Richard Thompson's Website

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Chronicle for 2016

The first part of the year was occupied by affairs of the heart, my heart to be specific. Towards the end of last year I noticed a slight tightness in my chest if I attempted a brisk walk, or at least a walk as near to brisk as my aging knees permit. After some hesitation prompted by a fear of being labelled a hypochondriac I saw one of the GP's at the local medical practice, and was referred to a charming cardiologist. In the course of an exciting few weeks I had an echo-cardiogram, and an angiogram, and gained stents in two arteries. There is now no discomfort after exercise, and I can walk as fast and as far as my legs will carry me. Although that's neither very fast nor very far it suffices to get me round the local shops, and even round Leicester city centre on the rare occasions I go there.

The major triumph of the year was finding a bricklayer. In the course of renovating the house we found a useful collection of workmen, but until about a year ago we didn't know a reliable bricklayer. Then we did a good deed and were rewarded.

There were several bits of furniture that we moved from leicester, but which didn't fit anywhere in this house. Wondering what to do with them we discovered a web site where people with surplus property offer to give it away to anyone who would like it. When a lady came to collect a spare sideboard she was intrigued by the house. While showing her around Jon mentioned that we needed a bricklayer for the next stage of the work, and she said 'my husband is a bricklayer'

Thus 2016 has been the year of the bricklayer. There were actually two chaps, one mainly a bricklayer with a useful sideline in drains, and the other a tiler/paver. Between them they can do quite a lot. First disintegrating garden walls were rebuilt. The walls were so near to collapse that they were little more than heaps of bricks. When the builders demolished them all they needed to do was lift the old bricks off the wall, remove the disintegrating cement with a stiff brush, and pile up the bricks for re-use. No new bricks were needed.

Once the walls were secure we were able to build a new raised bed to accommodate a fish pond with a fountain and half a dozen colourful fish.

Then the builders returned to rebuild the disintegrating utility room, and enlarge it sufficiently to include a wc to replace the ramshackle outside loo with no water supply which appeared to have been out of operation for a long time.

When work began on the foundations for the additional part of the utility room a great subterranean cavern was revealed. It turned out to be the old rain water tank that had originally been the house's water supply. Apparently some houses of a similar age still have such tanks in working order and use the water supply for the garden but ours had been disconnected long ago and had neither input nor output. After a conference with the building inspector we filled it in with several tons of concrete.

The builders' third visit was not to lay bricks, but to remove the tarmac with which a previous owner had covered the front driveway and much of the back garden. That has now been replaced with distinctly more decorative slate chips.

At the front of the house a battered wall has been replaced by a rather elegant wrought iron fence.

I must take some pictures and put them on my website. I have a lot of pictures of the house as it was when I bought it, but few of it's present state.

Age brings increasing idleness. I can happily potter around the house or the Internet for hours doing nothing in particular.

We seem to have made a good impression on the bricklayer. A few days before Christmas he appeared with a Christmas card and a bottle of wine.

A month or so ago I bought a new computer. For a while I'd relied on laptops. While compact, they have the disadvantage of containing lots of dubious material put there by the manufacturers. Fortunately Market Harborough has one of those small computer shops that assembles computers to order, something that's only possible with the tower for a desktop machine, so that's what I bought. This has been my first encounter with Windows 10, which I've found easier to manage that Windows 8. That may be partly because I paid 40 extra to have the W10 Professional edition, instead of the home edition.

For many years it has been my habit when I buy a new computer to copy all the material I've accumulated on the old machine onto the new one so I have material going back about 20 years, yet I never run out of disk space. The storage capacity of machines expands at least in step with my accumulation of files and photographs. If only attics and lofts would expand to keep up with the accumulation of physical posessions!

I still belong to the Leicester U3A and organise the Science and Technology Group. The buses from Market Harborough to Leicester stop at the end of the road where the U3A monthly meetings are held, so it's easier to get to those than it was when I lived in Leicester and needed to catch two buses.

An interesting adventure with the U3A was a tour of a sewage farm. On the last day of June 13 members of the Science and Technology Group vistied the Wanlip Sewage Treatment Works as guests of Severn Trent Water (STV).

We first had to deal with the computerised intercom system to get someone to open the remotely operated gate. There didn't seem to be a manual but after some pressing of buttons we managed to get in.

After an introductory classroom session we were dressed in high visibility vests, hard hats, rubber gloves and steel capped security boots. As most of us didn't possess the latter we had to give our shoe sizes a fortnight in advance so STV could get them for us. There was no charge for the boots, even though we were allowed to keep them afterwards, so many of us are now well equipped for further toe challenging adventures.

We then toured the site following effluent through all the stages, from input at around 3600 litres per second, to input as water clean enough for discharge into rivers, and compost.

Some stuff that shoulld never have been in the sewers in the first place, has to be consigned to landfill.

The largest misplaced object mentioned was a horse. Nappies are quite common, and we spotted a condom impaled on one of the filters. Oils and fats are particularly troublesome if they get into waste water, so don't pour superannuated cooking oil down the sink. Compost it, or pour it into a tin or jar and put it in the dustbin.

The larger foreign bodies are filtered out and then successively smaller particles are then allowed to settle out in various pools, and at one stage the liquid is aerated.

Eventually the efluent is resolved into unmentionable material destined for landfill, gravel, water clean enough to be dischared into rivers, and sludge.

The sludge is fermenetd in an array of huge tanks, 17 m high each holding 400 m^2 to produce methane which powers generators that produce most of the power used on the site. The residue after fermentation is used as compost.

The site occupies an area of 40 hectares, but is so highly automated that it is run by a staff of just four engineers, assisted by 6 other staff.

We were most impressed, and were extremely grateful to the staff, all four of whom who devoted an entire afternoon to looking after us.

Another outing with the Science and Technology Group was to to the John Taylor Bell Foundry in Loughborough.

Although we didn't manage to see a bell being cast, the visit was most illuminating. I hadn't realised before that bells have to be tuned A bell has five notes and after being cast bells are tuned to get all five notes in the correct pitch. That is done by removing metal very carefully in selected places from the inside of the bell.

Tuning lowers the tone, so bells are cast to be sharp; if a bell is flat the only remedy is to melt the metal and recast.

Molten metal is heated to 1200 C and then poured into a mould made from a mixture of sand and horse manure. The mould is buried in sand to contain any leaks. Before casting the mould has to be dried in an oven, otherwise water in the mould will evaporate explosively when the hot metal is poured in. One such explosion, in another foundry, once killed fifteen people. After casting the bell is left in the mould for several days to cool.

The metal used makes a great difference to the tone of the bell. Steel is particularly unsatisfactory and the alloy nearly always used is bronze - about 2/9 tin and the rest copper.

One triumph I almost forgot to mention was that I recently changed by electricity and gas tariffs. That is by no means a simple matter, so I feel quite proud to have managed it. It doesn't suffice just to say one wants to change tariff, one has to be counselled, at length, to ensure that the change is in one's best interests, so the procedure took about a month, during which time I was paying more than I needed. I suspect that the so called 'regulator' OFGEM is largely responsible for the complications. There is something about it on my blog.