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 The have now been replaced by the more Hi-Viz wrap around type.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 These helmets too have again been replaced by the completely enclosed motor-bike type with protective visors and some with built in communications equipment..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 This photograph apart from now being a visual historical document sometimes makes me wonder if I am now a museum piece too.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.

 

IMGP2419
IMGP2429a

IMGP2394
IMGP2398

 

IMGP2426
IMGP2451

 

IMGP2454
IMGP2459

 

IMGP2463a
IMGP2464

 

IMGP2472
IMGP2474

 

IMGP2477
IMGP2425

 

IMGP2373
IMGP0001

 

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

June 2014 – A Village Affair

Cerne Abbas Giant

The Cerne Abbas Giant

There can be little doubt that the Summer months provide a rich backdrop to outdoor activities throughout England. Most of this activity s not centred around the more grandiose sporting event like Ascot Week which tends to cater for the well heeled and shod but in the variety of village events. Fetes, dog shows, gymkhanas and a host of other local festivities which normally take place during the months of June and July.

Living close to the Somerset/Dorset border it is inevitable I will frequently venture into my bordering county. Yesterday I went to one such event in the village of Cerne Abbas in Dorset located in the Cerne Valley.

The Cerne Valley nestled in the Dorset Downs is a narrow winding, lush green valley running directly north of Dorchester towards the ancient town of Sherborne. The head of the valley being near the village of Middlemarsh and is steeped in history despite its relatively sparse population. At one time settled by the Vikings during the Dark Ages. in AD 987 a great Benedictine Abbey was established in the valley around which grew the pretty village of Cerne Abbas.

Cerne Abbas is something of a chocolate box picture village attracting coachloads of tourists in the days prior to mass car ownership. It is also famous for the figure of the Cerne Giant cut into the adjacent steep chalk hillside. There is much speculation as to the age of the giant as to whether it is Celtic, Roman or much later in origin. Whatever the truth there can be little doubt that this huge warlike figure brandishing a club was designed as a fertility symbol. Local stories still abound of young maidens wishing to ensure a future family visiting this icon on mid-summer’s day.

It was also mid-summer’s day that I visited Cerne Abbas for its annual open gardens exhibition. Except for access to a free car park, the village is closed to through traffic for the day allowing visitors to safely wander the streets. Residents of 29 properties within the village threw open their gardens to public view with the local church of St Mary providing a cream teas on the lawn service. One modest fee secured access to all gardens and monies raised are used in local good causes. Many of the buildings are heritage listed to protect both the buildings and the village from untoward development. The spire of the church dominates the local landscape..

Accompanied with a group of friends, my wife and I found it a pleasant is not slightly tiring afternoon wandering other peoples gardens. It was a good way of gaining ideas and inspiration for what may be possible in ones own garden.

On returning to friends who live close to the Cerne Valley to enjoy an evening barbeque, silently like some leviathan from a Space Odyssey, the billowing canopy of a hot-air balloon suddenly and unexpectedly came drifting across the tree tops. You never know what you are going to see next in the country.

I have added some views of the village and gardens below.

 

IMGP2295
IMGP2297

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMGP2300
IMGP2302


IMGP2304
IMGP2308

 

IMGP2311
IMGP2312

 

IMGP2313
IMGP2319


IMGP2321
IMGP2323

 

IMGP2325
IMGP2326

 

IMGP2329
IMGP2332


IMGP2334
IMGP2341


Not just a Penny

One PennySometimes authors suffer from a lack of inspiration known as Writers Block. It’s a position where a mental block on new ideas arises. Fortunately I have never found myself in that position, only the problem of sometimes finding time to write. To me the world is full of inspirational subjects just waiting to be picked up and mulled around in the mind before being translated into words.

One such subject came completely “out of the blue” the other evening when I pulled a hanky from my pocket. Along with the hanky came a penny coin embroiled in its folds and which fell to the ground with the lightest of sounds. As I stooped to retrieve the penny the thought popped into my head, I wonder what the life story of this penny is?

Thought and  reasoning is a strange process that seems to work at the speed of light. No sooner had the thought crossed my mind I realised attached to this penny was a tale so vast, it stretched all the way back to Big Bang and the creation of the Universe. It is amazing how a vast concept can fill our minds in a fraction of a second but it can take a lengthy period of time to even verbally express them to others.

Piggy BankMy first though was to examine the penny a little closer and I saw the year 1980 stamped on it meaning the coin was minted 34 years ago and had been in circulation ever since. How many people have owned and used this coin in all that time? It is an impossible question to answer but potentially it could be millions. It may have been in my possession several times without my even knowing it. It might also have been silently sitting in a child’s piggy bank for a long time or many other peoples pockets or purses. The penny will have visited many homes, all the time unconsciously unobserved by its temporary owners or perhaps joined many of its companions in slot machines or shop tills from time to time.Who knows? it could even have travelled abroad many times as loose change in the pocket of a tourist. Whatever the potentially far and numerous journeys of this coin, it has travelled free and unnoticed and it still is only worth a penny.

Although the face value of my coin may only be worth a penny, it does make one wonder how many times it has been used in purchases. If it had been used say one million times in the last 34 years, this one coin would have purchased £10,000 worth of goods and services. On the face of things that seems impossible until one considers that monetary systems are essentially gyratory with the same money constantly circulating around the system from person to person, shop to shop or bank to bank. That alone throws up even more concepts of how coinage became a convenient common denominator to replace bartering systems. A banking system to control the circulation of money. Legal systems to ensure money maintained its value by making counterfeiting illegal and  that wrong doers were punished. Systems of government and trade including taxation. Even monarchs have fought and died, Empires grown and fallen all because of the value represented by coinage yet this single coin is still only worth a penny.

When my penny was newly minted it had a bright and shiny copper appearance but this quickly tarnished to its current dull brown appearance through the effects of oxidization. So even in its appearance my penny has a story to tell about chemistry..

Moltem metalBeing minted in 1980, my penny is made of bronze created from a mixture of copper, zinc and tin. Since 1992, copper-plated steel has been used instead. This is where the formidable story of my penny coin expands even further. Each of the composite elements of this coin originally had to be mined, each metal coming from different parts of the globe. Not only was each metal mined, but all had to be refined, and transported before being molten and blended together to create the new metal alloy of bronze.The metal ores themselves needed to be discovered first so just the creation of my penny coin required utilisation of exploration, mining, refining, transportation, the science of metallurgy and finally the craft of minting just to come into being. It’s a mind-boggling though that one day the value of my coin may go towards financing all of the above to produce even further coinage. However my single coin is still only worth a penny.

The story of our various metal ores that make up my penny does not start with them being mined from the ground, that is only the beginning of their more recent adventures, nor does it start with these ores being buried in the ground for a millennia. The stories of these metals goes back to the creation of the universe before they even existed as metal.

UniverseHow the universe was created is as yet unknown but the beginning has been dubbed “Big Bang” whatever its cause. At the time of creation atomic particles formed only  the simplest of atoms which where hydrogen and helium with miniscule trace amounts of everything else. All this would have happened in complete darkness as stars which provide light simply did not exist at this time. Although there are various estimates, for about the first 200 million years of the universes existence, everything was in darkness with nothing else other than vast gaseous clouds of hydrogen and helium.

As lightweight as we consider these gases, never-the-less all atoms have weight and slowly these clouds of gas were drawn together by their natural gravitational forces until they began to condense into huge balls of gas. As these balls of gas grew ever larger ever growing gravitational forces caused them to compress. Matter that is being compressed starts to give off heat in exactly the same way air in a bicycle pump gets hot when compressed. This mixture of heat and intense pressure eventually caused the process of atomic fusion to begin and the first stars began to appear in the universe shedding light to the previously dark cosmos.

Even these early stars bursting into existence did not create the molecules for the metals of my penny, it is only millions of years later when a star eventually runs out of fuel does this process rapidly happen. As a star burns it transforms its hydrogen into helium. Once a stars burns through all its hydrogen, it fuses the helium into carbon and then into nitrogen, oxygen, neon, and sodium, and then into silicon and sulphur, and then into iron, nickel, cobalt and copper. Depending on the size of the star, it rapidly contracts in its last moments throwing all this matter like an expanding shell to drift throughout the universe.This newly created matter will continue to drift through the cosmos until again under the effects of gravity it is condensed again either into new stars or into planets which will circulate those stars.

So when that penny fell from my pocket, the real story behind my initial though of “its only a penny” has touched on many aspects of our lives stretching all the way back to the creation of the universe.I cannot help but feel I have touched on but a few of those subjects and omitted many more.

Just to briefly recap the “life story” of my penny. It has been involved Big Bang, Star formation, celestial transformation, exploration, mining, refining, transportation, metallurgy, minting, chemistry, commerce, trade and banking, governance, law making and empire building to name but a few.So much from one small coin and its value still only remains a penny.

Whoever said “A penny for your thoughts”?

A fireman never dies but slowly ……………..

Fireman Sam4I sadly learned recently an old colleague of mine named Jim O’Halloron  had passed away. I first met Jim when I joined the County Borough of West Ham Fire Brigade in 1964. Jim like myself was a firefighter throughout his life and probably one of the funniest people I ever met. In 1965 when the Greater London Council (GLC) was created, West Ham Fire Brigade was absorbed into the new Greater London Fire Brigade (LFB) where we remained for the remainder of our long careers.

Jim was a very likeable person and always quick witted with something of a sardonic outlook on life, but his observations would always bring everyone in a room close to tears with laughter.

One of Jim’s ambitions was to write a book at some time in the future of his fire brigade experiences, and this he finally achieved after retirement with his hilarious book “Arson Around” which took a somewhat irreverent look at life in the fire service.

Jim was a life long supporter of West Ham Football Club, so much so, that as can be seen from the picture below, he even had his coffin painted in their colours. As also can been seen, Jim was so highly regarded, he was given a fitting  and very appropriate send-off.

I shall miss Jim and this article is a small personal tribute to a wonderful man.

Jim Funeral

May, May, May

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA  Today bore witness to Mother Natures remarkable annual transformation from Spring into Summer. Today my wife and I travelled to the City of Southampton for no other reason than we did not know the place very well and simply wanted to see it.

We left in the morning with a thick heavy clinging mist carpeting the landscape and on our return journey everything had turned a vivid lush green as leaves on just about every variety of tree burst out into the world in proclamation that Summer has arrived.

Signs that Summer was fast approaching have been apparent all week. Swallows have already arrived following their long migratory flight from South Africa, Cowslip in hedgerows and verges have grown from nothing into a tall forest of delicate white flower in less than a week. Gardeners will have not failed to notice that additional spurt in the growth of grass of the last few days. All in all  it is as if Mother Nature has been lining her troops up for a grand parade to announce the last chilly tendrils of Winter have finally lost their grip.

Although officially Summer does not start until June, nature has a way of disregarding artificial dates, nature has its own timetable irrespective of political diktat.

In modern society  as we busily scurry to and fro, we may not take too much notice on the passing of another day but certainly to our ancestors it was a day for fun, frolics and festivities. Many traditional May Day activities have however withstood the ravages of time and are still celebrated today in the UK even though they may be viewed as rather quaint by foreign visitors.

Morris DancersDancing around the May Pole the origins of which are buried in symbolic fertility at a time of year romance between young people figured highly. A young girl is usually crowned the May Queen at such events with a floral headdress.

English folk dancing performed by Morris dancers or Morris Men splendidly bedecked in floral hats and jangling bells.

Padstow in Cornwall has its own unique day long festival featuring the Obby Horse pronounced locally as the “Obby Oss” draped like a skirt from the shoulders of a local resident.. The town is ablaze with colour from early Spring plants and flowers as celebrations carry-on throughout the day. The origins of these activities have long been lost in antiquity but it is speculated that they may be pre-Christian.

Internationally the 1st May is considered “The Workers Day” frequently accompanied by parades, gatherings and speeches. The day was also used by some governments to profess their military prowess. Each year during the period term the Cold War the former USSR preceded the workers celebrations with militaristic parades of troops and weapons of mass destruction. Such parades used to be used as something of a political thermometer to gauge the current state of tension between the worlds super-powers.

As for myself, I view May Day as something of a precursor hopefully pointing the way to long pleasant days of summer warmth and outdoor activities.

 

%d bloggers like this: