Covid 19 Special: June No.1 2020

Editorial – Vincent Fosdike

This June edition (the first of two), contains a delightful reminiscence by Tony Simpson of his early days in the demanding area of Marine Civil engineering. He wishes us all well and would love to attend in person.

The second item is the first half of a trip by your editor, I wonder if any of you have experienced similar stress. Part two will be in the next edition.

Please email any Newsletter items or requests etc. to

Any Old Iron? by Tony Simpson

One dark and stormy night in February 1954 our Bromborough Dock workshops received a radio call from one of the large dredgers working on the main Mersey Channel. Fortunately the problem did not prevent the ship returning under its own power and it was alongside within an hour. This was a relief, since having to go out to a ship and effect repairs could be a nightmare.

Clearly something had jammed the pump because the shear pins had failed, the pump diesel had tripped out and the system had “failed safe”. As far as the repair gang were concerned, this being an overnight job was fine, since it paid double time. This particular bunch of rascals were a remarkable group. All were pretty fearsome until you got to know them and developed mutual respect, there being no doubt that their particular trades of welding, burning, steelwork, fitting, electrical, hydraulics, shipwright and general odd job man they were first class. They were first class. They had to be, because in the dredging business time was really big money.

To give you some idea of the installation, the main suction pump had a diameter of 48 inches and went down to a depth of 50 feet. The dredge pump was of involute design with a four bladed impeller, driven by a 4000 horsepower geared diesel. The installation was quite capable of lifting material up to individual rocks of several hundredweight and required consummate skill in navigating and operating.

The repair gang boarded the ship as soon as she berthed, and quickly isolated the pump, it being below the waterline. Water then had to be drained from the pump before it could be opened up. This process was laborious and heavy work, there being several dozen one-inch stud nuts to remove. The spanners used were several feet long and needed two men to operate them. Once the nuts were removed the casing was carefully lifted off using the engine room overhead crane.

The sight which met our eyes guaranteed a full night’s hard work. Why? Because of a tangled mass which was once an old iron bedstead!

I often wondered about the life of that old bedstead; where was it made, which retailer sold it, whose proud possession was it, what children were conceived in it, and how the blazes did it end up at the bottom of the river Mersey in the main shipping channel?

Mind the Doors part 1 by Vincent Fosdike

It was all booked and quite straightforward. Hakima and I would take the train to Victoria where we would meet our son, and thence by tube to Heathrow. So, you will have guessed that a flight was in prospect. When we think of flights the level of travel stress goes way above just the normal mild apprehension that accompanies rail travel in the U.K. Now it is not just the probability that the train will be late/cancelled, or we shall have to stand all the way. There will always be another train eventually all we have to do is while away the time waiting, and weshould get there in due course. It’s not quite the same with a flight. Even the bureaucracy is that little bit more demanding. Generally, the passport is the distinguishing feature of air transport and somehow boarding passes add a little more concern coupled with making sure our travel insurance is as it needs to be. Lots of us combine both methods of travel so their respective weaknesses have to be factored in, not to mention weather problems and human error.

In starting our little trip to Germany to meet our future in-laws for the first time we thoroughly reviewed these “risk factors” and took the early train to Victoria. So far so good. All was well until fate took a hand as we transited the automatic barrier at the said station. It was early afternoon and our flight was due to board at about 4.30. We had plenty of time for the tube to Heathrow. But fate intervened when I was pushed out of line before the barrier and Hakima disappeared into the solid crowd on the other side. I stopped and waited for her to realise I was not behind her. She had the passports, tickets and the only mobile we had with us!

Eventually I concluded that she must have gone in search of me somewhere else and was not coming back to the barrier again! Time was ticking by more quickly and scan though I might there was no sign of her, the crowd seemed ever denser. I asked for a call to be put out over the Tannoy. “No problem we get a lot of these” said the station attendant, “people get caught out on the wrong side of train doors as they close, forced to watch their partner disappearing into the tunnel etc.” But there was a problem! The Tannoy was not working (I’ll bet you didn’t think this little railway failing would ever be relevant to you or any one you knew). Some more time had been lost and a decision had to be made! Strangely the staff in the control room at Victoria said mostly people in this situation do as follows:- Take the tube to Green Park which is the interchange point for the line to Heathrow and put out another announcement (Tannoy permitting). This is apparently often successful because couples hope to re-unite there or at the airport.

to be continued . . .

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