Category Archives: Travel

Escaping to Colditz

The three of us had last flown together as a crew was when we decided to fly to Ostend in Chris’s Piper Warrior Light Aircraft. 

Piper Warrior 180 four seat light aircraft

The purpose of that trip was a simple one. We all shared an interest in military history, and all of us had relatives who’d served in Passchendaele and Ypres during the First World War.

That trip is the subject of another article, but suffice to say, on the way home (feeling quite subdued and humbled by our experiences) our conversation turned to other potential trips.

We all decided that the Normandy Beaches were fairly high on the agenda, as was a suggestion to fly into some of the French airfields that the Luftwaffe operated from during either or both of the two world wars.

I happened to mention that I’d heard somewhere that Colditz Castle had been re-opened to members of the Public.

Now, for those that don’t know, Colditz was used as a maximum-security Prisoner of War camp, predominantly housing repeat escapers.  This generated quite a bit of interest, as we had all grown up reading about the exploits of the escapees, and we all revered these men as heroes during our respective youths.

Colditz was also a very successful BBC TV series, and I remember avidly watching every episode, so I was greatly interested in going.

Nothing more was said, but then one afternoon in early March, I received an email from Chris – he had been doing some research into making the proposed Colditz trip a reality. The big question was – how could we schedule it? Chris is a 777 Captain, I work shifts in the Flight Crew Training Centre as an instructor, and Barrie is a “Gentleman of Leisure”.

Eventually we decided to fly out on the 3rd April, Easter Saturday, and come home on Easter Sunday.

It was a grey and overcast day as the Ryanair 737-800 touched down at 1030 local time at Altenberg Airport.  Altenberg, like Colditz is stuck in the middle of nowhere, which is probably why Ryanair chose to operate there. Leipzig is about 54 miles south, and Colditz is about 40 miles in the other direction.

Not exactly a busy airport, but well equipped and only a 40 minute journey by road

Looking out of the window as we taxied to the terminal, we could see the hardened concrete aircraft shelters that twenty-one years ago would have housed MiG 21 fighters of the East German Air Force. Today they are dismal looking and overgrown with weeds, a sad casualty of the outbreak of peace.

Disembarking from the aeroplane, we joined the meandering crocodile of passengers casually wandering towards the low concrete building of the terminal.

This was a stark difference from the way things are done in the UK. At home, the passengers would have been bullied and shepherded by airline staff all in high visibility jackets; however, to be fair, the Ryanair flight appeared to be the only aircraft on the windy and damp tarmac that morning.

We had arranged to be met at the Airport by Peter Werner Taxis, and the forty-minute ride would cost about 45 Euros each way to take us to Colditz Castle. The driver of the cab spoke no English, but we managed to communicate by virtue of some schoolboy German that Chris and I had learnt some 40 years ago.

We all bundled into the people carrier, and sat back and enjoyed the scenery – Small well-kept villages, pretty towns, and thick greenwoods. The road, whilst obviously a minor rural thoroughfare was extremely well-maintained, with absolutely no potholes. Maybe we could send some of our local council bureaucrats here to be trained in civic amenity management.

Eventually, we arrived in the outskirts of Colditz, where the taxi driver generously agreed to let us drop off our bags at the small hotel we were staying in.  Once we had dropped the bags off, the taxi drove us the short distance to the castle itself.

Looking up at the castle which sits broodingly crouched atop a rocky crag, it was easy to imagine the feelings of those Prisoners of War who were marched up the steep incline to the castle entrance.

Colditz – silently holding it’s nine hundred years of secrets

Colditz Castle has been associated with incarceration of one type or another for many years.  Building was started in 1158 AD, and by 1694 it had expanded to become a 700-room castle, and was the home of regional royalty and nobility.

During the early 1800s it was destined to become a workhouse for the poor, the ill and local criminals, and became quite run down.

From 1829 until 1924, it was a sanatorium for the rich, and was home to some notable residents, including Ludwig Schumann, the son of Robert Schumann the composer, and Ernst Baumgarten, one of the inventors of the airship.

In 1933, the Nazi Party came to power, and they swiftly saw the potential of Colditz as a prison for Communists, Jews and other dissenters, and by 1939 it had become a Prisoner of War Camp for Allied prisoners.

Due to its remote location the Wehrmacht decided that they would use Colditz as a holding camp for troublesome prisoners, and those that made repeated escape attempts. It became known as Oflag IVC (Offizierslager –Officers Camp), and housed Douglas Bader, Pat Reid, Airey Neave and Desmond Llwelyn, (better known as “Q” in the James Bond films) to name but a few.

The camp Kommandant and his guards appeared to be relatively humane, accepting that the prisoners would attempt to escape, and operated fully under the terms of the Geneva Convention.

The prisoners, however, were also under a sworn duty to escape, and used the long empty hours of captivity to dream up ever-more sophisticated ways in which to make their way out.

These included tunneling out, walking out disguised as German officers, and exit by subterfuge.  In order to facilitate these attempts, a sophisticated support network was created. Counterfeit papers were produced, fake uniforms and civilian clothes manufactured, and diversion tactics employed.

We were all looking forwards to wandering round, and seeing for real the places that we had read so much about.

The castle is accessed through a pair of doors into a steeply sloping cobbled courtyard. A small door leads into the official entrance, and we entered the cool interior. Climbing the stairs to the first floor, we arrived in a well-lit room housing a small gift shop and ticket desk, which led onwards into a bright area containing museum exhibits.

Stout wooden doors – and a stout English visitor!

Glass cases displayed a great selection of artefacts ingeniously fashioned by the prisoners; digging implements, printing equipment, and even a wooden typewriter for creating work permits and travel documents!

The size of the museum is quite small and occupies only a tiny percentage of the castle itself.  The only way that access can be gained to other parts of the building is by engaging the services of an official guide.

Chris had thoughtfully organised a guide for us, and at just 45 Euros for 2 hours, Lottie was great value. She was extremely knowledgeable, and had a great sense of humour, the result of spending three years living as a student in London no doubt.

Under Lottie’s guidance, we were led out into the courtyard and were shown the impossibly tiny coal hole that Airey Neave hid in during one of his breakout attempts.

The restored coal hole from which Airey Neave MP made his escape.

From Lottie’s explanations, it seems that after the war, and the Soviets took over the administration of the region; the history of Colditz was totally ignored, and local children like Lottie grew up accepting that the Castle was nothing more than a mental asylum.

The Soviet government chose to do nothing with the castle, which became more and more decrepit and derelict as the decades marched on.

The worst casualty of this willful neglect is the Chapel, which was virtually derelict at the time we visited back in 2012, but it may well have been restored by now. As guests of a tour guide, we were actually allowed in, and could see that prior to the war, it would have been a beautiful building, but for the neglect.

Escape tunnel deep under the Colditz castle

Having come back into the bright light of the courtyard, I asked Lottie if we could see the loft where the glider was made.  She sighed theatrically, and told me that due to Health and Safety we couldn’t see that part of the castle as it was being renovated.

I then asked if it would be possible for us to visit the theatre where the prisoners put on plays as part of the diversion strategy to keep the guards occupied as they conducted escape activities.

She smiled at that, remarking that we were the first group of visitors who even knew of the theatre.  This surprised me, as I would have thought that many of the visitors to the castle would either be ex-military or as interested in military history as we were.

Anyway, suffice to say that she led us up the stairs and along some gloomy corridors that were still decorated with the original flock wallpaper, and with an all-pervading smell of mustiness and damp.

Once into the theatre, we chatted amongst ourselves, discussing the scene in the Colditz film where prisoners put on a show to disguise the noise of tunneling and excavation whilst an escape attempt was in progress.

The inventive escapees staged a play, and invited the German Officers and senior NCOs to watch the performance and whilst they were on stage, some of their brother officers were making good their escape.

“Is there any chance that we could stand on the stage” Chris asked.  “Ja, of course you can” grinned Lottie. “Would you like that I take your picture?”

We gleefully mounted the stage, and adopted a group theatrical pose, and She snapped away.

Having exhausted the inside of the Schloss, we were led outside into the grounds, to the places where the prisoners played football. Lottie pointed out where Michael Sinclair was shot trying to escape.

He was the only prisoner to ever be shot escaping from Colditz. This in itself was a sad accident, and was apparently unintentional.

According to Lottie, he attempted to run during a football match. The guards ordered him to stop, but he continued sprinting away. The guards opened fire, apparently aiming to hit his legs, but a bullet hit him in the elbow, and then ricocheted into his heart, killing him instantly.

Eventually, Lottie bought us back to the courtyard where the tour ended.

We thanked her profusely, and gave her a handsome tip – she had done a splendid job, and we left the castle in far better spirits than some of those men from 70 years ago.

We strolled down to the town, and wandered back to our hotel, where we enjoyed some excellent German cuisine – and a few steins of strong lager in the deserted restaurant.

By now, we were all quite tired, and so after a couple more beers in the bar, we said our goodnights, and retired to our rooms.

Next morning our taxi arrived promptly, and we meandered our way back to Altenberg, catching the Ryanair flight back to Stansted.

Our weekend was both historically rewarding and great value for money. Our flights were £135.00, accommodation was £35.00, Entrance fees and tour guides £35.00, £30.00 taxi fares, and £35.00 food. A total of £270.00[1] for an incredibly interesting and moving weekend.

So, having scratched that particular itch, we will now have to plan our next journey into history.

Go Well.


[1] At March 2012 prices.

The BMW Myth… Busted?

It was a long day at work, delivering two flight training sessions. I was in no real hurry, as the weather was a bit miserable, with wet roads, and poor visibility. It was just as well, as the A3 southbound was moving at a sedate 40 mph up the hill through the fifty limit at Guildford.

I spotted the headlights first, weaving crazily in and out of the traffic, and then rapidly accelerating up the nearside lane as I was overtaking a slower van. The white car swerved out in front of me, cutting into my lane with scant inches to spare.

I was ready for this and was already braking, my sixth sense warning me of the potential accident heading my way.

As the car rocketed past me, I sighed as I glimpsed the badge on the boot lid.

Yes, just as I thought, it was another appallingly driven BMW.

I watched the car continue to weave in and out of the traffic, crossing lanes with no apparent understanding of risk. The frequent illumination of brake lights was not accompanied by any appearance of functioning indicators.

Par for the course?

I drove home without further incident, wondering if there was any statistical evidence to support the urban legend that all BMW drivers were aggressive and inconsiderate.

So, I sat down and started researching this to see what I could find.

It didn’t take long to discover that GoCompare, the insurance comparison website had conducted an analysis of their customer database, and had some interesting results.

Un-surprisingly, the urban legend was true!

It appears that more than 17.1% of BMW 4 series drivers have at least one conviction, which is about twice the average rate for all other BMW models!  A staggering 21% of 4 series drivers have also made an at-fault claim on their insurance.

6B0AE9BB-08BE-421D-A3DC-B2BBBE78820F

Further checking revealed that Audi A5 drivers are also up there in the top ten for convictions and at-fault claims, along with Mercedes C220 and E220 pilots, closely followed by Jaguar and Landrover owners.

DD392844-435F-4D2F-AE1D-4D1445EEFA0Bcf7a1092-a1db-46f9-a13c-13276131e7a2.png

This all seems to tie in with my own un-scientific perceptions, honed as they are with a 450 mile  weekly commute.

Interestingly, Admiral Insurance has also analysed the data returned from their telematics systems – the Little Black Box fitted into the boot that monitors driving behaviour. It seems that drivers of Audis, Mercedes and Landrovers are again flagging up as the worst drivers in the UK.

But there is good news. Drivers of smaller, lower-powered cars such as Vauxhall Agilas, Hyundai i10s, and Nissan Micras are least likely to have been convicted of an offence, but they are also less likely to have made at-fault claims.

Maybe the lack of a big, tough metal box to sit in, a less commanding road position, and dare I say it, a low performance engine makes them less attractive to those with a more competitive and thrusting driving style?

These are facts released by insurance companies, and whilst they do seem to reinforce the image that motorists owning German-built cars are bad drivers, they don’t explain why drivers with poorer driving records seem to be attracted to such vehicles.

I guess I will have to dig for some more facts…

Until then – drive safely!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tyres – The Invisible Ecological Menace

We have all heard almost to the point of frustration about climate change, pollution and how bad cars powered by fossil fuels are.

We are all exhorted to consider using an electric vehicle, or a hybrid so as to cut our carbon footprint, and stop climate change.

Obviously, all of this is deserving of support, and climate change is a very real threat, as is the increase in health problems as a result of the toxic gases in vehicle exhausts.

However, there is a sinister, yet little-publicised threat which may prove to be even more injurious to health and the marine environment, even if it has little impact on greenhouse gases and climate change.

Tyres.

CE914D82-F424-4259-B7CE-D3E02D29218E

Yes, you did read correctly. Tyres are in the top ten of nasty pollutants that contaminate the world with micro-particles.

Tyres. Those innocuous black things attached to the wheel rims of your car, van, motorcycle, truck or bus.

We all know that tyres wear out – as we all have to buy them now and again, if we are to stay safe and legal.

So, what happens to the worn bits of tyre?  Well, they are eroded by the road surface and are released as micro-fibres, particulates that are fine enough to form as a dust on the road surface.

Subsequently, rain water washes these microfibres into the drains and sewage systems, where they ultimately make their way into the maritime environment – yes, rivers, lakes, reservoirs and oceans.

Screenshot 2020-01-20 at 18.10.01

Much publicity is generated around single use plastics in the oceans, but little publicity is around related to this almost invisible pollution.

Some of the particles are small enough and light enough to be dragged up off the road surface by the aerodynamic wake of passing vehicles, and may be suspended for periods of time, allowing them to be blown by the wind over quite large distances.

It is estimated that annually 68,000 tonnes of microplastics are generated by tyre tread erosion in the UK alone, with 7,000 to 19,000 tonnes entering the surface water system[1]. Research is currently being undertaken in the UK to deepen our understanding of the migration of tyre generated microparticles into the maritime environment.[2]

It may not be common knowledge but tyres are not constructed from pure natural rubber, but consist of 60-70% synthetic rubber – made with our old friends, the hydrocarbons, so the emitted micro-particles are not readily biodegradable.

Unfortunately, the qualities that makes tyres suitable, such as good grip, good braking qualities, and good car handling qualities rely on the tyre gripping the road surface through friction.

Friction between the road surface and the tyre tread actually causes the erosion of the rubber, and leads to the problem. The interaction also erodes the road surface, and any road marking paint on it too – but that’s another story!

Tyre particles vary in size and composition, so it would challenge even Agatha Christie’s Poirot to identify and track how these particles behave, and where they go once they have been shed.

Such particles will be dispersed widely around roads and byways, drifted by winds and the effects of vehicle aerodynamics, washed into various drains, culverts and waterways by rain.

Once in the water system the particles will exhibit different levels of buoyancy, and some will float onwards into estuaries and ultimately into oceans, and others will sink to the bottom and become part of the estuary sediment.

It is estimated that up to 10% of tyre wear particulate matter is released as airborne particles, which will settle over land masses, thus polluting them too.

What can we, the driving public do to minimise the effects of this?

Firstly, we can modify our driving behaviour to reduce the loads that our tyres are under.

We can make efforts to accelerate and decelerate gently and progressively, we can make sure the tyres are correctly inflated and remove un-necessary loads from the vehicle. This would help.

We could operate a smaller vehicle with a smaller engine and a lower mass.

This is a pipe dream, and we all know it. Unless governments intervene to legally force the use of smaller vehicles, we won’t trade our “Executive Urban Assault Vehicles” to sit in a minicar capable of reaching only 60 miles an hour with a following wind!

On my daily commute to work, I pass Farnborough Airport. This is the home to many ecologically-unfriendly executive private jet aircraft. The main A road that passes adjacent to it has recently had a new 50 mph speed limit imposed upon it, reduced from its previous 70 mph limit.

Screenshot 2020-01-20 at 17.52.54

It seems that the local council are keen to reduce emissions in the local area!

Regardless of this, vehicles still charge past me doing well excess of the new limit, and the police don’t seem to be enforcing the new limit.

Maybe we should drive less distances?  Maybe we should alter our fundamental mind set to become more locally focused, and adopty a new philosophy of not commuting longer distances?

I don’t think human nature is going to fix this particular problem.

It appears that the main thrust of the ecological argument is to initiate a societal shift from driving hydro-carbon powered vehicles to electrically powered cars.

However, this only addresses a part of the problem. Even if there is a global adoption of battery driven vehicles, the problems associated with the pneumatic tyre remain.

Until we have mastered an alternative to the conventional tyre we are still in trouble.

The auto industry faces a parallel challenge. What do we use as an alternative to the conventional vehicle tyre?

Answers on a postcard please…

 

[1] Friends of the Earth Report “Reducing Household Contributions to Marine Plastic Pollution 11/2018

[2] UK Government Funding for Research into Tyre Tread Erosion and Pollution

 

Elderly Drivers – Good or Bad – I Hope To End Up As One! (Or – Are They Safe?)

I parked the car, nonchalantly locking it with the keyfob, as I do every evening when I return from work.

It was a blustery, rainy late afternoon, and my journey home a relative nightmare. All of the major routes west of Heathrow Airport were in chaos. It seems that the average Brit is breathtakingly incompetent in wet conditions, despite bemoaning that its always raining here.

Either driving lunatically fast, or crawling along far too slowly, the result is multiple accidents, and long holdups. The delays were only made marginally tolerable by listening to the radio.

I decided that the solution to my grumpy mood was to pull my bicycle out of the. garage, and cycle the mile and a half to my alternate refuge, the Passfield Club.

It was only five past five when I arrived, and the place was almost deserted.

I ordered a pint of Fossil Fuel, and went at sat at a table at the far end of the room.

I was thinking about driving. Despite my journey, I knew that I was fortunate to be in a position to drive.

I have held a full licence since February 1977, almost 43 years. The car and motorcycle have become an intrinsic part of my life, and as a relatively fit man, I rarely think of the time when I too will have to hang up my car keys for the final time.

Before that time, I may have to downgrade my vehicle from the small SUV that I drive to a smaller vehicle. Maybe electric?  Who knows.

I recall hearing somewhere that many older people bought an automatic car after maybe decades of driving a manual gearbox car, and subsequently had an accident as a result of confusion over the foot pedals and their location.

 

Also, that older drivers were as dangerous as the young due to their worsening driving abilities.

I wondered if this really was an issue, so I decided to do some research, and here is what I discovered.

According to AXA Insurance’s Technical Director David Williams[1] drivers may face rises in insurance premiums as a result higher compensation claims being awarded following vehicle collisions and accidents.

The two age groups that will be affected most by this will be younger drivers in the 17-24 age group, and those over 75.

That surprised me a little.

Further digging revealed that there are an estimated 2.7 million drivers under the age of 25. Of that figure, 1.3 million are under 22. Combined, these groups make up about 7% of all UK drivers.

Drivers aged 17 -19 represent 1.5% of the driver population, yet they are involved in 9% of all fatal accidents in which they are the driver! Altogether, the under 25 age group are responsible for 85% of all serious injury accidents.

So where does this leave the older driver.

Bizarrely, a quick check of the stats[2] instantly confirms that drivers in the 17-24 category have a very high accident rate comparatively speaking, with 1,912 collisions per billion vehicle miles (CPBVM) travelled. The accident rate then progressively reduces as age increases, reaching its lowest point between the ages of 66 – 70 dropping to just 367 accidents CPBVM.

So, I am, in theory, becoming statistically less likely to have an accident, due to my relentless march into decrepitude.

The accident rate rises slightly thereafter, but peaks to its highest for the 81 – 85 age group – at a massive 2,168 CPBVM.

So, in overall terms, from age 60 to 70, not a bad record.

Some of the reduction may well be inked to the fact that older drivers travel less than other adults, with about half the average mileage covered.

 

Demographically, the older population is forecast to expand and the number of people aged over 65 in the EU is predicted to double between 2010 and 2050.

Now a quick look at the science.

Aging brings with it several inescapable changes, including sensory, psychomotor and cognitive reductions – failing eyesight and hearing, slowing reactions, and slower and impaired judgement.

The higher reported fatality rate for older drivers is due to increasing frailty leading to death in a collision that would have potentially only injured a much younger driver.

Current UK legislation requires that driving licences are renewed when an individual reaches 70, and are valid for three years before requiring to be renewed again. This is a sensible approach.

When combined with requirements placed on medical practitioners to advise the UK Driver Vehicle Licencing Agency of any medical condition which would require the revocation of a driver’s licence.

But us oldies are fighting back!

It would appear from several studies that there is an almost compensatory mechanism at work, and older drivers are good at making sensible adjustments to their driving, and adapt their driving to reduce their exposure to higher risk driving conditions.

Many will stop driving at night, or will adjust the times of day or the days of week on which they travel.

Now – back to my original thoughts.

As an individual with no formalised forensic vehicle accident training, I accepted at face value the statement that elderly drivers should not drive cars with an automatic gearbox.

road-safety-character-elderly-driver

Surprisingly, my research seems to indicate the opposite, and a number of reports actually suggest that older drivers should use an automatic car.

In fact, a Dutch study was conducted by the University of Groningen using a professional driving simulator. The research placed young and older drivers in both an automatic transmission car and a car with a manual gearbox. The subjects were then required to drive several routes, including rural roads, rural roads with random varied intersections and finally a route that necessitated joining a busy motorway, overtaking vehicles and then exiting safely at a junction.

The results were interesting, in that the older drivers performed better in an automatic gearbox car than a manual.

This is possibly because the time lag induced by the age-diminished psycho-motor skills to both brake and shift down the gearbox simultaneously impaired driver performance. This was discussed as far back as 2002[3], where research suggested that older drivers should, in fact switch to driving an automatic car.

Interestingly, even the younger drivers in the sample also performed better when driving an automatic.

I accept that there needs to be a safe transition period, so maybe when drivers get to 65, when they are statistically at their safest, they should change to an automatic car, so that they have a few years to adapt to the differences, so that they may benefit from the additional levels of safety that a car with an automatic gearbox provides.

Manual-Transmissions  0009e2bb5fd7-3095-4bef-8

So, in six years, I will get my electric car, which will not only be cleaner in terms of emissions, but may even help me to stay alive a bit longer!

Mark Charlwood© January 2020

[1] Article Click4Reg April 2017

[2] Older Car Drivers Road Safety Factsheet (2016 data) Published May 2018

 

[3] Warshawsky-Livine & Shinar (2002)

Cabin Crew Hero!

The water dripped sullenly off my jacket, creating audible “plops” as the droplets hit the polished wooden floor, where they co-operatively coalesced into a minor puddle.

I smiled at the barista, as she cheerfully passed my coffee across to me, proudly announcing “Caffe Latte Medio”, as if she were conferring a knighthood upon me.

I walked to an empty corner table, and sat down, shoving my rucksack into the corner.

Pulling my battered laptop computer out of its cover, I set up; the battery was full, my mug was full, and so I settled down.

I have had a life-long interest – a passion for aviation that has spanned fifty years. My early schoolboy heroes were the wartime pilots from both the Great War, and World War Two. In my teens, the trailblazing pilots of the 1920s and 1930s caught my imagination, and I read almost everything about the early fliers that I could lay my hands on.

By the age of thirteen or fourteen, I was familiar with the great pioneers – Amy Johnson, Amelia Earhart, Jean Batten, Sir Alan Cobham, Neville Norway, Elrey Jeppesen and Wiley Post.

Over the years, I became familiar with the names of hero pilots, Al Haynes, and his flight deck colleagues who heroically flew their stricken DC-10 jet to its infamous crash landing at Sioux City.

Captain Bob Pearson and First Officer Maurice Quintal whose aircraft ran out of fuel over the wastes of the Canadian prairies, and who successfully glided to a safe landing at Gimli, a former Royal Canadian Air Force base.

More recently Captain Chesley Sullenberger was hailed a hero after ditching his fully laden Airbus A320 into the River Hudson after a bird strike critically damaged both of its engines shortly after take-off.

All these accounts tend to stick in the minds of the public, due to the courage and swift decision making of the flight crew.

Little is said about their cabin crew colleagues, despite many of them having been instrumental in saving lives – and sometimes dying in the course of their duties, and the spotlight tends to focus on the pilots.

This imbalance is probably not deliberate, but needs to be corrected, so after a little digging around, I found some accounts of very brave and courageous cabin crew.

Take the case of Barbara Harrison. She joined British Overseas Airways Corporation in May 1966, at the age of twenty one as a Flight Attendant (or Air Stewardess as they were known at the time).

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 12.53.54

On the 8th April 1968 she was rostered to operate BOAC’s Flight 712WE to Sydney. This long-haul flight was flown by a Boeing 707 –  long and tiring, routing via Zurich, Tel Aviv, Tehran, Mumbai, Singapore and Perth.

Sadly, the flight was doomed from the start. It departed Heathrow Airport at about three thirty in the afternoon. During the initial climb out, the number two engine caught fire, and was so severely damaged that it fell from the aircraft, leaving the rest of the left wing ablaze.

The flight made an immediate emergency return back to Heathrow, where it made a safe landing. However, the fire on the port wing intensified to the point that the cabin windows were actually melting. Once the stricken aircraft touched down, the situation was so dire, that the cabin crew were beginning to start an immediate passenger evacuation.

Barbara’s crew position was at the rear of the aircraft, and her emergency duties were to assist the cabin attendant at the aft crew station in opening the appropriate passenger door, and help to inflate the escape slide, and then subsequently direct passengers to the door to make their escape.

The pair eventually managed to open the rear starboard door, furthest from the fire and fired the escape slide, however, during the deployment, the slide twisted, making it useless. Bravely, the steward climbed down the slide, and straightened it, leaving Barbara in the cabin to organise the evacuation.

She managed to evacuate six passengers before the slide was punctured, and deflated, but despite this she managed to evacuate a further five passengers through encouragement and in some cases forcibly ejecting them down the deflated slide.

She then moved to the port rear door, which was extremely close to the blazing left wing, but she still managed to evacuate a further five passengers before that slide was damaged by the intensity of the fire, and deflated.

21 year old Barbara Harrison was last seen in the doorway, looking as if she were preparing to jump.

She didn’t…

She disappeared back into the blazing cabin in a desperate attempt to save the four remaining passengers – including a disabled woman and an eight year old girl.

She was never seen alive again.

 

She was posthumously awarded the George Cross in recognition of her selfless gallantry that day – the only woman to have ever received the award in peacetime, and the youngest woman ever to hold the George Cross.

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 12.38.58

Digging a bit further, I found out about Neerja Bhanot.

Neerja was a senior Cabin Attendant working with Pan American Airlines. She was just twenty-three when she was rostered to operate Pan Am Flight 73, scheduled to fly from Mumbai to New York on the 5th September 1986[1].

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 12.59.38

The flight was to be operated by a Boeing 747-100 series aircraft, and departed from Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International carrying 394 passengers, 9 infants, and 13 Indian cabin crew.

Flight 73 was planned to land twice before getting to New York, with stops at Karachi, Pakistan, and Frankfurt in West Germany.

Arriving at Karachi at 04:30, Flight 73 had disembarked over a hundred passengers, and was in the process of boarding the first busload of passengers for the next leg of the trip, when the aircraft was violently taken over by four Palestinian hijackers.

The Hijackers identified themselves as belonging to the Abu Nidal terrorist group.

During the ensuing confusion, Neerja managed to contact the flight deck and give the alarm, and the flight deck crew, following corporate policy, immediately evacuated the flight deck, thus leaving the hijackers with no means of flying the aircraft away[2].

This escalated the tension, and a passenger was arbitrarily selected, and taken to the forward aircraft door, where he was brutally murdered – shot in the back of the head, and thrown onto the tarmac from the aircraft door.

As the Senior Purser on board, Neeraj maintained her professionalism, and kept the passengers calm in an effort to stabilise the situation.

She was ordered to collect all of the passenger passports, and give them to the lead hijacker.

Realising that holders of US passports would be at the highest risk, she briefed her colleagues to hide as many of the US passports as possible, and many were hidden under seats, and the rest thrown down a galley refuse chute.

Realising the situation could only get worse, Neerja removed the page detailing how to open an aircraft door from her cabin crew manual, and slipped it into a magazine. Passing down the cabin, she passed this to a male passenger sitting adjacent to the door, instructing him to read the magazine carefully and to refer to it again later if needed. The page contained full instructions on how to open the door safely, and how to deploy the evacuation slide.

As the hijack progressed, The aircraft ran out of fuel, resulting in the aircraft’s Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) shutting down.

The aircraft was now only lit with the emergency lights, and this obviously unnerved one of the gunmen standing by the forward aircraft door, who opened fire in the darkness, aiming at the suicide vest worn by another of the terrorists.

The shot was inaccurate, and the desired explosion didn’t happen, but the sudden gunfire acted as a catalyst, causing the remaining gunmen to detonate explosives and open fire indiscriminately in the passenger cabin injuring and killing many of those on board.

Neeraj bravely opened doors, and assisted passengers in making their escape. Shot in the hip, and bleeding heavily, she was eventually evacuated to the local hospital, where she died of her wounds.

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 13.06.18Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 13.05.26

Stories on the internet suggest that she was shot whilst shielding three children, one of whom was so inspired that he learned to fly, and subsequently became a captain with a major air carrier, although I have found no corroborative evidence for this, not even in documented interviews with the crew.

There is no doubt in my mind though, that Neeraj saved many lives with her selfless actions that terrible day in 1986.

More recently, on the 5th May 2019, Aeroflot Flight 1492 left Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport bound for Murmansk. Shortly after take-off, the Sukhoi Superjet was hit by lightning, sustaining damage to its fly-by-wire flight controls, autopilot and radios.

It returned to Moscow, where it made an emergency landing. During the landing, it bounced heavily, and burst into flames.

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 13.12.55

Twenty-two year old Maxim Moiseev was positioned in the aft section of the cabin, where the intense fire struck first. Unable to open his exit door, he directed his passengers forwards, but died quickly in his valiant efforts to assist his passengers.

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 13.19.44

His colleague, Tatyana Kasatkina stationed in the forward part of the fuselage managed to kick her door open, and forcibly ejected passengers down the escape slide, saving many lives as she did so. This was conducted whilst the cabin was filling with pungent, acrid smoke, and with intense fire. Temperatures in the cabin were so high that windows were melting.

In all of these cases, many passengers only survived as a result of the courage, selfless bravery and cool thinking of their cabin crew.

Screenshot 2019-12-29 at 13.20.15

Call them what you will – Flight Attendants, Cabin Crew, Stewards and Stewardesses, they have as much to be proud of in an emergency as their flight deck colleagues.

Next time you fly, show a little respect for the “hostie” or “trolley dolly” that is serving your meal, or bringing you another Gin and Tonic. Behind the uniform, or the make-up and smile, there will be a brave, highly trained and caring person – who could be the difference between life and death in an emergency.

Draining the last of my coffee, I closed the lid of my laptop, the article finished.

The result is here on my page.

Mark Charlwood©  December 2019

[1] One India news article     India Times article

[2] Boeing 747 Flight Crew Escape System

do you really want to take that carribean cruise?

Many of us believe that we are intelligent, caring beings, and as such, we make decisions to consciously avoid damaging our environment. Many of us have tried to change our lifestyles, and now frequently walk or cycle around our local district. We try to buy organic Fairtrade[1] products, and attempt to live in a sustainable manner.

It’s not always that simple though, is it?  Despite a seismic shift in our thinking we are still guilty of inadvertently creating damage to our home.

It’s easy to bandy about statements about our carbon footprint and boast about our hybrid cars, and our quest for low airmiles vegetables and fruit, but is that enough?

We all look forward to taking a vacation. A two-week respite from our daily labours. An annual opportunity to travel to some exotic and idyllic destination to unwind, decompress and relax.

Significant adverse publicity has demonised road transport and air travel, to the point that those of us that are sensitive to our ecological impact are reluctant to use our cars or air transport for anything other than necessity travel.

So, what of our alternatives?

Many of us are now fortunate and wealthy enough to be able to book a cruise and float around azure blue waters for a fortnight of self-indulgent luxury.

But how many of us think about the environmental impact of cruise ships? It’s a natural tendency to assume that due to the high passenger occupancy of cruise ships they are eco-friendly.

Sadly, that’s not the case.

Let’s look at a few facts about the cruise ship industry.

The world’s largest cruise company is the Anglo-American company The Carnival Corporation and Public Limited Company.

This monolithic organisation is the largest global cruise company, in terms of annual passenger carrying, revenue and the overall size of its fleet.

Started in 1975 with one ship, (The Mardi Gras) it now owns 10 cruise lines, operating over a hundred vessels and has a 49.2% share of the global cruise market[2].

In 1996, they launched the world’s largest ship, the 101,000 tonne Carnival Destiny.

Ever increasing demand led to the commissioning of the Carnival Dream in 2009 with a gross tonnage of 128,000 tonnes.

By 2012 the Carnival Vista launched at 133,500 tonnes.

If you thought that was large – then think again. Currently, the world’s largest cruise ship is now the Symphony of the Seas, Royal Caribbean’s flagship. This monster weighs in at 228,000 tonnes, and at maximum occupancy can accommodate 8,800 people. (6,880 passengers, 2,200 crew).

However, by 2012, the reputation of the cruise industry was already being tarnished. At the same time as the Vista was being launched, the UK Guardian Newspaper reported that an investigation had revealed that P and O (A subsidiary of Carnival) paid their ship-borne staff a basic salary of just 75p per hour[3] when the UK National Average wage was £15.25 per hour!

According to its own website, the organisation now employs 37,400 staff with 33,500 of those being ship based.

Whilst the cruise industry has a sparkling shop window, its underbelly reveals some profoundly ecologically damaging practices. In 2017, Princess Cruise lines were fined $40M US for illegally dumping oil into the oceans, and the intentionally covering it up.

It’s easy to assume that the economy of scale makes cruising environmentally friendly.

However, cruise ships are very poor advocates of low impact travel.

To put this into perspective, The Oasis of the Seas, weighing 225,282 tonnes, will burn just over 11,000 gallons of low quality high-sulphur fuel oil at its cruising speed of 22.6 knots.[4] This is an eye watering gallon for every twelve feet travelled!

A smaller ship (138,000 tonnes) using the same type of diesel engines that only operate at about 30% efficiency, (rated at 75,600Kw[5]) will burn about 6,640 gallons of low-grade oil per hour.

Maritime low-grade heavy oil fuels are incredibly damaging, with a very high sulphur content – far higher than the amount of sulphur and particulates found in car exhausts.

Bearing in mind that cruise liners take passengers to many world heritage sites, the inadvertent collateral damage could be huge, with many implications for the historic cities visited.

Cruise line marketing often focuses on the beautiful destination to which passengers may be taken – unspoilt beaches, remote island chains and ancient port cities. with fresh sea breezes and clean air.

The reality is somewhat different, with the cruise industry complacently burning the dirtiest fuel in some of the world’s most fragile environments such as the arctic.

Shipping currently accounts for almost three percent of global CO2 emissions.

It has been one of the slowest transport sectors to accept that it has a problem, and it was only in April 2018 that its first sector-specific emissions reduction target was set – to reduce emissions from 3.5% to 0.5% by 2020.

To place this into context, shipping has been linked to 400,000 premature deaths attributed to cardio-vascular disease and lung cancer each year.[6] The shipping industry is also a regular contributor to marine pollution, and that’s not just limited to oil and debris discharged at sea.

The industry also sends many of its old ships to be broken for scrap – many to under-developed Asian nations such as Bangladesh, Pakistan and India[7]

The ship breaking yard at Alang (located in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat off the Gulf of Cambay) was set up in 1983 on a small scale along a 10-km (6 miles) stretch of sandy beach. The tidal, geographical, and climatic features make Alang an ideal ship breaking location.

ship-breaking-2017-mts-1000x640

These types of location, whilst excellent for the convenience of breaking up old hulls, are highly inappropriate sites for the delicate marine eco-systems, bringing the risks of routinely leaking hazardous and toxic materials into the sea during the process of breaking.

Furthermore, according to data from the Gujarat Maritime Board, there have been over two hundred deaths over the years caused by fires and other accidents.

A research paper written by Dr. Maruf Hossain and Mohammad Islam of the Institute of Marine Sciences, University of Chittagong[8] details the extent to which highly dangerous materials are leaked into coastal waters, and the impact it has on marine life, and on human health via the food chain.
It makes for sombre reading.

According to the Friends of the Earth, during 2014, cruise ships dumped more than a billion gallons of human sewage into the seas.

The US EPA stated at the time, that an average cruise ship with 3,000 passengers and crew produces about 21,000 gallons of sewage a day — enough to fill 10 domestic swimming pools in a week. That adds up to more than 1 billion gallons a year for the industry — a conservative estimate, since some new ships carry as many as 8,000 passengers and crew. In addition, each ship generates and dumps about eight times that much “greywater” from sinks, showers and baths, which can contain many of the same pollutants as sewage and significantly affects water quality.

That’s a bit of an eye opener isn’t it?

Now consider on top of that, every cruise ship passenger generates 3.5 kg of rubbish every day, some of which will find its way into the azure blue waters that you went there to see in the first place.

fullsizeoutput_1461

Since then the industry has made some progress, and new cruise ships of the future may well be powered by Liquified Natural Gas (LNG), which offers much lower sulphur emissions, and is therefore an improvement in this respect to the heavy oil currently used.

However, LNG isn’t the panacea to the problems of emissions. A recent report by Transport and Environment (T and E) states that LNG-powered cruise ships will not deliver sustainable tourism, as its potential widespread use will lock the industry into using fossil-based fuels for decades.

Recently, the port city of Barcelona announced that it would encourage the handling of cruise ships powered by LNG. The first LNG ship arrived in Barcelona earlier this year and was refuelled with LNG from a special barge. Barcelona hailed this as a big step forward in sustainable tourism.

This is not the case according to research conducted by T and E, which demonstrates that LNG used in shipping may generate 9% more greenhouse gases than the use of Heavy Fuel Oil.

So, even if all cruise ships were to be powered by LNG, the ecological implications are still serious.

So, maybe it’s about time that we re-considered our holidays.

Maybe it’s time to holiday locally, without creating a massive carbon footprint by flying and cruising?

[1] The Fairtrade Foundation

[2] Wikipedia

[3] UK Office of National Statistics Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2011

[4] 26 miles per hour

[5] 101,382 Horsepower

[6] Transport & Environment Annual Report, 2018

[7] See Data from Shipbreaking Bangladesh

[8] Ship Breaking Activities and its Impact on the Marine Environment.

Jungle Reset – Dateline Malaysia and Borneo

The Fourth Parallel North, or Four North, runs round the globe just above the equator. Tracking it from the Greenwich Meridian, it heads East into Africa, passing through the Gulf of Guinea, Cameroon , the Congo, South Sudan, Uganda, and through Lake Turkana in Kenya, from where it routes through Ethiopia, and Somalia, crossing the Indian Ocean, passing through the Maldives and through the island of Sumatra. Crossing the Straits of Malacca and bisecting the Malaysian peninsular, it then streaks off over the South China Sea, over the third largest island in the world, Borneo, from where it crosses the Pacific, over Micronesia, eventually making landfall at Malpelo Island in Colombia. It then sneaks through Venezuela, the town of Roraima in Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, then crosses the Atlantic making the west coast of Africa just south of Cape Palmas in Liberia.

Why am I telling you this?

Well, if you are a regular reader of my not too regular posts, you will know that I am partial to a good cup of coffee, and instead of writing in my usual haunt of a local branch of Costa Coffee, I am sitting pretty much on the fourth parallel, on Mabul Island.

To be precise, and for those that really want to know, my position is 4°14’48”N 118°37’52”E. This is the Scuba Junkie Diving Resort, and I am slurping absolutely delicious coffee from a plastic mug, whilst contemplating life.

Since coming to Malaysia for a long break, I have taken in the sights in Kuala Lumpur, visiting Chinese Temples, and Muslim Mosques; I have eaten in fabulous street restaurants in Penang, (Try the Kapitan Indian Restaurant in George Town for a real treat) and from Hawker Stalls in Jalan Alor. I have stared out over the multifaceted city of Kuala Lumpur from the observation deck of the KL Tower, watching it disappear into the mist shrouded Malaysian Peninsular.

I have seen the struggling species of orang-utans, and seen the excellent work being done by the folk at the Sepilok sanctuary. I have been close to the wonderful yet so endangered Sun Bears too.

I have stayed in the Bornean Jungle, been privileged to see elephants, orang-utans, proboscis monkeys, macaques, giant kingfishers, silver leaf monkeys, herons, egrets, huge butterflies.

I have visited remote caves inhabited by swiftletts and horseshoe bats, and watched in wonder in the darkness, at the life that crawls through the inches deep carpet of droppings; Cockroaches, beetles, venomous millipedes, centipedes, spiders, crabs and even small flying lizards.

I have witnessed tropical sunsets, and towering thunderheads, illuminated from within by lightening spikes that compete with the dying orange globe of the sun, as it dips slowly into the South China Seas.

I have observed first hand, the abject poverty of the sea gypsies, and the living conditions that are their lot.

So now I sit here contemplating.

Looking around me at the slender Malay people, emphasises my decreasing height to weight ratio, I am definitely under tall for my 94 kilos. Back calculating, I see that I should be a shade over 2.08 metres tall, or about six feet ten in real money. Well, that’s never gonna happen.

So. I have to shed some of my blubber. I have to stop the regular uptake of alcohol, and get a bit more active – more riding my bicycle, and more walks. I have to also modify my work life balance. I have been sitting in possibly one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and I have been worrying about work for two weeks and wondering how I will cope on my return to the office.

Clearly this is not acceptable. Something has to be done. But what?

I need to address the work/life balance. Coming to 4 North has initiated a reset, Clear Alt Delete at a personal level. So, work less, laugh more, maybe earn less, but be time rich.

I may never own my own jet, but I have a sweet little microlight, on a rural farm strip, so I need to readjust my aspirations and expectations, and spend less time focused on working, and more on regaining my fitness, and enjoying doing not a lot.

Its going to take some careful planning, but the journey is beginning.

I wrote this about two years ago. Since then, I am pleased to say that I now weigh a trifling 89 kilos, so I only need to grow by another 2 cm and I am good to go! I also decided to retire from my previous role, and do something more enjoyable. Now I just have to shed a further 9 kilos. Well. Everyone needs a challenge, right?

California Dreamin’ – Cycling the Golden Gate Bridge

California Dreamin’

When The Flowerpot Men were urging us to go to San Francisco back in 1967, I very much doubt that cycling was uppermost in their thoughts.

I expect that the only peddler that many of the Hippie generation were interested in was the one who dropped them their daily fix of psychedelic drugs.

Flower Power and the Hippie dream was all 50 years ago, and a lot can happen in half a century.

Having said that – the 60s ethos appears to be alive and well (if in a slightly diluted form) and living happily in California.

As crew for a major UK airline, I frequently fly to the USA, and decided some time back, that when I was next on a San Francisco layover, I would rent a bicycle, and enjoy some California Dreamin’

I had done a little research into bike rentals before my trip, and had decided that a company called Blazing Saddles (www.blazingsaddles.com) offered a good range of bicycles at a very reasonable rates, with a well appointed Mountain bike starting at just $9.00 per hour ($36.00 per 24 hours), and a range that includes Hardtail MTBs, Full Suspension MTBs, Comfort Tandems, High Performance Tandems, and High Performance Carbon/Alloy Roadies.

An Electrically assisted Bike is also available at $69.00 per day. Trailers and Tag-alongs are also an option if required.

In the highly unlikely event that they can’t help, then Bay City Bikes also offer a good range of cycles for similar prices. They are also located on Fishermans Wharf and may be contacted at http://www.baycitybike.com

Included within the rental package are a Helmet, a Handlebar Bag, and a lock. Cycles are all fitted with sturdy rear racks, bells, and bungee cords.

So it was, that on a pleasant June Sunday morning, four of us decided that we would cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, and then ride into the little town of Sausalito.

The plan was to enjoy a relaxed lunch at a waterfront restaurant, and then ride back on the ferry to Fisherman’s Wharf. All in all a total mileage of about 9 miles.

This would ideally suit our party, as some of the riders were quite inexperienced, and there were some quite steep hills to negotiate on the way to the bridge.

We decided that as we were in no hurry, we would catch a cable car from Market Street at 1000, and enjoy a scenic trip through the City on the way to Fisherman’s Wharf, where Blazing Saddles are located.

Riding the Cable Cars is a highly recommended part of the trip, especially for movie buffs, as the route crosses California Street made famous by Steve McQueen in the film Bullit . Other films made around the City include Mrs Doubtfire, and of course, the hit 1970s cop drama The Streets of San Francisco.

The Cable Car also passes Crookedest Street. This little street gets its name because the road is a series of very tight hairpin bends compressed into about half a city block, all of which clings precariously to a very steep hill. Walking down it is “interesting”, but I imagine the bin men, and emergency services have a nightmare accessing any of the houses there!

Blazing Saddles have a number of locations spread throughout San Francisco, but we would be renting from their Hyde Street branch, which is located about two blocks from the beginning of the cycle path leading to the Bridge.

The cable car route terminates about 100 yards from the shop, which is immediately identifiable by the selection of cycles outside.

Blazing Saddles is a very efficient operation. We were greeted at the reception desk by a team of friendly and knowledgeable staff, and we were rapidly talked through the options, and the required paperwork.

We opted to take the additional insurance that covered the bikes against all damage, and all decided on “Comfort” Mountain Bikes. These differ from the standard models in that they are fitted with a gel saddle disc brakes and front suspension. A good decision, as the difference in price is only a dollar an hour!

We also decided to take advantage of Blazing Saddle’s offer of ferry tickets, which meant no queuing up to buy them at Sausalito. These tickets are offered on a sale or return basis, so it would have been foolish not to have taken advantage of the offer.

We were also given a voucher for a free appetiser at the Paradise Bay Restaurant in Sausalito, and reduced rate secure bike parking adjacent to the restaurant.

We had to leave a credit card number as a security deposit, and we where then whisked to the cavernous area behind reception where we were swiftly fitted up with bicycles.

The staff in bike despatch give a rapid fire briefing on the cycle controls; it is important to listen to this, as the brakes are set up in a different way from in the United Kingdom. In Britain, the right hand brake lever operates the front brake, and the rear brake is activated by the left brake lever. In the USA that convention is reversed.

Missing this piece of vital information could mean an interesting emergency stop scenario, and a subsequent in depth look at the inside of an American Emergency Room.

Having been given our bikes, and had saddles adjusted, we were instructed to ride towards the exit, and come to a complete stop so as to ensure the brakes were working satisfactorily.

We were then free to depart for the Bridge.
The route heads west past aquatic park on a dedicated cycle path, running adjacent to the waterfront, and is well maintained and free from potholes, and is mainly of tarmac or concrete surface. Within half a mile or so, there is a fairly steep (but luckily short) hill leading into Fort Mason Park. At the top of the hill is a vista point, giving a view over the bay.

Disappointingly, the weather in June is characteristically foggy in the morning, and only the first tower of the bridge could be seen, and the fog horn sounded moodily melancholy.

We decided not to let this dampen our spirits, so we continued on, with a gentle descent through the pleasant grounds of the park, at the bottom of which our sign-posted route took us through a car park, and out again onto a wide, well maintained path. This is shared space, with a pedestrian footpath of about ten feet in width, and two cycle lanes clearly marked for two way bike traffic.

As this was a Sunday morning, every cyclist in the San Francisco area had decided to get their bikes out, and the air was filled with shouts of “On ya left dude” and “Comin’ though” On the whole, other riders were courteous, and polite.

The route remains fairly flat in the main, and passes a tidal marshland nature reserve, and a variety of birds and fowl may be seen here if you bother to stop and look. The route then passes Crissy Field, an old army airfield, but which is now a part of the Golden Gate Nature Reserve Area.

Eventually, the path sweeps left, culminating in a short, steep uphill climb on Long Avenue.
This intersects with Lincoln Boulevard, but this is probably the only stretch of the route which uses roads. Within a hundred yards or so, the route forks right and heads to the base of the bridge.

As the vehicular traffic across the bridge is very busy, there are segregated paths for pedestrians and cyclists, but quite sensibly, the Bridge authority has ensured that cyclists and pedestrians do not conflict with each other. This is done by the simple expedient of splitting the walkers and bikers onto either the east or west side of the bridge.

So, as it was a weekend day, cyclists were obliged to use the West path and walkers the East. This system is excellent, and makes for a good flow in both directions.

So with the last climb of the ride, we wound our way under the bridge, and up onto the bridge itself, where we stopped for the obligatory photo by the Golden Gate Bridge sign.

The ride across the bridge is a little chilly, mainly due to the coastal breeze, and in our case, the mist. However, the road surface is well maintained, and clearly signed.

Once over the bridge, a steeply descending curving path leads down into the town of Sausalito.

The town is obviously a prosperous area, and the houses and streets are beautifully maintained, and spotlessly clean.
The cycle path disappears here, and the ride into town is conducted on public roads, but the car drivers in this idyllic spot are courteous, and generous in their encounters with bicycles – of which there are literally thousands!

We cycled to the western edge of the town, where we found our restaurant, and duly handed our cycles to the valet, who ensured that they were parked and locked in a secure area – and all this for just one dollar per bike.

The restaurant, The Paradise Bay, is in a nice location overlooking the waterfront, and we chose to sit outside to enjoy some top quality fish, and sample some of the local ales – in my case Steam Bitter, which is a refreshing way to end a fabulous ride.

Having eaten and drunk to our capacity, we cycled the half mile to the ferry terminal, and were soon boarded, along with about a hundred and fifty other cycles for our half hour crossing of the bay, back to Fishermans Wharf.

A short ride along the sea front took us back to Blazing saddles, where we returned the bicycles, and settled our bill – which came to just $40.00 each for a whole days use of the bikes, and the ferry tickets which normally retailed at $10.00 each one way.

Lastly, We all purchased a tee shirt proclaiming the we had “Biked the Bridge”

So – if you are looking for a fun day of leisure riding then I would thoroughly recommend Biking the Bridge, and Blazing Saddles are there to help you do it.

Mark Charlwood©
17/06/2014

Night Departure

Tail lights vanishing into a darkening sky,

A symbol of your leaving,

An intermittent spark of fading cherry red,

Dwarfed, and made miniscule by the vastness of night,

The lonely silver disc of the moon, bathes the landscape with surreal intensity,

In it’s unfeeling spotlight, for an unknown reason, I feel desolate,

You, speeding across the roof of the world, chasing the eastern mystic dawn,

I gaze at the last seductive blink of light, yet distance and darkness conspire,

The universe wins, and defeated, I stand alone,

I trudge to the car park, wearing shoes of lead,

Having nowhere to go, yet no reason to stay,

Out! Out! onto the highway, My reality here,

Yet My spirit soars east, chasing, never catching,

Radio taunts, me, romantic songs,

I turn south, and briefly look up,

I see another, red, winking, vanishing into a darkening sky

Mark Charlwood© 1989

I Feel The Need….. The Need for Speed!

The sun streamed through the slightly dusty windows of the Alton branch of Costa Coffee, as I sat enjoying my coffee, catching up with the news, both digital and conventional.

 

An article caught my eye about road safety, so, having had my curiosity piqued, I conducted some research which I found very interesting, and in the spirit of friendship and understanding, I offer my thought to you, gentle reader.

 

Speed Cameras. Love them or loathe them, they do serve their purpose, which is reducing speed, and increasing safety. However, adherence to the speed limit isn’t the sole factor that a driver is monitoring, particularly when driving in heavy traffic, or demanding road conditions. Distraction management is not a skill that is taught during driving lessons, and maybe it should be.

 

It would appear that most Police Authorities are aware of this weakness, and allow for a tolerance in speed keeping, to ensure that motorists are not penalised unfairly for a momentary breach of the speed limit.

 

Most police forces in the UK have confirmed that they allow for a 10% error plus a 2 mph additional tolerance to account for minor lapses in driver speed control. This is an agreed standard set by the National Police Chief’s Council.

 

As far as I am aware, this margin was originally put in place to account for the inaccuracies of early speedometers, which were cable driven from either a gearbox on a road wheel, or from the vehicle transmission gearbox. I have also heard anecdotally, that the additional 2 mph was to account for what we could call distraction error.

 

A recent Freedom of Information request made by Auto Express© (www.autoexpress.co.uk) to UK police forces confirmed that 22 constabularies adhere to the guidelines, and cameras are calibrated to trigger at the posted speed limit plus 10% + 2 mph (i.e. in a 30 mph limit, a camera will trigger at 35 mph, in a 40 zone at 46 mph etc)

 

The remaining eight constabularies declined to offer full details of the trigger tolerances, which is a shame, but understandable.

 

According to a study conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science, [1] speed enforcement cameras reduced accidents by between 17 to 39 per cent, and reduced fatalities by between 58 to 68 per cent[2], so they are definitely an effective measure in improving safety.

 

Interestingly, speeding accounted for 60 per cent of all fatal accidents in the UK in 2015.

 

However, whilst the cameras reduced accidents within 500 metres of the site, accidents outside the camera zone increased, as drivers either braked suddenly to ensure they were in compliance with the limit, or accelerated heavily once outside the camera’s operational range.

 

As a result of this behaviour, more and more speed limits are now enforced with average speed cameras, which ensure compliance over a greater distance, and without the related dangers of braking and accelerating in the locality of the speed camera site. This works very well, as I can testify to.

 

One of my regular routes takes me up the A3 towards London. Just south of Guildford, the national 70 mph limit drops to 50 mph, in the area known locally as Wooden Bridge. Up until recently, it was almost impossible to maintain 50 mph in safety due to aggressive tailgaters, dangerous filtering and regular high speed lane changes and sudden lane changes.

 

A few weeks ago, Average Speed Enforcement was activated, and as a result, most drivers now comply with the 50 mph limit, and aggressive tailgating is negated by the need to maintain 50 mph.

 

Human behaviour, being what it is, means that wherever it appears safe to breach the rules, then a driver will consciously break the limit. I admit that on an empty motorway, I often take a calculated risk and drive at 80 or 90. I have done so on a number of occasions, when my experience and perception indicates to me that it is safe to do so. I say that with the benefit of 42 years of driving experience, both on motorcycles and in cars.

 

It often appears that the authorities are willing to reduce speeds when appropriate, but not to increase speeds when the conditions warrant it.

 

Across the EU, they take a sensible and pragmatic approach. In France for example, I have seen a limit of 130 kph (81mph) with a further sign reducing the limit to 110 kph (68 mph) in rain.  Across the Netherlands, the Autoroute limit is 130 kph as well, so 10 mph faster than the maximum speed limit in the UK. So much for EU unity!

 

As it appears that drivers are incapable or unwilling to abide by speed limits, which to be fair, are generally there for the safety of all road users, the EU is now is now mandating that all vehicles manufactured after 2022 will be fitted with Intelligent Speed Adaption (ISA).

 

There is currently a lot of mis-information about what is perceived as external speed control. ISA is designed to complement the driver’s speed keeping discipline, and will intervene should the speed limit be exceeded.

 

ISA is an onboard system that tracks the vehicle’s position by GPS, and compares the co-ordinates with a speed limit database. The system then continuously monitors the vehicles speed.

 

ISA will be designed to offer three modes of operation.

 

At the most basic level, should ISA detect a breach of the posted limit, an audio/visual warning will be generated to alert the driver. This is referred to as an “Open” system. This is an advisory system only, and the driver may choose to ignore the system-generated warnings.

 

Should the authorities decide that the system should be more robust in its levels of intervention, then either a “Half Open” or “Closed” system will be mandated.

 

The Half Open system will be designed to provide force-feedback through the accelerator pedal should the posted limit be exceeded, thus giving the driver not only an audio/visual warning, but a sensory input that actively resists the foot pressure delivered to the accelerator. The driver would then have to consciously make an effort to overcome the feedback pressure. This enables a driver to breach a posted limit in the event that an emergency condition dictates it.

 

Lastly, is the “Closed” system, which actively prevents the speed limit being exceeded, and gives the driver no means of intervention

 

There are obviously drawbacks to the ISA as a system.

 

Firstly, there is a risk that further automation of the driver’s interactive functions will reduce the level of awareness and involvement, potentially leading to a reduction in attention to road and traffic conditions. Loss of awareness is highly dangerous, and could in itself lead to further accidents.

 

Secondly, once a driver has accepted the use of such a system, there may be a tendency to become over confident, with a perception of invulnerability as the system effectively manages maximum speed. However, as the system only monitors compliance with the maximum speed, the driver needs to remain involved and “in the loop” as conditions may dictate a much lower speed for safety.

 

Some drivers may also become frustrated at the system holding them at what they consider to be a speed that is too low for safety, especially where speed limits have been set arbitrarily rather than as a result of evidence based decisions. This may result in risk based behaviour.

 

 

 

So, vehicles are becoming much more automated, and much work needs to be done on developing that man-machine interface.

 

I am so glad that I enjoyed driving as a young man during the years when there were no speed cameras. As a country teenager, I took my chances with getting caught by the police whilst rocketing around the lanes of Sussex at lunatic speeds. I was lucky that I enjoyed this without sustaining a crash, injuring or killing anyone else, and without receiving any driving bans.

 

This is a privilege that is denied younger drivers now.

 

Brave new world?

 

 

You decide.

 

 

Mark Charlwood© May 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Figures from 1992 – 2016 Cheng Keat Tang PhD

[2] Within 500 metres from the camera site