On this date sixty-six years ago, an accident occurred in New York that has certain parallels with the truly horrifying events of 11th September 2001...
Back on the morning of Saturday 28th July 1945, pilot Lt Col William Smith was trying to navigate his B-25 bomber through increasingly heavy fog. He was advised to land by air traffic control staff at what is now La Guardia Airport,: the operator reportedly stated: “From where I’m sitting, I can’t see the top of the Empire State Building...”
Smith chose to continue his journey, but became disorientated as the mist thickened. He broke Manhattan regulations by descending below 2,000ft and his decision to fly at half that height to avoid the densest area of fog was to have catastrophic consequences. In a sense, Smith was proved right, as the visibility did improve... to the extent that he could now clearly see the skyscrapers that were towering above the plane.
Smith banked to miss colliding with the New York Central Building, but the plane lacked the manoeuvrability to avoid the Empire State Building and, at 09:49 local time, in the middle of a desperate climbing turn, the B-25 bomber smashed into the 79th floor. Burning fuel shot through hallways, staircases and lift shafts, reaching as far as the 75th floor. Fire and debris was showered upon the surrounding area and one of the plane’s engines completely penetrated the building and fell to the ground. The other engine hit a lift shaft and severed the cable sending the elevator car (which contained two women) into free-fall.
Both women were found alive... possibly because the hydraulic emergency braking system had partially slowed the descent, but also because the mass of damaged and coiled cables helped to cushion the landing. Unfortunately, one of the lift’s occupants suffered serious injuries and died not long after she was found, but the other woman incredibly not only survived, but went on to complete a full recovery.
Her name was Betty Lou Oliver, a 20 year-old lift operator and I understand that her survival of a 75-storey free-fall remains a “record” to this day... although I suppose it’s not the sort of record you would go out of your way to try and break... (Betty Lou Oliver lived another 39 years; her death being recorded in 1984)
The final death toll was 14... an incredibly (but thankfully) small number given the nature of the accident. Amongst the dead were Lt Col Smith and his two crewmen; ten office workers also perished, along with the unfortunate woman in the lift. A further 26 people were injured... The impact left a hole in the north face of the building roughly twenty-feet square and this picture was taken from the 90th floor by photographer Ernie Sisto who got two colleagues to hold him by the legs so that he could dangle out of the window and take the photograph.
An amazing picture and an amazing story...
Notwithstanding comparison (for a moment) with the terrible events in Oslo, the passing of Amy Winehouse seems to have polarised public opinion and the death of this genuinely gifted young woman will certainly gain plenty of column inches for the subjects of mental illness, alcohol and drug abuse.
The events in Camden Town yesterday afternoon were terribly sad, a pathetic end to a life that promised so much. For me though, her death itself is not a “tragedy”; the tragedy lies in those she left behind including her father Mitch, who (from what I’ve read) tried everything to get his daughter to recognise and deal with her addictions, but could only despair as Amy’s downward spiral towards the inevitable conclusion gathered pace.
Much of the debate on social networking sites concerns her fragile mental state; Amy Winehouse had depression... and I absolutely agree she did not choose to suffer from this cruel and debilitating condition. Some have said it’s wrong to pass judgement without understanding just what this illness can do...well like I’ve said before, take a look inside my medicine cupboard; there are tablets in there I wish I didn’t have to take, but I’m proud that (along with family support) I eventually recognised and accepted that I was poorly and have fought to overcome (or at least deal with) the effects of the illness.
I didn’t turn to drink and I’ve never taken drugs in my life, but that doesn’t mean that battling the demons has been easy. I’m not talented like Amy Winehouse; I don’t have the money, the privileges... or indeed the pressure that her gifts would bring her. But the thing I can’t accept is that her addiction was solely down to her depression.
Many years ago (in 2004 in fact) Amy appeared on Never Mind the Buzzcocks (with the legendary Mike Peters as it happens) and I found her to be fresh-faced and witty. Was it her “rock and roll” lifestyle that saw her turn to drugs... was the pressure of fame simply too great... or did the illness trigger what would become her addiction?
It has been said that her family believe the death of her grandmother in 2006 was the catalyst; the loss of a stabilising influence resulted in Amy’s hospitalisation following a reported overdose of heroin, ecstasy, ketamine, cocaine and alcohol. The singer herself said “I really thought that it was over for me then”which seems to suggest she recognised she had very serious problems... and that could be seen as the first and biggest step on the long road to recovery. However, her father’s insistence on using the media “to get through” to his daughter indicates the “up and down” effects of illness, medication and the substances she was taking. Perhaps Amy’s quote was not really a sign of acceptance; simply something that was said in a rare lucid moment...
In 2008, singer Lily Allen claimed: “I know Amy Winehouse very well. And she is very different to what people portray her as being. Yes, she does get out of her mind on drugs sometimes, but she is also a very clever, intelligent, witty, funny person who can hold it together. You just don't see that side.”
If that’s true, was Amy’s drug use a lifestyle choice rather than a dependency caused (or at least triggered) by mental illness? Two years later, Winehouse claimed to have been drug free for three years, saying: “I literally woke up one day and was like, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’.”
Truth or delusion? Well you can make your own choice, but the apparent manner of her death would lead me towards the latter. One post on Facebook yesterday said: “There are so many unfeeling w*nkers in the world who are saying she chose this, or she’s weak...” Well there’s also
enough evidence to suggest that love and support were there in abundance for this undeniably troubled young lady; the fact that she did attempt rehabilitation shows that there must have been some acceptance of her condition but the fact that she fell of the proverbial wagon so consistently and spectacularly indicates to me that the path towards self-destruction (and the consequent effect on those who cared so much for her welfare) was Amy’s choice.
Yes we should feel sad – the death of any 27 year-old is sad - and I hope that positives can come from recognising and openly discussing her illness and the dark places it clearly took her, but to say she had no choice is wrong... the people who perished in Norway are the ones who had no choice at all and therein lies the difference between “sad” and“tragic”...
On Monday, I drove over to meet the guys from Killing for Company who, as most of you will know, are in the studio recording their second album. It was great to catch up, although I got absolutely drenched trying to find the studios... and if you look closely enough at the accompanying photo, you might be able to see that my t-shirt is still streaked with post-monsoon dampness...
All the lads were delighted with how well things are progressing, but even though the end result (and hopefully the longer-term impact of the album) will be worth the time and effort, it was obvious that being away from home for so long is far from easy at times – especially for Steve and Richie, the two fathers in the band.
Anyway, I drove Andy, Jamie and Richie back to the National Blood Centre where I work and we took a few pictures of them with a couple of donors – hopefully we will be able to get a press release out at some point and get the picture in our national magazine as well. The three of them then came and met my colleagues and spent a good half hour chatting away.
Just the same as they will tell you that they feel humbled by the support they receive from their friends and fans, so I feel the same that this band is made up of five blokes who are so down-to-earth, friendly and unassuming, given the talent they collectively have.
Nothing (well... large lottery win apart)... so almost nothing (!) would give me greater pleasure to see Killing for Company hit the “big time”. There are plenty of really good bands out there, all striving to get their music heard; these lads can obviously belt out a tune, but what sets them apart is their individual personalities and combined humility and generosity... This is a very special band indeed and I would encourage anyone who likes good music, good company and good times to “Get Involved”...
Later this week, I will be handing over a cheque to Teenage Cancer Trust, the charity for whom I wrote the book Rikipedia.
I enjoyed writing the book and thought it was a decent read... not a classic, but a bit different... Anyway, despite the best efforts of the author and a few friends to “spread the word”, I have to reveal that ten books were sold... half of them to colleagues at work. I am going to double the £25 raised because, my overriding emotion is embarrassment that my book wasn’t good enough to raise more money for such a worthy cause.
I could have saved a huge amount of time and effort by never starting the book and simply making a donation, but much as I have questioned whether or not to continue writing, I am going to... not to prove a point, but because I actually enjoy it and the feedback from some of those who have read one or more of my books has been so positive and encouraging.
The revised edition of Desperately Seeking Susan Foreman is nearly finished. I’m contemplating a (very) limited edition available solely via ebay auction so that a few lucky people will be sitting on a literary goldmine when I follow in Killing for Company’s footsteps and “make it”!!
After that, there’ll be nothing until next summer, but trust me (all ten of you...), it’ll be worth waiting for.
Onwards and upwards...
Sixteen years ago this month, I was privileged to play in a truly enthralling game of cricket. The venue was Widnes CC in Cheshire; the fixture was the quarter final of the Abbot Ale National Club Knockout, just two wins from a Lord’s final and the home side was reportedly unbeaten in their last sixty games...
I was one of two slow left-arm bowlers in the Gateshead Fell side; the other was the veteran, but evergreen David Young. My customary fielding position was third man and the very first ball of the game bowled by Doug Hudson found the edge and flew across the turf, fortunately into and not through my hands... a major relief!
I was called on to bowl quite early in the Widnes innings and despite being extremely nervous, I bowled probably as well as I could. I had two spells in all, a total of eight overs for 36 runs... sadly no wickets though. On the face of it, the figures don’t look particularly impressive, but Widnes rattled up 277-5 in their 45 overs – so I was pretty pleased with my efforts and I didn’t give away any runs in the field either... a very rare occurrence indeed!
Our batsmen were very confident, despite facing such a huge total and we made steady progress, despite losing wickets at crucial moments (the future Gloucester opener Nick Trainor made 58 and Durham 2nd XI batsman Graeme Weeks top-scored with 84). With five overs remaining, we needed 62 to win with five wickets in hand; still in the game, but very much second favourites. Our keeper Paul Smith blasted a quick 24 but was needlessly run out and Neil Wake took us to within touching distance of victory before offering a return catch to the bowler.
24 off two overs became 10 off one and, in the gathering gloom, several hundred spectators watched the drama unfold. There was a fair bit of gamesmanship from the home side, but we picked up singles and twos here and there so that with one ball remaining, the scores were level.
We had lost more wickets than Widnes so still needed to pass their total to progress and I must admit I was almost too nervous to watch that final delivery. On strike was our skipper Phil Dicks; not someone I would say I was particularly friendly with, but a fine player in his time. The bowler began his run up... stopped... then started again... only to stop halfway to the wicket.
There were jeers from the travelling supporters, but Dicks wasn’t fazed. The last delivery was eventually bowled; I saw his bat swing at the ball, but didn’t see if he’d connected. However, the dull thud of ball on boundary wall confirmed we’d only gone and bloody won... Gateshead Fell players, officials and supporters swarmed onto the field to celebrate.
It was a tremendous game, an amazing performance and a stunning upset. For me, despite not taking a wicket, it was the absolute highlight of my career as an amateur cricketer.
Sadly the story doesn’t have a happy ending; we lost the semi-final to the eventual competition winners Chorley, but it was a great adventure and, even after all these years, the memories of that fantastic day at Widnes have never faded...
Five years ago this very day, I packed all my worldly belongings into my Vauxhall Corsa, locked the door to the room in a shared house in Gateshead that I’d called “home” for the last time and headed down the A19 to start a new life with Elaine.
The moment I switched on the engine and pulled out onto Durham Road signalled the end of the darkest period of my life. I’d walked away from a marriage that was a sham; overwhelmed with guilt about things I had known nothing about. I had become ill with worry and honestly had no idea what the future held in store.
I fully accept that leaving was a selfish act; my younger daughter was still at home and many will argue that I should have stayed for her sake irrespective of the circumstances. I lost an awful lot of so-called “friends”... mainly because I refused to give my version of events and was judged on a one-sided “story” that conveniently missed out all the facts that would have undeniably led people to a different conclusion. The true friends (there weren’t many but they know who they are) stood by me and I will be forever grateful because, believe me, every single day was an ordeal...
And then Elaine came into my life...
I was 42... “getting on a bit” for a fresh start I suppose, but fate had given me one last chance for some happiness... it was a chance I hadn’t expected, but I honestly felt I deserved and there was no way I wasn’t going to venture south to see if the contentment, friendship, laughter and love that I craved were waiting for me.
Words will never convey the strength it needed for us to be together... living fifty miles apart was the tip of the relationship iceberg, but we both shared the (some might say) “romantic” belief that we were destined to share our lives... however difficult the reality might be. And it certainly hasn’t always been easy, but worthwhile..?
Oh yes (and that wasn’t meant to sound like the Churchill dog...)...
So much of the rest of my life has fallen into place because of Elaine; I never forget just what it took to be with someone so truly special. I am grateful for every day we spend together and look forward to seeing what the future holds and sharing it with her...
Thank you for everything darling xxx
So thanks to a truly outstanding performance from the Serbian Novak Djokovic, we were denied two left-handers winning the Wimbledon singles titles...
I’m left-handed myself and found it interesting just how few “lefties” have won the Wimbledon title down the years... especially in the women’s’ game where Saturday’s victor Petra Kvitova became just the third left-handed player in the history of the All England Championships to lift the trophy.
The other two were Martina Navratilova, who originally hailed (like Kvitova) from the Czech Republic, but the first was our own Ann Jones who won the 1969 title by overcoming Margaret Court in the semi-final and Billie Jean King in the final... no mean feat for a 30 year-old in her fourteenth Wimbledon.
Interestingly, Mrs Jones was a five time finalist in the world table tennis championships (under her maiden name of Haydon); coincidentally Fred Perry, the last British player to lift the Wimbledon means’ crown was also more than proficient in ping pong back in the 1930s...
1969 witnessed the first occasion where both singles titles were won by left-handers as the legendary Rod Laver triumphed in the means’ competition. Three of Navratilova’s successes were alongside Jimmy Connors (1982) and West German-born (trivia gold) John McEnroe (1983 & 84) and that was the last time that the “leftie double” was achieved. If Rafael Nadal had won yesterday, I suppose there would have been those who would have smugly pointed out that Rafa is actually right-handed and simply holds a tennis racket in the other one, but that will have to be an argument for another year.
In case you’re interested (and if you’re not now would be a good time to start..!), the other three left-handed Wimbledon single’s champions were the Australians Norman “The Wizard” Brookes (pictured) who won in 1907 and 1914 and Neale Fraser (1960). Sandwiched between the two Aussies was the Czech-born Egyptian passport-holding future British citizen Jaroslav Drobny.
The bespectacled Drobny defeated Ken Rosewall in a classic 1954 final and his popularity amongst the home crowd was such that his victory was almost hailed as a “home” triumph. Drobny was also an Olympian, having competed for his native Czechoslovakia in the 1948 ice hockey competition – and won a silver medal in the process...
But that’s all in the past and back to the present day, let’s give three cheers and a left-handed wave for young Petra Kvitova... long may she (and all the rest of us lefties) reign!!
All my own work... almost.