The Thing Is with Steve Canavan - August 7, 2014

Shoe fan Imelda Marcos, reputed to have more than 1,000 pairs of shoes

Shoe fan Imelda Marcos, reputed to have more than 1,000 pairs of shoes

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I had one day off work last week and was looking forward to spending it in leisurely fashion, preferably lounging on the settee while reading a book, sipping a cup of tea and 
devouring a packet of chocolate hob-nobs.

So it was with some dismay that I awoke to discover a note from Mrs Canavan.

I say note, it was more an essay, and described in great detail that I had to empty the two wardrobes in the back bedroom, then dismantle said wardrobes, and carry them into the front garden where they were to be collected by a work colleague of hers later.

Apparently, and without telling me, Mrs Canavan had bought a new wardrobe and had mentioned this to a work colleague, who had asked if she could have our old ones.

Now I’ve no problem with any of that, but I do object to suddenly becoming chief 
labourer on the project.

Thus I spent the whole of Tuesday morning lifting various items out of the wardrobes – items that hadn’t been used for years – and carefully putting them in black bin bags ready to placed in the 
attic, the location where they’ll next not be used for years.

It was a tiring job, took hours, completely destroyed my day off, and left me in a terrible mood (even the cat was wise enough, after taking a glance at me, to keep its distance). But on the upside it did give me the opportunity to throw out a lot of stuff.

In Mrs Canavan’s wardrobe, for example, there were 43 pairs of shoes. That’s 43. It was as if she were trying to become St Annes’ answer to Imelda Marcos.

There were heels, boots, sandals, flip-flops and trainers of every colour, none of which had been worn since the Millennium. I chucked them all.

I was just as guilty though, for my wardrobe contained just as much useless junk.

In one plastic bag I found all my old school reports, which, of course, I couldn’t resist reading.

“Steven,” wrote my high school geography teacher Miss Tansey, a woman I 
remember well because of the giant, unsightly mole on her left cheek, “still does not listen to instructions and though he is sat at the front often needs telling twice what he must do; he continues to do silly things which leads to him being told off”.

I’m sure she wrote that out of spite because she kept catching me staring at her mole.

My favourite report came from my maths teacher Mr Carpenter, who wrote, with impressively undisguised disdain, ‘Steven isn‘t going to win Mastermind but he’s a trier’ – which would, I think, make a nice epitaph.

I found a diary from when I was aged 12. The entry from January 29 read: “Watched half of Only Fools and Horses on video. Watched Grange Hill, then the other half of Only Fools and Horses. Played football. Watched The Bill, then dad came down and we watched A Question of Sport. Dad went to pub. Made myself some scrambled egg on toast. It was filling but lovely. I‘m now in bed.” Riveting stuff.

For a second I thought about keeping all this rubbish but in the end decided I could probably live without knowing what television programmes I watched on April 6, 1989, so shoved everything into the car and took it to the tip. Then I took the wardrobes apart and carried them downstairs. By the time the whole thing was done it was gone seven in the evening.

It was quite a relief to get back in work the next day. Next time I have a day off, I won’t be telling Mrs Canavan about it in advance.

Floating platform plan sunk by financial crash

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 flight from New York to Paris, which made him the most famous man on the planet (as detailed in Bill Bryson’s very good book One Summer).

It’s a fascinating achievement because it happened at a time when airplanes were so ill-equipped for long distance flights, that most men who attempted it crashed before they’d even gone a couple of miles.

What I’ve since discovered – and I want to share it with you because I, in my geeky way, think it’s pretty interesting – is that after Lindbergh‘s successful journey, all sorts of clued-up businessmen realised there was a market in flying passengers to Europe.

But planes were still so, well, rubbish, that they had to work out a safe way to do it.

The most ingenious idea came courtesy of a chap called Edward R Armstrong who decided he would instead build a string of floating platforms at 350-mile intervals across the Atlantic Ocean for planes to land on.

Today that sounds barmy. Back then he was hailed a 
genius.

Each ‘island’ would be 1,100 feet long, weigh 50,000 tonnes, and be anchored to the ocean floor by steel cables.

On each of these would be a restaurant, gift shop, lounge, viewing deck and a hotel.

His plan was to build eight platforms, at the cost of £6m each, and the plane and its passengers would hop from one to the next en route to Europe. The trip, said Armstrong, could be done in 30 hours – a damn sight quicker than the two weeks it took to do the journey by ship.

In mid-1927, he formed the Armstrong Seadrome Development Company and quickly secured financial backing, for after Lindbergh’s heroic flight people were obsessed with this wondrous new form of transport called aeroplanes.

In October 1929 he 
announced work would begin in 60 days. History was about to be made! Alas, the same week of his announcement the American stock market crashed and all his cash 
disappeared.

A distraught Armstrong continued to try and resurrect the plan for years, reducing the number of platforms to five and then three as planes became more powerful and able to travel further.

Unfortunately, the quality of planes developed at such a rate that they were soon able to safely cross the Atlantic in one go with no trouble at all, and Armstrong died a very cheesed-off man in 1955.

How odd to think that if he’d gone ahead with his scheme there would now be eight man-made islands floating idly in the Atlantic, of no use to anyone at all apart from, possibly, the odd migrating bird looking for somewhere to rest.