Sunday, 31 October 2010

What time is it...?

I'd like to make an appeal to all of you lucky folk who have been wallowing in the luxury of an extra hour in bed, this morning.

Spare a thought for shift workers.

Yes, it's that time of year again, when we "put the clocks back" by an hour, taking us from the balmy days of British Summer Time to the dismal gloom of Greenwich Mean Time.

Why am I asking you to consider those of us that do shift work?

Well, here's the thing.
My colleague who was working the night shift last night, began work at 23:45 and would normally finish at 08:15, eight and a half hours later.
Unfortunately for him, at 02:00, he had to put his watch back to 01:00 and do the hour between 01:00 and 02:00 for a second time. Therefore he was expected to work for nine and a half hours instead.
Obviously, if someone always works night shifts, the situation is reversed in Spring, so they work for an hour less on the shift that the clocks are changed.
Our shift pattern is not fixed, however, so there is no guarantee that the person who wins in the Spring, will be the loser in the Autumn.

To help spread the misery (or joy), all of the Jodrell Bank Telescope Controllers have a "Gentleman's Agreement" to split these problematic hours between the two people working the Night Shift and the Day Shift.

It ought to have been simple enough, you'd think.
All I had to do was, get to work in time to let my colleague go home after he had done an extra half hour. It should have been especially easy as I actually didn't have to arrive at work until half an hour later than usual, even though the clock would show it as half an hour earlier.
The trouble was, that a few years ago I had the same set of circumstances and I got it hopelessly wrong.
A miscalculation with the time I was expected to get to work, combined with a mistake setting my alarm clock (a particularly smart model, which automatically resets itself to the correct time by picking up radio signals from an atomic clock somewhere) and the net result was that arrived at work one and a half hours early.
I really didn't want to witness for a second time, the complex and infuriating mixture of glee and pity that passed across my colleague's face when he realized what I'd managed to do.

This time it would be different..
I'd set the clock correctly. I knew when I was supposed to get up. I was determined not to make the same mistake twice. Blight of-my-life had double-checked the calculations. There was no way I was going to get caught out again.

Unfortunately, the brilliantly hi-tech radio-linked, bloody clock failed to pick up the radio signal that should have told it to change to GMT, and it woke me up an hour earlier than I'd intended, at five o'clock.

Next time I need to work out what time it is, I shall ask a man (and I use the term in its loosest sense) who knows.

Ready when you are, Eccles...

Monday, 18 October 2010

Another close call

It's been an unusually fruitful week for "Good News" stories.

The dramatic rescue of 33 Chilean miners after ten weeks trapped half a mile underground was as impressive as it was unexpected.

I've lost count of the number of times the news has featured stories of groups of miners, from China to Canada, who have perished following some underground catastrophe. Even when the stranded workers have been detected and are known to be alive, launching any kind of rescue or even establishing an emergency supply of food and water simply takes too long. The signs of life dwindle and the silence grows until all hope fades, the inevitable press statement is delivered and the pit-head crowds disperse.

This time it was different. The men, who I was sure wouldn't survive, confounded expectations and all came back from the darkness.

Somewhat closer to home, I've just found out that my nephew Dan had a rather close call last November.
He's a medic in the Royal Army Medical Corp and has been serving in Afghanistan. While on patrol in Helmand Province, his group were ambushed by insurgents and took some casualties.
I can barely imagine what it must have been like, but in spite of sustained enemy fire, Dan and another of his team were carrying out an emergency tracheotomy on a wounded comrade, attempting to restore his airway. During the course of this technically demanding surgical procedure, Dan's helmet was hit by enemy gunfire.
A bullet punched through the front of his helmet and out through the back. Astonishingly, the bullet passed close enough to the side of his head to scorch a furrow through his hair without breaking the skin.
In spite of this, he carried on with the operation until they were able to get the wounded man airlifted out of the combat zone.

You can read the newspaper article on the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph website

For his courage whilst carrying out emergency surgery under such extraordinarily perilous conditions, Dan has been awarded  the Military Cross.
This honour is granted in recognition of  "an act or acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy on land".

There is a sad post-script to this story.
In spite of all Dan's efforts, the injured soldier subsequently died of his wounds.
Sometimes it seems there's just not enough good luck to go round.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

...and it was all going so well

A few days ago, I decided that I'd post an update on the state of my model railway. OK, it's fair to admit that there hasn't been a lot of progress since I last mentioned it, but I had, at long last, got all the track stuck down.

I had got power to all sections of the layout and successfully run a locomotive over the whole thing. I'd even been tempted to video this, but had decided to wait until I had all the points wired up so that we wouldn't have "Hand of God" intruding into scene to operate the points when the engine was directed into a siding.

Before fitting the point motors, I realized that if I wasn't going to make it really difficult to route some of the wiring, I needed to make an extra access hole in the baseboard beneath the upper level. So I got out the power drill and a 19mm spade bit to bore some holes that would allow me to get the pad-saw in and cut a nice, hand-sized hole.

When the drill bit broke through on the first hole, I discovered an unpleasant design flaw in my grand scheme.

The drill bit burst through rather abruptly and overshot into the underside of the upper level. If it had just buried itself into the undersurface it wouldn't have been so bad. Instead of that, it simply knocked the whole upper layer off, leaving it dangling by the hideously mangled section of track spanning the gap which will, in due course, have a bridge across it.

This was a bit of a surprise.

I'd made a really good job of glueing the upper level to little wooden pillars and I've never had a problem with Evostick woodworking adhesive before. It sticks like shi... Well, let's just say it's very effective at sticking things together.
The problem wasn't that the glue had failed, it was the wretched MDF board. The surface had simply torn away from the body of the board.  The cohesive strength of Medium Density Fibre board must be feeble. It's probably harder to tear the skin off a rice pudding.

I should have used plywood.

So, a bit of a set-back.
I've cut away the wrecked section of track and will be replacing it when I've worked out how to prevent a similar MDF failure happening if I have another visit from Mr Hamfisted.

Where are you now, Isambard Kingdom Brunel?