircraft. The sky was quiet.
Attached to the hotel was a shopping mall, mainly Walmart. So it was time for some fresh socks and pants. Taking Phil at his word, I got the best Walmart had and charged it.
The barbers were also doing a good trade, so I had my hair cut.
Twenty Years ago, today, I was on this Continental Airways plane flying from Manchester to New York.
Halfway there we were diverted to Newfoundland, US airspace was closed so all flights had to land at the nearest airport. Airspace above Canada was full of plane trying to find somewhere to land safely. As our plane circled above Newfoundland, there was at least one near miss, I saw a Delta plane appear out of the cloud close by, appearing out of the clouds. We landed at this deserted regional airport at Stephenville, on the west coast of Newfoundland. We were the first of 10 airliners to be parked up at the ex US Bomber Command base, with a runway said to be 3 miles long and long enough to land the Space Shuttle. While the “newfies” (the kind people of Newfoundland) decided what to do with us, we waited on the plane only being allowed out of our seats after a couple of hours. Passengers and crew didn’t know why we were there. All we were told was that there was a terrorist attack on New York. Most were calm but worried, we all had reasons to find out what was happening and get in touch with families and work. Mobile phones didn’t work, Canada had a different system from Europe and US. Nobody had radios in their hand luggage.
Our plane was the first passengers to be taken off. A school bus turned up and somewhat hesitantly we climbed down the rickety steps and taken to a small airport terminal, to be greated by the friendliest group of people you could ever meet.
After a long carfeul search of us and our hand luggage, we were ushered into a meeting room and a table leaden with sandwiches, cake, and lots of juice. An officer from the Salvation Army got up and told us what had happened in New York that morning. We were all registered as refugees by the Red Cross before boarding a bus to take us to a place to stay that night. From the window next to my seat on the plane, I had looked out over the small town of Stephenville and the airport hotel, a Holiday Inn. I couldn’t help wondering who was going to be there, but it turned out we were! Our bus did a short drive around the perimiter and pulled up to be greated by the manager and staff. We were given rooms, four passengers to a room, each with two double beds. I was set to share with Carlos, from Columbia and the other bed by an older couple on their way to holiday in Las Vegas. I had my BT charge card so lent it out to my room mates, to phone home before we realised that all calls were free. It was around 3am in the morning in the UK when I spoke to Alison, such a good call to make. Dinner and drinks were also free but all we wanted to do was watch the TV and pictures of the planes flying into the world Trade Centre. Thats could have been us.
ON THE FIRST day of class, Jerry Uelsmann, a professor at the University of Florida, divided his film photography students into two groups.
Everyone on the left side of the classroom, he explained, would be in the “quantity” group. They would be graded solely on the amount of work they produced. On the final day of class, he would tally the number of photos submitted by each student. One hundred photos would rate an A, ninety photos a B, eighty photos a C, and so on.
Meanwhile, everyone on the right side of the room would be in the “quality” group. They would be graded only on the excellence of their work. They would only need to produce one photo during the semester, but to get an A, it had to be a nearly perfect image.
At the end of the term, he was surprised to find that all the best photos were produced by the quantity group. During the semester, these students were busy taking photos, experimenting with composition and lighting, testing out various methods in the darkroom, and learning from their mistakes. In the process of creating hundreds of photos, they honed their skills. Meanwhile, the quality group sat around speculating about perfection. In the end, they had little to show for their efforts other than unverified theories and one mediocre photo.
This debate came up in my recent photography classes. Do you work out how to take a perfect photo, or blast away until you memory card is full (well thats whates usually happenes to mine) and then look for the good ones?
I think there is definately a midway aproach to taking pictures on expeidition, particuarly in tricky places like mountains, or when leading a group. I have had grumpy clients suggesting we move on when I have just stopped to record an usual fungi. Hanging onto a stemple on a 4/c Via-Ferrata is no time to blast away with bracketed exposure or trying to grab the Golden Rule framing. Although there are some photographers out there that do that, take friends or clients back to just the right spot for a re-shoot, I’m not one of those.
My early Academic life was not good, way down the class at junior school. Failing the critical 11+, I was off to a technical school which then merged with the secondary modern next door. I started to achieve academically at secondary school when subjects became less a memory test, more working things out.
So I was quite good at Maths and Science, but still struggled with English and memory subjects such as Languages and History. Geography was my favourite, but we couldn’t afford the felt-tip pens.
Consistently top of the class at Physics and Geography, I sailed through most my GCE’s (let down by English Lit, an only fail), and could then dare to think about getting to university. But first I needed to switch to the High School, actually next door on the site.
There, I was good but no longer the best at my subjects, but did manage to get into get good A-Levels. I actually got better results in Chemistry than Physics. Our teacher spotting what we had to do in the practical part of the Chemistry exam. He gave an intensive coaching on how to run the experiment and most got excellent marks that year.
So, it was off to Durham University to study Physics. I felt like I had returned to junior school. I was very much an also ran in my subjects and after managing to scrape into the second year, I drifted into other things, like running the college bar and joining the Mountaineering Society. My scaling of the Academic heights ended with a gentleman’s degree.
While working at the Post Office I was lucky to gain a place at on a sandwich course to train as an Accountant and so gain qualifications in quick time. Now this was something I found I could do really well. I sailed through my exams, A for every paper, apart from a ‘B’ in Business Law, another memory subject.
When the results for Part I came out, I was called into the office of the Head of the college. I was actually being trained at the Royal Army Corps base at Worthy Down, Winchester so I had to meet the Colonel.
He said, ” I have some good news and some bad news for you.”
“First the good news; you have achieved Third Place in the country in the overall exams and won a prize for your Cost Accounting Paper.”
“The bad news is that your employer hasn’t paid your fees, so you can’t have the prize.”
But we eventually sorted the fees and I got a certificate and a cheque for £50 along with some great congratulation letters from the CFO and Head of Finance of the PO Telephones as it was then. I even got to meet the Chairman, Sir George Jefferson, who was very pleased with my results.
I have looked high and low for the photo I had of the presentation, but it has got lost in my appalling filing system. When I come across it, I’ll share that!
Difficult question this one, there’s really not one moment I can think of that stands out. But this stories must have had some impact.
At junior school my academic stars had yet to shine. I was always down at the bottom of the A-stream at Linthorpe School, not a good place to be in the days of the 11 plus. My English was particularly poor and so one day I was surprised to be top of the class in our latest punctuation test. Mrs Hughes, our dragon of a teacher, was so shocked she insisted on a re-mark. I lost a few marks, dropping my place down to second or third. Nobody else was re-marked and the unfairness was made worse by spotting that Mrs Hughes changed some answers to make sure I lost out.
Rather than let that injustice upset me for the rest of my life, I went home and told my Mum I came top of the class. That was the first and last time I was top in anything at that school, but I do remember the pride I felt that day and the love from Mum for doing so well.
Anyway, I was one of the few kids from that year that ended up going to University, so I suppose it turned out OK. But my punctuation still stinks.
In my last blog, Defining my Dash, I committed to writing about my personal history, the dash between Birth and Death.
““A life that is not documented is a life that within a generation or two will largely be lost to memory. What a tragedy this can be in the history of a family. Knowledge of our ancestors shapes us and instills within us values that give direction and meaning to our lives.” Dennis B. Neuenschwander
There’s a particularly Mormon sentiment to this quote not surprising given its source. But it’s worth reflecting on how much we are shaped by the history of our ancestors, if at all. Perhaps I’ll write about that in due course.
To reflect on my whole dash, a bit of structure and focus is needed. The way I’m going to do it is through #52Stories. That’s one a week, for the quick ones reading this that adds up to year.
52 Stories may sound like a lot, but breaking it down into a list of questions actually feels like its going to be a struggle to fit it in. So here’s a list;
On nearly every gravestone is carved a universal symbol. This is a Dash, seperating year of birth to year of death. Each of us, currently around, are currently in our Dash.
One of the best Family History resources, Familysearch.org, which is run by “The Church of the Latter Day Saints”, (ie the Mormans) is running a personal story project. They have called it “Define Your Dash”.
A poem by Linda Ellis, “The Dash,” speaks of this symbol:
“For that dash represents all the time
that they spent alive on earth.
And now only those who loved them
know what that little line is worth.”
So a New Years resolution is to define my own dash, to record some of the details of my life or personal thoughts. This is to record them for posterity for my own satisfaction and for those that follow me. Or maybe to answer those questions I should have asked my parents and wished I had asked the Grandparents I knew. To me, this is filling in the gaps around the raw facts a genealogist gets from the records collected when building a Family History.
This fits in with the aim for this Cardboard Castle blog, to reflect on my life, collect my personal thoughts and make sense of experiences. Some of it can also relate to My Greenwood Family history or to this collection of personal thoughts and muses.
According to the introduction to this project in familysearch.org, it is also a theraputic excercise, giving a sense of purpose and control. It helps build patterns, increase gratitude, foster a stronger sense of self. Apparently this will make me happier and more succesful. All this sound very positive, and despite being somewhat of a sceptic on these self help strategies, I’m willing to give it a go.
Heres the science;
In his book The Happiness Advantage, Harvard professor Shawn Achor cites research that shows how “explanatory style—how we choose to explain the nature of past events—has a crucial impact on our happiness and future success. People with an optimistic explanatory style interpret adversity as being local and temporary . . . while those with a pessimistic explanatory style see these events as more global and permanent. Their beliefs then directly affect their actions” ([New York: Crown Publishing, 2010], 187–88)
So, the plan is to write one brief story about my life, past or present, every week this year.
I’m going to post it here, in this blog. Maybe some could be too revealing or emotional, in which it will stay as a draft for a later posting. Posts will follow suggestions from this familysearch project, but this may go off track when away or bored. Some may end as part of the family history as well.
So here we go;
This has been number 1 in Defining my Dash; my resolution.