Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Klondike-like saloons."

Yet again, Paul Keating uses his fine grasp of the English Language to further a worthy cause:

PAUL KEATING has backed the campaign to allow cheap liquor licences for small bars, saying the NSW Government should ignore the "hotel warlords" trying to stymie reform.

"The pub culture in Sydney is stultifyingly bad. It's raucous and it's noisy in their Klondike-like saloons. All that's missing is Lola Montez," Mr Keating said yesterday. "The idea that you have to go into these swills to get a drink, and not in some more beguiling place, is a shame."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Brunels' tunnel vision lives on

Brunels' tunnel vision lives on
By Trevor Timpson
BBC News

The Thames Tunnel built by Sir Marc Brunel between 1825 and 1843 is to form part of the new £1bn East London Railway Line.

More than 160 years after it was completed, it will connect up the transport network the capital is building to prepare for the 2012 Olympics.

Running between Rotherhithe and Wapping, its quality fills modern engineers with admiration.

Brunel employed his son Isambard - aged just 19 - as resident engineer. It was their first job together, the first tunnel anywhere through soft ground under water, and the oldest tunnel on the present London Underground.

"Victorian brickwork - particularly the early brickwork - was of a tremendous standard," explains Barrie Noble, construction manager for Transport for London, who is working on the building of the new railway.

It's such an important iconic piece of engineering
Robert Hulse, Brunel museum

The tunnel was relined in the mid-1990s as part of a compromise after a fierce disagreement between London Underground and English Heritage. Some campaigners opposed the relining. But Mr Noble says it gave the tunnel a new lease of life.

"We don't intend to do anything to interfere with the fabric of the tunnel," he says. "Brunel and his team and his workmen were excellent."

The elder Brunel invented a tunnelling shield as a way of dealing with the waterlogged soft ground beneath the Thames - a cast iron structure that moved forward as the ground was cut, with bricklayers constructing the double tunnel behind.

It was, as Mr Noble says, "a long way before its time". With no giant cutting tools, it meant 36 miners, each in his own cell in the shield, removed oak planks one at a time and cut the soil behind to a depth of four inches.

Seven men drowned during the digging - workers had to deal with sudden ignitions of marsh gas and constant inflows of water, including five major floods, in the worst of which Isambard Brunel nearly died.

"Here - almost by accident - Brunel stumbled on how you build mass urban transport," says Robert Hulse, curator of the Brunel Museum in the old pump engine house at Rotherhithe, which attracts 11,500 visitors a year.

That was not Brunel's intention. Conceived in the pre-railway age, the tunnel was meant to provide a route under the river for cargoes which had been landed on the wrong bank.

Two enormous shafts 250 feet across were to be constructed at either end and horses were somehow to be persuaded to pull carts up and down spiral ramps.

Million visits

In the event, there was never nearly enough money to build the giant shafts, and the smaller shafts that still exist today remained the only way in and out of the tunnel for more than 25 years.

On its first day of opening 15,000 people walked through the tunnel, which was hailed as one of the new wonders of the world, and a million visits were chalked up in the first 15 weeks.

But the novelty wore off, and after 20 years of precarious existence as an underwater shopping arcade and a venue for tightrope walkers and sword swallowers, it was finally sold in 1869 and became a railway tunnel.

The skill of the workforce and the genius of the Brunels had achieved their aim at last - the tunnel carried cargo. It became part of the Underground in 1933.

Further north on the new East London railway, Mr Noble points to more examples of the amazing quality of Victorian builders' work.

From Wapping the line will continue to Whitechapel - as the present East London line does - and then join the viaduct which formerly carried the line north from Broad Street station.

Disused since 1986, the 170-arch viaduct defied engineers' fears about its condition, says Mr Noble.

The arches - built in 1862 - have joins to the new brickwork which was added when they were widened in 1872.

"All of those joints were totally watertight. We never found any that leaked. The standard of workmanship's incredible," says Mr Noble.

He explains how in one set of arches, an attempt was made to inject grout into the brickwork to fill voids which the engineers thought must have developed.

"There was very little flow - and we were astounded because these are so old we thought they'd be falling apart. We just couldn't understand so we did intrusive investigations: we took out bricks and we actually did radar surveys."

What they found was that of five levels of brickwork only the first, which had been exposed to the elements, had deteriorated to any extent.

Expansion plans

The existing East London line, including Brunel's tunnel, closes on 23 December, to reopen as part of the new East London Railway from Dalston to West Croydon and Crystal Palace.

"I'm delighted and of course it immediately increases our catchment area. When we have the overground people will find it much easier to get here," says Robert Hulse of the Brunel Museum.

He takes parties of visitors through the tunnel by courtesy of the East London line managers - who turn on the lights - and drivers, who slow down the trains.

For him the relining of the 1990s has been a good thing. "I know the purists got upset about them rendering over Brunel's original brickwork - but in rendering it over they have made it visible and accessible," he says.

News that London Underground was going to spray-concrete Brunel's brickwork led to angry protests, and the listing of the tunnel on the afternoon before work was due to start in March 1995.

In the end reinforced concrete was moulded to imitate Brunel's original rendering on the tunnel and the 60 arched openings between the two tracks.

As the London overground is built, the Brunel Museum is preparing for an expansion of its own, taking in Brunel's existing shaft, which at present stands empty above the entrance to the tunnel.

How the space in the shaft will be used is yet to be worked out. It seems likely to include some kind of viewing platform to watch the trains using the 160-year-old tunnel.

"It's such an important, iconic piece of engineering... I'm sure there'll be lots of very clever engineering solutions to the problem of how we best display what we have here," says Robert Hulse.

It is a good place for clever engineering ideas.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/09/19 04:50:32 GMT


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Howard under pressure after poll setback

By Kathy Marks in Sydney

Published: 18 September 2007

John Howard, the embattled Australian Prime Minister, was under intense pressure to consider his future last night as opinion polls predicted a crushing defeat for his conservative coalition in the forthcoming election. Mr Howard is the country's second-longest-serving premier, with four election victories under his belt over the past 11 years. But the polls and the public mood indicate that Australians have had enough of him.

For the full story, click here.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Lotsa Lancias in London

Was speaking to Becher the other day down in Hobart, and he was putting the finishing touches to the Italian Car Club Magazine he edits. I mentioned that I had been meaning to grab some photos of the more exotic Italian motors that were to be seen around the streets of London.

Later that day, I was in Lina Stores grabbing lunch, when I saw a flyer on the counter for a Lancia Concours at Covent Garden today (Sunday). The concours was run by the Lancia Motor Club, and was held to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first Lancia being sold in the UK, and also the sixtieth anniversary of the club.

I rode down there, armed with the trusty Canon, and took a few shots. It was a glorious day. There must have been over 200 vehicles down there. Even the Lord Mayor (of the City of London, not Ken Livingstone) was down there checking out the many and varied examples on show in the Piazza.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Don & Christine's wedding

Well, we thought nuthin could beat the Chav Wedding engagement party back in November 2005, but Don & Christine sure pulled one out of the hat for their big day. A mini festival on a farmers field in Cambridgeshire, complete with big top, a pub housed in an ex-air raid shelter, beautiful camping beneath the acorn trees, hog and lamb and ducks roasted on the spit, two barrels of realale, a couple of bands, numerous DJ's, and friends and family from pretty well every continent on this planet (and maybe one or two from neighbouring stratospheres as well, just quietly), and a PORK PIE WEDDING CAKE.

Topped off by a low-level buzz compliments of a couple of WWII fighters from the airshow next door just as the rings were exchanged, it was definitely the Madras road party to end all Madras road parties. Big time congrats to the radiant bride and dashing groom...we can't wait for the Oz instalment.

There's some pix of the party here (we didn't manage to take that many before getting carried away with proceedings), and there are some posted on Don's Facebook page....if anybody has any more, I will gladly upload and/or link them...drop me a line.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Real Ale Twats II

You goin down, Johnny

I just remembered that I had an account with Centrebet. Logged on, and with the AUD 4.74 I had available to play with I bet that Maxine McKew will win Bennelong. With odds currently of 7/5, I stand to collect $11.37 on election day.

The Rodent has still got the edge with the bookies. He'd pay$7.11 for the same stake.