What’s that coming over the hill, is it a monster?

British Mark IV Female Tank, taken during trai...

British Mark IV Female Tank, taken during training at Bovington Camp in 1917. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can’t imagine how terrifying they were as they relentlessly lumbered through the mud, the blood and the smoke towards the enemy. Larger than any such machine before, these riveted behemoths trundled towards the Germans. Traditional warfare in the trenches normally happened at a snail’s pace and the British secretly developed tanks as a means to break the deadlock. Not wanting to alert the enemy, they used the word “tank” in order to obscure their real purpose. I guess “armoured fighting vehicle” would be a give away.

They had high hopes for the new machine, but they were slow, unreliable and vulnerable to artillery. However, they were impervious to small arms fire and could ignore most trenches and barbed wire. Although there were serious shortcomings in the early models, they showed promise. I’ve always loved tanks. The ancient armies had their chariots and the knights had their horses, but for me, the tank is the most noble steed of all. After that first indecisive battle, the British persisted and just about everyone else jumped on the bandwagon. The worst thing about trench warfare was the lack of movement, so what’s not to like about a moveable trench? Especially one bristling with guns?

By the time WW2 broke out, tanks were more reliable, much faster and they had turret mounted guns giving a 360 degree arc of fire. They also packed more of a punch. In response to bigger guns, tank armour became thicker but as in any arms race, there are always losers. Someone trundling round in an older tank facing an enemy in a brand new model could look forward to a short and very bad day. Tanks have their limitations. Cut off from infantry support, they are quickly overwhelmed. Their lack of manoeuvrability makes them vulnerable in an urban setting. However, on an open battlefield, they are masters of their craft.

Alas, I think the tank will soon go the way of the chariot and the knight. There are helicopters that can sneak over the horizon and nail a tank before the crew even know about it. Drones are in regular use and it won’t be long before there are swarms of them on every battlefield seeking out armoured vehicles. Infantry anti-tank weapons grow ever more sophisticated. There are only three conflicting ways to counter these threats; stealth, mobility and armour. A heavily armoured tank won’t be that mobile and will be easy to spot. A lighter tank, although fleet of foot and harder to spot will be easy pickings.

It may all be irrelevant, because future wars will probably be fought in cyberspace. Those that aren’t will probably be fought at a much smaller, possibly biological scale.

Maybe someone will develop a “nanotank”.

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Number 1 or number 2?

English: Ancient roman latrines / latrinae, Os...

English: Ancient roman latrines / latrinae, Ostia Antica Nederlands: Oud-Romeins openbaar toilet Français : Latrines romaines à Ostie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are some things in life that I feel demand solitude. So when I learned that Romans built their toilets as social gathering places where men would sit side by side in long rows casually chewing the fat whilst their bowels did their best to dispose of the very same, it made my toes curl.

You can learn a lot about a society from the nature of their human waste disposal facilities. The British, for example, seem to have a higher urinal to cubicle ratio than any other nation I have visited and I’ve travelled around a bit. I assume it’s because of the relatively high national consumption of beer, but other countries with similar rates seem to get by with far fewer urinals.

The Americans build industrial strength toilets. According to many surveys and studies, Americans on average are more obese than any other nation, so it stands to reason that they consume more and therefore expel more than other people around the world. So I suppose it makes sense that their toilets are somewhat more robust, but they are epic in scale. I’m sure that I could have flushed the bed down the toilet in some of the American hotels I’ve stayed in. It doesn’t matter what’s in the pan – hit the flush and it disappears.

English: Taken by me whilst on holiday in Fran...

English: Taken by me whilst on holiday in France, at a motorway service station somewhere near Toulouse. This one is surprisingly clean, usually they are filthy. I love holidaying in France but I hate their toilets. Français : Prise par moi lors de vacances en France sur une air d’autoroute pres de Toulouse. Celle-ci est étonnamment propre, d’habitude elle sont sales. J’adore passer mes vacances en France mais je deteste leurs toilettes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The French seem to have an indifferent attitude to toilets. Bare minimalism seems to be the order of the day – sometimes literally. I remember going to a restaurant in Tours and visiting the facilities. In front of me was a porcelain moulding with two foot plates. Between them was a hole. On the wall was a faded sign that showed which way you needed to squat depending on what you had in mind. There was no door. There weren’t even fixings for a door so there had obviously never been a door.

The Germans are efficient and believe in quality. Maybe that’s why they build inspection pans into their toilets. Whatever you’ve produced is held up for you to examine to make sure it’s satisfactory before hitting the flush and consigning it to oblivion.

I’ve been to Poland a few times, mostly to Warsaw, but once – I went to Katowice. Unlike Warsaw, no-one spoke English. They have a cryptic alphabet, so I couldn’t even take a guess at what was on the menu. Unwilling to be accidentally poisoned – I gesticulated wildly and spoke loudly unit they found someone who spoke English, the washer-up. Unfortunately, the only word he seemed to know was “please”. He did well though. I asked for a toasted cheese sandwich. Out came a platter full of salad with 2 bits of toast and a lump of cheese.

When I came to go to the toilet – I was baffled. One had a circle and the other a triangle. There was no other clue as to which was which, so I took a guess. I had a 50:50 chance. I don’t know who was more surprised – me or the Polish lady I bumped into!