The Life of a Road

]Every time we leave our homes we travel along them, be it by foot or by public or private transport. We use them for going to work, for travelling home, going shopping or for leisure. Sometimes we pause to admire the architecture of the buildings that line them but all to frequently, we overlook the road itself. Questions of why the road is there in the first place, how it developed or why a given road follows the line that it does? Like arteries, roads provide the vital lifeblood to every country and every community.

Most of our ancient roads started their life as foot tracks, wending their way normally by the easiest geographic route avoiding where possible hills, streams and rivers. With the progression of time and usage these tracks naturally widened into paths and primitive roads. Characteristically settlements began to appear along the lines of roads particularly where two or more roads intersected.

Map 1777 Chapman & Andre-2

1777 map of Essex by Chapman and Andre

The Roman Invasion of Britain brought the first proper road building programme to  Britain. With strategically placed strongholds throughout the country, good connecting roads became essential, being able to bear the weight of chariots, carts and marching legions. With a road network ensuring the rapid movement of troops, it was possible for the Romans to ensure their military governance of Britain.  Roman roads were built in the most direct line possible and the line of these ancient roads still exist in todays road network.

After the Romans left Britain little was done to the road system for hundreds of years but the routes the Romans established between locations continued to exist. Many areas of the country languished in something of a forgotten backwater, well-off the main road system and apart from a few small settlements considered of little worthy use.

One such area stretching north from the banks of the River Thames eventually became the boroughs of West Ham and East Ham before combining into the London Borough of Newham in 1965.

Much of this area to the south was marshland. The northern part of this area was more firmer land but contained little except the main eastern section of the Roman road from London which divided at Stratford. One branch leading into Essex and the Roman settlement at Colchester and the other towards Norfolk and further north, the settlement at Peterborough.

Until the 18th century, London remained a relatively small place consisting of the two separate cities of London and Westminster. This all changed with the advent of the Industrial Revolution when major British cities began to rapidly expand. As they grew so did the need for commerce which in turn meant the demand for more shipping and docks increased. The original London Docks were centred around the River Thames near the Tower of London. As London grew eastwards more docks appeared in the area of Millwall known as the Isle of Dogs. Ships at this time were still under sail and it was said that sailing by tacking to and fro into the wind around the congested river by Greenwich added another day to reach the Port of London.

The eastern growth of London along the River Thames was held in check at the then boundaries of the counties of Middlesex and Essex by the River Lea where no bridge existed. In 1809 an Act of Parliament was passed authorising the building of a bridge across the River Lea and the construction of a new road from the bridge to Barking where there was an ancient abbey.

As can be seen from the 1777 map of Essex by Chapman and Andre, Point A was the location of the new bridge and the roadway to Barking was constructed avoiding as much marshland as possible. The new road to Barking, (The Barking Road), connected with what is now Balaam Street, (point B), leading from the village of Plaistow, to Greengate Street, (Point C)), also leading from Plaistow, to Green Street, (Point D), and then on to the settlement at East Ham, later became High St North, (Point E), and the North Circular Road around London, before going direct to Barking across the River Roding at Point F.

As London continued to grow, the great potential of using the new bridge and road to construct newer and larger docks on the empty land on the north bank of the River Thames quickly became apparent. There were also profits to be made from this venture by shortening by at least a day the time it took ships to sail into the heart of London to unload their goods. Industry was quick to see the potential of the new route too and shipbuilding and industrial works quickly spread and lined the north bank of the Thames which became known as Silvertown.

The first of the new docks, (The Victoria), opened in 1855. This coupled with the burgeoning riverside industries created an insatiable demand for labour and in the area north of the new dock, cheap and often shoddy housing was rapidly built to accommodate the new workforce. This is how the areas of Canning Town and Custom House came into existence.

A new population also creates the need for shops, markets and leisure facilities. It was not long before the Barking Road originally constructed as a linking road, became a major shopping centre along most of its length and the hitherto vacant land between the old Roman Road, (Stratford High Street and Romford Road), and also south of the new Barking Road quickly became a dense housing infill.

To many residents the Barking Road and surrounding areas feel as if they have always been there although in historical terms they are relatively young. The Barking Road I know particularly well as I was based for many years at a local fire station which covered most of it’s length.

As for the future, the well known adage goes, “Nothing is forever”, and that is now starting to prove true for the Barking Road and its environs. Already the effects of gentrification are now being felt in the area of Canning Town with the building of high rise and high price residential apartments.Canning Town once seen as something of a deprived and run down area is now starting to be seen as a desirable living area by the Yuppie generation. Unfortunately as the process of gentrification brings new people and new money to an area, it usually has the effect of displacing existing communities through financial pressures.

It feels as if an existing community with all its social history is but like a grain of sand, soon to be swamped and washed away by the incoming tide of time.

Geoff Martin a long time local resident to the area has created a historical video photo montage of the Barking Road stretching back over one hundred years. It is perhaps one of the few ways of preserving the memories and history of this vibrant area.

It can be seen from the modern Google street map below how even the Barking Road has been by-passed by a newer road from Canning Town Bridge leading to quicker access of the  long vanished wilds of Essex.

I wonder if those Parliamentarians in 1809 could have envisioned what they started when the passed the act for a new Canning Town Bridge?

Map Barking Road -02

Modern map of Newham and the Barking Road Complements of Google Street Maps

I hit a blind man


Illustration of a terraced house

I recently watched a television programme, a documentary on exploring the mind. This particular episode was investigating  if people are born with emotions or if they are something we learn through life’s experiences. At one point in the programme, the presenter underwent a test at a medical university which involved completing a questionnaire about himself prior to undergoing a MRI scan while exposed to various stimuli. The presenter paused on one particular question which he read aloud. The question asked if he would feel empathy with someone else who had injured themselves. It is a question I suspect most of us would answer yes to, in my mind that is what I answered. An instant later, I suddenly realised that to me the question was completely ambiguous and dependent on circumstances at the time, circumstances to which I could equally and truthfully both answer either yes or no to the question.

Although this may seem a strange contradiction, to me it is completely logical. As a firefighter I experienced many occasions when a stranger to me was injured and needed medical attention. Until such time as medical help arrives, part of the firefighters role is to treat individuals administering first aid where necessary. There is an actual priority list laid down in which order our duties should be carried out. The prime duty is to save life, followed by saving property and finally rendering such humanitarian services as possible.

When I found myself in either a life saving situation or one that required urgent medical attention I know I experienced no immediate empathy with the individual in trouble. Instead I always found my mind was crystal clear and focused on the task in hand with no room for any form of emotion. Be that right or wrong, it’s the way I have found I naturally work. If however a work colleague suffered an injury not at an incident but at the station, something like a sprained ankle or a cut finger then I would feel complete empathy with them.

It was while briefly dwelling on this point in my mind that I suddenly recalled an unusual incident I went to that I had completely forgotten about. Although I cannot remember exactly when this incident occurred, I suspect it was in the 1970’s. We received a call to a fire in a house on the Plaistow/Canning Town borders. The house was a terraced property with the kitchen located at the back of the house  and which was well  alight. Voluminous smoke generated by the fire billowed out the open front door.  As we arrived some occupants of the property standing in the street shrieked out there was a disabled elderly man in bed in the front upstairs bedroom. The occupants also cried out that he was both blind and deaf. I cannot recall if he was dumb too.  As an automatic response to our training, a colleague and I quickly donned breathing apparatus sets and made our way into the building. In this particular building, the front door led to a small hallway blocked at the end by the underside of a flight of stairs. To access the stairs it was necessary to enter the front room via a door off the hallway and then find the bottom of the stairs at the rear of the front room. The stairs were a peculiar design to save space in this small property. It was necessary to open a door that sealed off the entrance to the stairs. After about two steps, the stairs turned both a sharp and steep 90 degree bend to continue upwards. The width of the stairs was narrow giving a feeling of a steep upwards tunnel to the floor above.

As we groped through the smoke to find the door to the stairs we could see the flickering glow of the fire raging in the kitchen to our side. We could not see the fire due to the density of the smoke and as we were undertaking a rescue, the fire was not  the immediate concern of my colleague or I. Other members of the initial two crews that arrived would be dealing with that problem. We arrived on the upper hallway to find it smoke logged but  lighter than on the ground floor. Fortunately the door at the bottom of the stairs had kept much of the smoke from the upstairs of the house. As we entered the front bedroom I could see the elderly gentleman in pyjamas lying on his bed but writhing, obviously he could sense something was wrong. He certainly would have smelled the smoke. Although a lot of things were going on at the time, my mind always remains clear in such circumstances which I have always found useful for immediately evaluating and responding to rapidly changing circumstances. One thing I knew is that we were going to have great difficulty communicating to this elderly person who was both deaf and blind and undoubtedly confused by the unusual circumstances.

I grabbed his hand and placed it on my fire helmet hoping that would communicate some understanding that firefighters were in his bedroom. Unfortunately he became immediately agitated and clearly but not surprisingly his mind did not make the connection as to who we were. I called to my colleague to just grab him and stand him upright. In the urgency of the situation there was no time to continue  attempting further meaningful communication, one just has to do what one has to do and our priority was to get this elderly gentleman out of the building as quickly as possible. As we stood this gentleman upright he turned out to be surprisingly strong despite his frail looking condition. He instantly started to struggle and I suspect he would have thought we were burglars assaulting him. He could neither see or hear but he would have been fully aware that he was being manhandled by strangers. It was immediately clear we would not get him out the building with his ferocious struggling and without either of us saying a word to one another my colleague clamped his arms around the gentleman’s upper body pinning his arms to his side as I knocked him unconscious by a blow to his chin. In reflection the thought of what I did makes me shiver slightly but as I said, at the time one has to do what one has to do. It was clear that it would take a long time to get this struggling gentleman out of the building during which time he would be inhaling smoke and fumes. The same smoke and fumes did not allow an option of staying where we were. In his unconscious state it was quite easy to carry the gentlemen out of the house and straight to a waiting ambulance which had arrived while we were inside the building. I explained the reason for the gentleman’s unconscious state to the ambulance attendant which he fully understood. Fortunately the gentleman started to regain consciousness while we were still by the ambulance and a relative of his was also holding his hand. He clearly found the female relatives touch reassuring as he did not struggle again despite being in a strange environment. There must have been some way in which she touched him that must have communicated to him who she was.

The last I saw of this gentleman was the ambulance rapidly disappearing down the road on the way to hospital. I have little doubt that our actions while somewhat drastic due to circumstances,  probably saved the gentleman’s life. Smoke and fumes are rapid silent killers. The house however was not so fortunate. The kitchen was completely destroyed and once the fire was out and the rest of the house ventilated to clear the smoke all rooms in the house were deeply blackened due to smoke damage and as such uninhabitable. Google Street maps show that the entire area where this house once stood has been replaced by a swathe of social housing.

It’s strange how watching an unconnected television documentary can lead to triggering memories long since forgotten.

A tragic tale


Red Fire EngineTelevision and films often portray a firefighters job as something of a heroic occupation tinged with a hint of glamour as they dash around towns on large fire appliances, (engines), with flashing lights and sirens. The truth however is often far removed from the perceived image of film producers. The image normally seen by the public is when a passing fire appliance is seen on it’s way to an incident. To the firefighter however the journey to an incident is “dead time” and their task will only begin on arrival and the quicker they can safely arrive, the quicker they can render assistance to however is in need of help. I always remember the sound advice given to me when I started my career by an old timer who had been through the Blitz. He told me never to forget that every time “the bells go down”, someone out there is shouting for help and you are the only one in the world at that moment of time that can help them.

As a firefighters career progresses they will encounter many and completely varied types of incident. Some will be large fires, others small. Road traffic accidents, people trapped in lifts, animals in trouble, disasters and so on, the list is almost endless. It is only by a combination of both experience and constant training that a firefighter knows how to tackle any incident no matter how daunting it may seem when they first arrive on scene. It is both the hard training and watching firefighters at an incident that the public least see apart from chance passers-by.

Although to the individuals that require the assistance of the fire service, the reason for our arrival is often to them a major upheaval in their life, to the firefighter, every incident is also a learning opportunity that never ends throughout the span of their career. Some incidents are amusing, run of the mill, are of special interest, sometimes bizarre or unfortunately occasionally tragic.

I have attended numbers of tragic incidents in my career, not all of them on my own fire stations ground. The Moorgate underground train disaster was one such incident I attended. Some incidents due to there size or nature mean that they are too large in manpower requirements for the local crew to deal with. Also work at a incident frequently requires hard physical exertion. The amount of effort is dependent on the task in hand and is rather like the difference between the short concentrated effort of a sprinter or the longer stamina challenging effort of a marathon runner. Either way there is no way a local fire crew can be humanly expected to maintain such an effort for the entire length of their shift. To overcome this problem, relief crews from all around the fire brigades area are brought in to work about three hour stints at a incident before they are themselves in turn relieved by others.

The one tragic incident I always remember was a fire that occurred in Star Lane, Canning Town probably in 1967 but I cannot be sure of the date after all these years. This was in a four storey tenement block since demolished opposite Clarence Road. A fire in a enclosed apartment produces a lethal cocktail of gases and heat.  That particular evening I was riding a fire appliance known as the Pump Escape. It was so called as apart from being a front line fire appliance with a heavy duty pump, it also carried an escape ladder. Although no longer in use, this was the ladder that some readers may remember had two large carriage wheels attached to it to assist manoeuvrability. If more than one fire appliance went to an incident, it was always the Pump Escape that led the way. The prime purpose of this appliance and the crew aboard it was for rescue purposes if required, with follow up fire appliance dealing with water supplies and the like. As an incident wound down in size, this was always the first appliance to be released from the scene of an incident as it was more important to make it’s rescue capability available again.

As an individual, I really liked and trusted the Escape Ladder. Although it was large and heavy, about one ton in weight, requiring four firefighters to handle and manoeuvre it, it was very dependable and would take almost unlimited punishment at an incident. Lighter all metal ladders have subsequently replaced this ladder.

When we arrived at this particular incident in Star Lane, it was at night time and we could see volumes of dark smoke billowing from a open window on the third floor. Constant training meant the crew did not need lengthy instructions what to do, we all knew as part of a team our individuals roles and what was required. We immediately slipped the escape ladder from the appliance, it makes a crashing noise as the considerable weight born by the carriage wheels hit the ground. We wheeled the ladder across the road at speed as we needed the momentum to get the thing over the kerbstone onto the pavement. There was a small communal area between the front of the building and the pavement. This was protected by a wooden picket fence supported at intervals by upright concrete posts. The entrance way to the flats had a further two concrete posts on either side making it too narrow to get the escape ladder through, leaving the only option being to make our own entrance through the fence. The weight and strength of the escape ladder also made it an idea tool for the job, this time as a battering ram as we charged it at the fence. On our third attempt, the section of fence collapsed completely allowing us to wheel the escape ladder up to the building. The ladder was quickly extended to the third floor window. It was not necessary to enter the apartment by the window as during the time we had been engaged in fence breaking, other colleagues from our second appliance wearing breathing apparatus had managed to gain entrance to the apartment by a front door on a landing. It was still an important requirement to have the unused escape ladder in position as firefighters know from experience it is important to have two means of escape from a premise if possible. One never can be certain how a fire situation will develop when one first arrives on scene.

As all this activity was taking place, the officer in charge of the incident would have sent an assistance message by radio as we arrived prefixed by the word priority. Priority messages take precedence over all other radio traffic and a control officer will stop any other radio traffic to answer this type of message in isolation. Assistance message are short and abbreviated and require no explanation to the control officer receiving the message. In this particular incident the message would have been “Make pumps four, persons reported”. What this message means is a further two fire appliance would need to be sent from other fire stations for manpower requirements and that there was reason to believe people were involved or trapped in the fire. The Control Room would immediately send the nearest  available additional fire appliances and also contact the Ambulance and Police control rooms by direct line to order an ambulance and the police to the incident. Again Control Room to Control Room communications do not require lengthy explanations as each will respond without question to the requests of the other. Senior fire brigade officers would also be mobilised. This background activity is also helpful to the officer-in-charge of an incident as it relieves them of additional concerns and allows them to concentrate on the situation in hand.

I made my way up to the apartment via the internal staircase to be met by two colleagues each rushing down carrying a small unconscious child. As I reached the doorway of the apartment another colleague who was part of the breathing apparatus crew emerged with a third unconscious child which he promptly thrust in my arms. Both my colleague and I knew without talking that he would have been exhausted searching the darkness of the apartment by touch for people in incredibly hot oven like temperatures inside the apartment. I hurried back down the stairs with the small child in one arm and administered both mouth to mouth and cardiac resuscitation using my other hand and mouth. It is possible to do this with a small child.

As I reached the roadway, I could see and hurried to an awaiting ambulance which had arrived during all the other activity going on. As I took the child I was carrying into the back of the ambulance the scene was like something out of Bedlam. The other two children were already on board as were the parents. The parents were shouting and screaming in shock and the three children were still unconscious. It was one of those situations I instantly knew what actions to take. The ambulance attendant was attempting to resuscitate one of the children leaving the child I was carrying and another still needing urgent attention. Clearly it was only possible for the ambulance attendant to do one thing at a time and the priority being the children. Neither I nor the ambulance attendant knew if the parents were injured but again one knew if they were screaming, they were alive and as such, a lessor priority. This still led a third child unattended when a Roman Catholic priest popped his head through the rear door and asked if he could help. I immediately told him to get aboard and with that the back doors of the ambulance closed and we sped off into the night towards Queen Mary’s Hospital.

I told the priest to immediately give cardiac and mouth to mouth resuscitation to the third child but unfortunately he was not trained in first aid. I quickly felt the third child’s pulse on the carotid artery in the neck but could feel none. The carotid artery is a easier and more positive location to feel a pulse rather than the wrist. This left me with no choice other to give the child a thump on the chest in an attempt to induce a cardiac shock which sometimes makes the heart start beating again. I also quickly showed the priest how to cover the child’s nose and mouth with his own mouth and breathe air into the lungs while at the same time using two fingers on the chest to rapidly and continuously pump the heart. A child’s heart beats much faster than an adult making a need for much faster although gentler pressure. It more like constant prodding with two finders. The priest learned his task rapidly but the journey to the hospital was a traumatic one. The route had a considerable number of sharp bends which threw us all from side to side as it sped along. The anxious cries of the parents added to the trauma of the journey.

We eventually arrived at Queen Mary’s Hospital and hurried into the accident and emergency area past other patients awaiting treatment and directly into the treatment room. The ambulance service had already advised the hospital while we were on route of the situation and they had immediately cleared all emergency treatment rooms to await our arrival. As I handed my child over to the waiting doctors and nurses my part of the operation had come to an end. It’s at times like this when suddenly one becomes very conscious that you are like a fish out of water. Standing in the patient waiting area wearing full firefighting uniform including my helmet and axe but with no fire. My fire tunic would have smelt a bit too as smoke from incidents does cling to clothing for a while. In some ways I felt at that moment as ridiculous as a balloon seller when they reach their last balloon to sell. An adult standing with only one balloon crying who wants to buy this.

After about 10 minutes a doctor came back out of the treatment room and told me the sad news that all three children had died. I assume their small lungs could not cope with the lethal cocktail of fumes. Their age ranges must have been about from one to four or five and somehow this seemed to make things more tragic. For me there was nothing else left to do but find a well earned cop of tea in the hospital and telephone my control room to make arrangements to transport me back to my station.

The reason I raise this incident is not only because it is one that vividly remains in my mind, but because it is the type of thing that firefighters experience away from the public eye. There are no gongs or medals, just incidents that one has the inner satisfaction of knowing one has done the best that one has trained for. As for myself being the person in the ambulance? Well the fire service work, train and act as a team which pays real dividends in times of crisis. I was only part of a team and due to circumstances made that trip in the ambulance. If the circumstances had been slightly different then it would have been another colleague of mine in that ambulance instead of myself.

As to the Roman Catholic priest who rendered great assistance that night I never heard of again. I never knew his name, or where he came from or what happened to him afterwards or later in his career. I only know we shared a short moment in time together like ships that pass in the night.

Put another railroad sleeper on the fire


In the early part of my firefighting career, chimney fires were quite a common occurrence. Between 6 -8 such fires a night in winter on my own fire stations ground in East London was the norm, apart from any other emergency incidents that needed dealing with. Today, chimney fires are something of a rarity. The reason being the growth of central heating systems which for most homes did not exist in the earlier part of my career. Most of the housing in the area covered by my fire station was of the cheaply built terraced house variety. Most of the housing was built overnight around the 1880’s onwards to cater for the rapidly growing population drawn to the area by the promise of work in the docks that bordered the River Thames. Heavy and often socially unpleasant industry often nested cheek by jowl with housing in this area.

The area I used to cover was West Ham, Plaistow and Canning Town, the latter being one of the areas worst affected by the Blitz in World War II. Much of the terraced housing was Dickensian by today’s standards and certainly not built for the conservation of heat. None were insulated and most had no foundations with the buildings being erected directly onto the London Clay. Heating was normally provided by a single hearth fire in the living room. Although other rooms would have also have fireplaces, due to expense, the normal practice was for the entire family to huddle around the one fire in the winter. Fuel was normally coal or coke but many families in East London supplemented these with what was known as “Tarry blocks”. Roads in the area were originally constructed with a layer of wooden blocks heavily preserved with tar (bitumen) and creosote. The blocks also became heavily impregnated with oil from motor traffic. With the rebuilding of roads, thousands of tons of these wooden blocks were torn up to be quickly purchased by local fuel merchants. Smoke from these wooden blocks quickly caused the chimney flue to become lined with a layer of oil soaked soot and were the cause of many a fire.

Originally most of this type of housing was rented accommodation. The introduction of the Rent Act fixed rents at a low figure and many landlords found they made insufficient income to make owning the properties worth their while. Landlords were also faced with the dual problem of no one else wanting to buy a property with sitting tenants that could not be moved. Consequently much of this already dilapidated housing stock fell into further disrepair. Income from rentals was usually insufficient to cover repair costs and many landlords simply no longer bothered.

One particular chimney fire I went to in one of these houses has become permanently lodged in my mind. When we arrived the fire had spread from the hearth to the living room. Although the Fire Service normally manages to arrive at an incident with a few minutes of a call being received, at the time of this incident in the 1960’s, few houses had telephones. The public often relied on running to a public telephone box to make an emergency call or running to a neighbour who might have a telephone. In this case, the resident was an elderly widow in her eighties who ran to the public call box when her chimney caught fire, only to find her living room alight on her return.

This elderly lady was really the cause of her own problem. Like many elderly widows at the time she would have lived on a meagre pension. Like many who supplemented their fuel with cheap Tarry blocks, this lady had managed to obtain an old railway sleeper from a railroad track. Like the Tarry blocks, this too was heavily impregnated with preservatives and years of accumulated oil. This railroad sleeper was about six-foot in length and very heavy. The lady had somehow managed to lift the sleeper and place one end in the fire. Due to the height of the fire grate above the living room floor, the lady had propped the other end of the sleeper on the end of a flimsy wooden orange box (crate). Apparently as the end of the sleeper in the fire blazed away, she would occasionally lift the other end up and shove the sleeper further into the fire.

Eventually the flames from the end of the sleeper in the fire set her chimney alight and she ran out of the house leaving the fire unattended to find a public telephone box to call the fire brigade. While she was out of the house, oil in the rest of the wooden railroad sleeper now heated by the fire readily caught alight and the fire spread along the length of the sleeper which in turn set the wooden orange box alight. The burning orange box  rapidly weakened and collapsed allowing fire not only from the orange box but also the sleeper to spread through her living room. It was a form of chain-reaction of events that set her living room alight. Although the fire brigade arrived within a few minutes of the call being received, the elderly lady had arrived back home a few moments before our own arrival and was now hysterical at what she found.

Although we found a much larger fire than we had anticipated, it was in fire fighting terms a small fire which we quickly extinguished before dealing with the chimney fire. Smoke damage to the house was however considerable. To the lady however it was the end of the world. It was unlikely that she would have had any fire insurance and equally unlikely that the landlord had any either. Many simply did not bother with insurance due to the low rental income.

I never did find out what happened to this lady although I suspect local social services would have assisted her. This area of the east end of London also had a great community spirit with neighbours often helping those in need.

Even now after more than forty years have elapsed since this incident I sometimes reflect with amusement at the vision of this destitute elderly lady shoving another length of the railroad sleeper onto the fire. The vision however also conjures the vast difference in social conditions that now exist to what I originally remember. It is more likely that today the elderly lady would not be living in such impoverished conditions but either in a residential home for the elderly, or subsidised sheltered housing. The community spirit in the area although it still exists is now much faded. Most of the terraced housing is now either privately owned and modernised with the worst of it demolished by slum clearance programs to be replaced by social housing.

I sometimes look at Street View on either Google Earth or Google Maps at the areas I used to protect. Much of it is unrecognisable to what I knew. I sometimes find the swathes of social housing that replaced the old housing stock is often not to my taste but on the other hand, it is a vast improvement to what existed before.

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