Omelettes

I grew up on a poultry farm.  My father was a specialist breeder of Light Sussex and Brown Leghorn stock.  I was raised on eggs, but I never ate chicken, at least not if I could avoid it.  I clearly remember when I was small and poked my head around my mother at the kitchen sink, just as she was up to her elbow in a chicken, removing its entrails, before she burned them on the kitchen fire, always causing quite a stink; that was the first of my many vegetarian moments on the farm.

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Light Sussex hens (photo from internet)
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A Brown Leghorn rooster (photo from internet)

I never had an omelette when I lived at home.  They were not a part of my mother´s  standard cuisine; she was a traditional Irish woman who deferred to the narrow culinary demands of my very traditional English father.  Omelette would have been a bit too French for my father.  Six years of WW2 left him with some indelible prejudices.

I had my first omelette in Paris in 1969.  I was working with Singer Sewing Machines, installing a new computer system in their French head office.  My good friend and Australian colleague, Geoff Rich met me for breakfast.  He ordered an omelette with bread and coffee and so did I, not knowing what it was.  Delicious it turned out to be.  And he played ‘Lay, lady lay’ by Bob Dylan on the jukebox.  The haunting lyrics and melody still recall Paris to me. To others, it may seem rather corny today, but those were magic moments for me.

Some years later, in 1978, omelettes came back into my life in Nigeria. It was on my first day of a short-term contract in Lagos.  I went to the canteen, presented my plate and received what appeared to be the greater part of a goat, with a few steamed vegetables on the side.  The meat was not for me and for the rest of my stay in Nigeria, I lived on beer, cashew nuts, bought by the bottle from street vendors, and omelettes in a French restaurant near to the office, or in the Ikoyi club.

When I was later based in Paris in 1998-2007, I frequented a nearby bistro, La Frégate. The Maitre d´, Patrick, would always read out the short list of specials, ending with resignation, ‘omelette au fromage o salade mixte?‘.  I really liked Patrick and I miss his conversation .  A very good man and an enthusiastic rugby fan.  He always said that if he could not be French, he would elect to be Irish.

In recent years, I have spent a lot of time in Spain and South America.  There, the traditional omelette is called tortilla francesa to distinguish it from the Spanish version, tortilla española.  The latter is in a cake-form and includes potatoes, onions, garlic in the basic version and other ingredients in regional variations.  It can be served hot or cold and on cocktail sticks as tapas or in slices, usually accompanied with fresh bread.  With a glass of red wine, the latter usually serves as a meal for me.

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A typical porción or trozo of tortilla (photo from internet)

And here in Cape Town I have my local bistrôt, Cafe Extrablatt, that serves a generous omelette, french fries, toast and wine at any time of the day.  And super-friendly staff that never fail to feel one at totally home.

It is indeed a hard life that I lead… 🙂

 

 

Moon Landing

It was on October 04, 1957, that Russia successfully launched the first Sputnik into orbit. It was the first artificial Earth satellite and it weighed 84 kg, with a diameter of 58 cm.

The Sputnik took about 100 minutes to complete an orbit, and with favourable conditions, was reportedly visible with the naked eye.  I never saw it, nor did I ever know anyone who had seen it, although I did go out one night to try to spot it.  Having a clear sky on the north coast of Ireland can be a relatively rare event.

sputnik_asm

The launch of the Sputnik was the starting pistol for the space race between Russia and the United States.

Less than four years later, on April 12, 1961, Yuri Gargarin became the first human in space.  He was a small man, only 1.57 m in height, and was probably chosen for the mission because of his stature and weight.  He died six years later in a plane crash.

yuri-gargarin

Most people can remember what they were doing on Monday, July 21, 1969.  It was at 02:56 UTC that the first human set foot on the moon.  I was fast asleep at the time in a hotel room in Frankfurt.

What was I doing in Frankfurt in July 1969?

At that time, I was employed as a junior programmer with Singer Sewing Machines.  I was based in London, in a team developing an inventory control system for Singer’s European companies.  We were writing programs using the COBOL language.  Input, instructions or data, was via punched cards and punched tape, for an IBM 360 model 30.

In the photograph below, one can see a typical computer room, housing an IBM 360 30, like that we used in Frankfurt.

ibm-360-30

Also in the photo one can see disc drives, tape drive, central processor and printer, with the operator sitting at the system console.  Not only can one observe how bulky everything was, but the system had to be housed in a cold air-conditioned room, with a raised floor to accommodate the plethora of cables connecting the equipment.

And the power and capability of such a system was miniscule, when compared to the most basic smart phone of today.

The same basic smart phone has infinitely more capability than the computer systems that managed ground control, the different stages of the rockets and the landing module of the moon landing in 1969.

Of course, comparing the computer systems of 1967 to the smart phone of today is like comparing the plane of the Wright brothers to the Boeing Dreamliner.  Both fly, but that is about the limit of the comparison.

I am, however, constantly amazed that man could progress from launching the first satellite in 1957 to landing men on the moon less than 12 years later.

It was an amazing feat.