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Monday, 17th December 2007
T he first part

of this series we were looking at the cigarette cards of Westminster, The World of Tomorrow and I dwelt, for the most part, on the technologies that have come to pass but perhaps not quite in the manner imagined by the compiler of the series. Although this is not strictly true, it is close enough approximation to what was going on. In this second article I want to look at the cards which mentioned technology which probably will not. Never say never as they say.

Here though are some candidates for the probably not files.

'Imagine sitting on the top of a coach doing seventy miles an hour'

Card 16, Fog Eliminator.

The card contests that with the ever increasing number of 'rays' which are being discovered/developed such as infra-red which can penetrate fog there will eventually be a ray which could entirely dissipate fog. Creating as the card says a 'beam of clearness'

Many years ago in an article by the compiler he suggested this had come to pass in the form of radar. This really goes to prove how difficult it is in trying to prove writers of science-fiction wrong.

Rays were quite a popular theme at the time and card 41 has another use for a ray: Anti-Gas Ray. The public of the day were rightly terrified of gas attacks on mainland Britain (see ARP) The idea being, scientists were going to devise a ray which could penetrate the gas cloud and in some manner reduce it to a non-sinister gas or even liquid. Unfortunately for all of us this has yet to be the case and technology of war has far outstripped any attempt to counteract it, especially if you happen to be a civilian. Compare the army issue gas masks with the things the public were/are given.

Rocket technology was also a growth area when this set was being put together (1938) and many a card focuses on this issue. Card 44 suggests rocket post. Now for my part this would be excellent fun. Imagine loading a quantity of cigarette cards into a rocket and aiming it toward the purchaser. It would add that extra something to the whole business, risk.

The card does not quite go so far as to suggest it would be a personal service such as I describe but a better way to get post from ship to shore and the like. Also it suggests post could be blasted across the Straits of Dover. I really like this idea, it has Heath Robinson stamped all over it. Not sure how it would affect my, 'Please do not bend' message on the padded envelopes.

The same theme had been discussed in card 43 but this was a space gun. Instead of post being strapped into the shell it was suggested people would be and blasted to the moon in it. The compiler does note that with a muzzle velocity of seven miles a second to reach escape velocity (?) the explosion is likely to kill the occupants of the shell and therefore probably impractical. Instead he sees it as a launching pad for observational missions outside of the earths atmosphere. Or as a first stage of a rocket ship which would be propelled by the rays of the sun. Not a bad effort at all and much better than A.C.Clarke's ramblings about a huge stairway to heaven idea he keeps going on about. I am sure it is all very sensible but I don't see it.

Card 42 had already examined the more likely method of getting into space. It imagined rocket ships blasting off from huge sloping way. Not the way it was ever going to happen but certainly the way the German's would blast England with the V1 rocket they employed during the latter stages of WWII. The card does say the rocket would probably return to earth by soft landing in the ocean where it would be hauled back by a fleet of tugs and refitted for the next journey. Again not bad but the Space Shuttle now lands on runways so perhaps even more radical than the card imagined.

Card 14 is unlikely to come to pass for the simple reason technology has largely by-passed its requirement, that being, Stream-Lined Speed-Ships. The idea was an ocean liner would be built with curves to deflect the wind, portholes made of toughened glass would be flush with the hull. The whole ship being capable of rising from the waves forming a hydroplane.

I know such things exist, the SeaCat comes in and out of Harwich harbour regularly but this is a cross channel ferry and not an ocean going liner. Aircraft have reduced the need for anything ocean going to travel at the sort of speeds this card suggested they were going to need to. Indeed the ocean going liner market is now really all about taking your time.

I think I am on pretty firm ground with the next card, Card 15: Road Liner.

The illustration seems pretty sane but the reverse of the card fills in the details of scale. Basically this is a large vehicle which would travel on 'tractor' treads across the deserts with beds for overnight travel and kitchens for serving food. In case eating and sleeping begins to get wearisome on longer journeys others would be equipped with cinema's and wireless for entertainment. Almost as an afterthought he adds the possibility of a bathroom. Finally he suggests a sun-deck and observation platform for those that want to enjoy the passing scenery. You can now see why the journey is taking such a long time. Imagine sitting on the top of a coach doing seventy miles an hour. Mind you quite how fast this leviathan would be capable of moving is questionable.

Interestingly many of the features have been incorporated into present coach technology without the need for the immense size and in India you even get to sit on the top of the thing as it flies along the dusty roads.

A lot of the ideas on transport were based on the fact many people could not afford their own vehicles and the compiler failed to see the rise of the motor vehicle as personal transport. In that sense he was rather utopian in his belief of the future, not for him the reality of smog filled cities choking the inhabitants to death on a lethal mixture of noxious fumes.

This can be seen on card 11 with the stream-lined train which is all pretty standard stuff with suggestions of increased efficiency through streamlining but then the suggestion is the wheels could be replaced by giant ball-bearings. The alternative was the train would travel in smooth channels dug into the ground itself.

Although there have been some improvements in the rail system within the UK apart from the replacement of steam as a motivating force there has really been no change. Indeed the original designers would recognise the public rail system but for the outrageous prices that are asked for a mighty third rate system.

When the set was being put together there was still an idea that man would master everything nature had to throw at us. Nothing was beyond our power to change. Today we are rather more practical on the subject the general feeling being if we tinker too much the planet will just wipe us out leaving the insects to rule the world.

Card 31 has something for the farmer or gardener. Crops being destroyed by unseasonable frost would become things of the past when science created huge portable frost disperses. Huge funnels would be mounted on high scaffolding through which warm air would be pumped via aeroplane propellers. The funnel could then be turned by means of a handwheel to direct the warm air in whichever direction required.

Lovely, totally impractical and a wonderful blend of technology of the future and ideas of the past. Now we just have underground heating, much more direct and practical.

In the 1970's the Western world was convinced Russia was controlling the weather in some manner, such was the fear factor created by a country which could not feed its own population. There are always attempts to control the weather in some manner but apart from very small scale success it has been a total failure. Card 50 of this series suggests weather control could appear, even though effective weather forecasting was still a considerable distance down the time tunnel. Some could well say it still is. The system seemed to be based on huge Van Der Graf type generators soaring into the skies. For some reason though it seems this would only encourage rain to fall from clouds which were already capable of producing rain because later on there is a suggestion that the absence of clouds could be countermanded by pumping water up the towers and evaporating them via huge heated plates. Then electrical discharges would cool the air and back it would come down as rain. Great fun to watch I imagine if such a hair-brained scheme ever got off the cigarette card. Probably be quite dangerous to be anywhere near though, your hair standing on end being the least of your concerns.

Brit's are obsessed with the weather, we have reason to be, statistically it is pretty variable. Well that is the opinion of the third most powerful computer in the world. The latest series Kray, real mutlivac stuff if you like. The two most powerful work for the US military. I suppose it shows a certain difference, the US have the computers worrying about the outcome of WWIII we have one worry about tomorrows weather. Lets hope the WWIII simulations are more accurate than our weather predictions. Hardly bears thinking about really.

Other schemes for altering the fundamental face of the planet can be found on 32 & 33. They are all about land reclamation which was obviously inspired by the Zuyder-Zee projects. Card 32 sees huge dams being erected from Scotland to Norway and across the English Channel so as to reclaim the land therein. As the card states England would no longer be an island.

This really is quite a fascinating plan to even suggest in a time when being an island was more than a vital part to our defence plans; it was our defence plan. Just imagine how things would alter, real European unity, afterall there would be very little fishing rights for us to argue with the Spanish about. Drilling for oil would be a lot easier too. I like this card and the more I think about it the more interesting the concept becomes. Thank God it will never happen.

For the last flight of fancy I shuffle back in the cards a little way to 36 and the idea of the Gibraltar Dam. The card calculates 100 thousand cubic yards of water flow from the Atlantic to the Med. every second. A huge dam would harness this energy. Water having passed through the generating turbines could be used to irrigate the Sahara. The compiler does suggest channels would have to dug into the dam to ensure shipping could pass through it.

What are the odds this is going to be built.

However this energy generation theme is going to crop up in the next page on this most ingenious set of cards. 'Tomorrow was Yesterday.'