All posts by Glyn Davies

TAIWAN — Michael Thacker — 26th October 2014

Michael began to learn about Taiwan when his daugh­ter, son-in-law and their three chil­dren moved there in 2011.

Many people know that Taiwan:

  • is an island
  • was called Formosa
  • pro­duced cheap, tatty goods
  • is wanted by China

In fact, Taiwan is now a man­u­fac­turer of very high tech elec­trical goods and the ten­sion with China has eased.

Taiwan is an island, situ­ated off the coast of China, that is about 90 miles wide, East to West, and about 250 miles long. It has a range of moun­tains run­ning down the middle, from North to South, and the Tropic of Cancer runs through the middle of the island. It is on the bound­ary of the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, where tec­tonic plates meet, and is prone to earth­quakes (as many as three a week!). Most of the pop­u­la­tion lives on the coastal plain to the West of the moun­tains.

In 1999 the Jiji ‘quake, meas­ur­ing 7.3 on the Richter scale, happened in the night and lasted 37 seconds.  It killed 2415 people and injured 11,305.  The damage was estim­ated to cost  US$10 bil­lion.

A high-speed rail­way has been built down the coastal plain but it does not go close to many towns, so old, dam­aged build­ings have been aban­doned and the replace­ments built near to the rail­way.  One town, Taiching, has moved 13 miles West to be next to the line. Many branch lines car­ry­ing ordin­ary trains (not HS) go off into the hills.  Some were dam­aged in the typhoon and are still not repaired.

To the East of the island is noth­ing but the Pacific Ocean so Taiwan is prone to typhoons. In 2009 Typhoon Moraket, with over 80 mph winds, depos­ited over 3 metres of rain in 4 days.  Over 600 people were killed and damage was US$3.3 bil­lion.

New build­ings are built “earth­quake proof”, and to pre­vent flood­ing in Taipei the river has flood bar­ri­ers over 40 feet high along its banks.

The island was ori­gin­ally settled by Polynesians. The Portugese dis­covered it in 1517 and called it Ihla Formosa (Beautiful Island).

In 1895 it belonged to Japan and they put in har­bours, roads, rail­ways and hydro-electric power, not to bene­fit the people but to exploit the island’s nat­ural resources.  After the war in 1945 it belonged to China and in1949 Chiang Kaisheck took his army to Taiwan along with many valu­able arti­facts from museums in Peking.

Chiang Kaisheck died in 1975 and his son, Chiang Chingkuo took over.  He was a pro­gress­ive leader and he inves­ted in infra­struc­ture and edu­ca­tion.  In 1987 one-party rule ended and in 1996 the oppos­i­tion party upset China so much that China ‘aimed’ mis­siles at Taiwan that fell into the Taiwan Straits.  This threat had the oppos­ite effect from what was inten­ded and the Independence Party in Taiwan gained a lot of sup­port­ers.

The cap­ital city, Taipei, is a modern high-rise city.  The main mode of trans­port seems to be mopeds, although the number of cars is increas­ing.  The stand­ard of driv­ing is awful.

There are many inter­na­tional high-end luxury shops sim­ilar to many of the world’s large cities.  The is an excel­lent Metro and some extremely large build­ings such as the Martyr’s Shrine and Taipei 101.  Completed in 2004, Taipei 101 was the world’s tallest build­ing for 4 months.  It is now the 4th tallest.  It seems strange that a place prone to earth­quakes would build such a tall struc­ture, but it had all the latest “earthquake-proof” tech­no­lo­gies built in, with very large con­crete found­a­tions and a huge, massive ‘pen­du­lum’ sus­pen­ded above the 91st floor to dampen vibra­tions.

Within the city bound­ary there is a National Park and many tea plant­a­tions.

There are three main ‘reli­gions’ in Taiwan: Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. There are over 1500 temples on the island.  Temples are ornate and col­our­ful.  Many have dragons on their roofs and pic­tures or statues of gods inside. The Buddhist Temple has an enorm­ous campus and  30 meter tall statue of Buddha and eight pago­das. The Confucian Temple has no gods inside because Confucianism is more a philo­sophy than a reli­gion, but it has dis­plays of many of Confucius’ say­ings.

This was an inter­est­ing talk about some­where that few people know much about.

Written Off — by Kate Allatt – 1st September 2014.

Kate Allatt loves to run.

In February 2010 she was run­ning for two hours around Chatsworth with her run­ning mates, trying to get super-fit ready to attempt a climb of Kilimanjaro.

She developed a severe head­ache and her hus­band took her to the walk-in centre. The triage nurse said she should go to the A & E depart­ment at the Northern General.

The junior doctor on duty examined her and took her blood pres­sure, which was in the normal range (systolic around 140).  Kate thought that this was high for her because her fit­ness brought hers down to around 90.  The doctor con­sidered that Kate’s life – look­ing after three chil­dren, trying to start a digital-media mar­ket­ing com­pany, a hus­band whose job took him abroad a lot and her run­ning – caused her to be suf­fer­ing stress symp­toms.  He sent her home to rest.

Four hours later she was back in the Northern General, in a coma and on a life-support machine, having had a severe stroke.

She was kept in a drug-induced coma for three days.  When she was again awake, she was com­pletely cog­nit­ive but unable to move any­thing but her eye­lids.  The staff thought she was in a per­sist­ent veget­at­ive state but she could see and hear everything and her brain was work­ing well.

There were extreme frus­tra­tions in this period.  She could not tell anyone that she suffered ter­rible leg cramps or that she could not sleep or that she was feel­ing acute sep­ar­a­tion anxi­ety because her chil­dren were not allowed to come to see her.

She also thought that it was pos­sible that the doc­tors might think that she was so far gone that they should with­draw food and water and let her slip away.

She was unable to com­mu­nic­ate for two weeks until her friends brought in a simple alpha­bet board at which she blinked once for “No” and twice for “Yes”.  She also learned to swear with her eyes!

This method was very slow and very exhaust­ing for her but she was able to tell them that she had not slept for two weeks (pre­sum­ably because of the life-saving drugs that were being pumped into her).  The staff were told and that even­ing she was given sleep­ing med­ic­a­tion and slept bliss­fully for about seven hours.

The drugs caused her to have hal­lu­cin­a­tions on top of her isol­a­tion but she didn’t lose her sense of humour and laughed inside when one nurse said, “If there’s any­thing you want just give us a shout!”

During the first weeks the bore­dom was awful because all she could see was a TV and a clock at the bottom of her bed.  The TV was never switched on because the staff thought she was a veget­able and the clock seemed to go so slowly that the days were end­less.

Her Mum brought in an Ipod to play music but the music was Country and Western! (She will never listen to C and W music ever again!)

Most of the staff didn’t look her in the eyes because they thought she was veget­at­ive and she found the indig­nity of being help­less unbear­able.  She was fed through a tube up her nose (and later through a PEG – a tube through her side dir­ectly into her stom­ach).

She had to have her nappy changed and have bed-baths and was not able to even wipe the dribble from her chin.

She was 9 weeks in the ICU before being trans­ferred to Osborne4.

At a review after 6 weeks the con­sult­ant and all other staff told her family that they thought that they were look­ing at long-term nurs­ing care.  Kate had had a tracheotomy by this time, to help her breath­ing, and was puff­ing and suck­ing like mad because she had no inten­tion of being in long time care but, of course, she could not tell them!

She slowly gained enough use of her fin­gers to hold a pencil and if someone held the paper she could labor­i­ously write a few words.  Her young son, Woody, was vis­it­ing and he said, “Mum, don’t write my name, say it.”  For the first time she tried to speak and man­aged “Oody”!   She prac­tised all day every day.  When her favour­ite nurse came in car­ry­ing a box and said his cus­tom­ary, “Good morn­ing, Kate” she said, “Orning, Oliver”.

Oliver was startled he dropped the box and burst into tears.

Oliver brought in a speech ther­ap­ist and from then on every­one who thought she was a lost cause changed their atti­tude and much more ser­i­ous ther­apy began.

Five months into her recov­ery she used to stare at her left big toe and will it to move.  She was always a person with self-belief and, after three weeks con­stant strain­ing, moved the toe a flicker.

From then on she made pro­gress by split­ting her big goal (she had told the staff that when she left hos­pital she would walk out) into small sec­tions.  Eventually she could lift her pelvis off the bed when lying on her back and she did it con­stantly.  The occu­pa­tional ther­ap­ist told her to stop or she would look like a Russian shot-putter.

She was given an elec­tric wheel­chair and man­aged to escape from the ward and was head­ing down the drive away from hos­pital but was caught and brought back.

The hos­pital had sug­ges­ted that her family should arrange to con­vert her kit­chen into a bed­room and shower room because she would not be able to get up stairs.    She had a new kit­chen and did not want it spoil­ing so after seven months, on a visit home before her dis­charge, she per­suaded her step-dad to help her climb the stairs at home.

Her step-dad said, “Don’t tell the hos­pital!” but she did, and the ther­ap­ists intro­duced stairs into her recov­ery regime.

She did walk out of the hos­pital when she was dis­charged, even though she was on crutches, and later on began to run again.

Nowadays Kate tries to inspire other stroke suf­fer­ers to keep trying, but her spe­ci­al­ity is with “locked-in” sur­viv­ors.  She feels that the emo­tional side of stroke ther­apy is very badly under­stood and is not dealt with prop­erly.  She thinks that med­ical staff should not give long-term neg­at­ive views to fam­il­ies but should say, “We are not gods and cannot give any prom­ises, but there are pos­sib­il­it­ies.”

Her final line was,

“Writing me off was a BIG MISTAKE.”




Sheffield Motor Manufacturing 1900–1930 — by Andrew Swift — 7th July 2014.

(Andrew’s career was in edu­ca­tion and not in engin­eer­ing, but he has always been very inter­ested in cars and the his­tory of car man­u­fac­ture in Sheffield.  He man­aged to acquire a large archive of Sheffield motor man­u­fac­tur­ing inform­a­tion.  He brought the archive with him so that mem­bers could look at it after the talk.)

In the Fulwood area in 1900 there were no cars, but by 1910 there had been an explo­sion of car own­er­ship.   Previously, trans­port had been by horse-drawn car­riages, that left up to 4 tons of horse manure per mile per day on Sheffield’s roads.

Car own­er­ship was for the wealthy only because cars were expens­ive and main­ten­ance was very costly too.  One owner repor­ted that he spent £100 per year on tyres alone.

Many engin­eer­ing com­pan­ies in Sheffield flir­ted with car man­u­fac­ture as a side­line to their normal man­u­fac­tur­ing busi­nesses.

(1902 – 1906)  Frank Churchill per­suaded his father, owner of the Hallamshire Motor Company, that they should make cars.  By 1906 the com­pany had stopped man­u­fac­ture of cars for eco­nomic reas­ons, but still made bus bodies.

(1903 — 1905) The Cavendish com­pany star­ted the Cavendish Motor Company in Cavendish Street, Sheffield.  It seems that they did not actu­ally make cars but bought in other makes and re-modelled or re-badged them.  The com­pany was really a car deal­er­ship and later became Kennings.

(1903 – 1905) The Burgon and Ball com­pany set up La Plata Cars but did not actu­ally make the cars.  They sold Talbots etc. and per­haps re-modelled some cars, but they were really  car retail­ers.  Burgon and Ball are still in the engin­eer­ing busi­ness making garden tools etc.  At this time the Yorkshire Motor Car Company made car bodies but not the chassis and the engine.  They put a cus­tom­ised body onto a stand­ard chassis from another man­u­fac­turer.

(1907 – 1909) The Yorkshire Engine Company made engines and power trains and built sports cars, but did not make the chassis.  They used Simplex and Daimler-Mercedes chassis.  YEC advert­ised a car at Brooklands that they said they were going to make, with a Daimler-Mercedes chassis, but did not have per­mis­sion from the Benz com­pany to do this.  The prob­lems caused made YEC scrap their car com­pany and go back to  rail­way engin­eer­ing.

(1906 – 1914) Sheffield Simplex was, at the time, the only real rival to Rolls-Royce.  Simplex cars could do any­thing that a Rolls could, and do some things better! Earl Fitzwilliam moved the Simplex fact­ory from Sheffield to some land he owned in the London area. The Simplex cars were the first to have an elec­tric starter and dynamo-powered lights and elec­trics. Simplex opened a show­room in Conduit Street, London, near to the Rolls show­room. Simplex cars sold only to the very rich.
The Prince of Wales toured the West of England in one of their cars and said it was extremely com­fort­able (but did not buy one!)
To prove reli­ab­il­ity a Simplex car was driven from Lands End to John O’Groats and back again without stop­ping the engine and they didn’t need to change gear.  (Presumably some sort of auto­matic gear box was installed.)  Rolls-Royce could not beat that.

Sheffield Simplex ceased man­u­fac­tur­ing cars in 1914 because of the Great War, but con­tin­ued to make lor­ries.  (1923 – 1928) Stringer-Winco  cars were made in Wincobank using other manufacturer’s engines. A medium-light Stringer-Winco car cost £286 for the chassis only! Meanwhile, Herbert Austin (ori­gin­ally from this area) had set up the Austin com­pany in the Coventry area and was pro­du­cing a whole car for £150. In 1926 Stringer-Winco halved their prices, and in 1928 made fur­ther reduc­tions, but could not com­pete and went under.

(1919 – 1922) The Finbat Works were man­u­fac­tur­ers of tin-plate toys until the war.  After the war broth­ers Ernest and Charles Richardson began to make cars. The Richardson 2–3 seater light car model D sold for £235. (This was a reduced price.  Probably Austin’s model was much cheaper?) The fact­ory pro­duced about 600 cars, but went bust in 1921 when a strike of die-makers meant that they could not com­plete the cars. After that Ernest refused to take risks with his future and went back to an engin­eer­ing job.  Charles went into prop­erty, appar­ently quite suc­cess­fully.

(1919 – 1928)  Charron-Laycock was part of the Laycocks Company, Archer Road. The cars were claimed to be British built through­out and were aimed at the posh car market (today’s BMW, Mercedes, Porsche market). The Coupe cost £625, the 2-seater cost £525, and the 4-seater cost £575. Actually, the French com­pany Charron pro­duced the engines and insisted that their name was included with Laycocks on the brand. Problems star­ted when Laycocks bought 2000 units from Charron and found that they did not meets the required stand­ard and parts were not avail­able.  By 1929 pro­duc­tion of the Charron-Laycocks cars had stopped.

By 1930 cars were no longer made in Sheffield although steel was still being sup­plied in quant­ity to man­u­fac­tur­ers else­where. Big cities like Sheffield, Manchester, Leeds, Bradford etc. that had flir­ted with making cars had all stopped doing so.

Sand and Sea — Mike Tolson — 28th April 2014

In 1957 Mike was in the RAF and was posted to Christmas Island as part of the mil­it­ary involved in the British H-bomb tests (code named Grapple X).

Conditions were prim­it­ive.  Troops were bil­leted in tents in tem­per­at­ures of 95 degrees and 95% humid­ity, with only 5 gal­lons of desal­in­ated water for 6 men each day.

The bomb was to be exploded as an air­burst to the north of the 30-mile long island.

The troops were taken to the south of the island, to shel­ter with backs to trees, facing away from the bomb.  They tucked trousers in socks and rolled down shirtsleeves.  Hat brims were pulled down over eyes and hands also covered eyes.

When the bomb burst they heard no sound but a very intense flash pen­et­rated hands and hat brims so that hands were vis­ible like X-rays, with red flesh and black bones.  Next was a heat flash, which burned the skins of those who had not rolled down their sleeves.  They were ordered to leave the trees and saw a huge white pillar stretch­ing up into the sky, with a fire­ball in the centre and white rings trav­el­ling out­wards.  Then the sound came, like a very loud gun­shot, and the blast like a tor­nado that flattened the trees.

At base camp the pay­mas­ters office and two Shackletons were crushed and lines of tents flattened.

The amount of radio­act­ive fall-out was not appre­ci­ated at the time and the Navy sail­ors, who col­lec­ted sensor instru­ments from near the blast site, were most exposed.