Happy New Year 2015

Happy New Year

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A new year has arrived, a new year when we all have our individual hopes, aspirations and expectations for the future. A year when visionaries may have their dreams fulfilled or perhaps just furthered a little more.

This time last year I summarised quite accurately the forthcoming main issues likely to dominate the headlines This year the future is a little more difficult to foresee as .so much will depend on the outcome of the forthcoming General Election. So much is dependent on the election result as to determine which direction the UK is likely to go in the world. So many topics from the NHS to Immigration are embroiled in the consequences election result itself.

  • General Election

  • Immigration

  • European Recession

General Election

I normally find in the year leading up to a General Election, it is possibly to sense the feeling of the public mood which gives s good indication of which way the election is likely to go. This is the first time I have not been able to sense any such a feeling. It is almost like there is some form on no-man’s land on the subject. There are certainly exceptionally strong feelings over issues like Europe and Immigration, but I think there is also a general sense of great public unease with all the main parties and how they will deal with these issues, if at all,  except in their election rhetoric.

It is almost certain that increasingly over the next few months we will be faced with a barrage of fatuous and equally hollow promises from political parties mixed in with acrimonious debate. They have already started with promises like a future road improvement programme. One such promise that is likely to effect myself in the West Country where I live is the main arterial road, the A303 from London being duelled along its length. Again locals have heard this same promise so many times before only for it to be cancelled yet again for economic reasons as soon as a new government takes control. Most locals take such promises with a ‘pinch of salt’ and will only believe it when it happens. The likelihood  of the next government using the time weathered excuse of ‘the current economic situation’ for pruning back this programme once again, possibly to the point where it becomes non-existent remains very high.

The only thing that seems reasonably certain in the next election from what I can sense from public opinion, is the Lib/Dems will fare badly, so badly that are likely to gain few, if any seats at all in Parliament.

Even with the Lib/Dems facing political annihilation in the election, it is still unlikely to be a straight contest between the Conservatives and Labour. There are now two new kids on the block that have surged into prominence since the last election in the form of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)  and the Scottish Nationalists.These upcoming parties are likely to heavily drain seats from the Tories and Labour particularly in areas where they had previously enjoyed strong support. So much so, there is a strong possibility no one party will have sufficient seats to form a government. If this happens then the future governance of this country is likely to be another difficult to manage coalition government with policies based on what can be salvaged from the wreckage of grandiose promises and what the economic situation will allow.

With these four parties having  almost diametrically opposed views on a number of policies, the likelihood of a sustained period of horse trading  to form a government between the parties remains high and it is likely the electorate will be left feeling cheated once again on issues like a European Referendum. I would not be at all surprised, unthinkable as it may be, if we end up with either Lab/Scot Nats, Lab/Con or even a Con/UKIP coalition with the support of a few individuals from other parties. It is as if the more traditional mould of British politics is about to be broken for a long time to come. Personally I detest coalition governments no matter what parties they are formed from. They certainly do not lead to strong government and are at best a watered down appeasement of each parties policies.

Immigration

Once again this is an issue likely to figure at the forefront of the election. One thing people most resent is not foreign visitors per se, but a overwhelming flood of people coming from abroad to reside in the UK and in so doing, changing the UK’s own culture in the process. Questions like how things like Education, Health Services, Housing and so on are expected to cope with suddenly increased numbers are valid questions that do not appear to be satisfactorily answered. A sudden increase of people for whatever reason means a strain on the housing market be it social or private. This in turn has led to higher property prices through supply and demand shortages, which in turn has squeezed many people through economic pressures out of the property market all together. Any party that takes away the prospect of people one day ever owning their own home has made a lifelong enemy.The rented sector which began to seriously decline in the 1960/70’s is once again booming but this time with exceeding high and eye-watering rent levels.Although the politicians have claimed immigration is economically good for Great Britain, that is not how it is perceived by much of the UK electorate.

Free migration by EU citizens within member states is a cornerstone policy of the EU. EU politicians claim that any attempt to reform this policy would require a treaty change and would need to be agreed to by all 28 member states. They also indicate that any such move is likely to be fiercely resisted. Despite paying a lions share in contributions to the EU, as many of the UK’s powers have been devolved to the EU by previous governments, political promises to reform immigration do seem to be dead in the water. A point that will not please many of the electorate and could well be a deciding issue in the General Election.

European Recession

Recent months have seen a collapse in oil prices. This is mainly due the the US now being able to exploit its own shale oil resources and reducing its dependency on the world oil market. Recession in other large oil consuming countries in the Far East and South America have added to a world surplus of oil. Petro economies reliant from both the sale of oil and oil taxes have seen their revenues fall. This includes the UK but other forms of income from services like banking are helping to off-set this loss. Had Scotland vote for Independence, their economy would have faced great difficulties.

Other European economies have faced a much slower recovery than the UK and some economists have forecast this could lead to a triple-dip recession in the Euro Zone. It is not possible to turn a blind-eye to this possibility or the effects yet another possible threat from possibly a new Greek government seeking to renegotiate the terms of its bail-out commitments.

Even though the UK is likely to suffer less from a possible recession, the fall in demand for exported goods with a likely rising value of the pound against the Euro would mean a reduced income for a UK government making the likelihood imposing even more harsher spending cuts at home.

The EU heavily criticised in the UK for apparent liberal and ever increasing spending policies irrespective of its member states financial realities, is likely to put greater financial demands on its more wealthier member states if it finds itself in financial difficulties. Again this is something unlikely to please the UK electorate.

All of the above factors are making the fortune teller’s crystal ball a bit murky for the next six months.After that things should become a little clearer although I am not so certain UK citizens will necessarily like what they see. On a optimistic note however, the UK’s future will probably be better than many others.

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Merry Christmas Folks!

 

A Merry Christmas and a

Happy and Healthy New Year

to all my readers.

 

I own part of a Fire Engine

TL 240 FLM

Turntable Ladder 240 FLM – © Paul Wood

Apart from working three years in the Post Office when I first left school, I spent the rest of my working life in the fire service. I joined the West Ham Fire Brigade a few day before my 18th birthda and later, became part of the London Fire Brigade in 1965 with the creation of the Greater London Council, (GLC), and enjoyed a thoroughly worthwhile career for 42 years. Despite popular misconception,   a firefighters job is far more than squirting water at flames. It is very technical job requiring vast amounts of knowledge of innumerable subjects as a Firefighter is expected to instantly deal with any hazard or to resolve any problem, irrespective of what it may be.

It is also a career filled with training courses on many subjects.One such intensive course I did was operating a Turntable Ladder often know as Aerial Ladders in the USA. These ladders extend to 100 feet in length and are used for both rescue and water tower purposes. One cannot just park these appliances anywhere and extend the ladders as they certainly are not elastic. Gaining the knowledge where to quickly site these vehicles in a emergency is all important. Knowledge of the effects of gravity is important too for the lower the angle of the ladder, the greater the strain on the entire vehicle. It’s rather like holding a broom erect above your head with your arm fully extended. That in itself is not too much of an effort but if you were then to lower the broom in a arc horizontally still with your arm fully extended, it will take a great deal of strength to achieve this.

Now I am retired and my career is rapidly disappearing into the past with each passing day. Fortunately social media has provided an outlet for retired firefighters like myself to remain in contact with colleagues and there is a large group on Facebook for retired London Firefighters.

In the past few months, members of this group became aware of an ex-London Fire Brigade Turntable Ladder becoming available for sale. When it was originally disposed of in 1981, it was bought by a tree surgery company to enable them to complete their work. After that it fell into disuse and many members of my group made individual donations which enable the successful purchase of this machine.

Given its age, it was surprising still in relatively good working condition and my group has now formed a preservation society for this machine. The objective is to fully restore this Turntable Ladder to its former glory and then exhibit it is various displays throughout the country. It is also hope that eventually it will also be available for hire at wedding and possibly even funerals. Given this type of vehicles flat rear, they have sadly, (including our machine), been used at hearses in the past for Firefighters who have tragically died in the line of duty.

A website has also been set up for the preservation society and this can be viewed at Tl-240 FJM Preservation Group

Tis’ the season of empty promises, Fa la la la la,

Houses of ParliamentWith the ink on the Scottish referendum results barely dry, the season of party political conferences has now thankfully gone.. Being the last series of conferences before the next General Election, one expects the promises and policies for the future to be more outlandish than usual. On that front I do not appear to have been disappointed with promises of oodles of new doctors, GP’s and nurses for the National Health Service (NHS) combined with usual tax the rich speech from the Shadow Chancellor all wrapped up in a 10 year plan. This is from the same party that completed 13 years in power and left behind an enormous black hole of a monetary deficient that the public have been paying back with years of enforced austerity. No mention was made of the deficient, future austerity or the vexed question of immigration. Apparently these most important of subjects were simply ‘forgotten’.

Apparent sweeping tax reductions promised by the Tories and tax the rich to pay the poor from the Lib/Dems. It is of little wonder the electorate has become ultra-cynical of  all politicians. Most of the electorate have deep rooted suspicions that whatever is promised, following a General Election, the same politicians will either quickly find good excuses why their promises cannot be upheld or more likely, simply quietly forgotten. If something like a signed cast-iron pledge not to increase university fees can be quickly discarded within a few days of forming a coalition government, then mere promises on just about anything tend to sound vacuous after that.

As the sands of time to the next General election quickly ebb away, it is likely that the speed of new but hollow promises being made will accelerate dramatically to a point where they might be considered a bit ‘braggish’ in something of a  “I can do better than you” spectacle.

Until now, the normal political model has been for the steadfast rump of the electorate to remain faithful with the political party of their choice and only if the incumbent government has been particularly poor during its term of office is change of government likely.

It does now seem probable this comfortable political model is about to change. Like a pot simmering on the stove, the main political parties have conveniently ignored the growing discontent on issues like immigration, enforced austerity, loss of governance to Europe and so on. These are issues that have effected peoples daily lives and their families as they manifest themselves through housing shortages, crowded schools, pressures on the NHS and evaporation of earnings to name but a few. The politicians largely insulated from such effects have ignored them at their peril. Politicians have failed to appreciate that unless the heat is turned down, there comes a point where the simmering pot with boil-over.

Normally as a General Election approaches it is often possible to sense the mood of the country and how the political parties are likely to fare. At the moment there is a strange absence of such a feeling rather like a phoney war. The only feeling I strongly sense at the moment is which party, namely the Lib/Dems that clearly are going nowhere except into possible Parliamentary extinction. In two recent by-elections at Clacton and Heywood and Middleton the Lib/Dems share of the vote totally collapsed. Although they were not expected to win either by-election, on that showing of lack of support it is unlikely they will win any seats in the next General Election including the deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.

The by-elections also show a serious erosion in support for the Labour Party. Heywood and Middleton was until now something of a Labour stronghold yet despite putting a brave face on their win, the truth is they barely scraped in by the skin of their teeth only just winning by 617 votes to the challenge from the more recently formed United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP).

All the main political parties are now running scared of UKIP and with the present state of flux in political parties there is now no clear front runner for the next election

I would not be at all surprised to see many long sitting MP’s swept aside by the incoming floodtide of support for UKIP. With a national deep resentment at the parliamentary expenses scandal which many MP’s wanted to keep a state secret and are attempting to do so again. This coupled with the issues I raised earlier, MP’s will only have themselves to blame. It really is a case of watch this space for further developments.

As for the deluge of political promises we are likely to face increases in the next few months? it is always worth remembering, Promises are but words, and words but wind.

(Samuel Butler)

A Distant Memory

Mick FB Plaistow - 02

Blue Watch – Plaistow Fire Station 1978

I recently received a pleasant surprise on a Facebook group when a fire service colleague posted a photograph taken of my watch at Plaistow Fire Station taken about 1978/9. I found it refreshing to see once again the faces of those I knew well albeit touched with a twinge of sadness for three colleagues no longer with us.

Everyone in this picture has now retired but looking at the photograph with the trained eye of experience, I could not help but notice how things in the fire service have changed, including myself, in the never ending march of modernity. I am fourth from the right in the rear row and apart from my hair now being white, I can also see substantial changes to the equipment used as well.

Our fire tunics are of the more traditional design which have been around since before the turn of the 20th century. The have now been replaced by the more Hi-Viz wrap around type. Our helmets are black as well as indeed our fire leggings used to be. This picture was taken in a transition period before our helmets were also swapped for yellow ones in aid of visibility safety  when on the fireground or public highway in reduced visibility. These helmets too have again been replaced by the completely enclosed motor-bike type with protective visors and some with built in communications equipment.. The fire boots were of strong leather with non-ferrous  and spark-proof nails in the heels. Comfortable as they were they offered little protection against penetrative chemicals and these were replaced by strong rubber boots with reinforced toecaps and a metal plate to protect against stepping on nails and other sharp debris.

Of the two fire appliances, (fire engines), in the background, the one on the left carries an Escape Ladder. This was the type that was mounted on two large wooden carriage wheels and weighed about one ton. This was a very robust ladder that would take a lot of fireground punishment and I have even had occasion to use one as a battering-ram without ill-effect to the ladder. Alas due to traffic congestion and parked cars it has become necessary to replace this ladder with one that can gain access through narrow obstacles. This photograph apart from now being a visual historical document sometimes makes me wonder if I am now a museum piece too.

Plaistow Fire Station.

Plaistow Fire Station

The area of covered by this station at Plaistow was quite extensive too in both the area it covered and the types of risk likely to be encountered. Geographically it covers the area from along the railway station in Green Street Plaistow to the River Lea and everything south of the railway line to the River Thames. Since the closure of Silverton Fire Station, the area it covers has been extended to protect this heavily industrialised area too. In this area at the time of this photograph there was a mixture of profuse old terraced housing, heavy industry and shipping in the Royal group of docks. Even the famous West Ham United football stadium is directly protect by this fire station. The now infamous Ronan Point which collapsed during my time in 1968 was within this stations fireground with the first appliances to reach the disaster coming from this station.

Even the old station originally built in 1932 under the former West Ham Fire Brigade and which I knew so well has now gone, fortunately it is being replaced by a new one currently being built on the same site.

I suppose everyone who has retired occasionally allows their thoughts to wander back over the years with memories of “Those were the days”.

Ronan Point 02

Ronan Point

Yeovilton Air Day 2014

As usual, RNAS Yeovilton put on a dazzling day long display of flying skills on 26th August. Aircraft from around the world arriving in the preceding days gradually built up the growing expectation of another fine display.

Aircraft of all shapes and sizes, old, new, small and large, jet or propeller powered and more importantly the pilots that flew them all added to the carnival atmosphere of the day. Although rapidly becoming aged, the Avro Vulcan bomber once the mainstay of the UK’s mainline defence always draws crowds even if it is just to watch it arrive or depart..

Sadly the Sea Fury based ay RNAS Yeovilton as part of the historic flight did something of a pancake landing a week later at Yeovilton’s ‘Sister Ship’ RNAS Culdrose in Cornwall during their annual Air Day display. For some reason one of the undercarriage legs collapsed on landing but fortunately the pilot walked away from the crash unharmed. Provided the Sea Fury is not too badly damaged and provided its airframe is still airworthy, I would not be at all surprised to see this fine aircraft rebuilt.

I have placed a selection of pictures below.

 

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Sea Fury 01
Sea Fury 02

 

Death of a Landmark

Gardiners Corner Fire 2To most firefighters, calls to incidents have a tendency to become routine. An incident may be life-changing to the individuals involved in them particularly if it something like a fire in their own home, but after a few years service, firefighters tend to view such things as “Just another job”.

Occasionally and incident will occur that will forever stick in ones mind and  I was involved  in once such incident in 1972. Early one evening my fire station at Plaistow received a call not to go to a fire but to go to Poplar Fire Station instead. This was because that particular fire stations appliances, (fire engines), including those of other surrounding fire stations had already been called and detained at an incident. This left the area temporarily denuded of fire cover and that was the purpose of the appliance I was driving going to another station to cater for the deficiency.

Our route took us over Canning Town Bridge to East India Dock Road. It was clear from the amount of radio traffic that the incident, a fire at a large and well-known department store named Gardiners was becoming bigger by the minute.

Long before our arrival at Poplar Fire Station we heard a priority message being sent by the Officer-in-charge of the incident requesting many more fire appliances to deal with the fast growing incident. Within a few seconds of that message being sent my own fire appliance received a message to go direct to the incident instead.

Our destination was Gardiners Department store located on the junction of Whitechapel High Street and Commercial Road..Even when we were still some way from the incident it was possible to see the flames engulfing this large building consisting of a ground and five upper floors. We parked some distance from the building to allow for our fire appliance not getting damaged in the event the building collapsed which seemed a real possibility.

Gardiners Corner FireAt  large incidents a Control Unit is always set up at where oncoming appliances book-in and crews are detailed to specific tasks.There was a lot of background noise as well from the noise of the inferno from the burning store and the sounds on numerous two-tone horns from many other fire appliances also arriving at the incident from far afield. My own crew was initial detailed to run out and man two jets of water from a position on the opposite of Whitechapel High Street onto the store. Clear instructions were also issued not to get any closer to the store due to the danger of the building collapsing. Our jets of water however were only a temporary holding measure akin to to using a pea-shooter on a leviathan. Other specialist equipment know as Radial Branches had also been ordered.and we were waiting their arrival.

A Radial Branch is like a huge water cannon with an outlet several inches wide. The recoil from these jets are too high for an individual to hold so they are held between to steel guides mounted on a heavy base plate. A small winch and cable is also fitted to allow the angle of the jet of water to changed by lowering or raising it. The volume of water output by these branches is so great it requires two separate pumping appliances to feed them. There are also vanes built around a central hole on the inside of the outlet of these branches. The vanes create three swirling columns of water around a central water core which stops the water jet breaking up and allows it to reach much greater distances. The best way to describe the power of these jets is to imagine hitting a wall with a heavy sledge-hammer. With the hammer the force of the impact only lasts for a moment as the sledge-hammer makes contact. With a radial branch that force is constant.

The store was surrounded with about six of these radial branches after which time there was little more that could be done other than playing a vast volume of water onto the fire. The front of the store which was triangular in shape was surmounted. by a towering three sided stone and concrete clock tower. A discernable and growing lean could be seen on the clock tower until it reached the point of no return and hundreds of tons of masonry toppled backwards into the store crashing through all five floors with a tremendous noise. Once that had happened the fire started to gradually subside leaving just the outer shell of this once grand building.

In the meantime the surrounding area had become like a mini-lake with the water run-off from the store. The London Transport underground station Aldgate East has several entrances near to this incident and the flood doors to the station had to be closed and underground trains were not allowed to stop at the station.

It is incidents like this that firefighters always remember.

The store was originally built in the 1870’s and specialised in military uniforms, Scottish and children’s clothing, For many years the store was simply known as “The Scotch House” which was proudly proclaimed by a huge sign at the front of the building. Over the years the sign disappeared and the store became known as Gardiners Corner due to it’s prominent position. Gardiners Corner also became a landmark name appearing on bus route signs. For a building that lasted a century and which was demolished without trace over forty years ago, the name still lives on as a landmark. I doubt if the original Mr Gardiner could have foreseen his name becoming immortalised in such a way.

Gardiners Corner 1906

Gardiners Corner in 1906

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