Sunday, November 29, 2020

Anything To Anywhere: ATtAgirls of the ATA

Zoë Sharp

 

In 2018, a lady called Mary Ellis, née Wilkins, died at her home in the Isle of Wight, aged 101. She was one of the last of a rare breed – female pilots who flew during World War II.


Mary Ellis in her ATA uniform
 

Ellis started learning to fly while she was still at school. “I was not very good at hockey, and the school let me go to Witney Airfield for flying lessons instead.”

 

I wasn’t very good at hockey, either, but I don’t remember being offered that alternative…

 

After gaining her licence at around sixteen or seventeen, she flew constantly until all civilian flying ceased at the outbreak of the Second World War. Ellis thought that was the end for her. “Then one day I heard on the radio that female pilots were required for the Air Transport Auxiliary. I said to my mother that I was thinking about applying, and she said ‘No, I shouldn’t if I were you’, but I did it anyway and was accepted.”


Mary Ellis during her service with the ATA
 

The Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) was set up as a civilian organisation in May 1938, initially to carry mail, supplies and personnel. However, it soon became apparent that the pilots were needed to work with the Royal Air Force, ferrying aircraft from factories to the maintenance units where guns and other equipment could be added. Once war broke out, they also had to replenish the active duty squadrons with aircraft, thus freeing up RAF pilots for combat duty.

 

To begin with, the ATA recruited male pilots who had been turned down for active service, usually because of age or injury. Providing they could fly, the ATA ignored any such disabilities, and such pilots referred to themselves as the Ancient & Tattered Airmen.

 

Already, in 1939, an aviatrix and engineer called Pauline Gower proposed establishing a women’s section of the ATA, to be based at Hatfield. It didn’t hurt that Gower’s father was MP Sir Robert Gower—or that Gower herself was a highly experienced flying circus and taxi pilot. She was duly appointed head of the women’s branch in November 1939.


Pauline Gower, head of the women's section of the ATA
 

By the start of 1940, Gower had recruited her first eight female pilots, who were initially allowed only to fly Tiger Moths. These women were a remarkable bunch. Of them, Joan Hughes went on to become one of the UK’s first test pilots. Margaret Cunnison was Scotland’s first female flying instructor. Gabrielle Patterson was Britain’s first female flying instructor.

 

Gower firmly believed that women should be allowed to fly all types of aircraft. By July 1941, founding member Winifred Crossley Fair became the first woman to fly a Hurricane, while Margaret Fairweather flew a Spitfire for the first time the following month. Pilots were trained in the ATA’s own programme rather than at the RAF’s Central Flying School. They qualified on single-engined planes and progressed in stages according to the classification of the aircraft. By gaining experience on all types of aircraft belonging to that class before returning for more training at the next level, they could proceed at their own pace and still make an invaluable contribution.

 

During the war, there were 168 women flying for the ATA—one in every eight pilots. Among these ATtaGirls, as they were known, was record-breaking pilot Amy Johnson, who was tragically killed when she had to bail out into the Thames Estuary in January 1941.


record-breaking aviatrix, Amy Johnson
 

Pilots from neutral countries were accepted, and 28 different nations flew with the ATA. This included Maureen Dunlop from Argentina, who became a pin-up after being featured on the cover of Picture Post, and Margot Duhalde from Chile, who initially spoke almost no English. When she was forced to make an unscheduled landing due to weather, the crew at the airfield could not understand a word she said and actually had her arrested.


Argentine pilot Maureen Dunlop on the cover of Picture Post
 

There were also pilots from Poland, Canada, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand, Holland, and the US. One of the notable American pilots was Jacqueline Cochran. By the time of her death in 1980, Cochran had apparently set more speed, altitude, and distance records than any other pilot—male or female—in aviation history.


Jacqueline Cochran with Col. Chuck Yaeger,
the first woman and man to break the sound barrier
 

Another remarkable pilot was Diana Barnato Walker, who flew 80 different types of aircraft for the ATA, including 260 Spitfires. After the war, she became the first British woman to fly faster than the speed of sound, achieving Mach 1.6 in 1963.


Diana Barnato Walker during her ATA service
 

During the Second World War, the sixteen ferry pools of the ATA delivered more than 309,000 aircraft of 147 different types, clocking up 415,000 hours in the air. Almost 900 tons of freight was safely carried, along with 3,430 passengers. Sadly, 174 pilots were lost, including fifteen women.


Joan Hughes with a Stirling Heavy Bomber delivered by the ATA
 

Perhaps the most remarkable feat of the ATtaGirls of the ATA, however, was the fact that, from 1943, they received equal pay to their male counterparts of equal rank. Until then, they had earned 80 percent. This parity was reported to be the first time the British government approved equal pay for equal work in an organisation it controlled.


Is it just me, or do we seem to have gone backwards since then?

 

This week’s Word of the Week is anthypophora, which is a rhetorical term for the practice of asking oneself a question and then immediately answering it. Closely related to hypophora, which is sometimes seen as the statement or question, and anthypophora as the immediate reply. From the Greek against plus allegation.

Saturday, November 28, 2020

We're Not Alone in Our Worries



Jeff--Saturday

 

For those of you who “fear their very existence is under threat,” I have news for you.  With worldwide Covid cases of more than 61.5 million, and close to 1.5 million Covid deaths, a lot of our planet agrees with you. This shared pandemic catastrophe has cast much of the world into lockdown and led many thoughtful souls into contemplating what other existential challenges their nations now face.

 

You may or may not be surprised to learn that many of the concerns you might have regarding your country and its leadership, match up nicely with those of other nations. For example, this week in Ekathimerini—Greece’s newspaper of record—Angelos Stangos wrote a column titled, “The Thinking Person’s Concerns and Fears,” in which much of what he has to say about Greece is readily applicable to much of the current state of America’s very messy democracy.   

 

In other words, read Angelos Stangos column in its entirety below, and be consoled (maybe) in knowing that we’re not alone.

The Thinking Person’s Concerns and Fears

These are perilous times for a large part of the planet, with difficult situations in many regions. They are especially dangerous for us Greeks, even though we are “part of the West” and members of its key institutions. On top of the concerns and fears triggered by the pandemic and its economic fallout on the thinking citizens of the Western world, we are further threatened by the negative characteristics of the so-called “Greek reality,” and mainly by Turkey’s unfettered provocative behavior, which has reached a new high in recent days. We refer, of course, to the concerns and fears of the thinking members of Greek society and the political class.

Thinking Greek citizens are frustrated because their way of life has, perforce, changed, but they are even more concerned and frightened – justifiably – by the fact that their lives are at risk from the novel coronavirus. They feel that their very existence is under threat, especially if they are of a certain age, as a result of a large portion of the population either consciously ignoring public health measures – many local communities continue to have this mentality, despite mounting infection figures – or are always looking for an excuse to break the rules. They also feel exposed by an irrational political debate that instead of focusing on how to contain transmission of the virus, tends to center – on the initiative of the opposition – on how to exponentially increase the number of beds in intensive care units, as if this would be an effective response to the actual virus.

The same thinking citizens are concerned and afraid because they know that apart from those sections of society that always behave responsibly, the onus of managing the pandemic also lies with state officials, from the government to regional governors and mayors, who missed the mark in some cases, like Thessaloniki, or who appear reluctant to show the necessary ownership of the measures for containing the virus. The behavior of the so-called elite is, after all, indicative, which is why thinking people break out in a cold sweat when they think of the restrictions being eased for the holidays, even though they understand the need for the economy to be given some room to work.

Lastly, thinking Greeks know that we’re in deep trouble when it comes to Turkey and its President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. They are extremely concerned – and have been told as much by many different people – that the period until US President-elect Joe Biden takes office will be critical. Ankara’s recent escalation of tension shows that it is seeking to take advantage of the power vacuum in Washington, so it is not entirely unlikely that it will try push Athens into a military response.

Greeks also know that they cannot rely too much on a safety net from Brussels or Washington, even when the new US administration takes over. They also see Turkey challenging the country’s sovereignty over islands and territorial waters, while trying to convince Europe to abandon Greece and Cyprus to their own devices and make nice with Ankara. Their fears, therefore, are entirely justified.

––Jeff



Friday, November 27, 2020

The Iconic Red Phone Box

                                                      

                                                        One of the older ones still on the street


You might think that fads began with the internet, planking, slapping and ice buckets are three that come to mind but they have been around since human beings could talk. The Neanderthals probably thought of a fashionable hair plait, ancient Britain’s might have sported a new design of wode on the face.



Could you get 25 South Africans in here?


In the 1950s there was a trend for how many people you could stuff in a phone box that later went tolhow many people you could stuff in a mini car.

The world record for ‘phone box stuffing’ was set in 1959 when 25 students at Durban YMCA stuffed themselves into a standard phone booth. It’s recorded that when the phone rang nobody could answer it. Other attempts on the world record have failed due to cheating, ie not enough of the body parts in the box, or the phone box was lying down.

The red telephone box is a very British thing. The first one  was called K1,  and the second incarnation, (K2!) has been voted as one of Britain’s top 10 design icons. There's a  whole series of K’s from 1 to 6 ending in KX in 1985. I was disappointed that they never named one K9.  


                                  

                                 Photo from an article in the Guardian - the Soanes family toomb, and K1

The Red Box It was initially designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the dome on the top is reminiscent of the mausoleum of Sir John Soane. There are still 7 KI boxes – kiosk number 1 - in  Britain, that are upright snd functional in some way.  They were placed on the streets in 1921 so they have been about for a long time.  These seven have been listed by Historic Britain for their protection and they are objects of such affection that villages are able to adopt them legally, as well as buy them outright as a community space. 

In 1925,  there were a 100 of them, mostly in London. By the  time we get to 1980 there were 73,000 new ones produced, with 5 foundries making the cast iron kiosks. They are were mostly manufactured in Scotland.  By that time, there was 132 000 of them on the streets.


                                                  

                                                                          Wrong!

The Brits are very protective of them. Questions were asked in Parliament when GPO  tried to change their colour.  There was outrage, protests etc, nowadays there would be twitter spats and calls for larger phone boxes for the claustaphobia sufferers. 

The Tudor Crown on the side became the St Edwards Crown  and at that point the Scottish phone boxes changed theirs to have the Crown of Scotland. They were made with a removable plate that could carry whatever emblem was accurate.

There are many uses for them:

Shower cubicles in private homes.

Shower cubicles on piers and beaches

As an artwork installation, like these ones resembling a row of fallen dominoes

                                              

Libraries for small books in small places (called a micro library)

                                                   

Art galleries selling cards and small prints.

Art galleries with the art being projected onto the streets and walls outside.

They house defibrillator units.

Mobile phone charging units  ( oh the irony)

Coffee shops

Restaurants  for small gatherings

Colour therapy box with stained glass windows, you stand inside and are forced to relax.

Salad Bars

Cake shops

Memorial box for those who have passed

They could, I suppose, become very small writing spaces, or just somewhere to sit and people watch. Everybody will wonder what you are up to. 


Weird. Interesting and more British that James Bond eating chips and a Bacon Butty!


Caro

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Thanksgiving Day

Stanley - Thanksgiving Thursday

 For friends and readers in the United States, I hope today is one for giving thanks. 

The year has been so bizarre that I fear for many it won't be. There will be friends and family who are no longer around to share the day with. There will be families who cannot come together to celebrate because of the COVID-19-virus restrictions. There will be people who have lost their jobs. And there will be those who have completely depleted their savings. 

To everyone who feels that giving thanks is the last thing they want to do today, I can only hope that 2021 is much better.

In these tumultuous times, it is reassuring to see some traditions continue.

The President practising his pardons.

Cheers!





Wednesday, November 25, 2020

HAPPY STRANGE THANKSGIVING

 Kwei--Wednesday

(Image: Subbotina Anna/Shutterstock)

Thanksgiving 2020 will likely go down in history as one of the strangest for many people. Now, apart from dreading having to deal with troublesome Uncle Frank another year, there is a much more serious specter looming over the decision to travel to get together with family and friends: Covid-19.

Although over three million people have reportedly passed through our airports already, a good 71% of travelers say they are more comfortable going by car than flying, according to a Volvo Car-USA and Harris Poll. 

Masked traveler (Image: OPOLJA/Shutterstock)

Air travelers interviewed on CNN and other outlets expressed how much they wanted to see, touch, and hug their loved ones after 9-10 months of separation from them. Neither the CDC advisory against traveling this holiday season nor the horrific Covid-19 statistics is persuasion enough: The death toll has topped 259,000 out of a staggering total 12.5 million cases with an average of 167,000 new daily cases and a projection of 20 million cases by January 20, 2021. Hospitalizations are surging and many hospitals are at capacity.

Some of us, myself included, find the risk-benefit analysis of millions to be baffling. You might be dying to see Granny again but she might be dying in two weeks after you kissed her on the cheek and gave her a puff of your Covid-19-laden breath. At the moment, personal family gatherings can act as super spreader events.

I believe flawed reasoning has determined the decision to travel and gather with family:

1. Hard to believe something I can't see. Viruses floating in the air? I don't see them, so I'm not that alarmed.


Corona Airport


2. A negative Covid test before travel means I'm okay. Long lines of cars formed at testing sites before this holiday week as people sought the reassurance that they were negative and "cleared" for travel. Unfortunately, between the time of the test and the arrival at the destination, contraction of the virus could occur. The test is only a snapshot in time: at this moment, I am unable to detect any virus inside you.

 
              Line for Covid-19 testing, Dodger Stadium Nov 18, 2020
              (Image: Ringo Chiu/Shutterstock)


3. I have my mask, I will socially distance, and I'll be fine. Here's the problem. If you are 
 traveling by air, you will undoubtedly run into areas of travel where you may be packed in with crowds
 of people you cannot possibly be distant from. Recall that in the bustle and hustle of travel your mask and other people's masks may slip down the nose or off the mouth. Are you planning to eat or drink at the airport or during flight? You'll have to take your mask then, won't you? If someone starts coughing beside you in your packed plane (and they will be packed), how can you be sure they are not spewing virus-laden droplets? This may seem like doomsday thinking, but think of the stories you hear about Covid-afflicted people who believed they had been very careful but still got the disease.

4. Willful blindness. People who no longer want to deal with a painful problem can go into denial and    choose to ignore the issue. This is exactly what happened to soon-to-be-ex-President Trump. There are also people who have a difficult time imagining themselves in the position of those who are struck down by Covid-19. They can't feel it. Others yet have become desensitized to the daily barrage of appalling numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and death.

5. The vaccine is coming, so no problem. You have no idea when you'll receive the vaccine, which, by the way, is not a cure for Covid-19. Between now and the time you get the vaccine, you could get infected.

Be ready, friends, this last spike of cases before the vaccine could be our worst yet as a result of the holidays.

What's Thanksgiving All About, Anyway?
Supposedly, in 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Native Americans shared an autumn harvest feast and this was the "first Thanksgiving." In fact, both Europeans and Native Americans had been having food celebration festivals all along. It was really in the 1830s that New Englanders looked back at the event and thought it resembled their version of the holiday and therefore designated it as the "first Thanksgiving."

I'm firmly skeptical of oft-repeated historic legends, because time has undoubtedly modified and changed the story to become something that the original event was not. The story of what happened to the Native Americans at the hands of Europeans disallows us from presenting the story of Thanksgiving out of context and as if it was all sweetness and light.

So, on many Thanksgiving feasts as I've gorged on excessive amounts of food, I have often felt guilty at the dining table as I think of the less fortunate. My mind strays to the question, "What exactly are we doing, and are we sure we know what we're celebrating?" Like many traditions, Thanksgiving's true meaning, if there ever was one, has undoubtedly been lost and turned into an over-the-top occasion. On the plus side, the warmth of company can be a joy. Perhaps just a little less stuff on the table? 


And so, me?
You can tell that I'm ambivalent to the Thanksgiving ritual. It's okay if I don't have one. This 2020 year, millions are out of work as a result of the Covid pandemic and government neglect and mismanagement, and I'm not sure I feel good about "pigging out." As I've done in the past, I might go out and help serve up some free meals for those who have little or nothing. I think I'll feel better. 


 


Monday, November 23, 2020

On Spite and Its Aftermath

Annamaria on Monday



My brilliant and in every way laudable blogmates have given you a bit of respite over the past couple of days.  I interrupt that trend for a rant.  I hate to announce the - for me - unavoidable.  Warning: I am giving my inner pollyanna the day off.  She'll be back, I promise.  But today I woke up to this headline in the New York Times that set my teeth on edge:

 

The ensuing article, written by Michael D. Shear, began like this:

WASHINGTON — Voters have decided that President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. should guide the country through the next four years. But on issues of war, the environment, criminal justice, trade, the economy and more, President Trump and top administration officials are doing what they can to make changing direction more difficult.

Mr. Trump has spent the last two weeks hunkered down in the White House, raging about a “stolen” election and refusing to accept the reality of his loss. But in other ways he is acting as if he knows he will be departing soon, and showing none of the deference that presidents traditionally give their successors in their final days in office.

During the past four years Mr. Trump has not spent much time thinking about policy, but he has shown a penchant for striking back at his adversaries. And with his encouragement, top officials are racing against the clock to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, secure oil drilling leases in Alaska, punish China, carry out executions and thwart any plans Mr. Biden might have to reestablish the Iran nuclear deal.

In some cases, like the executions and the oil leases, Mr. Trump’s government plans to act just days — or even hours — before Mr. Biden is inaugurated on Jan. 20.

 

At a wide range of departments and agencies, Mr. Trump’s political appointees are going to extraordinary lengths to try to prevent Mr. Biden from rolling back the president’s legacy. They are filling vacancies on scientific panels, pushing to complete rules that weaken environmental standards, nominating judges and rushing their confirmations through the Senate, and trying to eliminate health care regulations that have been in place for years.



I couldn't read further.  What came immediately to my mind was pictures of the spiteful behavior of the Nazis when they were driven out of Florence during World War II.  They destroyed beautiful medieval buildings and a bridge graced with sculptures by Michelangelo.  Out of spite. There was no other possible explanation.


With the connection between Trump's behavior and that of defeated and irate fascists taking hold in my mind, I went straight to my Webster's Second Edition, unabridged, which sits on its stand near my computer.  Here's what I found:



"Spiteful" means malignant - the word we use to characterize a disease that can kill a person.  I fear that the intended victim here is not an individual but American democracy.  Nerd that I am, I went to research the behavior, hoping for insight.  And as usual, I found some.




Confucius warned "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves."

Spite almost always hurts the person who doles it out, as well as its recipient.  Such Pyrrhic victories must promise some kind of reward or they would not be so often undertaken.  Said rewards are precisely the ones that would best obtain for our case in point today.  Spiteful people in general - and this one in particular - see themselves as having been "victimized."  Psychology Today defines this sort of rancorous behavior as "an act of gratuitous malice, undertaken by a morally bankrupt sociopath."  My reading tells me that such an emotionally charged person, knowing that he will also be hurt, convinces himself that his target will suffer more than he will. He gets the emotional relief of knowing that he has inflicted pain on the person who has "hurt" him.


But what about all those people who are supporting Trump in his efforts to undermine his inevitable successor?  Some of them, quite obviously, care only about their ends: opening up precious old growth forests for oil drilling, keeping those uppity back and brown people in their place, making sure that money will prevail over the ballot box, and so on and so forth.  Others are merely cowardly.  Over time, a knee-jerk avenger acquires a reputation for hitting back harder - a long-term benefit for the wielder of the vengeance axe.  He inspires fear in anyone who contemplates challenging him.  Without having to speak the threat, habitual dishers of revenge, especially those who keep around them only cowardly sycophants, can expect their allies to pass the ammunition the minute they start shooting. It's how their supporters avoid becoming targets.


The beat goes on....

On our sacred planet, we can find even vindictive bacteria.  They release toxins against other bacteria nearby.  In many cases, however, those avenger creatures end up poisoning themselves.

We can only hope. 



Sunday, November 22, 2020

I'm Just Going to Leaf This Here

 --Susan, every other Sunday


Japan is a seasonal country--which isn't precisely the same thing as saying "Japan has seasons" although that's also true. For centuries, Japanese people have celebrated the seasons, and their natural expressions, through culture, food, activities, and other experiences--traditions that continue to this day.

Each spring, Japan goes cherry blossom crazy, and a similar phenomenon occurs each autumn, when trees across the country put on spectacular, colorful shows.


Autumn leaves on Kōyasan, Wakayama Prefecture, October 2020

Kōyō (紅葉), the Japanese term for colorful autumn leaves, are taken so seriously in Japan that there's even an official government forecast to help people know where and when the colors are at their best.


When the tree upstages the World Heritage Site.


Japan is a mountainous country, which definitely helps where colorful foliage is concerned. Cold mountain nights help the trees produce a wide variety of striking hues.

The torii gates at Shintō shrines seem made for autumn photos.

Japan's autumn leaf season lasts well over a month. Peak foliage begins high in the mountains of Hokkaido's Daisetsuzan National Park (usually around the end of September or early October) and slowly works its way south across the rest of Japan's major islands. Tokyo generally sees peak leaves in November (they peaked last week in the mountains surrounding the capital, and are turning nicely here in the Kantō plain this week) and Kyoto's foliage season often lasts into December.


The mountain trees start peaking across Japan in October and November 


Changing leaves are not only a visible sign of autumn, but a reminder of the brevity and fragility of life. The leaves turn color, die, and fall, and human lives are brief but beautiful as well. 

My personal favorite: a tree captured in a rainbow of change

Everyone in Japan has a favorite type of autumn leaves. The vibrant reds of the maples, the golden ginkgo, or--my personal favorite--the maples caught in the all-too-brief but spectacular period when they display a rainbow of colors simultaneously.


Which ones are your favorites? (There's no wrong answer.)


Autumn leaf viewing has been somewhat subdued for the humans this year, but the trees are putting on amazing show, as usual.  

Golden ginkgo peeking through the maples.


All too soon, these vibrant colors will fade to brown, and the leaves will fall. Soon after, snow will fall on many parts of Japan, ushering in yet another season to enjoy.

They seem to be competing with the bridge.


But for the moment, the maples blaze, the air snaps with an energizing morning chill, and kōyō season has arrived in earnest in Japan. With everything going on in the world, I'm especially glad to see the leaves transform this year--and not even primarily because it means that 2020 is almost over.

Why turn all your leaves one color, when you can turn every leaf a different color?


The arrival of autumn leaves reminds me, daily, that there is striking, breathtaking, spectacular beauty in the world--beauty that bursts into life, fades away, and returns again and again with each passing year.

More leaf!



And I think that bears remembering. So, while I could say plenty more about kōyō's influence on Japanese art, poetry, culture, and food, I think, instead, I'm just going to leaf it here.