March 31st to April 6th in years gone by

31st March saw the arrival and departure of two of England’s great poets. On this day in 1621 Andrew Marvell was born while ten years later, in 1631, poet John Donne died. Both left considerable collections of work. It is obvious that they never wrote together – or even interacted – but one can find some interesting similarities. In Donne’s Elegy XX – ‘To His Mistress Going to Bed’ there are elements that, bearing the title in mind, could quite easily be misinterpreted as he writes of being seduced:
License my roving hands, and let them go / Before, behind, between, above, below. /
O my America! my new-found-land, / My kingdom, safest when with one man manned, / My mine of precious stones, my empery, / How blest am I in this discovering of thee! / To enter in these bonds is to be free; / then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.
Marvell, some 50 or so years later, touches on seduction in ‘To His Coy Mistress’ – but this is on a different continent:
Had we but world enough, and time, / This coyness, lady, were no crime. / We would sit down and think which way / To walk, and pass our long love’s day; / Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side / Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide / Of Humber would complain.

1st April gives us a chance to do all sorts of foolish things – well until noon time anyway – but on this day in 1913 Henry Ford was not fooling around. It was on that day that he started an assembly line to make motors. He later wrote: ‘A Ford car contains about 5,000 parts. Some of these parts are fairly bulky and others are almost the size of watch parts. In our first assembling we simply started to put a car together at a spot on the floor and the workmen brought to it the parts as they were needed in exactly the same way as one builds a house. The first step forward in assembly came when we began taking the work to the men instead of the men to the work. Along about April 1 1913 we first tried the experiment of an assembly line. We tried it on assembling the fly-wheel magneto.’

2nd April 1934 – Robert Byron, on his journey to Afghanistan, observes in his journal “A mountain freshet had cut the road outside Isfahan. With the help of 20 peasants we pushed the car through water up to the waist. By the time we had changed our clothes, changed oil, petrol and the plugs, and dried the cylinders, the water had gone down, and the other cars, which had been passively waiting, went in ahead of us. British initiative looked rather foolish”.

3rd April 1933 saw the first airplane flight over Mount Everest. It was achieved by Squadron Leader Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, the Marquess of Clydesdale as he was then known, in a Westland PV-3 biplane. Also in his open cockpit was an unnamed cine-photographer and following them was second Westland piloted by Flight Lieutenant, D F McIntyre in a similar Westland. In recognition of his achievement Douglas-Hamilton received the Air Force Cross in 1935. A film, ‘Wings over Everest’, was made of the record-setting flight – no doubt using the film of Squadron Leader’s cine-photographer – and in 1936 the story was told in a book ‘The Pilot’s Book of Everest’ written by the two pilots.

4th April 1988 saw the last transmission of the television soap opera ‘Crossroads’ after 4,510 episodes. There were many that claimed to have watched every one, and others that said ‘thank heavens’ for its’ demise..
In 1992, while standing as a candidate in the forthcoming general election, Screaming Lord Such, representing the Monster Raving Loony Party, was asked what he would do if he was called upon to form a government? He wondered aloud that ‘Kissing hands sounds a bit too formal for the Loonies. I wonder whether Her Majesty would object to a discreet snog?’ There is, of course, no record of the Queen’s view of this – if she even knew it had been asked.

5th April 1919 – The Reverend Andrew Clark notes in his diary that ‘All prisoners-of-war, except those who were in the very south of Germany, pass through Denmark on their way to England. When it was known that these prisoners were to pass through, a Danish committee was formed and the Danes were able to send gifts for the men. The gifts so flowed in that the Red Cross premises where Mrs. P. was working could not contain them. When the prisoners got to Copenhagen, they were treated right royally by the Danes, especially the British Tommies. When any kilties came, they could not move along the street for people hanging on to them.’

6th April 1909 was the date Robert Edwin Peary claimed to have reached the North Pole. His claim was widely credited for most of the 20th century, rather than a competing claim by Frederick Cook, who said he got there a year earlier. Both claims were widely debated in newspapers until 1913. Modern historians generally think Cook did not reach the pole. In 1968/9 the British Trans-Arctic Expedition – led by Wally Herbert – walked 3,800 miles across the arctic ice cap from Alaska to Spitsbergen behind dogsleds. They finally arrived at the North Pole on 6th April 1969. Prince Philip said that it ‘ranks among the greatest triumphs of human skill and endurance’. Herbert was later commissioned by the National Geographic Society to re-assess Peary’s diary and astronomical observations. He concluded in his 1989 book ‘The Noose of Laurels: The Race to the North Pole’ (Published in the US as ‘The Noose of Laurels: Robert E. Peary and the Race to the North Pole) that Peary had not actually reached the pole but was more likely to have been around 5 miles (8 km) adrift. This was a contentious claim but his conclusions have now been widely accepted. Whatever is the true – I think we should recognise the achievement of both men as something tremendous.



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