A Merry Christmas and a
Happy and Healthy New Year
to all my readers.
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
With 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.
Filed under: The Political Page, Tis' the season of empty promises | Tagged: by-elections, crowded schools, enforced austerity, General Election 2015, immigration, Lib/Dems. Labour, political conferences, Tories, UKIP. promises | Leave a comment »
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.
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”.
To 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.
At 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.
Filed under: Death of a landmark | Tagged: building collapse, Commercial Road, department store, firefighting, Gardiners Corner, radial branch, The Scoth House, Whitechapel High Street | Leave a comment »
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.