Friday, 3 June 2016

Engineering in my Blood

Recently, my wife, Little Nell, has been digging into my Brindley family tree, and has managed to get back to an ancestor born in about 1800 in the West Midlands of England. This is pretty tantalising since there was a famous civil engineer, James Brindley, who lived in the area, dying in 1772.

If we can get one more generation back, we can find out if I am related to him.  However, he only had daughters by his marriage, but his brothers had sons, so perhaps there is a link. At least his legacy has come down to us, both my father and I had careers as professional engineers.  Amazingly, James' mother's maiden name was Bradbury, as was my own mother's.

James'  great contribution to the World was the development of a system of building canals more efficiently and cheaply than had ever been done before.  He started by designing  the Bridgewater Canal, which his company then built, to bring coal from the Duke of Bridgewater's mines to the cotton mills of Manchester at a much lower price than previously, thus kick-starting the Industrial Revolution.  He went on to become the greatest canal builder the country has ever seen, and was among the most well regarded engineers of his day, a precursor to Brunel, Stevenson and Telford.

Before he turned his hand to Canal building, he owned a company designing and building many water mills.  These days, one of them,  the Brindley Mill at Leek in Staffordshire,  has been restored to working order, and is open to the public.  Whilst still living in UK, I was a member of the Brindley Mill Preservation Trust, and visited the Mill on several occasions, once with a group of Brindleys from Alabama.

When he was dying, his friend Josiah Wedgewood the potter, sent his doctor, Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles, to tend to him.  He diagnosed diabetes, but was unable to save him.
His epitaph from the Chester Courant on 1st December 1772 read:

JAMES BRINDLEY lies amongst these Rocks,
 He made Canals, Bridges, and Locks,
 To convey Water; he made Tunnels
 for Barges, Boats, and Air-Vessels;
 He erected several Banks,
 Mills, Pumps, Machines, with Wheels and Cranks;
 He was famous t’invent Engines,
 Calculated for working Mines;
 He knew Water, its Weight and Strength,
 Turn’d Brooks, made Soughs to a great Length;
 While he used the Miners’ Blast,
 He stopp’d Currents from running too fast;
 There ne’er was paid such Attention
 As he did to Navigation.
 But while busy with Pit or Well,
 His Spirits sunk below Level;
 And, when too late, his Doctor found,
 Water sent him to the Ground.    

Not perhaps the greatest poetry, but I think it covers most of his works and abilities!

Join us this week at Sepia Saturday where our inspiring image originated.

Friday, 4 March 2016

A long way for a drink

This Week's Sepia Saturday picture is of  men delivering water from a well in Queretaro, Mexico.  There are many parallels with life here in Lanzarote at that time, so I thought I'd do a short piece about the importance of water here, and why those men might think themselves fortunate.  In my blog The Lanzarote they Left Behind, I wrote here about the crucial role of the lack of water in driving the waves of migration from Lanzarote to south and central America in previous centuries. Essentially, it is incredibly dry here.  In the last year I have measured about 4 inches of rain at our home in Playa Blanca - about what we normally expect, and a third of that experienced even in the driest states in the USA - and most of that came in 3 days last month, which means that our normally arid landscape has taken on a bright green hue and the fields are full of wild flowers. In Queretaro, Google tells me they get about 20 inches a year, much less than most of UK, but probably an incredible amount for someone used to our parched conditions.  A few people from there probably did make their way to Queretaro but most Lanzarotenos settled in South America and Texas - they fought at the Alamo, and the first mayor and most of the corporation of San Antonio came from here.

Teguise, the old Capital of Lanzarote, still looks like Queretaro did, all those years ago, although it is now in colour, rather than sepia! 

In Teguise, they had a Mareta - literally, a little sea - which was a basin about 60 feet across, full of water, which was sold at a shocking price to the needy, making the owner very rich.

In out long, hot summers, the Mareta would have evaporated quickly and I'm sure many men made a similar journey, with pots on wheelbarrows or, in our case, camels, to fill up their own storage tanks - aljibes - before it all went.  I notice that in Queretaro, the women were filling the jars for the water.  In Lanzarote, they often walked for many miles balancing the jars on their heads - I couldn't find a picture of that, but here is one of them carrying baskets, which gives you an idea of the harsh conditions, that probably made the Americas very appealing.

Most houses had their own rainwater catchment and storage aljibes, but I estimate, that the Lanzarote farmers would run a family, a couple of labourers, a few animals and an acre of so of crops for a year on less water than my wife and I use in a month!  If nothing else living here has made me appreciate the benefits of modern living.  We have a virtually unlimited supply of water now, produced by reverse osmosis desalination of seawater at a big facility just along the coast.  That has enabled the permanent population of the island to rise from about 15,000 a century ago to about ten times that now, and has allowed tourism to bring in 2.5 million visitors each year, providing a much better income for the Lanzarotenos than scratching a living in the dust.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Feeling Blue

This week's Sepia Saturday prompt is a photo of American soldiers under a banner exhorting them to write home in WW1,  with pen and paper, sitting  at tables in a wooden hut.  This caught my imagination, because - I was that soldier.  Or rather, strictly speaking, I was an RAF officer, some 68 years later in the Falkland Islands, but there were some similarities.  In my time in the Falklands (4 years after the war, I'm not stupid) it was almost impossible, and very expensive to phone home, and my state-of-the-art computer, a Sinclair Spectrum, hadn't even a word processor, let alone a method of communicating over the internet.  In dire emergency, we could use military satellite communications, but that was only  for reporting life-changing events.  So, we relied on the exchange of air mail letters, and cards.  The air mail letters were universally referred to as blueys - for obvious reasons (see picture below).  Twice a week, an RAF Tristar aircraft arrived from RAF Brize Norton bringing new personnel, and taking those home whose tour was over. It also brought a load of supplies, technical, administrative, and domestic as well as the mail.  Now, I would like to say that the mail was the most eagerly awaited thing to come of the aircraft, but in truth that was the FNG, the Falklands New Guy, who had come to replace you, and who was taken aback by the affection with which he was greeted, because it meant you were going back on the plane's returning flight!  However, the mail was a close second. I suspect most mail going home was full of brave talk about military and sporting things, interspersed with matters of the heart.  The incoming mail was much more personal, and was eagerly devoured for news of family and friends.  The lack of communication made it difficult for wives, who had to act as mother and father, and solve all the problems themselves, because 8000 miles away, we couldn't help.  My wife, Little Nell, bravely carried the secret of my father's impending death from cancer for weeks until I got home, when she could tell me face to face, because at that distance, I could have done nothing except fret.

Cards were normally more cheerful, showing Falklands scenes - penguins and seals mainly, but unlike blueys were not free to buy or to post.  In my role as the chief aircraft engineering officer for the RAF in the Falklands, I was privileged to fly all over the Islands in a variety of helicopters.  I was there for the Islands' summer, and while it did snow sometimes, and rarely got above 20 degrees C, the sun shone most days, and flying over the beautiful islands and seeing the wildlife was a great treat.  Consequently, the two cards below, piled on top of a bluey, with pictures of Gentoo and Magellan penguins, both of which species I'd seen, and smelled, at close quarters.

The picture of me sitting on the ramp of a Chinook helicopter on Sea Lion Island is, I admit, a bit posed, but it was a genuine bluey I was writing, as I wrote on the back of the photo "Me writing the 'It's lunchtime and I'm looking at Elephant Seals...'  bluey".

Join us on Sepia Saturday  to see what others have made of the prompt.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Sepia Saturday 240

In 2007, my employers, General Electric Aviation Systems sent me to present a paper at the Health and Usage Monitoring conference, part of the Melbourne Air Show. We had the conference closing dinner at one of the most atmospheric, not to say spooky, places I've ever eaten, the old Melbourne Gaol.  Above is our table set out for us on the ground floor.  The cells were all off walkways on 3 or 4 floors above us, from where the photo is taken. Below are a cell and the execution gallery......

........Where the condemned man  was trussed up ready to drop.

Like the most famous criminal in Australian History, Ned Kelly, the Man in the Iron Mask, who met his maker here on  1 November 1880.
Dinner by candlelight never had such a frisson!

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