Mar 152018

On this date in 1906, Charles Stewart Rolls and Frederick Henry Royce incorporated Rolls-Royce Limited as a business for car manufacture that quickly developed a reputation for superior engineering quality and for manufacturing the “best car in the world.” Later, Rolls-Royce became a leading manufacturer of piston aero-engines after it was led into building them by the economic necessities of the First World War.



From 1940, Rolls-Royce participated in the development of the jet engine and built for itself, and retains, a pre-eminent position in aero engine development and manufacture for use in military and civil aircraft. My father’s brother, my uncle Alec, worked in various divisions of Rolls-Royce aerospace engineering from the end of the Second World War until his retirement in both Scotland and New Zealand, so I feel a (minimal) connexion. He would pop in and out of our lives in both Australia and England because he was always flying all over the place on business, back in the days when only movie stars and millionaires traveled by plane. Hence, Rolls-Royce is sealed in my consciousness as the height of luxury, as if its image as a car manufacturer were not enough. There was a time when a Rolls-Royce automobile was not only identifiable by its shape, but also by the fact that its engine was so quiet that the sound of the tires on the road made more noise than the engine. “Ghost” was a deserving model name.

In 1884 Henry Royce started an electrical and mechanical business. He made his first car, a two-cylinder Royce 10, in his Manchester factory in 1904. Henry Royce was introduced to Charles Rolls at the Midland Hotel, Manchester on 4 May of that year. Rolls was proprietor of an early motor car dealership, C.S.Rolls & Co. in Fulham. In spite of his preference for three- or four-cylinder cars, Rolls was impressed with the Royce 10, and in a subsequent deal made on 23rd December 1904 agreed to take all the cars Royce could make. There would be four models:

a 10 hp, two-cylinder model at £395

a 15 hp, three-cylinder at £500

a 20 hp, four-cylinder at £650

a 30 hp, six-cylinder at £890

All would be sold under the Rolls-Royce label, and be sold exclusively by Rolls. The first Rolls-Royce car, the Rolls-Royce 10 hp, was unveiled at the Paris Salon in December 1904.

When Rolls-Royce Limited was formed in 1906, it was apparent that new premises were required for production of cars. After considering sites in Manchester, Coventry, Bradford and Leicester, it was an offer from Derby’s council of cheap electricity that resulted in the decision to acquire a 12.7-acre site on the southern edge of the city. The new factory was largely designed by Royce, and production began in early 1908, with a formal opening on 9 July 1908 by Sir John Montagu. The investment in the new company required further capital to be raised, and on 6th December 1906 £100,000 of new shares were offered to the public.

During 1906 Royce had been developing an improved six-cylinder model with more power than the Rolls-Royce 30 hp. Initially designated the 40/50 hp, this was Rolls-Royce’s first all-new model. In March 1908 Claude Johnson, Commercial Managing Director and sometimes described as the hyphen in Rolls-Royce, succeeded in persuading Royce and the other directors that Rolls-Royce should concentrate exclusively on the new model, and all the earlier models were duly discontinued. The new 40/50 was responsible for Rolls-Royce’s early reputation with over 6,000 built. Its chassis was used as a basis for the first British armored car used in both world wars.

In 1907, Charles Rolls, whose interests had turned increasingly to flying, tried unsuccessfully to persuade Royce and the other directors to design an aero engine. On 12 July 1910, at the age of 32, Rolls was killed in an air crash at Hengistbury Airfield, Southbourne, Bournemouth when the tail of his Wright Flyer broke off during a flying display. He was the first Briton to be killed in an aeronautical accident with a powered aircraft, and the eleventh person internationally. His was also the first powered aviation fatality in the United Kingdom.

When World War I broke out in August 1914, Rolls-Royce were taken by surprise. As a manufacturer of luxury cars, Rolls-Royce was immediately vulnerable, and Claude Johnson thought the bank would withdraw its overdraft facility on which Rolls-Royce depended at that time. Nevertheless, believing that war was likely to be short-lived the directors initially decided not to seek government work making aero engines. However, this position was quickly reversed, and Rolls-Royce was persuaded by the War Office to manufacture 50 air-cooled V8 engines under license from Renault. Meanwhile, the Royal Aircraft Factory asked Rolls-Royce to design a new 200 hp engine. Despite initial reluctance they agreed, and during 1915 developed Rolls-Royce’s first aero engine, the twelve-cylinder Eagle. This was quickly followed by the smaller six-cylinder Hawk, the 190 hp (140 kW) Falcon and, just before the end of the war, the larger 675 hp Condor.

Throughout World War I, Rolls-Royce struggled to build aero engines in the quantities required by the War Office. Rolls-Royce resisted pressure to license production to other manufacturers, fearing that the engines’ much-admired quality and reliability would risk being compromised. Instead, the Derby factory was extended to enable Rolls-Royce to increase its own production rates. By the late 1920s, aero engines made up most of Rolls-Royce’s business. Rolls-Royce’s Eagle, first produced in 1915, was the first engine to make a non-stop trans-Atlantic crossing by air when in June 1919 two Eagles powered the converted Vickers Vimy bomber on the transatlantic flight of Alcock and Brown.

Royce, who lived by the motto “Whatever is rightly done, however humble, is noble,” was awarded the OBE in 1918, and was created a baronet, of Seaton in the County of Rutland, in 1930 for his services to British Aviation. Because he was childless, the baronetcy became extinct on his death. He died on 22 April 1933.

There is a cocktail called the Rolls Royce made of 2 oz. gin, ½ oz. dry vermouth, ½ oz. sweet vermouth, and a dash of Bénédictine. Look it up if you want more details. There is also a dinner roll called the Rolls-Royce, so named because of the play on “rolls” than any deeper significance. When I was a boy, “Rolls” was the diminutive of Rolls-Royce leading to some bad puns in advertising:

(Man talking to a boy eating chocolate covered cake rolls)

Man: What do you think of the rolls? (i.e. pun on Rolls[-Royce]).

Boy: They sure go fast.

There is a recipe for Rolls-Royce dinner rolls here – The joke is certainly old now, but the site cannot resist saying, “Be prepared to make extras because these delicious dinner rolls will go fast!”

May 032017

Today was first designated as Sun Day by United States President Jimmy Carter in 1978. It was meant as a way of promoting the use of solar power as a source of energy,following a joint resolution by Congress, H.J.Res. 715. It was modeled on the highly successful Earth Day of April 22, 1970. It was the idea of Denis Hayes, who also coordinated Earth Day in 1970. On the first Sun Day President Carter flew to Denver to visit a solar power research institute, while other people gathered at Cadillac Mountain in Maine where the sun’s ray allegedly first touch the United States (although not at the time of the year). A crowd gathered at UN Plaza in New York City listened to speeches by people such as movie star Robert Redford, who reminded them that the sun “can’t be embargoed by any foreign nation”. At the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, environmental activist Barry Commoner spoke to a group of 500 people, suggesting, a little hyperbolically, that solar power was an issue as pivotal as slavery and that power was the “… one solution to the economic problems of the United States.” Let’s take a small step back and say that solar power is not the cure all for all the world’s ills, but more can be done to support advancement of solar energy worldwide.

Carter’s initiative has taken a few steps forward and a few steps backward globally. When Reagan took office he swiftly undid many of Carter’s executive orders concerning conservation and green energy. Those who are old enough to remember Reagan’s first 100 days will recall that on his first day in office he ordered all the thermostats in the White House turned up where Carter had ordered them set at no higher than 70˚F.  As far as he was concerned there was no need to conserve finite energy sources. Also, Carter had famously planted a garden on the roof of the White House and had installed solar panels that provided hot water throughout the building. Reagan had the garden and the solar panels dismantled. I’m presuming he saw them both as hippie nonsense, and that “real men” burned fossil fuels for heat and got their vegetables from the supermarket.

Sun Day did not turn out to be as big a success as Earth Day, but it still deserves a tip of the hat. Carter in place a great many federal plans that have since been undone, and in the US now there is not much of a drive forward on the solar front. Clinton and Obama did almost nothing, and you can’t expect anything from Trump. Carter provided subsidies and federal funds for research into solar technology as well as tax breaks for installing certified solar systems. Carter wanted the US to be on track to be 20% reliable on renewable energy sources by 2000. That plan got derailed by successive governments. Carter knew the road was rocky.  He had met resistance from Congress from the outset. In 1979 when the White House solar panels were installed he said, “A generation from now, this solar heater can either be a curiosity, a museum piece, an example of a road not taken, or it can be a small part of one of the greatest and most exciting adventures ever undertaken by the American people.” They are not even a museum piece; they are in storage somewhere in Maine: a forgotten part of US history.

There is so much that can be done with solar energy, but too many countries are turning their backs on it. In some ways the political struggles in places such as the US and Australia are understandable from a certain point of view. England pulled the plug on coal mining and tens of thousands lost their jobs as a result.  In addition, whole towns withered culturally. One of my favorite movies, Brassed Off, excellently documents what happens when a mining town loses its pits. Australia and the US lack the political will to promote renewable energy for two reasons.  First, closing mines is bad publicity, and, second, powerfully rich people with political clout are heavily invested in fossil fuels. There is certainly one problem here I am sympathetic to, namely, the plight of people who lose their jobs. The capitalists who benefit financially from fossil fuels are on their own. I am neither a politician nor an economist, so any solution I offer to the first problem will be simplistic. But all evidence I’ve read suggests that promotion of renewable energy sources creates jobs. The purpose of government, in my opinion, ought to be to make sure that those jobs are created in regions where they have been lost by the reduction in fossil fuel production.

Solar power has enormous potential which is still being developed. It would take me too long to break down all the statistics and provide meaningful analysis. There are plenty of sources for you. I’ll just cite two surprising results. First, China and Germany are world leaders in solar production of electricity. China has, of course, been a major polluter in the past, and many cities are still choked with air pollution. But the country is setting its sights high. Electric motor bikes are the norm in all major cities, and the country has the capacity to produce 22.5% of its electricity from solar panels. Germany is the second best with 20.6%. Compare this with Australia coming in at 2.6%. What exactly is the problem? Does Germany have more sun than Australia? My second surprising (maybe) result is that all the oil rich countries of the Middle East are 100% dependent on fossil fuels. There has to be a big element of laziness involved here. They have oil coming out the ears, so clearly feel no financial pressure to switch to renewables. Apparently they feel no moral pressure either. Who cares about pollution?

To my mind, one of the most wasteful home appliances that you find throughout the US is the clothes dryer. When I lived in New York I was rebuked by neighbors for using a washing line to dry my clothes.  Apparently it was unsightly, lowering the tone of the neighborhood. Since leaving there I have never used a dryer. I never saw one in China, and have not seen one in Italy. My apartments have come equipped with the means to hang my clothes to dry. Hanging your clothes in the sun to dry is as natural as breathing.

Solar-powered, and electric-powered cars are not quite ready yet to take on petrol cars but they are gaining ground. Hybrids of electric and petrol engines have a growing market now. The nut still to be cracked with solar and electric cars concerns battery capacity. In daylight, solar cars have unlimited mileage, but at night they must rely on batteries to store a charge, and batteries cannot, yet, provide a great range between recharges.

Using passive solar heat also has great potential. Here is one design for a house that heats itself in the winter months through solar energy. It combines the greenhouse effect of glass, with walls that store heat during the day and then release it at night.

This in turn brings me to the greenhouse, which I think of as one of the greatest inventions of all time for the gardener. I had plans to build one as an extension on my house but it never came to fruition. One of my best friends in England has two greenhouses on a small plot in Oxford City where he propagates all manner of rare and exotic cacti. This is England we’re talking about, not the Gobi or the Kalahari.  A greenhouse transforms your gardening possibilities immensely. Most especially I wanted one to be able to start plants from seed indoors that needed a warm and frost-free growing season that was longer than I had outdoors. I made use of available sunny window ledges but a greenhouse would have expanded my possibilities immeasurably.   But I am sure I would quickly have got into exotics as well.

I gave some recipe ideas here for the pads and fruit of the prickly pear  Let’s turn instead to sunflower seeds. These days baseball players in the US, if they are not chewing tobacco, love to crack sunflower seeds in their mouths, swallow the kernels, and spit out the husks. I’m happier just buying the kernels, which you can get at health food stores. This recipe calls for them roasted. I do this by spreading them in a single layer on a roasting pan and roasting them in a hot oven (400˚F) for no more than 10 minutes, checking constantly to be sure they don’t burn, and shaking the pan now and again to make sure they roast uniformly. You can also do this on top of the stove in a dry skillet over high heat.

Linguine with Roquefort and Sunflower Seeds


10 oz linguini
2 green onions, sliced
3 oz Roquefort
1 tbsp butter
1  cups sour cream
salt and pepper
⅓ cup roasted sunflower kernel
chopped parsley


Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the green onion and sauté for 1 or 2 minutes, until soft. Add the sour cream and crumble in the Roquefort. Add the sunflower kernels and season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to low, and stir the sauce until the cheese melts and the sauce thickens.

Cook the linguini in boiling water until it is al dente. Drain well and toss into the sauce. Mix the sauce and pasta thoroughly, turn on to a serving plate and garnish with parsley.