Did you know St Patrick wasn’t Irish?

Happy St. Patrick’s Day.. the day celebrates the Roman Catholic feast day of the patron saint of Ireland. St. Patrick died on March 17, 461. But did you know that he wasn’t even Irish – He was British….

Patrick’s birthname was Maewyn. He was born in Roman Britain. He was kidnapped into slavery and brought to Ireland. He escaped to a monastery in Gaul (France) and converted to Christianity. He went back to Ireland in 432 as a missionary. While Christianity had already taken hold in the country, tradition has it that Patrick confronted the Druids at Tara and abolished their pagan rites, making Christianity more widespread. Patrick became a bishop and after his death was named Ireland’s patron saint. Celebrations in Ireland were understated though. Eighteenth century Irish soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War held the first St. Patrick Day parades. . When the Irish emigrated to the U.S., they created the bigger celebrations and parades known today. The celebrations became a way for the Irish to connect with their roots after they moved to America.

Fun Facts associated with St Patricks Day:

The shamrock: According to legend St. Patrick used the three leaf clover (or shamrock) to explain the Trinity.

Dyeing the river green: The practice of dyeing the river green started in Chicago in 1962, when city officials decided to dye a portion of the Chicago River green.

Corn beef and cabbage: This is an Irish American dish. Irish Americans were so poor they could not afford certain meals. On St. Patrick’s Day, the best meal they could afford was beef and cabbage. It became a staple for the holiday.

If you look at the link below it’s a web cam showing the Temple Bar (pub) in Dublin, there are really enjoying themselves…

Chicago River on Saint Patricks Day imagesCAAPX5AU

The Only Unsolved Air Piracy Case in American Aviation History

Apologies in advance as It’s a long story today, but I think an interesting one – It’s about a man called Dan Cooper (photo 1), who hijacked a Boeing 727 aircraft between Portland and Seattle on the 24th November 1971, he obtained $200,00 in ransom, and parachuted from the aircraft to an uncertain fate. Despite an extensive manhunt and an ongoing FBI investigation, the perpetrator, to this day, has never been located or positively identified. The case remains the only unsolved air piracy in American aviation history. The event began mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving Eve, November 24, 1971, at Portland Internatonal Airport in Oregon. A man carrying a black attaché case approached the flight counter of Northwest Orient Airlines. He identified himself as “Dan Cooper” and purchased a one-way ticket on Flight 305, a 30-minute trip to Seattle, Washington. Flight 305, was only a third full, and took off on schedule at 2:50 pm, local time. Cooper passed a note to Florence Schaffner, the flight attendant situated nearest to him in a jumpsteat attached to the aft stair door. Schaffner, assuming the note contained a lonely businessman’s phone number, dropped it unopened into her purse. Cooper leaned toward her and whispered, “Miss, you’d better look at that note. I have a bomb”. And so the hijacking began. The note was printed in neat, capital letters with a felt pen. It read, “I have a bomb in my briefcase. I will use it if necessary. I want you to sit next to me. You are being hijacked.” Schaffner did as requested, then, quietly asked to see the bomb. Cooper cracked open his briefcase long enough for her to glimpse eight red cylinders (“four on top of four”) attached to wires coated with red insulation, and a large cylindrical battery. After closing the briefcase, he dictated his demands: $200,000 in “negotiable American currency” four parachutes (two primary and two reserve); and a fuel truck standing by in Seattle to refuel the aircraft upon arrival. Schaffner conveyed Cooper’s instructions to the cockpit; The pilot, William Scott, contacted Seattle Air Traffic Control, which in turn informed local and federal authorities.

FBI agents assembled the ransom money from several Seattle-area banks—10,000 unmarked 20-dollar bills, and made a microfilm photograph of each of them. Cooper rejected the military-issue parachutes initially offered by authorities, demanding instead civilian parachutes with manually operated ripcords. Seattle police obtained them from a local skydiving school. At 5:24 pm Cooper was informed that his demands had been met, and at 5:39 pm the aircraft landed at Seattle-Tacoma Airport. Cooper instructed Captain Scott to taxi the jet to an isolated, brightly lit section of the tarmacand extinguish lights in the cabin to deter police snipers. Northwest Orient’s Seattle operations manager  approached the aircraft in street clothes (to avoid the possibility that Cooper might mistake his airline uniform for that of a police officer) and delivered the cash-filled knapsack and parachutes to Cooper via the aft stairs. (Photo 2 shows the aft stairs on the Boeing 727 aircraft). Once the delivery was completed Cooper permitted all passengers, Schaffner, and senior flight attendant Alice Hancock to leave the plane. During refueling Cooper outlined his flight plan to the cockpit crew: a southeast course toward Mexico City at the minimum airspeed possible without stalling the aircraft (approximately 100 knots (190 km/h; 120 mph)) at a maximum 10,000 foot (3,000 m) altitude. He further specified that the wheels remain down in the takeoff/landing position, the wing flaps be lowered 15 degrees, and the cabin remain unpressurized. He also advised them that after take-off he would be lowering the aft stairs. After takeoff Cooper told Mucklow to join the rest of the crew in the cockpit and remain there with the door locked. As she complied, Mucklow observed Cooper tying something around his waist.  At approximately 8:00 pm a warning light flashed in the cockpit, indicating that the aft air stair apparatus had been activated. The crew’s offer of assistance via the aircraft’s intercom system was curtly refused. The crew soon noticed a subjective change of air pressure, indicating that the aft door was open. At approximately 8:13 pm the aircraft’s tail section sustained a sudden upward movement, significant enough to require trimming to bring the plane back to level flight. At approximately 10:15 pm Captain Scott landed the 727, with the aft air stair still deployed, at Reno Airport. FBI agents, state troopers, sheriff’s deputies, and Reno police surrounded the jet, as it had not yet been determined with certainty that Cooper was no longer aboard; but an armed search quickly confirmed that he was gone.

In 1972/3 and 4, extensive searches were made all along the aircrafts flight path, but nothing was found. In 1978 a placard containing instructions for lowering the aft stairs of a 727, later verified to be from the hijacked airliner, was found by a deer hunter near a logging road about 13 miles (21 km) east of Castle Rock, Washington, within the basic path of Flight 305. Then in February 1980 an eight-year-old boy named Brian Ingram, vacationing with his family on the Columvia River about 9 miles (15 km) downstream from Vancouver, Washington, uncovered three packets of the ransom cash, significantly disintegrated but still bundled in rubber bands, as he raked the sandy riverbank to build a campfire. FBI technicians confirmed that the money was indeed a portion of the ransom. But no trace of Cooper was ever found. The FBI has argued from the beginning that Cooper did not survive his jump. “Diving into the wilderness without a plan, without the right equipment, in such terrible conditions, as there was low cloud, heavy rain and near freezing temperatures, he probably never even got his ‘chute open.” Even if he did land safely, agents contend, survival in the mountainous terrain would have been all but impossible without an accomplice at a predetermined landing point, which would have required a precisely timed jump, necessitating, cooperation from the flight crew, which was never requested.  And so the hijacking remains unsolved to this day. Oh by the way, in 1986 the FBI released the money that Brian Ingram had found 6 years earlier (well it was split between Brian and the Northwest Airlines insurance company).

DBCooper Rwr727tail


Today Hiccups and Yawning.

Today we follow on from Wednesdays blog on sneezing and coughing to see why we hiccup and yawn. Well like the beating of your heart, your diaphragm and lungs have a smooth involuntary repetitive action cycle to them, you don’t always have to remember to breath, right?. Your body is hard-wired to breath at a certain rate, causing your lungs and diaphragm to contract at intervals. So hiccups are caused when the action cycle on your diaphragm is put it out of sync with the involuntary contractions of your lungs. It happens when your lungs and ribs contract to pull in air at the same moment that your diaphragm relaxes which would push out air, and that smacking together of the muscles is what we call a hiccup. That is why to cure hiccups, we hold our breath, or drink water for a certain period of time. By stopping our ability to breath, we push the metaphorical reset button on our lungs and diaphragm, re-syncing the muscles.

That’s hiccups dealt with, so why do we yawn? As mentioned above, breathing brings oxygen into our lungs which then oxygenates our red blood cells that then takes the oxygen to the rest of our bodies for a variety of purposes: to clear away lactic acid build up in our muscles, get rid of muscle cramps, improve physical and brain function, to turn into energy, and a variety of other processes. We need oxygen to live. When you finally go to sleep, your body doesn’t, your heart keeps beating, and you keep breathing, often deeper in your sleep. That’s because when you sleep, your muscles and your brain are resting, while your body refuels them with oxygen for the next day, clearing away any buildup of waste and healing you while you sleep. When you’re tired, your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. A yawn is your body’s attempt at a quick refresh and awakening by pulling in a lot of oxygen to rejuvenate your brain, improve it’s function and blood flow.
So the next time you’re in a deep conversation with somebody and they yawn, don’t say “Am I boring you”, say “thank you,” because it’s a compliment to you. Your conversation is so interesting and complex that they need to increase oxygen and their brains’ function to understand everything you’re saying.

hiccup-3 man_yawning

Did you know there was an English Pope.

Yesterday millions of people all over the world watched live on TV as Cardinal elect Jorge Bergoglio from Argentina because Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church worldwide. Of the 267 elected Pope’s, he is the first non European Pope, the majority of previous Pope’s have been from Italy, but there was one Pope who came from England..So today a little history lesson on Pope Hadrian IV from England.

He was born Nicholas Breakspear on the 1st September 1100, in Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire, England. His father was a monk in St Albans, and Nicholas received his early education at the Abbey School in St Albans.  Nicholas asked his father if he could be admitted into the monastery, but he was told to “wait and go on with his schooling” which his father felt was more suitable. Nicholas did not wait and went instead to Paris, and finally became a Cannon of the cloister of St Rufus monastery in Arles, which is in the south of France. He rose to become a prior, and soon after was elected as Abbot of St Rufus. His reforming zeal as Abbot led to the lodging of complaints against him in Rome, but this merely attracted favorable attention from Pope Eugene III who created him Cardinal Bishop of Albano (Italy) in December 1149. From 1152 to 1154 the Pope sent Nicholas to Scandinavia as “Papal Legate”, organizing the affairs of the new Norwegian Archbishop of Trondheim. On his return to Rome in 1154, Nicholas was received with great honour by the Pope, and upon the Pope’s death, Nicholas was elected as Pope on the 3rd December 1154, taking the name Pope Hadrian IV. His papacy ended on the 1st September 1159 upon his death, which is shrouded in mystery… His death was reported as due to choking on a fly in his wine; however the probable cause was by complication of tonsillitis called quinsy, which incidentally is what George Washington is believed to have died from. Hope you enjoyed today’s history lesson, have a great Afternoon America, and a Good Evening GB, saw on the BBC news that the wintry weather is due to return in a few days! keep the hot water bottles handy.


Why do we close our eyes when we sneeze?

Why is almost absolutely impossible to sneeze with your eyes open? Well the medical term for a sneeze is a “sternutatory reflex”. A sneeze is a beautiful thing, it’s your body’s way of protecting you by expelling any dangerous particles it senses in your nasal cavity. A sneeze protects you from foreign particles, and this defensive play is aimed at your nose. When we breath in through our nose the little hairs and mucous membrane inside the nose catch any offending particles that are too big or don’t belong in the lungs, like a safety net. When we blow our noses and mucous comes out, that’s one way of cleaning out the nose. But sometimes, bad particles get deep in the net of our nose which then sends a message to the lungs of “Danger! Beware!” Our lungs then, breathe in through our mouths and “Achoo!” It shoots air out through the nose and mouth at speeds of up to 100mph, sending away any offending particles and clearing the nose area completely. So why do most people automatically close their eyes when sneezing? Basically during a sneeze, tremendous stress is placed on the body and considerable air pressure is place upon the eyes. This pressure is not enough to pop your eyes out of your head or even make them bulge out, but enough to make your eyes feel uncomfortable from the added pressure. The brain therefore triggers most us to close our eyes automatically when we sneeze in order to keep the eyes from “extruding”. l say most of us close our eyes because ssome people can sneeze with their eyes open. We have no control over whether or not we close our eyes when we sneeze. 95% of us have the reflex from the brain that closes our eyes, that leaves 5% who don’t have the reflex, so when they sneeze their eyes won’t close.  A cough is very similar to a sneeze, as it’s the lungs way of dealing with any foreign particle trying to enter the lungs. We cough is when our body senses something liquid or solid pushing to get into the lungs. Our lungs close off their opening, tense up, and push back, Boom! a Cough bursts forth, pushing all the air in your lungs at the intruding object or liquid sending it into your mouth or throat, where you can decide to swallow it or spit it out. The perfect defense mechanism to protect the lungs.


A New Attraction In Liverpool.

There’s a new tourist attraction in Liverpool, England, it’s called the Williamson Tunnels, and consists of a labyrinth of tunnels in the “Edge Hill” area of Liverpool, which were built under the direction of an eccentric businessman called Joseph Williamson between 1805 and 1840. They remained derelict, filled with rubble and refuse, until an archaeological investigation was carried out in 1995. Since then excavations have been carried out, and are still ongoing, which has opened part of the labyrinth of tunnels to the public as a heritage centre.

So why to Joseph Williamson build the tunnels? To be honest there is no defining answer, all that is know is from 1805 Joseph Williamson (See photo 1) acquired an area of land in the Edge Hill area of Liverpool that was then a largely undeveloped outcrop of sandstone with a scattering of scars from small-scale quarrying on it. He started to build houses on the land, they were eccentric in design and without any rational plan. The houses he built always had a large garden at the back that sloped downwards, so he built arched terraces over which the gardens could be extended, and under the arches were the starting of his tunnel empire…The random tunnel-building continued until Williamson’s death in 1840, and in 1867 a Liverpool newspaper described the tunnels as being a “great nuisance” because drains ran into them, filling them will offensive water… As mentioned, in 1995 excavations began to uncover the tunnels, and they seems to be built in a rectangular shape, however their full extent is not known and many of them are still blocked by rubble. They vary in size from a “Banqueting Hall Tunnel” which is about 70 feet long, 25 feet wide, and 20 feet high, to smaller tunnels which are only 4 feet wide and 6 feet high, but all of them are extremely well built and have fully bricked walls (see photos 2 and 3). As Williamson was so secretive about his motives to build the tunnels, there are lots of theories, the main speculation being that he was a member of an extremist religious sect fearing the end of the world was near, and the tunnels were built to provide refuge for himself and his followers. The only explanation that Williamson gave when asked why his workers were building the tunnels, his answer was “All of my workers receive a weekly wage and are thus enabled to enjoy the blessing of charity without the attendant curse of stifled self respect”. In other words his prime motive was the “employment of the poor”. Who knows, as the excavate more of his tunnels they made find out the real answer. If they dig far enough they may find another tunnel under the River Mersey!!

JW corner_tunnel_02 corner_tunnel_01

A 208 Welsh Aquaduct that is still working to this day..

Today we are in Wales, and the photos are of the magnificent 208 year old Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which is a navigable waterway that carries the Llangollen Canal over the valley of the River Dee in North East Wales. Completed in 1805, it is the longest, and highest aqueduct in Britain, a Grade 1 listed building , and a World Heritage Site. When the bridge was built, it linked the villages of Froncysyllte, at the southern end of the bridge, with Cysyllte township of Llangollen parish (from where it takes its name).

The aqueduct was built by Thomas Telford, who was a Scottish civil engineer, noted around the British Isles for being a road, bridge and canal builder. The aqueduct  is 1,007 ft (307 m) long, 11 ft (3.4 m) wide and 5.25 ft (1.60 m) deep. It consists of a cast iron trough supported 126 ft (38 m) above the valley on iron arched ribs, carried on nineteen hollow masonry piers (pillars). Each span is 53 ft (16 m) wide. Despite considerable public scepticism, Telford was confident the construction method would work. It was opened on 26 November 1805, having taken around ten years to design and build at a total cost of UKL47,000. Adjusted for inflation this is equal to £2,930,000 as of 2013 ($4,400,00), and the structure is still standing, and working today – 208 year on. The towpath is mounted above the water, with the inner edge carried on cast-iron pillars in the trough. This arrangement allows the water displaced by the passage of a narrow boat to flow easily under the towpath and around the boat, enabling relatively free passage. Pedestrians, and the horses once used for towing, are protected from falling from the aqueduct by railings on the outside edge of the towpath, but the holes in the top flange of the other side of the trough, capable of mounting railings, were never used. The trough sides rise only about 6 inches (15 cm) above the water level, so the helmsman of the boat has no visual protection from the impression of being at the edge of an abyss, a very uneasy feeling for many boaters who cross the valley on the aqueduct. I have a fear of heights so as much as I could stand on one side of the bridge and admire both the structure and the wonderful view, there is no way I could walk across.

pic 1 pic 2 pic 3 pic 4


The London Double Decker Bus..

Tonight we look at the “Double Decker Bus” which is common all over the UK, Europe and most of the old British Empire. It’s starting to catch on here in the USA, mostly in large cities as open air double decker buses for sightseeing. Bus the Red Double Decker Bus is known all over the world as being a part of London.. l remember catching the number 17 double decker every school day – so l wanted to know it’s history (the double decker bus, not the number 17!)

Well the earliest buses were called “omnibuses” and were operated in the UK in the 1830’s. As this was well before the invention of the combustion engine, they were pulled by horses. It was the UK that first invented the “double decker” in  1847 when a company called Adams & Co manufactured a vehicle with an upper deck that was accessed by a ladder. The horse drawn double decker (see photo 1), was introduced in London by the Economic Conveyance Company, and to encourage people to use the upper deck, fares were half the cost of sitting inside on the lower deck. In time the ladder was replaced by a staircase, and the last horse drawn bus operated in London on the 4th August 1914. The first motorized double decker was called the B-Type (see photo 2) and was introduced in London in1910, this was followed by the first enclosed double decked the N-1, again in London in 1923 (see photo 3). It was the first double decker bus to feature a fully covered top deck, and was considered luxurious at the time with upholstered seats rather than wooden benches. The NS.1 stayed in service until 1937. From 1938 the iconic red double decker buses ran in London, all through the second world war, and in 1954 the first of a modern replacement for the double decker was built – The Routemaster (see photo 4).  This is the bus that every tourist to London saw until it was withdrawn from use in December 2005. I used to love being able to jump on and off that open platform of a double decker bus on my way to school, something, I thought, that kids of today will never experience with the new modern era of buses. But then London introduced the new “21st century Routemaster (see photo 5) and it has the open rear platform. Well done to the makers and developers, what great forward thinking, keeping this tradition alive.

1 3 (2) 3 (1) Routemaster-RM5 5 (1)


All about Rice.

The first photo below is a stunning hillside view of rice fields, or “paddies” in China. By the way the vivid purple fields are where fertilizer being applied to the water for growing the rice in. The second photo shows the rice, fully grown and ready to be harvested. China is the world’s Largest producer of rice in the world, and accounts for 26% of all the worlds rice production. Most of us eat rice, but do you know its origins, and how it is grown and harvested? Rice, is one of the oldest foods on the dinner table. Archaeologists can trace it back to about 5000 BC, and historians note that it was mentioned in relation to China, where they held annual rice ceremonies, as early as about 2300 BC. They believe that the plant was also native to India and Thailand. Rice came to the West via explorers, soldiers, and traders. It thrived in many climates but not so well in others. Because the plant requires much rainfall shortly after it’s planted in the ground, followed by plenty of hot, sunny weather. Rice is a member of the grass family. The only raw material needed for commercial production of rice is the rice seed or seedlings. Nowadays, additional use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizer can increase the yield. More than 1 billion people throughout the world are actively involved in growing rice!

So how is rice grown? – Rice seeds are sown into soil pots, and grow very quickly, just a few weeks, into rice seedlings. The seedlings are planted into the flooded fields between February and April, the rice farmer in China generally grows rice on a hill side in sectioned off fields that have a levy around them to hold the water in the field. The whole hillside is divided into “paddie fields” with a series of levies and sleuth gates. Once the fields have been sown with the rice seedlings, the gates are used to control the level of water in the different fields on the hillside. The water is so important for the growth of rice, and it takes 5000 litres of water to produce 1 kilo of rice! The rice grows very quickly in the water, once the plants have reached full growth (approximately three months after Planting the seedlings) and the grains begin to ripen—the tops begin to droop and the stems turn yellow—the water is drained from the fields. As the fields dry, the grains ripen further and harvesting is commenced. Once the rice is harvested, at the processing plant, it is cleaned and hulled. At this point, brown rice needs no further processing. If white rice is desired, the brown rice is milled to remove the outer bran layers. And that’s a little insight into rice and how this grain is grown that is the staple diet for over half of the world’s population. Two last quirky facts about rice. The average American consumes 25lbs of rice per year. They don’t eat all 25lbs, 4lbs comes from drinking beer!! And in Japan two of their most popular cars brands are named after rice. Toyota, meaning “Bountiful Rice Field,” and Honda, meaning “Main Rice Field”

Rice Field Terraces in Yunnan, China 11820297-golden-paddy-rice-field-ready-for-harvest

Do dogs collect frequent flyer miles?

This story is recalled by a Braniff Airlines Captain back in the 1970’s: We went to south Florida and back on day 1 of a four-day trip. On the return leg to Dallas, my First Officer asked if he could go out to the parking lot to check on his dog. I inquired as to what was going on, and he responded that he was moving and had to get out of his old place and couldn’t get into his new place until after  we ended the 4 day trip. I asked if he had heard of Kennels, but he replied that he was on B scale wages,  and couldn’t afford it. This was April, but I was concerned about the heat. The F/O responded that the windows were all cracked in his car, and that he had plenty of food and water. Then I inquired about the probable mess. He responded that the dog was in an airline crate as he was only a small dog, and the mess would be contained. That was the final straw, as I was surveying the back jumpseat on the Boeing 727. I asked if the crate would fit. The F/O responded yes but wanted to make sure that’s what I had in mind. I said “Yes – go get the dog”. Needless to say security gave him some flack, and the Agents and Flight Attendants were incredulous, but we strapped in the dog and taxied out. I was thinking that I may have saved this dog’s life or at least made him more comfortable for 4 days. I had second thoughts as I pushed up the power for the first takeoff and the dog started to howl. The people in first class must have thought that the pilots were really strange. It all went downhill after that. We found ourselves walking through the various terminals for the next four days, carrying a dog and getting very strange looks from the public and crew members. Then we had to load the dog into the Van for the ride to the hotel every night. We tipped the drivers extra to keep their mouths shut and drop us off at the back of the hotels so we could keep the news of the extra guest to ourselves. We kept this up for four days. It was a strange trip, but the dog survived, and seemed to enjoy it.135979928-300x300-0-0

Page 3 of 13