Boots Sandwiches

Boring, boring, boring!

Well, we were down in Boots today picking up yet another prescription or three (it's miserable being old) so we had a look at their sandwich selection to see if we could find something different for lunch. What a disappointment! A very boring selection indeed! BLT, Tuna, Chicken, Egg and Cress (who, over the age of five eats egg and cress sandwiches?), prawn; all the usual stuff in fact.

Don't pander to these people!

Now there used to be a time when Agent Triple P always got his sandwiches at Boots, but that was in the days when you could get the likes of Chinese pork and, his all time favourite, Mexican chicken. Now, 21% of the sandwiches that Boots sell are vegetarian so a good deal of their sandwiches are, as a result, immediately condemned from Triple P's standpoint. This is, no doubt, because Boots is, basically, a girls' shop and, for some reason, lots of girls are vegetarian. I am sure that this is because less and kess women prepare proper meals from raw ingredients, including bits of dead animal, so they have all got super squeamish about it.

The Admiral Hotel, Copenhagen

So, no Boots sandwiches for Triple P any more. Not that many of the other supermarkets are any better, with the range available getting less and less adventurous. Ah well, making your own sandwiches is the only answer, we suppose! Our current favourite at home is prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato and pesto. The pesto really lifts the whole thing. We first had this combination in our favourite hotel in Copenhagen, The Admiral, where it was served in a whole ciabatta. In their version the prosciutto was cut so thick that biting into it was something of a challenge so we have modified our version by using the more common very thinly sliced ham instead.

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Tornado Women

Flt Lt Juliette Fleming

Well, our title might sound like a 1950's Pulp film but Agent Triple P is glad to see our first ever all woman ground attack RAF crew safely back from Afghanistan, despite some rather hairy moments when they had to fly at 500mph at 100 feet altitude to scare away a Taliban rocket crew targeting a British base.

Fast woman!

Unfortunately, RAF policy seems to militate against dropping bombs on these people. Supposedly so as not to upset the local civilian population but more likely because they can't afford the bombs in an armed forces that has been hacked to bits by that one-eyed Scottish idiot, Gordon Brown. Still, it has to be a concern that this particular crew are alive to fight another day when a quick squirt from the Tornado's twin Mauser BK-27s would have sorted them out permanently.

Flt Lt Fleming taxis her Tornado GR at RAF Marham this week

Flt Lt Juliette Fleming is, we have to say, rather more attractive than your average RAF pilot so she must be a Godsend to the publicity types. Agent Triple P's family has quite a strong RAF connection (grandfather was RFC pilot in Avro 504s during WW1, great uncle a Hurricane pilot in WW2 and uncle a pilot post war) and, in the 70th anniversary year of the Battle of Britain, we feel that it is important to give Flt Lt Fleming (and her co-pilot Nikki Thomas) their due after flying 24 combat missions.

A 31 Squadron Tornado in flight

Flt Lt Fleming's unit is 31 Squadron which was formed in 1915 and was almost immediately sent to India. In 1919, ironically, the squadron saw service in Afghanistan during the evacuation of Kabul.

Vickers Valentia transport bombers

In 1939 the squadron was equipped with the obsolete Valentia biplanes which were able to provide a dual transport/bombing role. The squadron stayed in India until 1947 when it was disbanded, then reformed in Hendon. In 1955 the unit moved to Germany and was equipped with Canberras. These were replaced by Phantoms in 1971, Jaguars in 1976 and then the Tornado GR1 in 1984. The unit is now based at RAF Marham where, with 9 Squadron it forms the Marham Tornado Strike Wing.

Tornado GR4

The squadron flies Tornado GR4s which is the upgraded version of the original GR1 and was firts introduced in 1996 incorporating lessons learned in the 1991 Gulf War. The original Tornado was a UK, German, Italian co-venture. Now rather elderly (the prototype first flew in 1974) the plane is unusual in that it has seen combat with all four nations that bought it. Britain, Italy and Saudi Arabia in the Gulf War and Germany in Kosovo. The latter being the first combat operations conducted by the Luftwaffe since World War 2.

31 Squadron Tornados amongst others at RAF Marham, King's Lynn, Norfolk

Its distinctive, large tail gives it an aggressive, hunched demeanour on the runway which makes it one of Triple P's favourite-looking contemporary fighter planes.
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Future interiors from the past 1: Bakelite House 1957

Modern Materials for Modern Living (1957-detail)

Whilst our exploration of retro transport will largely focus on the twenties, thirties and forties we will also be looking at some retro interiors from the fifties and sixties. This was a time when artists foresaw shiny new home interiors based on modern materials such as plastics, with no place for old fashioned furniture. In a way, this approach was a dead-end with today's homeowners having to remove efforts to cover up features from earlier periods which were hidden in the fifties and sixties by people who wanted to be modern. Today multiple styles and periods co-exist and the one style future look for interiors never came to pass. This is quite different from something like cars where contemporary styling tends to be much closer across all manufacturers at any given time.

George Cooper Rudolph Jr.

This splendid painting by architect George Cooper Rudolph (1912-1997) comes from a 1957 advertisement for Bakelite. From its plastic furniture, to its floor to ceiling windows, split level interior and swimming pool it screams late fifties aspirational. You can bet that the man by the pool is a Playboy subscriber, drives a Ford Thunderbird and the bikini clad girl is not his wife.

Fancy a ride, darling?

Bakelite, or as your scientific advisor would call it, polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride, was invented in New York in 1909 by Belgian born chemist Dr Leo Baekeland (1863-1944 -another famous Belgian!) whilst looking for an artificial shellac. It was the world's first practical plastic and became very popular for items like telephones, radio casings, and in anything which had electric parts due to its high resistance to electricty, heat and chemical action. However, it was brittle and could only take a few rather murky colours so it was soon overtaken by other plastics which were more flexible and could be made in brighter colours.

Rudolph's full painting displaying futuristic plastic roof.

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Opera show bombs...

"I'm a Barbie girl, in a Barbie World"

And what lovely bombs they are! However, even Agent Triple P is ready to give up on dreadful new celebrity competition show Popstar to Operastar despite the twin attractions of Katherine Jenkins and Mylene Klass (rhymes with "arse"). Actually, isn't that four attractions? Sadly, however Mylene is looking rather too skinny these days compared with the way she looked when she soaped herself to stardom on I'm a Celebrity Get me Out of here! No such worries with Katherine, however who still looks engagingly top heavy.

The show itself is dire. For a start why do they have to merge the words together in that annoying way? "Popstar" isn't a word and neither is "Operastar". It's all a bit PricewaterhouseCoopers. Anyway, the show consists of pop "stars" you have never heard of (when Jimmy Osmond is the most famous performer on the show, you know ITV is scraping the barrel again) singing opera "arias" which largely aren't from opera. They are judged by an "expert", cringe-making panel of the Divine Jenkins; wayward Mexican tenor Rolando Villazon (whose career has gone right off the rails of late) who is sporting distractingly ridiculous hair; Meat Loaf (yes, really!) who is unable to speak without standing up and shouting in dated seventies American vernacular and hideous TV reality show interior designer Laurence Llewllen-Bowen (yes we know we haven't spelt his name right and we don't care) who is presumably included because he is another Taffy. The annoyingly hyped-up ITV rent a crowd scream and whoop, in that annoying American manner that seems de rigeur for TV "talent" shows, during the performances.

Even the presence of "official national treasure" Mylene can't ameliorate the dreadfulness of it all, as the problem is that, despite her on-screen ubiquity (we hope her agent gets a good percentage; he deserves it), she really isn't a very good presenter. Sadly, in fact, its starting to look like, pace Esther Williams, that in a swimsuit she's a star, otherwise she's not. But of course she is an "acceptable face" (very important that) of classical music. As must be the oleaginous Alan Titchmarsh, as that is the only way to explain the presence of his gardeningness on the show.

Looking at reviews of her music, Jenkins seems to attract polarised opinion. Half love her, half hate her. The people who love her often start their reviews "I have never liked classical music until I heard...wonderful voice..sings like an angel etc...". The people who hate her tend to say things like "I'm a singing coach and Katherine Jenkins is not a very good singer...doesn't really reach the high notes and cheats by going falsetto...dreadful cross-over artist etc."

Well, one thing she is not is an opera singer. Being an opera singer, singing in operas. On stage. Night after night. Her critics say that her voice just isn't up to it either in tone or in strength. Her supporters say that as a mezzo-soprano her voice has yet to mature and that is why she has to resort to amplification so she doesn't damage it. Hmm. She is thirty this year so it really should have started to mature by now. Now, however, she is saying she won't do opera anyway as all the critics would slate her whatever. Hmm.

What she is is a classically trained singer (Royal College of Music, to give her her due) with a pretty face and massive tits. Ideal for record executives desperately trying to spin some money out of their struggling classical divisions. Her voice is not to our taste but, here, we are afraid that we have a terrible confession: Agent Triple P, largely, can't stand the sound of any classically trained female singer. We find the female voice when pushed into operatic mode quite harsh and unpleasant, in a way that we don't with the male voice. This is odd, as in popular music we much prefer female singers.

We tried to like her music, we really did. We do own quite a lot of dreadful cross-over music from fiddling girlies such as Bond and Escala (more of whom another time) but we just couldn't bear KJ's music. Despite sampling every album on iTunes we couldn't find a single track that we enjoyed; even a little bit. But we have to consider her looks as well as her voice so how does she come out on balance?

Jenkins with ever present microphone

Against: Is agressively Welsh (refused to sing God Save the Queen at the Cup Final in favour of some nationalist Welsh effort). Can't really sing that well. Talks about bringing classical music to the masses a lot ( that's rather like the makers of the Renault Twingo claiming that driving it will give you a Formula 1 experience). Makes horrible "cross-over" records that make people believe that the theme from The Godfather is an operatic aria (as evidenced by Popstar to Operastar-many of the featured songs so far also feature in her records. What a surprise). The latest one is so unspeakable even her fans are shuddering but she sees it as her way to break the American market (for which read "down market") towards whom she seems even more condescending than the "masses" who don't like classical music. Wears too much make-up; even for TV.
Tea with the troops. Two lumps presumably

For: Has massive tits. Sang for the forces in Iraq. Twice. You'd think she was over there every three months the way she goes on about her helicopter being targetted by a missile (an opera fan amongst the insurgents?) constantly. Has massive tits.

Ah, well, as Agent DVD would no doubt agree, there is always a place for a girl with massive tits (her record company obviously think so). Maybe, in this case, it's just not the recording studio.
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No more Beaver in Canada

The most censored animal on the internet

Sadly, Canada's history magazine The Beaver, now in its ninetieth year, is having to change its name to the rather more prosaic, if more informative, Canada's History. Apparently, company internet systems and spam filters were blocking the name which was damaging on-line sales.

The magazine was started in 1920 as the in-house magazine of the Hudson's Bay Company which was celebrating its 250th anniversary that year. In 1994 the HBC set up a history foundation and donated all its archives to the Provincial Archives of Manitoba. As a result Canada's National History Society was established and acquired the Winnipeg based The Beaver at the same time.

Agent Triple P has read The Beaver occasionally and thinks that it is an excellent magazine. His particular friend S has had a subscription for many years but she has always been most amused by the title. Canadians, despite the widespread use of beaver in its traditional manner (Agent Triple P has been to the Beaver Club and eaten in the Beaver Hall restaurant), are not unaware of the double entendre of course. A trendy arts magazine in Toronto is called, for example, Moist Beaver Magazine!

Perhaps this now frees up the name for a more salacious use. We think that The Beaver would be an excellent name for a magazine aimed at, perhaps, the gentleman who prefers his young ladies more hirsute down below than is the current fashion. Ideally, it would only feature Canadian young ladies, of course, of whom Triple P is (some would say, inordinately) fond. Currently the only magazine nearly inhabiting this space is Hustler's Beaver Hunt, a title that sounds rather aggressive, we feel.

The reverse of the Oregon State flag

The word "beaver" of course is probably derived from the Aryan bhebhrú-s itself derived from bhru, meaning brown. In the nineteenth century "a beaver" meant someone with a full beard. It can also mean someone from Oregon, where it is the State symbol.

Blonde beavers from MIT

In 1898 the Massachussets Institute of Technology was looking for an animal totem to represent the institution. They settled on the beaver due to its engineering, mechanical skills, and industry. How they may now wish that they had gone for their original choice of the kangaroo. Nevertheless, even today, the women's track and field team there has a chant that begins as follows:

I'm a beaver. You're a beaver.
We are beavers all.
And when we get together, we do the beaver call!

I'm sure they are!

The relatively recent use of the word "beaver" (certainly only several decades), which originated in the US, to describe the female genital area must cause Canada more probelm on the internet than anyone else, of course.

Margaret Trudeau flashes her Canadian...

Finally, we have been longing to use this picture which the aforesaid S sent me a few months ago. It is Margaret Trudeau, then the wife of the Canadian Prime Minister, photographed signing autographs in New York's Studio 54 nightclub in the 1970s. Widely believed to be the first celebrity up the skirt flash it is of course hugely appropriate to this post...
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By flying boat to Hawaii and beyond: part 1

As we go into yet another snowy week the appeal of the South Seas increases! So now is a very good time to take a flight to exotic Hawaii for some sun, sea and wahines!

Agent Triple P very nearly went to Hawaii a few years ago. We were in Los Angeles and had a long telephone call with some government types who wanted us to fly out there at two hours notice. Unfortunately, because of the length of the flight we couldn't fit it into our schedule. Hawaii is over 2,000 miles from California which is a fair old flight even today. This year, however, is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the first US- Hawaiian flight. So how would we have got to Honolulu in 1935 other than by a long sea voyage?

The answer is by one of the most iconic aircraft ever; from a time when long distance flying was far more, romantic, adventurous and de luxe than it is now: the Pan American Airways Clipper flying boat.

Juan Trippe

Pan American Airlines originated in the twenties when a Colombia based, but German owned, airline was pitching for the first overseas US Air mail contract. Concerned that this contract would be awarded to a foreign airline, unless a credible US alternative came forward, a group of men, led by Major Henry Arnold of the Army Air Corps put together Pan American in March 1927. Although they had the company on paper, and won the air mail contract to Cuba as a result, they had no planes. In stepped Juan Trippe who had created the Aviation Company of the Americas, really as something to do with an inheritance he had just come into. He also got backing from Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and William A Rockefeller. In 1926 he had acquired a small airline with a Florida to Cuba service and all important landing rights in Havana. Trippe suggested that his firm, Pan American and the Atlantic, Gulf, and Caribbean Airways company, established by New York City investment banker Richard Hoyt, should join forces and Pan American Airlines was born with Trippe as operational director (he served as CEO of Pan Am until 1968).

Pan Am's South American routes

Over the next few years the airline grew rapidly, establishing routes from the US to the Caribbean, Central and South America. Because of the large distances flown over water seaplanes were used by the airline on all these routes.

Trippe was really interested in oceanic routes, however, but political problems plagued his initial attempts to organiose a trans-Atlantic route and so he turned to the trans-pacific route to China. He had to abandon his initial plan for an Alaska/Japan/China route because of the political instability in the area and the Soviets refused him permission to land in Russia. The only option, therefore was an island hopping route across the huge Pacific Ocean. Eventually he negotiated a Pearl Harbor/ Midway Island/Wake Island/Guam/Subic Bay (Manila) route. Great Britain refused him permission to land in Hong Kong, his ultimate end destination and so the initial service finished in the Philippines. In the meantime he struck a deal with the Portugese and got landing rights in Macau. Following this the British soon caved in and let him land in Hong Kong (in 1936).

The only problem was that no plane existed which could cover this 8,000 mile, largely over water, route. There were very few concrete runways at this time and so flying boats were really the only way that large airliners could be contemplated. Pan Am, therfore, asked aircraft manufactureres to come up with a suitable design.

Sikorsky S-40

First into production was the Sikorsky S-40 in 1931. They were immediately put on the South American route and the Pan Am crews started to build what would become a much envied technical and operational abiliy. The first passenger flight from Pan Am's base in Miami to the Panama Canal set off on November 19th 1931 piloted by Pan Am consultant, famous transatlantic flyer, Charles Lindbergh. The S-40 had a crew of four and could carry 38 passengers up to 875 miles in one go. It was over 75 feet long and had a wingspan of 114 feet. Only three were built as Sikorsky were already working on the bigger S-42.

With these three planes the "Clipper" name, devised by Trippe himself, was used by Pan Am for the first time evoking the days of fast sailing ships. Indeed, Pan Am crews wore naval style uniforms rather than typical flyers uniform, starting a trend that persists in the airline industry to this day. The first three planes were christened Caribbean Clipper, American Clipper and Southern Clipper. Jerry Gray, Glenn Miller's arranger wrote an instrumental called Caribbean Clipper in 1942 and later lyrics were added to it by Sammy Gallop: "Come on aboard the Caribbean Clipper, we'll ride a moonbeam to the little dipper". The only song Agent Triple P knows written about a flying boat! The version performed by The Modernaires, Glenn Miller's vocal backing group, has Paula Kelly as the stewardess offering "coffee, tea or milk?" The reply comes "Er, Miss, the starboard engine is on fire" to which she replies "How about a Martini?" All this, perhaps, reflected the fact that a flight that made the whole distance without some sort of engine trouble was generally cause to celebrate!

Sikorsky S 42

The Sikorsky S-42 first flew in March 1934 and whilst not bigger than the S-40 it was this plane that was designed to meet Trippe's specifications of an aircraft that could do the China run. Although the nember of passengers it could carry was similar to the earlier aircraft it was faster and its range was more than tripled to over 3,000 miles. This was the key factor as the longest leg on a trans-Pacific flight was the San Francisco to Hawaii section of 2,400 miles.

Martin M-130

At the end of 1934, the Baltimore based Glenn L Martin company flew the Martin M-130 for the first time. Bigger than the Sikorsky it was 91 feet long and had a 130 foot wingspan. It could carry 36 passengers or 16 in night berths. Crucially, it had a range of 3,200 miles.

Given the existence of these two aircraft Trippe felt able to set up a base for Pan Am's Pacific operations in San Francisco on January 1st 1935. A month later a ship charted by Trippe, the New Haven, sailed for Honolulu with equipment to establish facilities on the islands along the route. It carried over 6,000 tons of supplies including the material to build two complete villages, generators, motor launches, water distillations units, 44 airline technicians and a 74-man construction crew.

Captain Musick leaves the Pioneer Clipper in Hawaii on the first test flight April 17th 1935. the men in the fetching swimsuits are the Pan Am ground crew!

On April 17th, 1935 the Martin M-130 Pioneer Clipper arrived in Honolulu 18 hours and 37 minutes after taking off from Alameda on San Francisco Bay.

The aircraft continued to Midway, Wake and Guam. Several more test flights followed and in November the first official passenger carrying flight was seen off by a crowd of 20,000 at Pan Am's base in Alameda, California. An estimated 150,000 other spectators almost saw the flight end in disaster when Captain Musick had to dive to avoid hanging cables from the partly built Oakland Bay bridge.

The China Clipper's first Hawaiian bound passengers receive a traditional welcome in November 1935

Captain Edwin Musicke piloted another M-130 the China Clipper on this historic flight which carried 110,000 pieces of mail weighing two tons. 21 hours and 20 minutes later (headwinds slowed the plane's progress) the China Clipper touched down in Pearl Harbor to be greeted by another huge crowd of 3,000 people.

The next day the flying boat took on over 6,500 lbs of cargo and 14 passengers before heading off to Wake Island. Eventually the China Clipper landed in Manila 59 hours and 48 minutes after leaving California as opposed to a journey time of 21 days by ship.

The China Clipper arrives in Manila
Because of the intense publicity surrounding this voyage, the name China Clipper, although technically the name of one particular aircraft (NC14716) was popularly adopted for any Pan Am flying boat making the run and was even used by some as a generic term for any flying boat.

A voyage across the Pacific

In October 1936 the first scheduled flight from San Francisco to Manila via Hawaii took off. Nine passengers paid over $1,400 each for a return ticket. This became a weekly service; one plane each making a westwards and an eastwards run. Eventually Pan Am would link up to its own internal Chinese airline, China National Aviation Corporation; a joint venture with the Chinese government.

The ill-fated Samoan Clipper

Sadly, Captain Musicke, his crew of six and his Sikorsky S-42B Samoan Clipper disappeared during a flight from Honolulu in January 1938 after reporting engine trouble. Seven months later the Martin M-130 Hawaiian Clipper was lost in the Pacific east of Manila.

In our next post we will look at the final and most famous aircraft to make this run: the Boeing 314.
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Britain from space yesterday

The freezing weather continues as this picture from the University of Dundee shows! Agent Triple P cannot remember such a long period of consistently cold weather in the South of England. We cannot remember the last time it was more than six degrees centigrade: it must be four weeks now. On average in December it was two degrees colder than the 3o year average and the first half of December was unusually mild!

Fortunately Triple P is equipped with his rubber Canadian overshoes; bought for him by the lovely S (who has sensibly gone to Hawaii, having experienced the minus 46 they had in Edmonton a week or so ago) in Montreal 15 years ago. Not only do they keep your feet dry but they have extra grippy soles. We haven't seen them on sale over here, though. Perhaps we really are going to have to come to terms with the fact that whether caused by greenhouse gases or whether part of a natural cycle, we are getting colder and snowier winters and we need to equip ourselves for it.

Agent Triple P is a cautious driver and when it is icy he prefers to err even more on the side of caution. He gets very anoyed by idiots who come right up behind and sound their horns because he is doing 25 in a 30mph zone. Only two days ago we were nearly hit by a car coming out of the Chelsea footballers favourite petrol station. It had braked coming out of the forecourt approaching the main road but just kept sliding. If we had been going quickly we would not have been able to stop in time. Watch out! You don't know what obsatcles you will find on the roads in the snow!

Bad weather safety tip for women: note how the pink bikini stands out in bad weather

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Most searched item December

Her name is Jordan. Ola Jordan.

The final scores for December's searches are in. We are going to move to a top twenty as we do on our Venus Observations site.

1 (3) Margaret Nolan. A strong comeback against interloper Kelly Brook.
2 (1) Kelly Brook. Miss Brook stays in the top three.
3 (2) Sophie Howard. Likewise keeps her podium place.
4 (7) Brande Roderick. She's been climbing steadily for months.
5 (15) Ola Jordan. Big jump for cute Polish dancer.
6 (13) Emily Blunt. Likewise for cute British actress.
7 (4) Linda Lusardi. Still up there.
8 (5) Gabrielle Drake. Another strong showing for UFO babe.
9 (6) Cheryl Cole. Second consecutive slip. Rather like her latest single.
10 (-) Tori Praver. Most popular Sports Illustrated girl.
11 (9) Pirate girls. Everyone loves a girl in tight breeches and thigh boots.
12 (-) Irena Shayk. Re-entry for top model after dropping out last month.
13 (-) Sarah Harding. First time entry for Girls Aloud "singer".
15 (11) Katrina Hodge. Miss Great Britain and Army heroine.
16 (12) Jarah Mariano. Part Hawaiin, part Korean, all gorgeous.
17 (-) Cindy Morgan. Re-entry for Tron actress.
18 (-) Luci Victoria. Re-entry for British Playmate.
19 (10) Ayshea Brough. Consistently popular UFO babe.
20 (-) Aline Nakashima. Another splendid mixture: this time Brazilian and Japanese.

Highest climber is the magnificent Ola Jordan, riding on her Strictly Come Dancing victory, with Emily Blunt not far behind. Sarah Harding is the only brand new entry (the others are re-entries), no doubt pushed by the release of St Trinians 2.
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