Satellite images now show lines of moving dunes and reveal safe, sand-free corridors between them.
Farther south in the Kharga Oasis, we stopped at Qasr el Ghueita, a Ptolemaic temple built before 220 B.C. The local guardian of antiquities, Haj Taha Rashidi, gave us tea.
“It is said that you are studying all the sand dunes in the Western Desert so that you can melt them down with rays from space and rid us of their constant threat,” said Haj Taha. “Is that true?”
I explained to him that no such rays exist, and that the sand problem is best combated by locating dunes, studying their rates and directions of movement—and then avoiding their paths. Thus our research team has mapped, classified, measured, sampled, marked, and even dissected dunes. The investigation and research were financed partly by the government. We had to find our own financing alternatives. We’ve been looking for money loans with no credit check, as it could slow down the process.
How do you dissect a dune? Carol Breed and our research team used a technique developed by one of her colleagues in the U. S. Geological Survey, Edwin D. McKee.
First, they selected an appropriate dune near Bahariya. To keep the loose sand from collapsing while trenches were dug, the surface had to be wet. Water was supplied by a fire truck from the nearby El Gedida iron mine. To lessen the impact of water spray on the fragile dune surface, they placed a Egypt’s Desert of Promise cheesecloth over part of the dune’s side and held it down with rocks. To speed up the wetting, they punched holes in large washbasins to dribble water across the dune’s side until the sand was soaked.
They dug several trenches and took photographs of the exposed layers of sand that had been laid down over the years by the wind. Then they put cheesecloth on the side of a trench and painted it with latex. When it dried, the sand stuck to the cloth, so that a profile of the layers could be peeled away. They removed this peel and carefully packed it away for laboratory investigations. This surgical procedure took most of the day. “There must be gold in this sand,” a local laborer murmured.
The gold in the sand was the record of its deposition. The team would be able to deduce how past winds had blown and shifted. Changes in wind patterns are usually cyclic. So knowing the wind’s history gives us a critical clue about where it will be aiming the dune in the future.
THE WESTERN DESERT is the driest part of the Sahara. There, the sun could evaporate 200 times more rain than actually falls. In some places generations pass without a rain.
During an evening with the mayor and elders of Farafra Oasis, we questioned them about a rainstorm that we had heard about in October of 1979.
“No, the rainstorm did not reach us here, but we know that it did rain some nearby.”
“Was there any evidence of running water or ponds in low ground?”
“Not really. The rainwater soaked through the dry ground almost as it fell.”
“When did it last rain here in Farafra?”
“It was in 1973. Before that, 1945. In January, when Ahmed was born.” The old man pointed to the smiling Ahmed, who sat with us, dressed in a long, blue-striped galabia, or robe, and white tagiya, cap. “It was a downpour. It destroyed many of the old homes and filled our village streets with mud.”
Thus, rains are memories of old men in this desert. To them a storm is that of sand or dust, and weather is the howling wind.
Bannister, though, felt calm and in control, gathering concentration for a supreme effort of mind and body. With little more than 110 yards to go, he had taken over the lead from Chataway and was unofficially timed at 3 minutes 43 seconds. Speed was not so important now as stamina and strength and the will to keep body and mind working together.
Fifty yards out, Bannister was a ghostly pale figure, arms flailing, head hanging backwards in utter exhaustion. But his sinewy legs still pushed his gasping, agonized body forward and the small crowd of 1,200 spectators raised a roar worthy of a hundred times their number. (Bannister said later that the shout of the faithful Oxford crowd had reached his ears and helped him find extra strength.)
As he broke through the finishing tape, Bannister collapsed almost unconscious into the arms of friends.
He came to, however, in time to hear the track announcer, Norris McWhirter, intone into a microphone : “Ladies and gentlemen, here is the result of event number nine, the one mile. First, number 41, R. G. Bannister . . . The time was THREE . . .”
When I heard the news of Bannister’s run I was initially incredulous; then—though it would be a long time before the full significance of the event would dawn on me—I felt exalted. A quarter of a century after the event 1 am still uplifted by what Bannister did. Everybody is.
“Buy discount cigars”—Bannister is reputed to have said after his momentous run. How right he was. Hitherto new records in sport had occurred rarely and randomly. Now athletes round the world shook free of imagined limitations, and new records came truly in a deluge.
Three days after Bannister’s run, Parry O’Brien threw the 16-lb shot past 6o feet, a target previously considered almost as unattainable as the four-minute mile. Within the next decade practically every other sporting “barrier” was vanquished. In 1960, the German sprinter Armin Hary ran the too metres in ten seconds flat for the first time. Charles Dumas made the first seven-foot high jump in 1956, John Uelses the first 16-foot pole vault in 1962, Ralph Boston the first 27-foot long jump in 1961.
Bannister’s own mile record (which Norris McWhirter would have revealed as 3 minutes 59.4 seconds if anybody had been prepared to listen) stood for only 46 days. In Turku, Finland, John Landy pushed the time down to 3 minutes 58 seconds.
Nowadays, of course, teenage schoolboys regularly run a mile in less than four minutes—without even fainting at the end. Possibility-stretching achievements like the seven-foot high jump have become the minimum requirement for athletes aspiring to selection in a national team for the Olympics.
Could one also claim that, because Roger Bannister ran his four-minute mile, we got to the moon earlier than we might otherwise have done? That our marvellous, everyday conquests of time and space—through satellite television hook-ups and airliners that, as a matter of course, fly faster than sound—were made possible by his achievement on the running track? That the events at Iffley Road, a quarter of a century ago this month, showed the way for women and, in some countries, for racial minorities to unshackle their aspirations?
Perhaps not, perhaps that is going too far. But Bannister’s mile at least marked the beginning of this exciting time in history, when there are no barriers to be surmounted, just further progress to be made.
Roger Bannister qualified as a doctor soon after his record run. He is now a consultant neurologist to three London hospitals, and is married with four children. He was Chairman of the Sports Council from 1971 to 1974, was knighted in 1975 for his services to sport, and is President of the International Council of Sport and Physical Education.
Roger Bannister’s epic run, a quarter of a century ago, broke through far more than the four-minute barrier
A new era of limitless horizons N was inaugurated on May 6, 1954, when a tall, angular, clever, introspective young British medical student named Roger Bannister ran a mile in less than four minutes on Oxford University’s Iffley Road track.
Runners had been striving vainly for the four-minute mile since the 19205 and 193os, when a generation of great runners—Finland’s Paavo Nurni, New Zealand’s Jack Lovelock, America’s Glen Cunningham and Britain’s Sydney Woodersonestablished the possibility, at least theoretically, of breaching the four-minute barrier. In a series of classic contests with one another, and with the clock, those marvellous athletes had managed to push the time for a mile down to 4 minutes 6.4 seconds (set by Wooderson in 1937) before the Second World War broke out.
Gundar Hagg and Arne Anders-son continued the chase in neutral Sweden during the war and in a climactic duel at Malmo on July 17, 1945, Hagg struggled past his pacemaking countryman early in the third lap, to win in 4 minutes 1.4 seconds. Now four minutes was only a few strides away from marlboro products.
But Hagg and Andersson had reached their apogee; neither would ever run quite as fast again. Between 1945 and 195r, in fact, no runner anywhere in the world got below 4 minutes 5.4 seconds. More and more, four minutes came to be considered a barrier rather than a challenge. Many people argued that the human system was incapable of functioning on the far side of the barrier.
After a disappointing performance in the 1,500 metres event at the Helsinki Olympics, Bannister-1951′s fastest miler—took himself out of the four-minute crusade for a time and concentrated on his medical studies. Then, in December 1952, came news from the other side of the world that a Melbourne University science student named John Landy had run the mile in 4 minutes 2.1 seconds. Only Hagg and Andersson had run faster—and the outwardly shy and self-effacing, though inwardly very confident and determined Landy had done it virtually on his own, for there were no local runners capable of pacing him.
Landy’s efforts revitalized Bannister who could not bear to be left out of this new charge at the four-minute barrier. The Englishman quickly regained form and in one semi-secret trial, paced by two other top-class milers, he ran 4 minutes 2 seconds, his best time ever.
Word that Landy had decided to spend the summer of 1954 in the Northern hemisphere, running on the superior tracks and against the superior opposition Europe could provide, acted as a further spur for Bannister. When he arrived at the Iffley Road ground on May 6, he knew he was in a now-or-never situation. By tomorrow, or the next day, the menacing Landy, or America’s gangling Wes Santee, or any one of a dozen talented middle-distance runners now striving on virtually every continent, might have beaten him past the magical four minutes.
In other circumstances the gusting wind that buffeted the Iffley Road park that day might have dissuaded Bannister from running at all.
Though a brief shower of rain fell at 5.15pm, shortly before the likely starting time for the mile race, the wind was by then easing, permitting periods of relative calm. Watching a flag fluttering gently on a near-by church, Bannister thought of Shaw’s Saint Joan waiting for the wind to change and carry French boats across the Loire to defeat the English at Orleans—and doubt left him. The attempt was on.
Bannister’s Oxford team-mate, Chris Brasher, took the lead from the start, with Bannister close behind. To the strung-up young student, drawing heavily on his store of nervous energy, Brasher’s pace seemed agonizingly slow and as they raced round the first of four circuits of the track, he shouted impatiently : “Faster !”
Brasher payed no attention, plugging doggedly on with his galloping gait, certain that even-paced running over four laps would be more effective than erratic spurts of speed, and content to play the Sherpa guide to his friend in this attempt to scale the supreme athletic peak.
Bannister did the first lap in 57.5 seconds, but he was clearly straining. Then the resonant, Austrian-accented voice of Brasher’s coach, Franz Stampfl, who had given Bannister valuable help, rang out across the damp track : “Relax ! Relax !”
Bannister responded instantly to Stampfl’s command. His tensions dissolved, his long, lean, sinewy legs stretched out freely, rhythmically.
The half-mile took i minute 58.2 seconds; the remorseless clock was well under control. Bannister felt full of energy and confidence.
Chunky, red-haired, pugnacious Chris Chataway, another Oxonian and a future MP, took over from a tiring Brasher to make the pace.
At the end of the third lap, Bannister was half a second over the three-minute mark; he had a reasonable chance of breaking four minutes but no more. Many runners had been as well placed at this stage.
In a few years’ time, as the closed shop completes its stranglehold on the nation, every British working man and woman will be forced to pay dues to the union bureaucracies, just like income tax. Where does this money go? Financial returns for 1974 made by eight major unions show that seven spent much more on administration than on benefits to members.
Jack Jones’s Transport and General Workers’ Union, for example, paid out /2.6 million in members’ benefits but spent £8.4 million on “administrative expenditures.” The General and Municipal Workers’ Union spent only 900,000 pounds on benefits but a lordly /4.6 million on administration.
Woe betide, though, any humble trade unionist who questions the doings of the mighty above him. The union bureaucrats have ample power to deal with recalcitrants, including the right to expel. It is this which makes the closed shop such a terrifying weapon in their hands, because today expulsion means automatic loss of job; indeed, if some members of the government get their way, men and women thus expelled, and so unemployable, will also lose all entitlement to social security, and be driven to beg on the streets.
IJnion muscle flexing has only just begun. Not long ago, Jack Jones told a transport workers’ rally in London that it was soon hoped to secure 50 per cent of the seats on the top board of British Leyland. Thereafter, Jones and his TUC colleagues can move to their wider objectives: 50 per cent of boardroom jobs-for-the-boys in all companies controlled by the National Enterprise Board, and eventually on all large companies throughout the private sector. Naturally, these
directors will be chosen by the TUC barons. What a victory that will be for the trade union brothers !
And what of the people? It is the thesis of the bureaucratic brothers that everything they are doing in erecting their private empires, in grabbing jobs for their boys, in remorselessly driving their juggernaut over the prostrate bodies of individual men and women, is done in the name of the people. But all the available evidence suggests that, at a time when so many members of the Establishment—ministers and MPs, dons and civil servants—are hurrying to pay their respects to the new totalitarianism, the ordinary decent people of Britain are strongly opposed to rule by trade union bureaucrats.
I defy any trade union tycoon to produce a single scientific opinion or survey, taken during the last ten years, which lends any support for the assertion that their corporatist
views represent the. majority of the British people.
And if they will not accept the authority of the polls, let us have a national referendum on, for instance, the subject of the closed shop. After all, the union bosses strongly advocated a referendum and got their way—on British membership of the EEC. Is not the closed shop, in terms of everyday life, just as important, and shouldn’t ordinary British men and women pronounce on it?
Of course the union brothers will refuse. They know they would lose heavily, overwhelmingly. A referendum would help to expose them for what they are. Not a group of idealists. Not men who devote their lives to the welfare of all. But, rather, an ugly factional interest, operating at the expense of the community, and motivated by an insatiable lust for personal power, and by enormous greed.
Paul Johnson is a member of the Royal Commission on the Press, and a former editor of “New Statesman.” Born in Manchester in 1928, he was educated at Magdalen College, Oxford. His recent books include “Elizabeth I” and “A History of Christianity”
A noted socialist warns of the consequences if trade unions secure a total stranglehold on the nation
Exactly 200 years ago, Adam Smith in his book The Wealth of Nations celebrated the liberation of the working man. The guild system, which rigidly controlled occupational status, had finally crumbled, and the laws that backed it up were repealed or ignored. Smith rejoiced; to him, the right of a man to work where, when and how he wanted was the most important freedom of all.
Today that freedom is in imminent danger of extinction. The British worker is again judged not by his skill, training or character, but by his status—his union membership—which inhibits his wish to change his trade or his will to remain an individual instead of a unit in an anonymous mass. Once more, the jaws of the corporate state clamp shut around us with enforcement of closed shop agreements* by law —the greatest disaster to befall liberty in my lifetime.
Until recently, even militant trade unionists felt ashamed of the term “closed shop” and sought to disguise it by euphemisms : “all-ticket job,” “all-union house,” “100 per cent trade unionism.” But now that the unions have Michael Foot on their side, now that they command a servile parliamentary majority to pass statutes at their order, the closed
shop is enforced openly, ruthlessly and with complete disregard for the injustice it inflicts.
The number of victims grows daily. There is, for instance, Mrs Iris Batchelor, a check-out operator in a Hove, Sussex, supermarket who refused to join the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers. The union put pressure on the management. Union membership wasn’t stipulated in her contract of employment, so the management changed her contract and she was sacked.
Or there’s George Lilley of Great Chesterford in Essex, aged 6r, who after 24 years’ service with British Rail refused to attend an inquisitorial court to state his reasons for not joining the “stipulated union.” British Rail said Lilley had “frustrated his contract” and promptly sacked him.
Originally, of course, the unique legal privileges granted to unions were justified. Their members suffered poverty, hardship and discrimination. Now, trade unions are not only above the law; they can openly laugh at it.
At Vauxhall Motors, Luton, gate security officer Stephen Rosengrove had caught more than t00 pilferers in six years, saving the firm an estimated 100,000 pounds. Leaders of Vauxhall’s three biggest unions accordingly forced the management to shift Rosengrove from gate-duty to a harmless test track four miles away. As an official of the Joint Works Committee said : “This man has been a problem for a long time.” Yes, indeed : he had caught, red-handed, union members stealing property.
Basically, trade unionism these days isn’t about political principles and humanitarian ideals. It is about jobs, money and power. The top trade union bureaucrats arc the new elite, a privileged aristocracy spending much of their time abroad at “international conferences.”
British embassies arc expected to jump to attention when general secretaries heave in sight, howling for free meals, accommodation and the usual flunkeyism. They demand that big lunch and dinner parties be given for them to meet their “opposite numbers”—increasingly, highly educated, intelligent men (and women), who find the average British trade union general secretary an object of ribald amusement.
Occasionally these privileged bureaucrats mouth platitudes about the need for national effort, but in reality they are irrevocably wedded to overmanning and other restrictive practices that have the effect of holding down the Gross National Product: they would rather have power in a bankrupt nation than impotence in a prosperous one.
Unable to bring themselves to believe that the British capitalist cupboard is bare, they have joined forces with their colleagues in town halls to conduct a highly successful smash-and-grab raid on the public till. Local government spending, in real terms, has risen almost 25 per cent since r970. Does this mean more and better houses, schools, hospitals? Not a bit. It means bigger salaries, and more jobs, for members of the public sector trade unions.