Sunday, June 25, 2017

Five Gigs for Glastonbury Weekend

I haven't done a music post for some time and already we've reached Glastonbury weekend. Its another year of following the streams from afar, remembering gigs over the last few months.

How many of these five bands can you identify?


Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Mystery of Seville's Guadalquivir River

Recently I went to the city of Seville in Spain and it turned out to be an extremely pleasant place to spend a long weekend.

One evening we decided to go on a cruise on the Guadalquivir river - a tourist jolly, starting at the Torre del Oro (above) which is an old Moorish tower and now houses a small Maritime Museum.

Except... was it really a river? Have a looking at this Google Earth photo:

The "river" has actually been filled in higher up, so it isn't a river at all, more a elongated inlet, which explained why we couldn't see any flow. The boat turned round before getting to this point, as if to keep this a secret.

This probably relates to Seville being a working port but the river has a problem of silting, hence the long straight bit of the new channel. Large cruise ship can still make it all the way up the river to Seville as in this photo:

We did see a few rowers, kayakers and paddle boarders, but not really enough to do a Boats! Boats! Boats ... in Seville.

Anyhow, it wasn't really a real river.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017


Unseasonably warm at the moment in Blightly land.

Skies were clear all across the country, a bit like this:
This photo was actually taken at the end of May when went to Seville for the Bank Holiday Weekend - have a post on that coming up. Apparently there it is due to hit 41C today and 43 later this week - that is proper scorchio weather.

For those that want to know where scorchio comes from, here's a short video:

Saturday, June 17, 2017

What not to put in the sewers

Ok, time for some of the harsh facts of life: some things just shouldn't be flushed away.

Take wet-wipes: these don't decay but just clog up the pipes as was demonstrated above. Then there's fat and grease: if you flush it away with a kettle-full of hot water it just gradually cools until it makes a ball of fat underground.

Now most of these will flush away in a heavy rain but some of the tougher items could clog up the pumps and the largest fat-balls have to be dug away by some poor worker.

So treat the sewers like you would a yacht heads: with care.

Of course our next question was what is the most interesting thing you've found in the sewers and the answer was quite a lot. Take this pile by the exit ladder:
Excuse me if I don't rush to eat my yogurt with these.

Above they had a display cabinet with some of the more interesting items that have been picked up:

Seriously, who looses these things down the sewer?

Monday, June 12, 2017

London OnWater 2017 at St Katharine Docks

This weekend there was an event called London OnWater 2017 at St Katharine Docks.

The blub on their web site called it "London’s No.1 On-Water Boat Show & Festival" but... well.. it wasn't that big to be honest. However I guess that technically it was accurate as the London Boat Show had zero boats actually on the quayside by the ExCel exhibition centre in January.

London OnWater was held in one of the St Katharine Docks and seemed almost as much about cars as boats:
One of the boats looked like something off a James Bond set, namely the Glider Yachts "sport limousine":
Apart from looking like a rocket ship apparently it can go like one too - this model can reach 56 knots and another in the range is rated as up to 96 knots!

I didn't ask the price as not really my market though I did wander off to the Oyster Yachts to have a little dream:

Then back to Tower Hill and the tube home.

So what did I think? Well I had an interesting couple of hours at London OnWater 2017 but I'm not quite sure where it fits in the boat show marketplace. I'm guessing that being located bang in the City means there was potential for boat makers to address the high end luxury market which isn't really my thing.

My favourite chats were with the Cruising Association and the London Corinthian Sailing Club, both of which I've been to in the past and should try to visit again.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Thames Tideway Tunnel and the fate of the Bubbler

I've posted before about the Thames Tideway Tunnel aka the Super Sewer.

Why do we need this super sewer? Well, London is getting bigger and bigger and with all those extra people are doing what people do the sewer system can't cope. In addition it's never been that good at coping with heavy rainfalls and that has led to lots of raw sewage going straight into the Thames.

So there is a clear need for additional capacity, lots of it, and the statistics are pretty mind boggling. The main tunnel will have a width of 7m, enough for three double-decker busses to drive side by side along it (take that the Italian job) - that's wider than Crossrail.

6 tunnelling machines will be boring away about 75m under London at 100m / week with something like 25 km of tunnel to dig.

Of course it won't be cheap, with figures like £ 4.2 billion being quoted and there's a lot of engineering involved disturbing familiar places such as Putney Embankment, home of the start of the University Boat Race.

The digging will of course generated lots of soil, but the plan is to take as much as possible off by boat along the Thames itself - resulting in a projected 60% increase in river traffic.

Inevitably there will be disruption but it won't last for ever and at the end there's planned to be 3.5 acres of additional public spaces. And hopefully the Thames will be a lot healthier with much less outflows.

So what about the Bubbler? Well this is the Bubbler:
This is Thames Water's special boat that goes out after a major overflow event to pump oxygen into the river to keep the waters alive. It has over the years become a common sight, but the plan is for it to be retired as it wouldn't be required any more.

And that would be good news indeed.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Watching the America's Cup much?

If you weren't watching the America's Cup yesterday one has to ask: why not?

Gripping stuff and very, very wet.

Monday, June 05, 2017

PSB: London Can Take It

Let's keep a sense of proportion - or at least lets hope the US media (Jon Oliver excepted) gets one.

London has a long history, not all of it pleasant:
  • In AD 60, under the Romans, it was destroyed by the Iceni led by queen Boudica
  • London was also sacked in 842 and 851 by the Vikings
  • After 1066 (and all that) William the Conqueror occupied the city
  • About half the population was killed in the Black Death of the 14th century
  • During the English Civil War London took the side of Parliament and was where the King was executed in 1649
  • Almost a quarter of the population was lost in the Great Plague of 1665
  • The plague was swiftly followed by the Great Fire of 1666
  • During the 20th Century London was the target of the German Blitz (as in the video above from the band Public Service Broadcasting (PSB), who have seen a couple of times before).

London does not "reel" easily: we mind the gap and drink tea (though we might not say no to something stronger).

London is doing now what it has done for millennia: keep calm and carry on.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Upon Westminster Bridge

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep

In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

No, the NY Times and others, we are not reeling. We are going about our business as normal in this fantastic, wonderful, brilliant, beautiful city.

That's what we do.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Bazalgette's Sewer System

My first off-line question after the talk on the history of London's sewers was to what degree did Bazalgette use the work of John Martin? This triggered much interest from the historian who started drawing figures of pipes of different sizes and heights in the Embankment, as apparently John Martin got this bit wrong.

The key thing is that there isn't really just the one system as there are multiple levels on each side of the Thames. In an ideal world there would be a constant, gradual, incline in the pipes ending up at the outfall with the height equal to high water at Beckton and Crossness. This is clearly not feasible given that much of low lying London is below that level.

Hence one of the key aspects of Bazalgette's design (that Martin missed) was to have these multiple levels and then pumping stations to lift lower level wast up to a higher level where it could then flow downwards.

At Beckton and Crossness the inflows ended up at a low level and so had to be pumped up to fill lagoons until the tide was high enough that the outflows would go out to sea rather than back into London.

The result was a web of pipes, the largest of which can be seen in the figure above. At Abbey Mills there are pumps that raise the waste up to a height where it can then move by gravity down to Beckton along the northern outfall sewer (more of this anon).

These pumps are pretty impressive and some of the old ones were on display like this, looking very like large metallic ammonites:
Within Abbey Mills itself there were lots of dials and control identifying the heights of the various flows to control the system:

Getting it wrong would not just be messy but could lead to flooding of low lying parts of London - where indeed several of the Thames Water staff lived. So they were clearly highly motivated to ensure the system was working efficiently!

Of course this system and map are now creaking at the seams which is why we have the Thames Tideway Tunnel aka the Super Sewer.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

London History Day: The Sewers

Today is London History Day!

In case you're wondering, no you haven't been missing LHD all those years as its the first ever, and no its not been thought up by some PR company but rather a poll of the great British public.

Given my recent trip down the sewers there could be only be one topic to cover, and fortunately the Thames Water event included a very interesting talk by Ben Nithsdale on this very subject.

Very informative it was too. For example, I didn't realise that historically the word sewer didn't mean transport of human waste but a means of land drainage e.g. of rain water. And that was the case for those old Greek and Roman stone piping in the streets (plus those storm drains that The Terminator sped down on a motorbike).

In ye olde London water was expensive and delivered mostly by cart or even buckets while the waste (as I shall call it) was simply tipped into the streets. People got fed up with this but given the technology of the day (1388) the solution was just to hire men with rakes.

However in 1580 piped water was provided to streets of the City pumped via a water mill on the north end of London Bridge and this was followed by other schemes, typically using wooden drilled pipes that only ran for a few hours a week. They leaked a lot and so were unpressurised and laid along the street by the curb.

Henry VIII, when not distracted by his complex marriage affairs, was instrumental in the development of the sewers by giving commissions the right to dig sewers where they needed. These were for drainage and clean water and at this time the Thames would have been drinkable and full of fish - hence Billingsgate Market located on the riverbank in the City.

Human waste, instead of going into the street, was increasingly held in cesspits, but these tended to overflow, often into sewers, which was illegal. Water consumption rocketed as wooden pipes were replaced by iron ones, which could be pressurised and transport water from far outside the capital.

But as London boomed in 1815, the year Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo, there was another dramatic change, as it became legal to pipe waste into the sewers, which in a few years become overloaded and filthy.

Famously, the artist John Martin foresaw that with the rapid increase in London's population this would require engineering to solve but he was to be ignored. It wasn't until politicians themselves were driven from Westminster by the Great Stink of 1858 that it was decided that Something Had To Be Done.

And so it was that Bazalgette started designing the great combined sewage system, that included the magnificent Abbey Mills Pumping Station:

More tomorrow...

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Visiting Bazalgette's magnificent sewers

Regular readers will be well aware of my fascination with the life of John Martin, his pioneering work on London's sewer system, how it was taken up by Bazalgette in the great Victorian engineering project encapsulated by the wonderful Grade 1 Listed Crossness Pumping Station.

Readers might also have also spotted my interest in London Under, from Brunel's Thames Tunnel to disused tube stations and canal tunnels to the lost rivers of London.

So hopefully it will be at least partially understandable that high on my list of places to visit in London would be Bazalgette's magnificent sewers.

It was therefore with great excitement that I received an invite from Thames Water for just such a tour.

We started off at the Grade II listed Abbey Mills pumping station, which was once known as the "mosque in the marshes" due to its elegant dome at the top:
Inside there is much of the original metal work, but unlike Crossness this pumping station has been continually in operation, so there are also more modern pumps filling its cavernous spaces:

We were given an extremely interesting history of how London managed its water supply and, er, corresponding wastage (to put it delicately). There was also an update on the famous Thames Tideway Tunnel aka the Super Sewer, more of which anon, including what will happen to the Bubbler.

The tour then showed us the site's main buildings and their history. There used to be two tall chimneys but they had to be demolished in the Blitz because of concerns that if they were damaged they might fall on the pumping station itself.

Then it was time to get dressed up for the descent into London under and the sewers. The outfit made us all feel a bit like the Ghostbusters - who are you going call? - very comprehensively covered, with not just one but two gloves, which to be honest made operating the camera a bit frustrating.

Anyhow managed to get a few shots with approximately the right settings:
I'm sure you're wondering about the smell but it really wasn't that bad. They'd lowered the water level but we still to wade through a foot or two of brown water, and it wasn't just Thames mud giving it its colour I'm sure. So we were all very incentivised not to fall over or in.

Our guide showed us the Bazalgette original brick work (top photo), looking good after about 150 years and still doing its job to keep the dirty stuff out of the Thames. We also got a lesson in what not to flush down the drain, complete with examples.

More on all of this later, as there was lots of really interesting information provided over the afternoon and I have a stack of photos and videos to, er, wade through.

Many thanks to Thames Water for arranging the tour.