Libya 1969 by Alex Marianos

I first went to Libya in 1968 as a young civil engineer to work for a construction company. I was stationed first in Beida working on maintenance and minor works contracts and then was transferred to Benghazi to be in charge of a number of building construction projects dotted around the city. The workshops and accommodation camp was in in Gwarishah some 15 km west of Benghazi.

Libya at that time was a peaceful place. Benghazi was an important business city with first class hotels, banks, restaurants and good shops. Libya was liberated from the Italians in 1951 when King Idris declared it a Kingdom. However the Italian influence was everywhere and an abundance of fashion outlets were doing good business. If Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East then Benghazi was Milano. All religious places of worship were permitted and a good number of European Schools were serving the expat community.

Cathedral Church Benghazi

On the morning of 1st September 1969, I went to the staff mess for breakfast thinking about the recent landing on the moon by the Americans. A directive on the radio instructed us all to stay indoors and wait for an important announcement.  The workforce had already left for work and arrangements needed to bring them back to the camp. A lot of road blocks were set up but we managed to get the men back through country tracks.

By mid-day a radio announcement declared a military coup headed by Colonel Gaddafi had ousted King Idris. It was a textbook swift bloodless coup.

Our office in Benghazi downtown was opened for a few hours for next day and business soon returned to normal but there was an atmosphere of tension especially as there was a curfew from sunset to sunrise for quite a while. A number of military checkpoints would wave foreigners through while checks and car searches were carried out on Libyan citizens.

A couple of days later I had a phone call from the wife of the (ex) Chief of Staff. I had met him a few months earlier when he turned up unexpectedly with King Idris at a garrison I was building near Beida. They were happy with the progress and the quality of work and had a pleasant banter with the King and Senousi, his Army chief, about furniture and kitchen equipment. The wife was under house arrest.  She had run out of food for herself and four children. I went to their home with some groceries but the guard would not allow me access. The captain in charge came and I explained that understandably the husband was perhaps detained but a woman and four children just needed something to feed themselves with. As mentioned, the country was very civilised and for several days I delivered provisions until the family was moved on.

The great majority of the country is desert and the shores are fertile with beautiful beaches. They are typical Mediterranean without the crowds!

Under Gaddafi, Libya developed the oil reserves and the wealth brought stability in the country for many years. He proceeded with the peaceful departure of the RAF base in El-Adem and the USAF  base in Wheelus. The conservative Arab society was maintained under Gaddafi with the added restriction on alcohol but strict religious customs were not enforced. Women were treated with respect, wore western clothes, drove cars and worked in mixed gender environments. In line with all Arab countries dissidents were not tolerated. There was law and order backed by the military regime. Gaddafi for all his faults had integrity and patriotism and all his antics were attention seeking rather than mischief.

I really liked Libya for its climate, its beaches, its important Greek and Roman archaeological sites and particularly its people. In total I spent well over five years in Libya.

Roman Amphitheatre of Leptis Magna near Tripoli – Libya

Publicity During Covid Lockdown – part 8

A good month for local magazines giving coverage to Probus reports. Eight carried the story by David Rawden about his hill climbing activities and two new magazines, published by CommunityAd for the areas of Sherfield & Bramley (A4 full colour) and Overton & Oakley (A5 full colour).  Both carried the story of the Love of Bank notes which I sent to them back in August but as these are quarterly publications, they are always going to behind anything that appears in the monthly magazines.

CommunityAd are in the process of producing an edition for Old Basing (hopefully to appear late in November) for which I have sent them the David Rawden story.

Tilting At Windmills by Dave Kitson

Probus Club of Basingstoke member
Dave Kitson

The classic book by Cevantes about the Spanish romantic, Don Quixote, who, thinking they were giants, futilely attacked the sails of windmills, has some similarities with the experience of Probus member, Dave Kitson, who these days lives in Sherborne St John.

Some years ago, Dave and his school teacher wife, Jennifer, bought a house in Kent, moving from Teignmouth in Devon. Dave explains why:
“We had bought a motorhome while on a visit to America and had it shipped back to the UK. Being left hand drive it was ideal for touring around Europe so we thought we should make our lives simpler by living closer to the channel ports.”

However, the house, which is in sight of the Channel Tunnel, had an interesting extension – or perhaps it might be described as the house was an extension to a windmill. Known as Stanford Mill it had been built in 1857 as a corn mill.  It was a tower construction of five storeys with four sails that drove a cast iron windshaft and had four pairs of millstones, two steel mills and two roller mills.

Stanford Mill

The sails were replaced in 1925, 1930 and 1936 and worked by wind until 1946 when the shutters were removed from the sails. Supplementary power had been provided between the wars with a single cylinder oil engine that was changed in 1936 with a Ruston & Hornsby diesel engine.

The sails and roof cap were removed in 1961 and a corrugated asbestos roof built on the cap frame. Milling continued by engine until 1969 when the diesel engine was replaced by an electric motor although that is the year that saw milling discontinue.

Naturally, there has always been interest in windmills and the people of Kent, having lost many over the years, took a particular interest in Stanford Mill and made it Grade 11 listed. And that is where Dave Kitson ran into a spot of bother. Like many people owning Grade 11 listed property they cannot do whatever they want by way of improvement.

The house in Kent with an adjacent windmill bought by Dave & Jennifer Kitson

Dave continued;
“One of the reasons we bought the house was that it had this tower windmill in the grounds. And I thought that with a bit of additional funding I might at least make it look presentable and usable. But it was not meant to be. Having said that we got a little financial help because the High Speed Rail passed half a mile away which I spent on checking on the history of the mill and suggestions, photographs and detailed drawings from a local millwright.”

Plan drawing of Stanford Mill as originally constructed in 1857

“Kent County Council were not very cooperative. They sent their conservation architect, and his first observation was where are you going to put the disabled toilets? He said that the windmill could not be used as a separate dwelling but could be used as an annexe to the house.”

There was a lot of original machinery in the mill, which also had protected status, but some of the floorboards and ladders were rotten or missing. These should have lasted the 160 years the mill had been standing but there was an inherent problem of severe damp in the mill. Old photographs show that the mill had been coated with bitumen trying to prevent the ingress of water.

Work in progress

One day when at the top of the mill Dave heard someone coming up one of the aluminium ladders he had propped up to replace one of the rotting fixed wooden ones, but there was nobody there. Spooky. Aluminium ladders make a distinctive squeaking noise, so he was beginning to think, ghost? A haunted mill? Surely not. After some time, still mystified, he descended via the same squeaky ladder to the outside. And then heard the same noise. It came from a man on an aluminium ladder painting the outside of a house but some 70 metres away and yet in the mill it sounded almost behind him.

Standing so long and so visible there were many occasions when the mill came under some form of attack. The solid construction of the mill stood it in good stead in the first World war when a passing Zeppelin dropped a bomb, presumably aiming at the nearby railway, instead landing nearby and caused a split in the brickwork on the ground floor.

Windmills were always getting struck by lightning and Stanford Mill was no different. When Dave and Jennifer were abroad in their motorhome a lightning strike did no discernable damage to the mill but the electric cables between the house and the mill blew out many of the power sockets in the house. This caused a small fire on the carpet in the lounge, which fortunately, extinguished itself.

Another time there was a local earthquake which left the sturdy mill undamaged but separated some of the partition walls from the outer brick skin of the house.

Windy Miller (a character from BBC Children’s TV Trumpton) bought by Dave’s sister as a commemorative gift when Dave & Jennifer bought the property

Enough was enough for Dave and Jennifer and when their daughter announced that she was pregnant they decided to move to Basingstoke to be near to her. But selling the house, complete with a potentially problem windmill, did not present any difficulties with the buyer wanting to take possession as quickly as possible. Perhaps he had deep pockets if the mill was to be brought back to some usable condition. Windmills may stand proudly on the landscape but, as Dave Kitson can attest, could require bottomless pits of money needed for their upkeep.

Two of My Visits to the USA by John Boother

My first flight on a scheduled airline service did not happen until I was 27 and this was a return trip from London to Aberdeen on a BEA Viscount but shortly after that I joined Hewlett Packard (HP) as a sales account person in the UK and air travel started even before my first official day with the company – attendance at a European sales meeting in Geneva.

Travel to the USA was just a dream at that time but the first opportunity arrived in 1972 when HP organized a meeting in Delaware. Timing was difficult as it was just at the close of the Munich Olympics, so it was a very full TWA 707 that did the honours. Then we had to make an unscheduled stop at Bangor, Maine for more fuel due to a strong headwind. Bangor was then an airport seemingly in the middle of nowhere with forests visible in all directions. Our destination was Philadelphia where every single suitcase on the flight was searched as part of the immigration process.

I was met by an HP colleague who drove me to the HP factory where I was handed the keys to a Chevy Impala and told to follow him to my hotel. I had never driven an automatic and never driven a left-hand drive car so this was a steep learning curve.

Photo1: 1972 Chevrolet Impala

This trip included a visit to Niagara Falls – for airliner buffs this involved a flight from Philadelphia to Erie and then to Toronto on an Allegheny Convair 580. Then on to Montreal and back to London.

Photo 2: Convair 580

That trip really opened my eyes to North America. I loved it and I liked most of the people and I wanted to move there to work – but this never happened although at one point I got into house hunting from the air. My potential future boss had a half share in a private aircraft and he advised that this was the best way to assess the places to live – all very rural in that part of Delaware. 

After that I had many business trips to the USA with several Philadelphia – New York – Chicago – Houston – Los Angeles and San Francisco trips over a 3-week period.

Also, several holidays as well which meant that I currently have passed through on the ground all the States apart from North Dakota, Alaska and Hawaii.

One of the holiday highlights was travelling from New York to San Francisco by train on a convoluted route. I will only mention a few significant points about this trip.

This trip started with several days in New York city – I like the place but Anita does not want to go back! However, it did include our first walk through Central Park (not very impressed), our first visit to the top of the Empire State Building (very impressed particularly as we had fast track tickets and we left queuing to most of the others!) and a visit to the Ground Zero museum. This is a must-see place but be prepared for an emotional time – 3 hours was enough. One impressive part of this complex was the arrangement of the waterfalls marking the footprint of the twin towers. The wall surrounding this was engraved with the names of all the people that lost their lives. There was even a computer search facility to help find any given name/s. I had visited the observation level in the World Trade Centre twice on previous journeys to New York.

We walked a lot in New York and ventured on to the subway as well.

We then took the Amtrak train to Washington which was much more to Anita’s taste. More walking and so much to see – I remember it was very hot. I also remember going into a restaurant that was much more up-market than it appeared from the outside and we were in casual clothes. Almost all the other diners were in smart suits etc.

One museum we visited enabled us to look at the front pages of the Washington Times since it was first published. Interesting to look up any significant events to see how the story was presented as front-page news. Obvious candidates – the JFK assassination, Chappaquiddick etc.

Washington to Chicago was an overnight train journey – the food was fantastic, but the sleeping accommodation was a challenge requiring physical dexterity and then we had a poor night.

Photo 3: Typical Chicago scene – interesting city at the right time of the year

Insufficient time here particularly as this was Anita’s first visit.

Then on to Denver, also overnight, but now we had the larger sleeper cabin which was what we should have had on the Washington – Chicago trip. One significant factor was that the sleeping position was across the carriage so going round curves on the track no longer threatened to leave you on the floor unlike the previous experience.

Been to Denver too many times previously for this part to be memorable other than I met an old colleague from HP who I had not seen for several 10’s of years.

However, one of the reasons for going to Denver is to experience the train journey from the city to Grand Junction across the mountains. One of the most outstanding rail journeys I have experienced.

Close on its heels came the steam trip on the Durango-Silverton railway with Durango being a coach ride away from Grand Junction. This journey followed a river gorge for much of the way and facilities for viewing the scenery were excellent e.g. open-air car. Durango looks like an old western town with the railway terminus in the middle of one of the roads with no platforms. Recommended.

Photo 4: The Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad is a 3 ft narrow-gauge heritage railroad that operates on 45.2 miles of track between Durango and Silverton, in the U.S. state of Colorado.  This is prior to departure from Silverton.

A visit to the Grand Canyon using the Grand Canyon railway followed and, of course, the train was held up by bandits on the way back!!

Then an overnight train journey from Williams to Los Angeles followed with arrival in LA about 6.30am. We had a tour of the city including the Hollywood scene – all somewhat tacky we thought – and then an overnight on the Queen Mary. It is looking tired externally and the cabins are, of course, old-fashioned compared to modern hotel rooms but an enjoyable experience. From the deck you could watch pelicans diving into the water for fish in quite lovely sunny conditions.

Photo 5: On October 31, 1967, the Queen Mary departed on her final cruise, arriving in Long Beach, California, on December 9, 1967. Here it is in 2015.

Our last train journey was along the coast from LA to San Francisco. It was not the coast that made the big impression but the thousands of people living rough alongside the tracks for about 20 miles after leaving LA.

We are old-timers at San Francisco but this time we had pre-booked a visit to Alcatraz. This was interesting made even more so by the fact that there was an ex-inmate in the gift shop signing his book telling of his experiences. Apparently, he was making more money from the book than he ever did from his criminal activities.

Photo 6: Baker, a former Alcatraz inmate, shares his stories in “Alcatraz-1259,” a book he wrote about his experience at the prison.

This was a great trip with a huge variety of things to see and great travelling companions with a hearty sense of humour. Highly recommended if you like train travel.

However, I do wonder where the US is headed given recent events and to-day I would not be so keen to move there.

November 2020