September 2004

THE BEST INVENTION EVER

shapeimage_1-7A specious claim, but I stand by my decision that electricity in the home warrants the description. Here I am, at late in the evening, seeing, typing and wann after a cool day, instead of having to creep upstairs to bed in the dusk which arrives earlier every evening. All because my electrics work.

You will gather that the whole house has been rewired, not before time. About six months ago I came down stairs one morning to find that neither the radio nor the TV worked; the kettle refused to heat, too, so I checked the ancient fusebox and everything seemed normal except for one link which had blown. I replaced it and it immediately blew again, so I called in the emergency chappie (from British Gas, but he knows, you know). He got under the stairs and I heard him sobbing, whether with laughter or sorrow, it was hard to say. He backed out and told me he hadn’t seen the like in many a year. “Helpful”, I thought, but asked him if he could sort it out. He did, most of it, but told me they could not accept responsibility for maintenance until it had all been renewed.

Fair enough: we moved into the house in 1968 and I got £300 off the asking price because my surveyor had told me the house needed new electrics then. Everything worked for the next thirty-six years so of course I did nothing about it. Now it had to be done and so for the last few months I have lived on the part he got working (including the kitchen, thank goodness), with extension cables running round the room feeding the likes of the TV and lights. My wife’s illness didn’t help, but now that she is no longer with us, I heard of a couple of brothers through my son-in-law, who are fully qualified to rework the wiring and sign it off to everyone’s satisfaction.

I called them in, they sucked their teeth alarmingly and said they could do the job, preferably at weekends if that was all right with me. Certainly, says I: we agreed a price and so it was done. Noisily at times, with carpets up upstairs, but with only eight days’ labour it was completed. Wonderful.

They’re good guys and I am glad to share their abilities with you if (I hope not for your sake) you ever need a reliable honest pair of workers:

Speakers

shapeimage_2-6We go to the supermarket with our list carefully made out and quietly worry about what we have missed. No matter, buy a packed, frozen meal or two and then worry about what is in it. What do these E-numbers mean? Should we have read the list of contents in the first place? Better just to assume that the manufacturer has no intention of shortening our lives or even instantaneously cutting it short? Our Nanny Government wouldn’t allow them! Would they? Of course not. No.            Contact Maurice Mullins on 07974 980 039.

Well, as Richard Ratcliffe told us at the August meeting, we are thirty-five years late in worrying on that score since the food industry has been putting E-number additives in prepared food for all that time. Heaven knows what they added before then, but we lived, didn’t we? Anyway, even tomatoes naturally contain Oxalic acid and artificial sweeteners have been keeping down our calories all our lives.

If you want food with no additives, buy a jar of preserved fruit, or, of course, do it yourself in your own kitchen. An anti-oxidant stops apples going brown, so they’re sprayed on the tree or after harvesting; meat is preserved against botulism and made nice and pink by E-number thingies and if they overdo it, the colour is too strong and nobody buys it. As Lucretius (90 – 55 BC) said, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison.” (Nothing to do with the argument, just thought I’d report it.)

All additives are not artificial laboratory preparations, even though they have been allocated E-numbers, such as vinegar for pickles. Pectin from a package added to the natural pectin in jams and ensures that my lemon mannalade made at home with sugar (a preservative) doesn’t pour out of the jar. Salt has been used as a meat preservative since biblical days and no doubt before then, too. Just don’t overdo it, for 3 % of all heart attacks can be put down to overdoing the NaCl..

Oh, yes, ‘Organic’ food can contain e-number additives, so that’s no way out. GM food doesn’t — yet, but it will come along with the need to feed a greater world population. Also, – good news for gardeners — second-generation GM crops contain anti-bug stuff, so no need to weed round the crops.

If you want to know more, you should have been at the meeting. Richard gave us an excellent run-down on what to look out for, but I’ll bet we don’t bother, just like always.

Today:

Dennis Evans, who worked for Customs & Excise, will tell us of its history and development over the centuries and how worldwide trade between countries works.

October 7th:

Eugene Lightbody, who visited the Antipodes earlier this year, will tell us about the many Probus Clubs he met there.

November 4th:

Miniature Teapots will be explained and shown by Loretta Barnett. If you can’t wait, visit www.pageonedesign.co.uk now

Club News

We welcomed a new member, Michael Southwell at our August meeting.

This brings up a very serious point: we need lots of new members. Our list has dropped below fifty for the first time in years and some of them are inactive due to seriously old age. You know your friends and neighbours would love to join and are just waiting to be asked, so ask them to come along to the next meeting. Tell them it is designed to suit gentlemen of a retired disposition and tell them what we do, both at our luncheons and our sporting and outings fixtures. Give them a copy (enclosed with this Newsletter) of the leaflet and then ring them up nearer the date of the next meeting to offer a lift. Don’t take prisoners, but do chase them up. With retirement comes loss of memory.

On the subject offorgettery, have you given Reg Baker your attendance fonn for self and friend to come to the Annual Ladies’ Luncheon? It’s not long now and Reg needs to know. For new members who haven’t been before, this is well worth the effort (little though that is) of coming. Ask your fellow Probeans: they’ll agree.

Tony Marks is recovering at home from an operation for bowel cancer, looked after by two daughters who have abandoned their husbands temporarily. He goes back into the care of Royal Marsden shortly, for a weekly dose of chemotherapy for the next six months. He sounds cheerful and hasn’t lost his sense of humour and sends his best regards to all.

Bryan Chilton, too, is back from Mayday after a seven-week stint there, quietly recovering from – so help me – a chill on his bladder which nearly killed him, he says. He is managing to look after himself with weekly visits from the District Nurse, but feels very fragile still. No matter, he too has kept his sense of humour and hopes to be with us in October.

Tom Chapple continues to suffer from a serious pain in the back, most recently brought on by a fall at home that has given him a pennanent curve in his spine.

(In each case above, I asked if they minded ifI reported and they consented without qualm, so if you know of anyone else who is poorly, I shall be happy to contact them before the next meeting and report – if they agree.)

Through not being able to say “No” quickly enough, I am now in charge of organising Bourne Society attendance at the various retes round the district. Last weekend there was an outstanding one: The Banstead Country Day Fair. Really excellent; not a rete like the others but a country-activities fair, with demonstrations of all sorts of crafts and the like. Same time next year. Come.

It’s always the same: give me plenty oftime to prepare this Newsletter, six (or is it seven?) weeks since the last meeting and I keep putting it off until the last moment. As I write, I still haven’t thought about the front page and it’s ten o’clock now and it has to be done within the next twenty-four hours.

O Muse! Come to my aid and suggest something!

Cammell Laird in the 1940s
Part 1: Apprenticeship

by Tony Simpson

The piercing, mournful and sonorous tone of the hooter split the air as the working hordes converged on the main Tranmere entrance. At 7.30 a.m. the hooter ceased and the steel doors topped with barbed wire rolled shut. Woe betide those who were late: it meant the loss of a day’s work and pay. Apart

from the hooter, the predominant sound was that of thousands of boots tramping towards the yard. Some arrived on bicycles – for the majority, motor bikes and cars were a mere pipe dream. Yet among these men were the superb craftsmen of the joinery department who produced beautiful panelling and carving for passenger ships; the steel workers manhandled plates and sections into shapes which aroused the admiration of visitors, while the loftsmen faired the ships’ lines full size and scrieved the body plan, producing templates for the framing squad.

The administrative and drawing office staff arrived at the amazing time of 9 a.m., for the division between ‘office’ and ‘yard’ was hard and clear. However all had to clock on: each person had a card which was inserted into the clock and a lever was pressed to punch in the precise time.

There was a similar division between ‘ship’ and ‘engine’ and ne’er the twain should meet, as an old illustration shows: The Master and chief Engineer of a general cargo ship were lunching together in the saloon and an argument developed. The Master, goaded by the Chiefs insinuation that deck officers merely strutted about with their gold braid, said “Let’s be reasonable and try out eachother’s jobs.” Accordingly, the Chief went up to the Bridge and the Master to the Engineroom. After half an hour there was a call from Engineroom to Bridge: “We’re full of black smoke down here – what do we do?” The reply came back, “I wouldn’t worry – we’re aground anyway!”

Ships were built piecemeal, on the jobbing system. The steelwork was subdivided into many sections, the main ones being transverse and longitudinal framing, flat plate and vertical keel, floors, decks, bulkheads major and minor, pillars and girders, bulwarks and curtain plates, engine and boiler casings, deckhouses, masts and derricks, hatch coamings and covers, to mention a few. Typically the individual trades, which included platers, shipwrights, riggers, blacksmiths, plumbers, joiners, riveters, welders, caulkers and laggers, worked in squads. The charge hand of each was given a price and it was for him to organise his squad to make the job pay.

As a first-year drawing office apprentice, one of my jobs was to deliver to the various yard departments the heavy manila prints of working drawings. this was a great opportunity for the ‘Yard’to have a go at the ‘Office’; it could be a bit like running the gauntlet through a line of wet towels. If you could survive this, you could survive most of the things life would subsequently throw at you. I do recollect that, after five years at Cammell Laird’s, the Anny was a positive rest cure. To those who knock the apprentice system, I can only say that if you kept your eyes and ears open, it was possible to acquire a thorough knowledge and understanding of practical and theoretical shipbuilding. Drawing office apprentices had to attend evening classes in Naval Architecture – no day release! Three nights a week for five years, leading to ONC and HNC, meaning leaving home by bicycle at 8.15 a.m. and arriving back after class at 9.45 p.m. That, plus a 9-mile race each Saturday with the Wallasey Athletic Club, makes me look back and marvel what Youth can achieve.

To be continued…

Produced and edited monthly by Ian Scales (01737 553704)
for The Coulsdon Probus Club.
Edition No 93.

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