Transmitter Projects - Reminiscences
Back in the 1970s during the `troubles’ there were also lesser `troubles’ in The Land Of Our Fathers and this caused a lot of head scratching when the requirement came about to construct a small UHF relay in the `troubles’ HQ of Aberystwyth. The instructions came from on high that, to avoid as much trouble as possible, could the installation teams be selected from the biggest and ugliest of men.
Now A.C.E.D., who always organised the tricky bit of orientating and installing the tower bases, they had plenty of very ugly Clerks Of Work about so it was no problem for them. But for us in T.C.P.D. it was rather a different matter as we were all light boned, blue eyed, clear skinned young people with hardly a wart between us. (In fact two of our team had been offered jobs with the D’oyly Carte dance company but that’s another story.)
After a selection process which involved the use of straws in an old paint tin we set off from Brookmans Park with a lorry loaded down with a complete UHF station on board. We also took two BBC Land Rovers which had our rigging equipment and our power winch for lifting the steelwork.
Our arrival in Aberystwyth was met with complete disinterest and we drove up to site through the rebel-held pubs and universities without a single laver bread pie being thrown at us. The same was to be said for the whole time we were up at the site constructing the 25m tower and its antennas, which was a bit of a shame because we were all wearing two sets of overalls and climbing suits to make ourselves look big and horrible, and going around muttering and cursing (which was not totally out of character) whenever someone walked by.
”Everything is going great,” I thought, “and we shall soon be on our way before they can walk up here and organise a protest of some sort.”
But it was our accommodation that proved to be the weak link eventually because the only place we could find that could take us in was a guest house that did not do evening meals and whose parking spaces were right outside on the main road.
As was usual in those days we all ended up sharing one big room with one double bed (for mum and dad) and three single beds (for their children). There was even a small collection of plastic buckets and spades in the corner ready for that `day on the beach’.
As the Rovers were parked in a prominent spot on the main road right outside our bedroom window and marked up with BBC all over them, we were a bit concerned about their safety. So it was decided that we would go and get our evening meals in shifts which meant that two could sit relaxing in the guest house lounge (while keeping an eye on the vehicles) while the other two got sloshed.
On the second night of our stay I was looking out of the bedroom window and keeping an eye on a very strange character who was standing under a street light dressed a bit like those old Sandeman Port adverts, when the bedroom door burst open and in came our biggest, toughest team member and his mate.
“We have been followed the last couple of nights by some strange bloke dressed like Zorro” he muttered ”and now he`s followed us back here.”
“Is that him?” I asked pointing out of the window only to discover that he had gone.
“I think he’s keeping tabs on us and sussing us out” said the big one as he upturned his suitcase onto the bed so that he could sort through his collection of `Zane Grey’ paperbacks.
Next evening I told the big one that we would follow them this time as they went out but a little while behind them to see what happened. So we watched as the big one and his mate headed off across the road for a couple of pints of Robin ale and some food. About fifteen minutes later we set off as well for the same pub to drink anything other than `Robin Ale’ and eat anything rather than fish and chips. We found the big one and his mate leaning on the bar enjoying a beer and stuffing down pork scratchings for all they were worth, when the pub door opened slowly and in walked Zorro! He was dressed in a long black cloak which completely covered him and on his head he had one of those heavy black leather hats with a flat brim which made him look sinister. After putting his large briefcase down he went up to the bar and ordered a half of something and stood sipping it while checking his watch at regular intervals for the time.
By now the big one and his mate had both spotted him and cleared the pub of pork scratchings, so they headed next door to the deep fried chicken restaurant for their evening meal. It did not take Zorro very long to react to their leaving because he checked his watch, downed his drink and followed them out a few minutes later.
“How does he know who they are?” I asked.
“He must have followed them from the guest house on the first night and put two and two together” came the reply.
We slipped out of the pub a couple of minutes later and on walking past the restaurant window we could see the big one and his mate sitting at a table checking the menu while Zorro stood at the take-away counter looking on. Suddenly Zorro checked his watch, picked up a parcel and started walking towards the restaurant door in a hurry. We both scuttled up an alleyway between the shops to see what was going to happen.
Zorro crossed the road and walked along past our vehicles to stand under the lamp-post again and there he stood looking back at the BBC Rovers for some time while he rummaged in his briefcase.
“He`s going to make a move in a minute and smash one of our windows if we are not careful” I said, ”because he looks as if he’s weighing up how to go about it.”
It was time to take some action so we crossed the road quickly and had started to walk towards him when a single decker bus came around the corner past our vehicles and pulled up under the lamp-post. Zorro, who by now had his hand out, pulled out his pass from his briefcase, got on the bus and disappeared into the night!
None of us had noticed the Bus Stop sign way up the pole and of course it became clear now that Zorro had not been watching our Land Rovers but waiting for the next bus to come around the corner.
We must have been very lucky because when we asked the bar man about Zorro later on, he told us that he was a Professor up at the University and a strong Welsh Nationalist who had been in trouble. But he said he was a regular in there because he often popped in for a sharp half then went next door for a takeaway before catching the Bus.
We were already working in the north of England when we received an urgent message for two of us to go over to Stagshaw and modify some cables that were feeding an existing bay inside the building. As this could only be carried out late in the evening after this bay had been shut down we would not be required during the day.
Arrangements had been made through London and the station staff at Stagshaw were expecting us when we knocked on the door after dark. After being searched at the main door for chocolate and biscuits, we were allowed into the TX building with our tool boxes etc. It was a couple of hours later when we had finished re-terminating some ½” Andrews foam cables that someone pushed past us and walked off down through the transmitting hall without saying a word. Neither of us saw this gentleman but you could hear his footsteps going off into the distance. Minutes after this happened there came a call from the station’s team up in the gallery to say that there was a cup of tea going if we came up for it.
On sitting down around the table I noticed that there were four of us and
only four cups laid out.
One of the team gave me a strange look then smiled and said” Oh you’ve met our ghost have you!”
“Ghost” I asked?
“Yes” said one of the team ,”he drops in from time to time but he never seems to give us any trouble.”
“How are you getting on?” asked the other team member, ”and when do you want to leave?”
“We are just about finished here and if we could leave inside the next two minutes that would do us fine!” I replied.
We said our goodnights to the team as they closed the main doors behind us and found ourselves in the middle of the car park on a windy night with only half a moon to show us the way back to the car. It came as no surprise to us that the hire car would not start after what had happened inside the building, and in the end we had to unload all of our tools and suitcases so that we could push start the beast.
As we drove away I looked back at the station now in total darkness and thought - I suppose we did meet the station staff ?!!!!!
One day back in the 1970s a strange lorry appeared at the T.C.P.D. end of Brookmans Park and delivered a small green cubicle about the size of a telephone box (or Doctor Who`s Tardis). There was nothing very special about it apart from the fact that it had a 4inch dia chimney pipe coming out of its back and pointing skywards and a large steel door on its front.
There was a lot of speculation as to what on earth it could be and the one person who did know was “Dick Bills”, the King of the “ Barn Assembly Area”, and he was just going around with a sort of knowing smile on his face. After a few days of people walking around it and voicing their opinions, we noticed that the cubicle had been connected by a healthy looking electrical cable to the barn.
“It`s an electric toilet,” Dick announced one day, “and we need to test it out before any more are ordered for BBC sites around the country.”
The words `Electric Toilet’ sent shivers up some people’s backs but increased the curiosity of most of us.
“Does it chop it all up and fire it out of the chimney?” one person suggested.
“Does it dig a hole and bury it each time?” came another.
“No” said Dick “It burns it!”
“Burns it!” everybody replied” how the hell does that work?”
“Well,“ said Dick opening up the front door of the cubicle, ”when the mood comes upon one, one enters the cubicle and lifts the lid as normal. Then you have to put several layers of this special water absorbent paper in the bottom.” At this point several heads leant forward and studied the bottom of this toilet bowl with looks of total disbelief. “Then” Dick continued, ”one has to put a healthy layer of these specially prepared wood shavings on top of the paper but making sure one does not stack it too high.” “From there on,” he continued ”things should go as normal and on the completion of a successful motion in the house all you have to do is close the lid and push this large red button here.”
This got lots of heads nodding with approval and dismay as Dick did a dummy run by loading the device with a very small amount its special paper and wood chips then pushing the red button.
“It seems to take about ten minutes for the elements in the bowl to heat up and set fire to the wood chips.” said Dick as light grey coloured smoke began to drift from the chimney.
“It’s a bit like choosing a Pope.” someone muttered as we all manoeuvred up wind of the cubicle.
“I could give that a test right now if you want,” came a slightly anxious voice from the back,”save me a walk down the yard that’s for sure.”
All eyes turned towards someone from our installation team who it was known could block a toilet at a thousand paces without batting an eyelid.
“Ok” said Dick, “that’s fine, we want to give it a thorough workout.”
So our T.C.P.D. test pilot was made to brush off his set of blue overalls, given a copy of the Sun newspaper with page three torn out, and led up to the cubicle’s door.
While this was going on his ground crew rapidly lifted the toilet lid a little way and threw in the special paper and chippings. This was a terrible mistake which would not become obvious until well into the test flight. Our brave companion moved rapidly forward through the throng of applauding spectators as things had become rather critical for him as he disappeared into the cubicle pulling the door shut behind him. No sooner had the door closed than there came the sounds of someone trying to get their overalls off in a very confined space. There then followed a short silence which was put down to contemplation by the assembled crowd which was followed by what can only be described as a slight moan of relief. We that were gathered outside now knew that something had been given birth to and we stood awaiting further developments.
Developments came rather faster than we all expected because instead of the usual filling and lighting up of pipes after such an event, there came the sudden a cry of “Bloody Hell” followed by our test pilot banging his head on the steel door.
Those of us who sensed danger shouted “Stand back!” And sure enough within a second the cubicle door burst open and our Test Pilot emerged hopping out on one leg with his overalls still down around his ankles.
“Don’t forget to close the Lid” Dick shouted as our test pilot hopped past towards the barn leaving a very faint trail of blue smoke behind his behind.
“F….. the lid” came his reply “that bloody thing is lethal!”
After getting over the initial shock the ground crew looked into the smoke filled cubicle and promptly withdrew their heads rapidly and went off gagging furiously.
“The toilet’s on fire,” they reported to Dick ”and we are now having a barbecue in the worst possible taste!”
“It`s not supposed to burn until the lid is closed“ shouted Dick quoting from the operator’s manual. “Pull the seat lid down so that the smoke goes up the chimney” shouted Dick moving away to a safe place.
But by now the electric toilet had risen to the challenge and, although the electrical elements were off due to the lid being raised, a nice camp fire had got going in the bottom of the bowl.
Then just as things were getting out of hand and the awful smell had reached the main TX building a young trainee, who did not have a future pension to worry about, happened by. He was persuaded to take a deep breath and run into the cubicle amongst shouts of “don’t look down!” and pull the lid down shut. This re-energised the electrical burning elements and although the smoke was now coming out of the chimney, it was coming out a thick dark grey. It became obvious that wherever these devices were going to be installed they would require a large upwind area to be allocated to them.
“I think you may have overdone the wood chippings a bit” said Dick.
“Well it's done my backside rare to medium,” shouted our test pilot from the back of the barn, “and given it a funny colour!”
It turned out that none of this was the manufacturer’s fault, because when the ground crew re-laid the toilet bowl rapidly, they re-laid it with the lid only half open which meant that the system was still in its burn mode. This meant that on the second test run the elements were already starting to heat up the wood chippings beneath our unsuspecting chum even before he sat down. And he had put the abnormal smell on lifting the toilet lid down to several pints of beer and a tandoori chicken curry that he had the night before.
I don’t think many of these Electric Toilets were purchased in the end and I certainly did not meet any of them again on my travels.
There was a time back in the 1970s when MF local radio was all the rage and stations were popping up everywhere. Due to this demand I think that the Gentlemen in Site Acquisition had been forced to settle for the only piece of land that they could find for BBC LR Liverpool and that was at one end of the existing Graveyard in New Brighton. This patch of land had been `reclaimed’ and sanitized from one end of the Graveyard and made available to the BBC. A.C.E.D. had already been along and erected a brand new mast radiator when we received our invitation in the post to go and install the stations earth mat.
Over-excited by the thought of installing an earth mat in a graveyard, we set off loaded down with coils of No. 8 copper earth wire, reels of inch wide copper tape, silver solder, furze exploding copper tape, welding tools and our secret weapon the AF Trencher.
After a slow drive up the M6 with most of the Commer Van dragging along on the ground, we spotted the new landmark standing up in the middle of New Brighton and unloaded our valuable cargo into the newly constructed TX building. The next morning we set about digging a trench around the mast base for the copper tape and set the AF Trencher on the first of its 72 earth radials.
The AF Trencher was a very clever piece of all English machinery that could winch itself along its own wire bond by its own winch whilst excavating a four inch wide by two feet deep slot in the earth for the copper earth wire. But on this day it only managed to excavate about forty feet of the first trench before the Briggs and Stratton engine began to belch black smoke and labour badly. As it struggled on the auto throttle kicked in and the whole machine shuddered as it slowly began to lift the top half of a grave stone out of the ground with R.I.P. carved deeply into it. This, to us, was not a good omen, and thoughts started to enter our heads on the likelihood of us starting to dig up bits of people’s uncles and aunties. But after some consultation with the local staff we were assured that there was no chance of that happening.
Due to the racket of our trencher, coupled with the sudden flare ups and explosions of our Furze exploding copper tape welder, we had regular visits from the Graveyard’s ground staff. They got into the habit of coming around at lunch times when we would all sit and have our sandwiches together and brew up a cup of tea with the blow torch. I could not help but notice that they were both clothed in dirty blue boiler suits, but that one always had on a large pair of fishermen`s waders. I asked innocently if they were the graveyard gardeners. “ Oh no” said one of them, “ I digs ‘um out and he” he said, pointing to the gentleman wearing the waders, “he has to smash ‘em down so we can get more in”. With this he held up his favourite sledge hammer for us all to examine.
Lunch was never the same after this and I never let him butter my bread again.
Being so near to Liverpool we thought that we should have at least one look at the City, so on the next evening we caught the bus into Liverpool and got dropped off down near the sea front. Not knowing much about the city we panicked and went into the first place that we saw which was a “Yates Wine Lodge”. This turned out to be a greater test to our courage than any graveyard could provide, as we were confronted not by a bar but a row of windows a bit like railway ticket offices. Here, after queuing for some time, you were asked what you would like to drink. Then a price was quoted by the bar person and a hand held out for the cash. This was then placed into a wooden cylinder which was attached to a small trolley that ran on a wire up to an office on the first floor. The cylinder was then “fired” by a handle from the bar window up to the office where, if they liked the look of you, they would put in the change and fire it back down. Then and only then were the drinks produced and you turned away to join in the merry throng of locals and sea dogs all looking for a seat.
Later on, when we were safely back in the Guesthouse at New Brighton, we wonder why it had been so busy in the Yates Wine Lodge and we finally put it down to the string quartet from the local old peoples home who had been playing Beatles numbers from the safety of a first floor balcony over the bar.
After completion of the 72 radial copper earth mat came the testing of the antenna system to see if it would work. This we were informed by the engineer would have to be carried out at night after midnight.
Graveyards, and even Graveyards that were no longer Graveyards, have a very strange feel about them at night. And even though we were very careful how we backed up the van to the TX building, we still disturbed several “Ghosts” who had to run off into the night looking for somewhere else to sleep. The small generator was set up and the test gear all laid out and coupled up. Then, once the mains electricity was switched off, we were all expecting to be plunged into torch light but for some strange reason the station’s neon lights only dimmed down to a deep blue colour. “Must be the generator” was the thought of the night, so the generator was switched off only to give us silence under this strange blue glow from the station neons. “Ah I think I know what`s causing that” said the engineer, turning to see three T.C.P.D. men rapidly loading up a certain van with plans to head for Brookmans Park right then.
During the bad times, or the `troubles’ as they were known, bombs had been going off here and there, so most BBC staff were on the alert looking out for anything strange.
We were down at Whitehawk Hill, which in those days was surrounded by allotments, helping T.C.P.D. engineer Pat Cadney install some changeover switches onto the UHF transmitters. Pat also had with him an even younger assistant trainee , who was learning the ropes.
Everybody had their heads down working one day, when there came a knock on the steel transmitter building door. The young trainee went off to answer it and after a few minutes returned and got on with his work. Then sometime later, when we were having a cup of tea, Pat asked the trainee who had been at the door.
“Oh it was some Irish bloke who wanted to know the time so that he could set his alarm clock.”
Well it took about six seconds for all of the alarm bells to ring in everybody’s head and we all rushed for the door at once! We all poured out of the building to find a very nice Irish Gentleman digging his allotment with an alarm clock stood in his wheel barrow.
“Did you just come around to the station and ask the time?” asked Pat, pointing at the alarm clock. “Yes “ he replied looking confused. “I`ve got to pick the Missus up from the shops at half eleven and that’s the only way I will remember.”
During my time working for T.C.P.D. I only had two experiences with bolts of lightning that did any damage to equipment of any sort, and the first of these was on the old mast at Holme Moss back in the early 1970s.
We had come up from the T.C.P.D. part of Brookmans Park to install some Local Radio Antennas at around the 400ft mark. We had brought our own Thompson winch and rigging equipment along with us because, although Holme Moss had its own large Electric “Acto”? winch firmly cemented into the ground and rigged permanently up the mast, it required great skill and care on the part of the driver to raise and lower heavy steelwork slowly. The other factor with this winch was that it lived all winter under a wooden shelter and this seemed to make it a bit temperamental come the spring. (As anyone would who had spent the winter in a shed at Holme Moss!)
We had just finished rigging our winch bond up to the top and I was pulling on the nylon rope attached to its end to get it back down to the ground ready to lift the steelwork. It was a glorious day with a bright blue sky and you could not move near the mast base for Holme Moss`s engineering staff coming out to look at the sky and the view. They had heard about it, they said, from some of the older members of the team, but now they would be able to tell their children that it`s not always shrouded by cloud and storms.
I had stopped pulling down on the rope to move someone who was picking daisies nearby, when from over the moors came this small black cloud. We all stopped in our tracks as this cloud gently hovered over the top of the mast. By luck the men who had been aloft rigging the bond had just stepped off the bottom of the ladder, and were making their way through the crowds heading for the station door when there came a massive explosion at the top of the mast. Simultaneously there was a loud hissing noise near my feet from the large copper earth tapes that run across the mast base and into the ground. I turned round to say to someone “did you hear that!” and there was not a soul to be seen anywhere.
There was I stood all alone holding the end of the nylon rope, which I could not let go of as this would have allowed the winch bond to start on a journey back up the mast and into oblivion, with the earth tapes around me steaming and my toes curled up inside my wellington boots.
There was a moment’s silence I remember and a skylark may even have started to sing again, when the back door of the station burst open and a big nasty looking Chief Engineer ran out looking slightly aggrieved. Being the professional that he was, he slowly scanned the horizon from left to right until his eyes fell on me, a total stranger, whose knees were knocking together, stood on his mast base holding a rope going up his mast.
“You have blown up my BT room!” he exclaimed and then turned and walked back inside.
Then Derrick, the all around nice guy who really ran the mast, came out and said “You have blown up his BT room and he is not very happy about it!”
Now coming up from the South and being from T.C.P.D. meant that wherever we went we were always viewed with a certain amount of suspicion. This was mainly because we were likely to come along and replace that old collector’s item mast bracket, that someone had been cold galv painting for years, with a bright new piece of steel that was completely out of keeping with the station.
But blowing up BT rooms, that would take a couple hours to explain at my annual interview with Bob Moys.
The second time I came into contact with lightning was on the Cylinder Mast at Waltham. We had been invited to install a couple of Andrews 7/8” foam cables up to somewhere around the 400 foot level. Again it was a beautiful hot day and we could see no reason to suspect that it would not stay that way all day.
For those people who have never worked inside a Cylinder mast, it’s a bit like entering a long section of the underground railway system only vertical. One half of the cylinder is filled up with a lovely electrically powered lift (used to be!), that could take two of you all the way to the top or stop at any of the stations inbetween as required. The other half is full of cable trays packed with small cables installed close in around the larger, more serious, cables running up to the main business of the site. Also in this half of the cylinder is the ladder that will also take you to the top if you cannot afford the fare for the lift.
On the day in question we had rigged our lifting bond and, as it was so hot inside the steel cylinder, had popped up in the lift and opened a few doors to the outside world.
That’s the down side of working on/in cylinder masts, because once you are inside it you are in a world of your own. No views across the countryside ,just the grey steelwork illuminated by the internal mast lighting. If you look up it’s like looking up a long gun barrel and you only see into infinity.
Having lifted one of the cables up we were starting to cleat this to the cable tray, when there was a huge explosion way up at the top of the cylinder. This was rapidly followed by a ball of blueish hot air that rushed up from the bottom of the cylinder, past us, and disappeared upwards towards the top.
Everybody was looking at everybody else with that “I did not touch anything” look when the whole mast began to shake and vibrate alarmingly.
“ A plane has flown into it” was one theory, but then water started to pour down the inside from the doors that we had left open for ventilation.
As the mast still appeared to be standing up vertically and no strange people or a pilot had appeared climbing down the ladder ,the lift was dispatched aloft to close the doors and report back.
Unknowingly we were in the middle of a large thunder storm that had rolled across Lincolnshire and engulfed the countryside around. Once we were back on the ground we found out that the station staff had been trying to call us on the old radio sets for a while, and had even sent someone to shout up the mast, who’ kept it up until he got soaked.
We had been asked to go up to Lancaster, from the T.C.P.D. part of Brookmans Park, to work with T.C.P.D. Engineer Pat Cadney on the installation of some change-over switches for the UHF Transmitters.
Pat had already found some peaceful accommodation for us all in a Hotel down by the River Lune and life was going along well until one evening after dinner things got slightly out of hand.
We, the work force, were sat having a pint of beer and discussing, as we usually did, the latest trends in Denso tape, while Pat Cadney and his boss Paul Mitchell sat across the bar from us having a game of chess. Apart from the four of us and the barman the place was completely empty, until the entrance door slowly opened and in slipped a lady carrying a violin case and accompanied by a young girl. The lady went up to the barman and asked a few questions to which he answered by pointing towards Pat and Paul. Then, after signalling to the girl by nodding her head towards Pat’s table, she unpacked her violin, rosined her bow and started to play while shouting to the girl to get her clothes off!
At this point the brave work force stopped talking about Denso Tape and, on sensing that a happening was about to happen, started to slide towards the hotel’s exit. But we were stopped in our tracks as the rapidly advancing violin player started to call for the girl to “ Dance, dance for Mr Cadney.” The girl now threw off her outer coat and started to thread her way towards Pat’s table while performing some sort of strange Lancastrian rictus dressed in a Bavarian beer-drinking dress.
At this point I tried to take stock of the situation and still thought that for us retreat was the better option rather than trying to confront a mad women. On looking round for the barman to ask if there was another way out, we found that he, the brave fellow, had disappeared at the first violin note and was now doing a bit of light vacuuming up on the top floor.
“Dance, dance” insisted the violin player as she began to play faster. “Dance for the BBC and Mr Cadney and show him what you can do!”
How I wished that I had my camera with me because, by now, the girl was stood in front of Pat gyrating away for all she was worth as Pat was having hysterics. Paul Mitchell, who it has to be said did not appear to have such a good ear for violin music, stopped moving his bishop and sat there staring at this apparition before him in disbelief. Then the penny dropped, so to speak, and although we were too concerned to go near the Cabaret that was going on, we did go and fetch the barman from under the bed, where he had been hiding, and asked if he would mind intervening in the proceedings.
It was a great disappoint to both the violin player and her daughter when they were informed that the BBC Land Rover that they had seen in the car park had not delivered the head of BBC programmes to the Hotel, but just a couple of engineering types who could not further their careers.
It took a few days for Pat Cadney to settle down and trust the people he met in the hotel near the Rver Lune as normal, and for the rest of that trip we had to park the old Land Rover around the back and out of sight.
We, who travelled out from the T.C.P.D. end of Brookmans Park to carry out installations, often had to visit the more stable environment of a main TX station. And when visiting these stations you had to remember that firstly the E.i.C was very very near to God with God’s powers.
Rule one was that if you were invited to subscribe and have food in their canteen then never sit at the table that was laid with a table cloth because that was reserved.
Rule two was that if the station only had a small kitchen then it should be kept in the same order as the station staff kept it in during their shifts. They did not like to come into their watering hole and find a whole load of riggers’ socks soaking in the sink or worst still drying in their oven.
It was in one such TX station kitchen that we did manage to cause total mayhem to both the station staff and their station for a short period without owning up to it. It happened on a Thursday when pulling up at the only shop for miles around to buy provisions found it closed. “He sometimes does that,” said a local ”when he feels like it.” So, desperately short of food, we set off for the station and were not looking forward to the day’s work ahead when one of the lads said “don’t worry, I have got something up at the station we can have for lunch.”
When our time for lunch came around this lad rummaged around in his climbing bag and produced a plastic bag of dodgy looking `Bombay duck’. “I‘ve also got some digestive biscuits wrapped up in my spare cloves for just this occasion.” Looking over the `Bombay duck’ (which are really smoked fish) we reckoned that they had been dead for a very long time and they needed a good fry up to revive them. After stealing a lump off someone`s butter out of the fridge, we set about frying these up on the station cooker in the station frying pan. After about fifteen minutes they seemed to be suitably black and cinder-like so we set about them.
It was not until someone went out to go to the toilet that we realized that anything was wrong on the station. Because now men were pulling up floor access boards all over the place and putting their noses down for a good sniff. “What`s wrong ?” I asked. “There seems to be a very serious fault on a cable somewhere because we can smell outer covering melting somewhere.” came the reply.
Although most installation staff have their sense of smell removed when they join the T.C.P.D. installation teams, even I could recognise the distinctive whiff of `Bombay duck’ coming up out of the floor.
Why we panicked I do not know but panic we did and the oven and frying pan were given a real good going over with `AF spray’ (which is normally used to clean cables and connectors) and everybody lit up pipes of `Black Shag and Three Nuns’. Even the non-smokers puffed cigarettes while all trace of the offending `Bombay duck’ was wrapped in some mutton cloth and soaked in water.
When the E.I.C. burst into the kitchen followed by two trusty engineers armed with fire extinguishers, they thought they had stumbled into a Vicar’s bible class who denied any knowledge of any cable fire. As we slunk away back to work on the mast there were still the odd shout coming from inside the building “I think its over here”!
During one of our 30 metre UHF relay tower installations one of the lads took off his helmet to have a good scratch and banged his head rather badly. Our first aid kit could not stop the flow of blood that was pumping out of his skull, so I picked up a hacksaw as I had read that trepanning could sort out this sort of thing. But disappointingly in the end we had to settle for a nice new roll of mutton cloth held vertically onto the wound. He was soon sat in the Land Rover and dispatched to the nearest Hospital while still holding his roll of mutton cloth on top of his head.
As they drove along the country lanes heading for the nearest town they came across a Hospital sign pointing to a turning on the right. This they duly took and it shortly brought them up to a large set of steel gates. The gate keeper took one look in the Rover and waved them on through. After a short run up a narrow road through some woods they arrived at a Cottage Hospital-looking place. Both our wounded one and the driver felt that something was not quite right here because an awful lot people were being wheeled about in wheelchairs and left out around the grounds.
Anyway the wounded one got out of the Rover and stood there with his roll of mutton cloth held tightly onto the top of his head trying to attract attention. But Doctors and Nurses walked on past him without giving him a second glance, and even though he walked around to the front doors and stood there, nobody asked if they could help. After a few minutes of this our wounded one collared a nurse who was pushing a wheelchair and asked “where casualty might be?”
“Casualty” she replied “you won’t find a casualty unit here because this is a mental home and when I first saw you I took it that you were one of the inmates just dressing up for the day.”
When they returned from a real Hospital with his head correctly attended to I wondered why the gate keeper at the mental home had waved them through.
Could it be that he was used to seeing BBC Land Rovers visit his Hospital with people holding rolls of mutton cloth to their heads? !!!!!!
Way back in the early 1970s the only recognised way of communicating between a mast or tower and the ground was by arm signals and blasts from the “Acme Thunderer Whistle”. This meant that the winch driver always had a banks man, standing away from the winch but in sight of it, who could watch for the slightest twitch coming from a man-carrying cage or from someone in charge of fixing steel work into place. The “Banks Man” was always frisked for newspapers and dirty magazines at the start of the day so that he would not become distracted.
The plan was that when you were lifting men or materials up a mast or tower, then the winch driver would stare at the banks man for the slightest twitch and the banks man would concentrate on the men in the cage for the slightest twitch. The number of times that a winch has come to a crashing halt due to someone having a good scratch under his armpit is uncountable.
The next phase was that once everything had calmed down and the installation team had climbed out of the cage and onto the mast, then it was usual to switch over to the whistle as a means of communication. This was because if it was a long and boring job up aloft, then it was likely that the banks man would sit down and lose interest, while the winch driver, after having polished his engine and put on some more sun tan lotion, would start throwing stones at birds.
A good blast from the “Acme Thunderer” usually stirred up every body down below for the next piece of action. In my own personal experience I have only ever know a Thunderer to fail once, and that was again up at Holme Moss.
We had been asked politely if we would like to install some large steel ice guards above some existing link dishes that regularly got flattened by large chunks of falling ice coming off the top of the mast. We had already installed a couple of sets of the steel mesh guards over some dishes lower down by lifting up the grilled mesh fixed to the bottom of the cage with wire strops. This allowed the mesh to go up flat and drop straight into the frame for bolting down.
This was the procedure that we followed successfully for the last and highest ice guard of the set. It was then that the old radio crackled and through the interference we gathered that the winch driver wanted to stop for a while and pull off a lot of the winch bond and rewind it back on. This left us high and dry up the mast with the cage sat in the middle of the meshing and all of us gathered around it. As it was yet another beautiful day (the second that century for Holme Moss they reckoned), people soon started to relax and sit down on the mesh and light pipes and cigarettes, while some laid out flat and watched the birds flying way below us.
We heard the winch engine start, which was the sign that they had begun to wind the winch bond back on again, and someone was asked to keep an eye on how much they had got to before we were back to normal.
“Miles to go yet” came the report, just before the winch bond near us jerked up tight, the cage gave a mighty lurch and, because it was still fixed to the ice guard, shook everything. This came as a bit of a shock to those who were laid face down on the mesh, and it came as a greater shock to us pipe smokers because we saw the radio,that was intermittent at the best of times, fall into the cage out of reach.
Then in a flash John Knight had out his ACME Thunderer, which was always hung around the neck in those days, and gave it a mighty blast. His cheeks filled out to their maximum and the pea, after a second`s hesitation, flew out of the whistle! Luckily for us we had a skilled winch driver that had suspected all was not well when the winch bond went tight, and stopped immediately. Shortly after this we established contact with the ground by the means of arm signals and climbed into the cage to depart our picnic spot for the rest of the day.