The Anonymous Widower

Memories of Polythene

My first job on leaving Liverpool University was at ICI Mond Division in Runcorn.  I actually worked in Research at Runcorn Heath and like the company itself, I think where I worked no longer exists.  Or should I say I couldn’t find it when I returned to the area last year.

The process for making polythene, or more correctly polyethylene, was discovered by ICI at Northwich.

The first industrially practical polyethylene synthesis was discovered (again by accident) in 1933 by Eric Fawcett and Reginald Gibson at the ICI works in Northwich, England. Upon applying extremely high pressure (several hundred atmospheres) to a mixture of ethylene and benzaldehyde they again produced a white, waxy, material. Because the reaction had been initiated by trace oxygen contamination in their apparatus the experiment was, at first, difficult to reproduce. It was not until 1935 that another ICI chemist, Michael Perrin, developed this accident into a reproducible high-pressure synthesis for polyethylene that became the basis for industrial LDPE production beginning in 1939.

For some months in my brief period at Runcorn, I shared an office with L. H. (Bert) Cross, who told me quite a bit of the history of how polythene was made.  He would confirm the statement in Wikipedia that it was created by accident, as the researchers were experimenting with high pressures on ethylene gas.

Bert was an infra-red expert and he had analysed the spectrum of the compound to confirm what it was and ascertain his properties.  I won’t put all of the story in, as even now many years on, I don’t want to destroy confidences.  But let’s say that he found some interesting properties of polythene.

I’m not sure if it was Bert who told me, but at first they had no idea of what to do with their new product.  It was very expensive and suggestions that it could be used to stiffen wax candles were probably quickly discounted.

In the end it was Radar, that used polythene because of its unique insulation properties.  Even today, you’ll still find polythene as the insulation in the high-frequency cable that connects your television to the aerial.

Later I went on to work at ICI Plastics Division, but strangely I never worked on polythene, its production or properties again.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | World | , , | Leave a comment

Newmarket Nights

We had a great time at Newmarket Races on Friday night.  Racing with drinks and a salad followed by music, from Lemar, Estelle and Alisha Dixon.  There was something for everyone, even if the horse we supported didn’t run as well as expected.

Go!  You might enjoy it.

Remember though, that many race meetings allow kids under 16 in free.  Not Newmarket Nights though!  So over the summer, when you’re at a loss about what to do, give it a go.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Sport | | Leave a comment

Breaking the Fashion Rules

My late wife spent quite a bit on clothes and I still don’t know what to do with a lot of her business suits. Many are new or nearly so and are all the best makes. I suppose I had better take them to the charity shop.

An article in The Sunday Times Style section called Breaking The Fashion Rules would have summed her up well. She wore clothes that suited her figure, skirts on or above the knee and despite being in her late fifties, bikinis.  But as the article says, you have to make the right choices.

Did she have any secrets?

She always wore underwear that fitted and never peeked out from under a dress and she always bought her swimwear after trying on more than several in France! On the subject of underwear, how many women wear a £5 bra under a £200 dress?  Balance ladies!

I’ll admit that she was reasonably trim and fit, with good shoulders and I follow a similar route. That helped her dress younger than otherwise.  But I do think that it does everybody good to think that they look as best as they can.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | World | | Leave a comment

Jerri Neilsen FitzGerald

Sad to see that this courageous doctor has died.

She gave herself a biopsy without anaesthetic, whilst working as a doctor at the South Pole and then treated herself for breast cancer.  Just like my wife, she got over the cancer and returned to work.  Jerri became a motovational speaker and carried on until the cancer took her in the end.

She is quoted as saying this.

It doesn’t matter how or when you die. The only thing that matters is, did you ever live?

I’ll go with that and I’ll give her a toast tonight, when I have my evening glass of wine.  Or two!

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Health, News | , | Leave a comment

Gay Pride in India

India is one of a few countries in this world, where homosexuality is illegal and punishable by jail of up to ten years.

But now after India has had it’s second Gay Pride march, it looks like according to The Times that this law will be repealed.


Especially, as this leaves a rather rag-bag collection of represive regimes where this ban is in force.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | World | , | 1 Comment

Airport Security

There is an article in The Times today on airport security.

Philip Baum argues that we need to profile passengers and be smarter.  I’ll give three cheers to that.

They must also get the technology right. 

I have one of these new biometric passports with a chip in it.  I’ve tried it several times at Stansted Airport to try to bypass the queues and it has never worked.  But then last time, I noticed that the picture looks like I have brown eyes, when in fact I have blue.  I pointed this out to the Immigration Officer and she said that is common and they look in detail at the face.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Transport | | Leave a comment

Why Trident?

I was always someone who thought we needed a nuclear deterrent.

But not now, as who do we use it against?

So when I read this article in The Times by Cardinal Keith O’Brien, I was more or less in agreement. Read and make your own decision.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | World | , | Leave a comment

Varicose Veins

I have a couple of small varicose veins, but both my parents had ones that stood out like those in Stilton cheese.  My father’s were probably from injuries playing football, but my mother’s were just bad luck.  Or were they inherited?

So why is it that we don’t seem to have the bad veins of our parents?

My mother had her veins improved in the late 1950s at Highlands Hospital in Winchmore Hill.  What was unusual was not only was the surgeon a woman, but she was also Indian.  She actually did her ward rounds in a sari.

As was typical of my parents, they made no comments except positive ones about the doctor.  In fact, I never ever heard either of them utter a racist thought.  Hopefully, I’ve kept up the same standards.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Health | , | Leave a comment

Iranian Despots

I use the term despots advisedly and in a measured fashion. But read the first leading article in The Times and you’ll see that they have used measured, but firm tones in denouncing the Iranians for illegally imprisoning employees of the British embassy in Tehran.

To me the real problem with Iran is that the religious leaders have just too much power.  I’ve read extensively on Islam and where are sound principles that were inherent in that once great religion when it was founded many hundreds of years ago.  In those days, it embraced science with a vengance and women were equal.

It seems to me now that few Muslim countries are economic successes and like Iran, they always blame others for their plight.  How many too, are true democracies?  You can put forward all sorts of reasons, but the lack of empowerment of women is in my view, one of the main reasons.  After all, the one Muslim country, that is a success is Malaysia and what do they do?  Educate women properly and let them have a lot of the good jobs.

I’m very worried for Iran.  Wounded, desperate and cornered animals have a habit of lashing out and taking quite a few with them.

I hope that the worst doesn’t happen.  But I fear it will.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | World | , | Leave a comment

World Heritage Sites in the UK

Pontcysyllte is the latest UK World Heritage Site and brings the total to 28.  The government web site doesn’t include this latest one, but gives a list of all.

I’ve visited about half and would like to visit all. 

But one is St. Kilda, so I doubt I’ll get there!

My favourite is Liverpool, as I went to University there and met my wife in the city.

St. Georges Hall, Liverpool

St. Georges Hall, Liverpool

June 29, 2009 Posted by | Transport | , , | 2 Comments