We’ve all been there, all heard it. You say “Thank you” or “May I have another” to a store clerk or a waiter, and he or she replies (usually with a smile), “No problem.” In fact, the problem —for a lot of people (including this Beast-keeper)— is “No problem” itself. One asks (usually to himself): Whatever happened to “You’re welcome” or “Coming right up”?
Apparently I’m not alone in feeling this regurgitative response. Far from being one old fossil’s quibble (“Oh, c’mon Pops, get a life! —it’s just an expression”), an informal survey conducted by Stanley Fish of The New York Times a few years back found “No problem” (in reply to one’s expression of thanks) to be the single most distasteful phrase in contemporary social discourse –more loathed even than “Have a nice day,” “Your call is important to us,” “You’re getting defensive,” “A teachable moment,” “I’m going to let you go now,” or “My name is Chuck and I’ll be your server tonight.”
One of Fish’s readers even chose to generalize about it: “The Victorians thought they were living in the great age of cant,” he wrote. “Their jaws would drop in sight of the vast stinking swamp of it we wade through every day.” While not every gainsayer is quite so passionate in his disdain, there are sound reasons, most of them intuitive, why “No problem” gets under the skins of so many people. For one thing, rather than being positive, it denies a negative, so in an exchange intended to be purely positive in tone, it often sounds a sour note. It’s tone-deaf. It’s also flip. Where full predication (noun plus verb) helps emphasize a sentiment (“You’re welcome,” “It’s our pleasure,” “I’m glad you like it”), “No problem” is but a phrase, a verbal toss-off, a sentiment not even worth a full grammatical flourish.
More substantively (for those who take their language seriously —i.e. who actually listen to it), “No problem” is heard to intimate that my request, or my simple desire for good service, might well have been a problem, but that this person (whose job it is to serve me and meet my requests) is fortunately relieving me of any guilt I might have felt for asking –and doing it with a happy smile.
But why has this little piece of mindless cant caught on so? (These expressions multiply in use and become clichés only because they somehow feel right to their users.) I’d venture to suggest that “No problem” warms the innards of every card-carrying member of this Me Generation through which we’re passing. (Some would argue it’s been around a bit longer.) Deconstructed, what “No problem” really says is, “Please know that I find no impediment to doing as you ask.” It’s focus is the I. It’s self-referential. It lacks any real second-person attention –-whereas “You’re welcome” or “Glad you like it” give center stage to You, and even the slightest trace of the narcissistic vanishes. Yet “No problem” is worn, when spoken, like a badge by those who use it. In a sense, it is part of who they really are.
But who are we this month, this Fickle Grey Beast in our 30th edition? Looking back once more at last century’s émigrés from Nazism,” Daniel Snowman joins us with the third of his postscripts on the Hitler émigrés, examining the relationship of culture and immigration. Philip Hogge follows up on the in-flight “emergency” recounted for us in the last two editions with an insider’s look at flight simulators, those astounding “vehicles” (the adjective is mine) without which commercial airline pilots would be a lot less thoroughly trained than they are.
You’ll also find your way below into one of London’s most delightful new café enterprises, as welcoming to visitors as it is to regulars. And in recognition of this benchmark 30th of ours, there’s a brief disquisition on the term “30”, a now-nearly obsolete coinage that was common currency for several generations of American journalists. And there’s some lighter fare as well.
A shining new London landmark. Whether you’re local or from thousands of miles away, you could do worse than read a few chapters of Alice in Wonderland before finding your way to this delightful little café not far from Marble Arch. At entry level, Daisy Green is neat, polished and unprepossessing: a few whimsically stencilled beach chairs at the door (weather permitting), stool seating inside, daily newspapers at hand, and behind its glass counters a coffee machine, an array of cakes and croissants (the almond one is its own special dream), a hearty Aussie-inspired banana bread, and a host of ingredients for the day’s imaginative and committedly healthy sandwich wraps. The staff are equally welcoming.
But that’s only the start of it. Find your way —at the back— down the narrow white stairway and experience something akin to Alice’s abrupt arrival underground (though you needn’t worry about finding the right key). There are tables and chairs of varying provenance, and walls a riot of colourful and animated illustration. The ceiling is festooned with paper lanterns. Day-glo gift boxes are piled here and there. A large egg-shaped golf ball stands watch in the corner, on a giant tee. And bananas. Bananas abound, real ones stacked about, and in cartoon multichromes that evoke John Pasche’s ubiquitous Rolling Stones logo –color-scheme by way of Andy Warhol.
Omnipresent too are the ironic and ever so slightly world-weary rabbits that compete for the eye, not only in eye-catching poster collages, but in the presence of one large, compelling bunny head of papier-maché dangling from the ceiling. Not a single segment of these whitewashed walls remains untouched by a droll, artistic hand. There is, moreover, both inside and outside space in this dreamlike subterraneum, and a door between them that anyone, of any size, can squeeze through. In an alcove on the outer terrace (heated when needed), an iconic wallsized representation of Carmen Miranda presides –like a latter-day (though not all that latter) Queen of Hearts, epitomizing the kitsch, yet ever so lightly subversive quality of the place.
Daisy Green is the brainchild (and hands-on creation) of Prue Freeman, a vivacious and energetic Australian who forsook investment banking a few years back to give catering –and entrepreneurial freedom—a go in the damper, cooler city she’s come to embrace. She began with a van, then several, selling street food in various locations around London. The vans begat a squadron of brightly ornamented bicycles hawking yogurt in and around outdoor events, pop concerts in the park and, most visibly, at the 2012 Olympics. Since the Games (and mindful of yogurt’s seasonality at London latitude), she has opened a small specialty-coffee outlet called Beany Green across town (where the bankers are). Then, in May of this year, with ambition to match the Prudence that is her given name, she opened this slightly (and shrewdly) psychedelic café called Daisy Green. For the record, she goes through at least four hundred of those stacked bananas every week to produce the rich and tasteful banana bread in which the place specializes.
The décor owes largely to the hand of London street-artist, Sophie Ashton, better known as Shuby. Asked only that bananas and daisies thematically anchor the place, Shuby proceeded with a free hand to transform what was essentially just another, reasonably ancient retail basement in central London into the enchanting space it now is. Her décor draws heavily on the Technicolor kitsch of Busby Berkeley, Carmen Miranda (and Miranda’s commercial progeny, Chiquita Banana) immersed in the spiritual glow of Lewis Carroll. With all its bunnies, eggs, half-peeled bananas and Miranda’s ersatz sexuality, the place provokes knowing smiles at an eccentric cod Freudianism that is, finally, part of the fun. Ceci n’est pas une banane.
So pull up a Philippe Starck ghost chair, or sneak through the door outside into a comfortable particolored vault beneath the street. Prue’s servers will find you. When your order arrives —inevitably with a smile that befits the setting —you’ll learn both why you’ve come, and why, if you remain anywhere within reach, you’ll return. Food and drink at this remarkable café are a perfect match with the ambience. Daisy Green, at the corner of Seymour and New Quebec Streets, London W1 —an unmissable one-of-a-kind.
WALTER WELLS is editor of The Fickle Grey Beast and Emeritus Professor of English and Humanities at California State University, Dominguez Hills. He now lives in London, addicted to almond croissants. He is author, most recently, of Silent Theater: The Art of Edward Hopper, winner of the Umhoefer Prize for Achievement in the Arts and Humanities. Daisy Green’s website is www.daisygreenfood.com. Shuby’s art can be seen at www.shuby.co.uk. And the Busby Berkeley/Carmen Miranda spirit that infuses Daisy Green can be sampled —delightfully— at www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLsTUN1wVrc.
Who were these “Hitler émigrés” of whom I’ve spoken in the Beast’s last two editions? And what defines the émigré, the exile, the refugee?
The total number of migrants from Nazi-controlled Central Europe who came to Britain, and settled, was around 50,000. Many were, in effect, asylum seekers. Think of those 10,000 youngsters who came over with the Kindertransport in the final year or so before war broke out (they’re now memorialised at Liverpool Street station): people like Siegmund Nissel and Peter Schidlof, who would help form the Amadeus Quartet, or the film maker Karel Reisz. Could Britain have been more generous? This is an issue too complex to deal with here. But before we rush to judgement, we should remember that Britain, like America, suffered severe economic recession in the 1930s. And of course few at the time could have imagined the horrors, the mass murder factories, that came later.
In our own time, refugees are again knocking at the door asking for asylum in Britain, large numbers now coming from countries such as Iran and Syria (and not so long ago from war-torn former Yugoslavia). Indeed, all over the world, people are trying to migrate in ever-greater numbers from the poorer or more unstable regions to the wealthier, while governments such as our own struggle to make policies that are wise, just —and politically acceptable: a difficult juggling act, not helped by a popular press happy to fuel rampant xenophobia. Immigrants everywhere have always appeared to present a threat. They are by definition foreign, alien, “Other”. Anarchists, terrorists, foreign spies —immigrant groups have traditionally contained these too, The Churchill government in summer 1940, fearful lest some be lurking among the Hitler émigrés, infamously “collared the lot”, interning artists and architects, musicians and mathematicians, filmmakers and physicists, among others, on the Isle of Man and elsewhere.
In Britain, ambivalence towards the outsider has always run deep —particularly towards continental Europeans. Opinion polls tend to show comfortable majorities that favour Britain leaving the EU. But when it comes to “culture” – well, Brits have tended to regard Europeans as rather good at this. Think of the continental scholars at the court of Henry VII, or the Italian musicians or Holbein at that of his son Henry VIII. Think Van Dyck, Handel or the Restoration painters Lely or Kneller. In the eighteenth century, no gentleman was considered properly educated unless he spoke French and had undertaken the Grand Tour. In the nineteenth and into the twentieth, any British musician worth his salt had to study in Germany, and any decent artist went to Paris.
The story of the “Hitler Émigrés” can be seen as, among other things, one chapter in that long story of British ambivalence towards the continent - similar in a way to the story of the Huguenots who fled Louis XIV and came to Britain in the late seventeenth century. In both cases, some in Britain were hostile, questioning the wisdom of letting them in. In retrospect, most consider those new arrivals to have added greatly to the rich cultural mix of their new homeland. If the Huguenots brought weaving, silk and silverwork, is it possible to summarise the cultural legacy of the Hitler Emigrés?
Looking back, we can see that, by mixing their labours with what they found when they got here, they did, for one thing, help professionalise aspects of British cultural life. Art history, for example, was transformed from the rather genteel, Sunday-afternoon pursuit that it was seventy or eighty years ago, preoccupied with delicate questions of aesthetics and connoisseurship, into the highly professionalised academic subject of today as pioneered by Ernst Gombrich and his colleagues at the Warburg Institute. Or the somewhat amateur atmosphere at Covent Garden that upset Georg Solti when he arrived as Music Director and which he swore he would eradicate. At his first press conference, Solti said he’d turn the place into the finest opera house in the world —which I think he did.
In addition, the presence of the “Hitler Émigrés” helped cosmopolitanise the still somewhat insular culture of Britain, acting as a bridge between British cultural life and that of resurgent continental Europe after the war. Nikolaus Pevsner helped introduce the ideas of Gropius and the Bauhaus to a generation raised on Tudorbethan revival and the Garden City, while Martin Esslin at the BBC introduced the work of Central European playwrights to British audiences. George Weidenfeld strove to bring a truly international perspective to his publishing list. “I always saw myself,” he told me proudly, “as somebody who bridges and who straddles worlds, someone at home everywhere – though not, perhaps, completely rooted anywhere. His friends joked: When George talks about “we”, you never quite know if he means the British, the Europeans, the Jews, or the whole of humanity!
Looking back, we can see that the Hitler émigrés were in some ways an unusual group of asylum seekers. Many were from educated, well-connected (and reasonably moneyed)/ families; they were not, by and large, your huddled masses yearning to be free. But, like many migrants before them, most of the Hitler émigrés wanted to do whatever they could for their country of adoption: to hide their foreign accent and speak good English, roll their umbrellas, eat porridge and put milk instead of lemon in their tea, and learn to love “cricket” —to become “British”! Apocryphal perhaps is the story of the man who, having waited years for his naturalisation papers, finally succeeds in about 1948 or ’49. He promptly burst into tears. “But why now of all times are you crying?” his friend asked. “I know I should be happy,” blubbed the new British citizen; “I am crying because … why did we have to lose India?”
Today, of course, things are different. For a start, earnest expressions of national pride have become suspect; people emphasise more and more not what unites them but what differentiates them. People are likelier nowadays to identify themselves as black or Asian, Welsh or Scottish, straight or gay or lesbian, senior citizens or unattached thirty-somethings. In much the same way, many of those who have come to this country from elsewhere tend to identify more closely with the culture they’re from rather than the one they have come to. They are members of the ‘Pakistani’ or ‘Somali’ community (or ‘Muslims’ perhaps). They’re more likely to cheer on West Indian or Indian cricketeers than the English side. If these people are less inclined than the migrants of the 1930s to think of themselves as above all “British”, it would be unfair to blame them; this is no longer the fashion in our modern multicultural world. But I have to say that, if the Hitler émigrés made a contribution to the life and culture of their new homeland, this was undoubtedly eased by the fact that most tried to identify with its values, speak its language and subscribe to its civic structures and traditions.
To be sure, we must be careful not to exaggerate the long-term impact of the Hitler émigrés. My children, now in their mid-30s, are not particularly interested in the legacy of Expressionist film or Modernist architecture or the work of Kokoschka or Koestler, or Popper, Pevsner or Perutz. They and their contemporaries live in a 21st-century world of Brit-art, postmodernism, computer-graphics, Afro-Caribbean influences and World Music. Nor, frankly, was the contribution of the “Hitler emigrés” the be-all and the end-all of the immensely rich and varied cultural world of 1950s and 1960s Britain in which I was raised. I was brought up in a world of Laurence Olivier and Peter Brook and Peter Hall, of Michael Tippett and Benjamin Britten, of Bridget Riley, Francis Bacon and Henry Moore, of Fonteyn and Nureyev, of Braine, Wain and Kingsley Amis.
But the work of the émigrés, and the way it intermixed with what was already here, did provide an important additional ingredient – one that, as I’ve said, has immensely enriched my own intellectual and cultural life. And I’m glad to think that a book like mine was able to capture it. Forty years ago, The Hitler Émigrés would have been an impossible undertaking. Most of the people I wrote about were in mid-career and wouldn’t have been prepared to reflect on their early lives as candidly as they were later on. Forty years from now, of course, the story will have gone. Even now, it is moving rapidly from Memory into History.
So: War and Holocaust, Jews and Jewishness, and Cultural Immigration, the topics, respectively, of my last three essays here. They have once again risen to the top of the agenda. In the aftermath of the attacks of “9/11,” on our tube system in London and on other Western targets, we’ve once again had to recognise there are forces in the world apparently as destructive in their intent as Nazism once was. The nature of Jewishness too, and of Jewish identity, is once more being urgently questioned, re-examined, re-defined, in both Israel and the Diaspora. And new waves of migrants are seeking a home in Britain and elsewhere (many of them fleeing oppressive regimes), anxious about the kind of reception they will receive from ambivalent governments and a frequently antipathetic press and public.
As we gradually adjust to the hatreds, fears, anxieties and opportunities of our strange, still-new 21st century, therefore, we might do well to ponder once again the startling silver linings that can lighten even the darkest historical clouds. In particular, the cultural enrichment from which Britain has always benefited thanks to people coming in from elsewhere – whether ancient Romans, Medieval Angles and Saxons and Normans, Huguenots fleeing France in the late seventeenth century – or “Hitler Émigrés” into Britain in the twentieth.
And of course this is not just a British story. Over the years, I’ve pursued this topic in many parts of the world. Everywhere, people have told me about refugees from Nazism who brought their gifts to their particular city, region or nation. Indeed, it is one of the great ironies of history that Hitler, by trying to stamp out the cosmopolitan culture he abhorred, succeeded in/ dispersing it to much of the wider world.
So I end with a quotation –not from a Brit but an American. Besides such great luminaries as Einstein, Brecht, Thomas Mann and Schoenberg, America gave refuge to many distinguished artists: painters like Chagall, Max Ernst and George Grosz, art historians of the calibre of Panofsky, and the great figures from the Bauhaus. Walter Cook, Director of the New York Institute of Art, had all these geniuses turning up at his door. In the late ’30s and early ’40s, before America entered the war, he enjoyed shocking people whenever he overheard them talking about Europe’s unfolding horrors. ‘You talking about Hitler?’ he would ask. ‘Hitler is my best friend. He shakes the tree —and I collect all the apples!’
DANIEL SNOWMAN is a social and cultural historian. This article, and his preceding two in the Beast, have comprised a post mortem of sorts —a brief, decade-later re-examination of matters explored in his book, The Hitler Émigrés: The Cultural Impact on Britain of Refugees from Nazism (London: Chatto & Windus, 2002). More recently, he is author of The Gilded Stage, a book hailed by Sir Charles Mackerras as “the most comprehensive history of opera ever written.” His upcoming biography of Giuseppe Verdi will be published early in 2014. See: www.danielsnowman.org.uk.
a solitary waiting room,
its thermostat turned down . . . .
He’ll see me soon, I’m sure.
But, for which ailment?
I . . . meant to write it down.
Outside, beneath the open window,
children strive, laughing, taunting, shouting
words I barely understand.
I’d shut the thing,
but lack the password, or the PIN.
Flamingos, I suddenly realize
(a propos of absolutely nothing else that has preceded,
I know, I know),
are now my favorite bird,
crows having long ago displaced the eagles,
and they, in turn, by pigeons in the park,
whom almost every child or dog
seems eager to disturb.
in party dress,
with awkward grace,
sustain their body’s weight
on a single knee.
And Byzantium, that plaintive snare!
Blarney from a golden bough
into a hardening inner ear.
No more, I fear, is that a country for old men
than Paris, Rome, or Amsterdam
in whose “coffee shops” I order chocolate shakes,
(and window shop at Duty Free).
But I’m keeping warm . . .
The door opens.
Yes . . . my turn?
WALTER WELLS is founding editor of The Fickle Grey Beast.
Flight simulators are amazing, as well as vital to airline safety. They range from simple training devices to the advanced full flight simulator used in the exercise I described last month in which two engines failed on a 747 during take-off out of Vancouver. The fidelity with which a full flight simulator can reproduce the sensations of flying and the handling characteristics of an aircraft is so good that an experienced pilot can complete the transition from one type of aircraft to another by “flying” just the simulator. The first time the pilot flies the actual aircraft, passengers will be in the cabin behind, and a qualified training captain in the cockpit sitting alongside.
Simulators benefit the airlines in three ways. They are much cheaper to buy and operate than aircraft. They provide better training because complex manoeuvres and system failures can be practised more safely than in a real aircraft. And they‘ve reduced the number of accidents that formerly bedevilled flight training.
To have two engines fail just after take-off –as happened in our Vancouver simulation— would be far too dangerous to practise in the air. So too can other, equally dangerous failures be practised in complete safety in a simulator: all engines stopping at the same time in flight, for example, or the undercarriage legs collapsing on landing, or multiple combinations of simultaneous system malfunction. In a simulator, an instructor can also allow a trainee pilot to mishandle a situation, then watch the full consequence of his mistakes –a training technique hardly practicable, or wise, in an actual aircraft.
How do simulators achieve their remarkable fidelity? For the most part by obtaining accurate flight data from test-flying the real aircraft. During flight testing, every detail is recorded: both to assure that the aircraft flies safely and to specification, and to provide data for the flight simulator. Test pilots will have flown the aircraft in every conceivable configuration, to its maximum and minimum speeds, to its maximum altitude, and through a number of unusual manoeuvres, including stalls (more on this later). They will also have flown many landings and take-offs in extreme weather conditions to define the operating limits of the aircraft and to gather data on how the aircraft behaves under these complicating circumstances. Without this measure of accurate simulation, modern pilot training would be impossible.
And the simulator itself? The cockpit is made from real aircraft components, built into a cab mounted on six long hydraulic jacks (as seen above and at right). The interior, with identical instruments, myriad warning systems, indicators, and control panels, looks and feels just like the real aircraft. Even the view out the cockpit windows seems real. The only addition is an instructor’s station behind the pilots.
But the really clever stuff is in the computers. The sequence of processes starts when the pilot manipulates the controls. His inputs are sensed and passed to a powerful ‘host computer’ with flight data in its memory (obtained from test flying the real aircraft). The host computer calculates, in real time, the exact response and flight path of the aircraft, as its outputs are sent to every instrument and indicator in the cockpit, to the visual system that provides the external view, to the hydraulic jacks of the motion platform, and to the ‘feel’ of the pilot’s controls.
This ‘feel’ of an aircraft’s controls is much like the ‘feel’ experienced when turning a car’s steering wheel. It’s the resistance sensed by the driver, and it’s proportional to the amount the wheel is turned. Unlike a car, though, an aircraft has three axes of control – nose up and down (called “pitch”), wings banked from side to side (“roll”) and nose turned left and right (“yaw”). When pilots pull back on the control column, the resistance (or control force) they feel is proportional both to the amount the column is moved and to the speed of the aircraft – the faster it flies, the greater the control forces. Similarly, in roll and yaw when pressing the rudder pedals. Pilots use this ‘feel’ to modulate the way they move the controls when flying.
Outputs from the host computer are also sent to the flight instruments and the myriad warning systems and indicators on the cockpit’s control panels. All the read-outs are exactly like those on the real aircraft.
Next, there is the visual system, yet another computer that constructs a realistic picture of the outside world and projects it onto a 180° panoramic screen surrounding the pilots’ windows. This image replicates exactly the movements and flight path of the aircraft as flown by the pilot in the simulator. And it does even more. Depending on the training exercises being flown, the instructor can change the weather conditions – rain, snow, fog, patchy cloud, thunder and lightning. He can also change the view from day to night, together with the lights on the airport runway and taxiways and those of the cities and moving traffic on nearby roads. Simulator visual systems have benefitted enormously from the very advanced CGI (computer generated imagery) used in the entertainment industry, and from high speed computers capable of completing millions of calculations per second.
The last sub-system in this sequence of processes —in many ways the most interesting— is the motion system. Outputs from the host computer go to the computer that controls the hydraulic jacks beneath it. They give the cab all six freedoms of motion – pitch, roll, and yaw, plus surge (its motion backwards and forwards), sway (its motion from side to side), and heave (its motion up and down). The combined result is a remarkably accurate sensation of flight.
For example, the sensation of accelerating down a runway for take-off is simulated by tilting the cab backwards so the pilots are pressed back into their seats. Braking is simulated by tilting the cab forwards so they ‘hang in their straps’. To complete the illusion, the visual picture outside the windows remains level, showing only the increase or decrease of speed. Add to that all the correct indications on the flight instruments, the sound of engines and of air swishing past the windscreens, and the vibrations and noise of the wheels on the runway, and the human senses are completely fooled.
You can be so completely taken in by these false realities that, should you crash —a dirty great bang followed by complete darkness— you just sit there with that ghastly, sizzling feeling which follows a car accident (if you’ve survived it). It is horrible.
I must stress though, lest I mislead, that simulators cannot do everything. They do have their limitations. Inverted flight, for example, isn’t possible; but neither is it in a commercial airliner. More importantly, sustained high ‘g’ loads, the sensation of feeling many times heavier and being pressed down hard into one’s seat, cannot be reproduced. But the most important deficiency is their inability to simulate the exact behaviour of the aircraft in certain extreme manoeuvres. This is most apparent when pilots are being trained to recover from stalls. A stall occurs when the aircraft flies too slowly, with the nose pitched up at too high an angle, typically in excess of 15° —the smooth airflow over the wings becomes turbulent, they lose lift, the aircraft judders and falls out of control.
Simulators can reproduce this manoeuvre at medium altitudes and within certain limits, but no simulator has yet been precisely programmed to simulate stalls in certain extreme circumstances. Neither have they been programmed to reproduce all aspects of the consequent loss of control, particularly at high altitude. It’s simply far too dangerous to test fly a real aircraft to do this and acquire the flight data needed to program the simulator. Instead, data from stall tests at lower altitudes is used and extrapolated using mathematical modelling. The resulting calculations are accurate up to the point of stall, but no-one can be certain how the aircraft will behave following a complete loss of control. Since Air France’s accident over the South Atlantic in 2008, the aviation industry has been seeking to rectify this. But it won’t be easy.
Still, we’re much better off with the simulators we have today. In the 1960s, they weren’t nearly as capable as they are now. Motion systems were very limited. The visual system consisted of a small TV camera moving over a large model of the airfield and surrounding terrain; the image was relayed to cathode ray tubes (like those in old TV sets) in front of each pilot. Those analogue computers were slow in making the necessary computations, which led to lengthy time lags between the pilot’s inputs into the host computer, and its outputs to the simulator’s visual and motion systems.
These time lags (called latency) were a major problem. Those old simulators had latencies as great as 300 milliseconds (3/10ths of a second). They made it difficult for pilots to avoid ‘over-controlling’ that could cause unpleasant oscillations in all three axes of motion (pitch, roll and yaw). Humans are very sensitive to any latency of more than around 100-120 milliseconds. Furthermore, if the latency of the visual system differs from that of the motion system, even by as little as 17 milliseconds, the whole illusion of reality is broken. One feels a strange sense of disassociation and, in extreme cases, even nausea.
So, simulators are –to say the least— a fascinating blend of engineering, artistry, and the psychology of human perception and behaviour. Allied to today’s powerful digital computers, they have revolutionised pilot training. Were they used only as fairground rides, pilots would love them. But, because they’re used for demanding training exercises, and for regular competency checks, pilots tend to treat them with some trepidation. Love them or hate them, though, they are invaluable for improving flight safety.
Thankfully, we’ve come a long way from these!
PHILIP HOGGE flew commercially for B.O.A.C. and British Airways for 33 years, and was training captain on the Vickers VC10 and Boeing 707 and 747 aircraft. During his latter time with British Airways, he was the airline’s Flight Training Manager, and Chief Pilot of the 747 fleet.
A young family moved into house that stood next to a vacant lot. Shortly after, a construction crew arrived to begin building another house on the empty lot. Not surprisingly, the young couple’s four-year-old daughter took an interest in all the goings-on next door and spent much of each day observing the workers.
After about a week, the construction crew, all of them diamonds in the rough, more or less adopted her as their project mascot. They bantered with her, let her sit with them during their coffee and lunch breaks, wear a hard hat and, with her mother’s permission, gave her little jobs to do around the edges of the project.
They even pooled a little of their spare change and at the end of the week presented the girl with a pay envelope containing ten dollars. She took it home to her mother, who praised her and suggested they take her “pay” to the bank the next day and open a savings account. The little girl was very excited.
The next day, when she and her mother were at the bank, the bank officer said how impressed she was and asked the little girl how she had earned her “pay.”
The girl proudly replied that she had helped the men who were building a house next door to hers.
“Oh, goodness gracious,” said the bank officer. “How wonderful! And will you be working on the house again this week?”
“Yes, I will,” the little girl replied, “if those assholes at Home Depot ever deliver the fucking sheetrock.”
* * * * * * * * *
Back during the last Republican golden age, George Bush made a state visit to the United Kingdom. At Heathrow, a 250-foot red carpet was laid out to greet Air Force One. The President, after descending the steps from his aircraft, strode the length of the carpet to a dignified but warm handshake from the Queen. At the airport, they boarded a silver 1934 Bentley to the edge of town, and from there rode an ornate 17th-century coach drawn by six magnificent white horses into town toward Buckingham Palace.
As the rode, The President and the Queen each looked from side to side waving at the cheering crowds that lined the streets. It was a typically glorious display of pomp and pageantry, the reason why so many heads of state love coming to Britain. Suddenly, one of the rear horses nearest the royal coach emitted a loud blast of flatulence, then the coach quickly filled with the odoriferous consequences.
The Queen and the President both did their best to ignore the matter, but then the Queen, deciding the better of it, turned to Bush and said, “My regrets, please, Mr. President. I’m sure you realize there are some things even a Queen does not control.”
Ever a gentleman, the President replied, “Think nothing of it, your Majesty. You know, if you hadn’t said somethin’, I’d have thought it was one of the horses.”
In 1859, needing to speed transmissions over its rudimentary telegraph lines, the Western Union Company adopted what it called its “92 Code,” a system of numerical abbreviations for certain frequently used phrases. Tapped out telegraphically, the number 1 meant “wait a minute.” 2 meant “very important.” The numbers 12 and 13, respectively, meant “Do you understand?” and “Yes, I understand.” 88 (rather charmingly) signified “love and kisses.”
Among the Code’s numbers up to 92 (and later beyond it), the number 30 meant “the end, no more.” Correspondingly, that number was adopted by the newspaper business and used in editorial rooms to indicate the end of a story: “Thirty— there is no more.” Or so the explanation goes.
Then too, back in the days when news stories were written in longhand, there was the practice of marking the end of each sentence with an X (rather like the use of the word “Stop” in telegrams). Two Xs were used to indicate the end of a paragraph; and three, the end of a story. Three Xs, of course, in Roman numerology, represent 30 –hence an alternative reason for that number indicating, in journalistic parlance, “The End.”
“But hang on,” one young journalist said to me recently, “I’ve never heard the term.” Fair enough. Unquestionably an anachronism, it’s familiar to media veterans for the most part over 50. Its use dropped off sharply at about the time desktop computers replaced typewriters.
The resulting generation gap did lead to at least one laughable faux pas that we know of. Six years ago, a veteran reporter at The New York Times ended his article about the shooting of two policemen with the word “February.” He then typed the symbol “30” at the bottom of his page. The next day’s edition reported, quite straightforwardly, that the murder trial of the accused was “scheduled to begin on February 30.” The Times, in its subsequent correction, explained that the error had occurred “when an editor [age not revealed] saw the symbol –30— typed at the bottom of the reporter’s article and combined it with the last word, ‘February.’”
With its origin as a journalistic in-word uncertain, other explanations, theories and wild guesses have been put forward. During the hot-lead era of newspaper printing, 30 would have been a cue for the typesetter to insert a 30-point slugline to create the usual spacing between the end of one story and the headline of the next. Writer’s Market locates the term’s origin in the American Civil War,
when news was transmitted by telegraph. The first message sent
to a press association … contained thirty words, and so its sender,
as was the practice, indicated this with the number 30 at the end.
The 30 was retained for all telegraphed news, and eventually, for
news stories in general.
As the figure 80 signifies “farewell” in Bengali, one wilder stab has it that the symbol at the bottom of a long-ago letter to an East Indian company was misread as 30; and that the new number absorbed the older meaning, and it stuck. A more pedestrian guess is that 30 is a shorthand reference to the era when press offices closed at 3 o’clock. And there’s a “theory” that 30 originally alluded to a valiant telegraph operator, his loyalty to his company unsurpassed, who stayed at his post during a breaking news story till he dropped —exactly thirty hours later. Even as he fell, his hand accidentally struck two keys on his machine. No need to guess which two.
In any case, as a journalist’s device, 30 was once so widely used that it made its way into Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary. Even as the term was passing from common parlance, a 1999 book by Stephen Dixon bore the title 30: Pieces of a Novel. Shortly after its publication, Dixon was compelled to write to a journal’s editor complaining that its reviewer had been oblivious to the meaning of the title, and hence clueless about its theme of “endings.” More recently, Chicago newspaperman, Charles Madigan, wrote a lamentative history entitled: –30— The Collapse of the Great American Newspaper. On television, the finale of The Wire, which wound up a season devoted to media and the Baltimore Sun, was entitled –30-. As was an episode of Law and Order —about a poisoned reporter.
So the term survives, if barely, in the memories of those whose work predates the need to signal an editor, or a compositor, that the end if here. Nostalgia, though, prods The Fickle Grey Beast, just this once, to bring a brief discourse like this one to an old-fashioned conclusion with . . .
WALTER WELLS, editor of The Fickle Grey Beast, is Emeritus Professor of English and former Chairman of American Studies at California State University, Dominguez Hills. He is author (among other books) of Communications in Business, its last of five editions published in 1988.