Friday, September 23, 2011

Now, where's my pistol?

More of the same - arm in sling, no riding, reasonable fall weather & trying to find a job. Tuesday was the day for my appointment at the Fracture clinic - I managed to show the registrar that I have reasonable movement in my arm. He then demonstrated that he could make it click & almost come out again quite easily. So I've got an MRI in a couple of weeks, followed by another appointment with the registrar. I suppose that, & the explanation he gave me of recurrent shoulder dislocations, means surgery may be a possibility. An idea I wasn't particularly keen on, but if that would make my shoulder more stable I could be persuaded - especially as it hasn't recovered so well this time. Today I was back at the hospital picking up another sling. This one is over the top compared to all I've had before (so it should be, retailing at £120) - with a strap around my belly it uses a metal plate to rotate my arm out. There's a grip in the front of the sling to hold on to - with my arm straight out in front of me & my fingers wrapped around the grip I feel that I'm shooting from the hip, alas a six-shooter doesn't come with the sling. It looks kind of goofy, but the shoulder joint is supposed to heal better rotated externally - or so some research says (of course, it's easy enough to discover contradictory findings). It also proves difficult to take a webcam photo of oneself while wearing it.

Thankfully, I don't have to wear it all the time as there's a bit going on this week. Mum arrives early tomorrow morning - it'll be great to see her - & we are heading west to stay with some cousins of hers (ours, I suppose) for a few days south of Bristol. I'm also looking forward to going down to see John, Anna & their young twins while Mum recovers from the flights - pity that there'll be no big (or small) ride with John. It's worked out well has I have two (possibly three) interviews in that part of the world next week. It was neat to catch up yesterday with Roger, a riding buddy from NZ is over this side of the world for a couple of months having ridden in the World Singlespeed Champs in Ireland a few weeks ago. I met him & Michelle at St Pancras a couple of hours before they were due to get the train to Paris - I was mildly jealous, it's two year to the week since I made the same trip & loved every minute of it. After they left I enjoyed wandering in the sun down to Charing Cross checking out the British Library, the British Museum & stopping in nice sunny parks to read for a while.

Unexpected delight of the week was chewing through both series of Rizzoli & Isles (I have too much free time) - a TV show based on a series of books I read when I was back in NZ. While a gritty cop show, it's pretty funny too & I was surprised to see how much one of the leads reminds me of a good friend back home. The subtle east-coast accent, intelligent professional, fashion enthusiast, loves to cook elaborate meals & a home stylishly decorated with everything just-so. Mind you, pathology & academia are quite different careers.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Crossness Pumping Station

One of the few places in London that I really wanted to go to the last time I was here & didn't get the opportunity to was the Crossness Beam Engines. As this great example of Victorian engineering is still undergoing extensive restoration work, there are very few days this year that one can go & visit & see an engine in operation. But today, as part of Open London (an annual weekend when a lot of London's great architecture that is usually off limits to the public is opened up) the complex was open & welcoming visitors. What a lot of visitors there were - we queued patiently for about an hour just to get in. Who would have thought so many people would turn up to the site on the side of a huge sewage works in south-east London?

A brief history lesson - in the early half of the nineteenth century, rapidly expanding & industrialising London did not have a central sewage system & almost all waste from over 200000 cesspits was discharged into the Thames ("dump her in the Thames?") system. Unfortunately, the Thames at high tide (it really is surprising just how far the tide flows up the river - well out west) had a habit of returning that sewage to where it came from. Even worse, the Thames was still the main supply of water to the city! Outbreaks of cholera & typhoid were, in hindsight, hardly surprising. Eventually, mid-century, a plan was devised & put in to action to deal with the problem. Basically, a two sewerage systems independent of each other were built on either side of the river. These used gravity to move all of the sewerage to the east of the city, where it was then discharged to the Thames. In the last four years of the 1850s, over eighty miles of brick intercepting sewers were built (using 318 million bricks!) & this is also the reason we have the Victoria & Albert Embankments today.

But the problem of preventing the sewage coming back into the city on the tide still had to be overcome. This is where the pumping stations came in - one at Crossness (south) & the other at Abbey Mills (north) were used to pump the sewage up to large reservoirs. From the reservoirs, the sewage was released on the outgoing tide. There was no treatment initially, later settling ponds were introduced & the solids were shipped out to sea & dumped there. The pumping station at Crossness had twelve boilers powering four large rotative beam engines. Each engine had two pumps attached to the beam & at peak they could move over 500 tonnes of sewage a minute. That was after a retrofit, changing the engines from single-cylinder to triple-expansion (high, intermediate & low pressure cylinders). The engines were superseded by diesel & eventually left to decay & vandalism for thirty years from the mid 1950s. I'm sure the restorers are also stoked that someone had the foresight to fill the engine area up with sand to prevent methane accumulating - they've had to remove a hundred tonnes just to restore the first engine.

Being built by the Victorians, the building & fittings are fantastic. But the real star is the fully restored Prince Consort engine operating under steam. The flywheel is almost nine metres in diameter & has a mass of over fifty tonnes. The beam is almost fourteen metres long & forty-seven tonnes heavy. It was surprisingly quiet as all the valves opened & closed in time to drive that massive beam up & down. It was well worth the wait to get in as one could wander around at leisure poking around not only the restored Prince Consort, but Victoria (which they are starting to restore now) & the still derelict Albert Edward & Alexandra engines. All the volunteers were friendly, knowledge & some were in period dress which added to the old time feel of the place. It was a great few hours out & I particularly enjoyed marvelling at the feat of engineering from 150 years ago & seeing the Prince Consort engine all painted up & effortlessly gliding through its cycle.

Engine house at rear, boiler house in foreground
The brickwork was exceptional all the way around
The Prince Consort's flywheel - note the trimming on the guard rail
Looking up to the Prince Consort's beam - flywheel connecting rod in front of pump connecting rods
Counter beam on left, top of the low & intermediate cylinders
End of the main beam looking down on top of drive cylinders
More superb Victorian detailing
Unrestored beams

Just in case there's anyone left wondering how this thing worked

The rest of my photos from the visit are here. I left wishing I didn't have a gammy shoulder & was staying around here a bit longer so that I might volunteer a bit - a fantastic historical project all round.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Shooters Hill & Dulwich Picture Gallery

Eager to get out of the house while it was sunny, albeit still windy, on Sunday Trish & I went & picked up Nora (my great-aunt & Trish's mother) for a small outing. We didn't really intend to, but somehow we ended up at Shooters Hill. One of the highest points in London (not really saying much) there are good views south across the field. We spent a bit of time wandering through the 8000 year old wood dodging the acorns being blown from the trees above us. Nora did surprisingly well with the (very modest) amount of walking & I was glad to go somewhere I hadn't been yet.

Having an arm in a sling is as tedious as usual, but with Trish repaying all I did when she was recovering from her broken ankle I shall be able to keep my arm immobilised longer than usual this time. With Saturday's trauma I've been pretty tired & have spent well too much time watching my favourite Canadian cop drama - Rookie Blue. That title is only bestowed on it due to the small sample-size; Corner Gas being the only other Canadian show I ever watched regularly. But now I'm all caught up to the end of the second series & struggling to fill the time - maybe I just wanted to hear the accent again, even though Canadian seems normal & unaccented to me, for now. Well, I'm still looking for work but that just consists of more time on the internet & looking at vacancies that I'm not quite qualified for or that just sound boring. I should go & see the Vocation Guidance Counsellor - but I don't even have the right hat for that. We're slowly starting the redecoration of the middle room, but chipping paint off an old fireplace is slow at best using my left hand.

Yesterday was Trish's birthday so we took a little outing to the Dulwich Picture Gallery - another place I didn't get to last time I was here. Famous for being one of Sir John Soane's designs & the first purpose-built art gallery open to the public in England, the collection is small compared to some of the larger galleries around but very impressive in its content. There are numerous Gainsboroughs, Rembrants, Rubens, van Dycks, Reynolds & a couple each from Canaletto & Hogarth - and many more besides. I think my favourites were those by Gainsborough. With the skylights there is plenty of light streaming in - I recommend visiting on an overcast day. The glare on the higher positioned paintings was too much & had me wandering around in random directions just to try & get a decent view of many pieces.

We had a short stroll around Dulwich Park, which has recently been returned to its original Victorian layout. It is very nice with big open spaces bordered by big old trees - we didn't even get attacked by any geese or swans. Avoiding the random toll-gate in the middle of suburbia, we tiki-toured home; I suppose if your school is almost four-hundred years old you're quite welcome to put a toll on these new-fangled automobiles. Over a very pleasant & large dinner out I was regaled with very interesting stories of Trish's seven years travelling & working in Australia.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

More left-handed typing

Well, I managed to get two rides in before incapacitating myself. One just a little road ride out to a charming little village, Eynsford, in a strong wind & the other yesterday in a small wood behind Ray & Jill's place that has some singletrack. Yes, I know - singletrack! Nearby too. It's not really marked out, so I just spent a while exploring a myriad of trails, going around in many small circles & reappearing at familiar looking junctions. Good fun & even a little archaeology too - a big ditch that the Saxon farmers had dug to help defend their land after the Romano-British colony fell apart 1500-odd years ago. Plus, the heather is still out.

(Yes, I know - but I haven't been taking many pictures lately)
Job-hunting has been rather tedious with only a few nibbles.  There seem to be jobs out there, maybe I'm just a little too picky as to what I think I can & want to do.

Trish & I have been working towards clearing the middle room out so we can decorate it. We took a full car load down to the dump (mostly a recycling centre really) this morning & since there was access to the window, I set out to clean the conservatory roof. Somehow, while getting the hose up on the roof, I managed to pop my shoulder out again. For the first time I was off to the hospital to get it sorted - one of the advantages of not being in the middle of nowhere. Although, being buried in snow does help to numb the pain a bit. Of course, it was proper hurting again - this time perhaps more than the previous times. But I got X-Rays this time, for a change, before they attempted to put it back in. And quite an attempt it was.

For some reason it would not get back in - I hope the audience I'd collected enjoyed the show. Trish was fantastic, her nursing/mid-wifery training kicking with constant reminders/commands for me to breathe in - that Entonox was something else. I have no concept of how long it took to end the ordeal. The Nurse-Practitioner had a good couple of attempts before the doctor came & it was another two or three goes before it was back in - after all sorts of wrenching & pulling. The joint sure was stubborn this time & even through the gas, it was a whole new level of pain. I'm just glad I'll never have to give birth. After the gas wore off quickly I think I made some uncharitable comment about going back to Kenya for the next time - not sure that went down well. I got to look at the before & after (out & in) X-Rays - the bone sure was a long way out. So, I sit on the couch for the next few days - should be thrilling.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Bike part arrived finally

Well, if you're ever looking for spare GT i-Drive mountain bike parts - don't bother with trying to get them in the USA, Canada or the UK.  Just order them from the other side of the world - New Zealand, that is.  After trying to find a replacement dogbone/wishbone/flexbone (I've heard it called many things) for my 2007 i-Drive 4 in many stores in Washington state & Vancouver (BC), waiting for over three weeks for it not to turn up at my local bike-store in Canmore & then being told in London that the UK distributor had the part but wouldn't ship it (some lame excuse that they weren't very good - I didn't care, I just wanted to ride my bike) I finally called home.  Will at 239BIKE in Pukekohe was ever so helpful, had the part in the shop & Ruth, his wife, shipped it to me that afternoon.  For the princely sum of $NZ30 I had the elusive part in my hands this morning - two working days after I placed the order.  Absolutely fantastic service - especially compared to all the previous hassle I've had. So it's on the bike now & I'm looking forward to the weather being more conducive to a ride tomorrow.

On a less bike-oriented front, the job-hunt is progressing slowly (although it is nice to talk to enthusiastic & friendly recruitment consultants every so often) & is being interspersed with reading, catching up with extended family, helping out clearing stuff in the garden and loft & spending a lot of time on the phone back to NZ catching up with various friends. When friends announce in conversation that they've got some news, I'm a little wary of asking if they're pregnant or getting married (friend's situation dependent, of course). But this time I should have had more faith - it's been a long time since I've been so excited to hear of an upcoming birth (even better to hear someone tell me, rather than read it). Pity it's a little difficult to hug someone down a phone line.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Rochester Castle & Cathedral

Back home after two rather busy days of travelling & helping a MTB buddy, Andy, move house to Bristol, it was a bit of a surprise to see it clear wonderfully this afternoon. Of that - more a little later. With a short ride on a quick train from Waterloo to Farnborough on Tuesday morning, Andy, Rich & I were quickly filling up the large van. I was just a little envious of someone moving to Bristol (I'm keen on the idea) & actually having a settled normal life owning furniture (imagine) & more importantly - five (all necessary, naturally) bikes. I'm not sure how we managed to fit all of Andy's stuff in to his rented Bristol place (it's a bit smaller than the flat he's trying to sell) yesterday - I think having a garage to stow less-used things in helped. With two days of moving done & a lot of driving along the M4 corridor & A-roads (nice countryside, especially turning off towards Bath) I rushed back up to London to have some final drinks with NZ (first) cousin Chris. A little sad to see the last of my Kiwi family leaving UK, but it was a good night & it was fun swapping travelling stories with similarly-accented Kiwis. It was funny to be back catching the last train from Charing Cross back home - vague recollections of many such escapades well over a year ago.

Back to today - I was sitting on the couch taking it easy & trying to start the job-hunt in earnest (baby steps are probably the best description) when Trish realised that it had become a nice sunny afternoon. It took us a while to decide where to go but we eventually settled on (unvisited by me) Rochester. Only half an hour down the A2 we wandered down the main street & ducked in to a old almshouse built in the 1580s or some similar very long time ago. Even I almost had to crouch as we wandered around. Built for poor travellers, it was nice to poke around & appreciate not having to sleep on such beds. The rest of the street was a nice hodge-podge of differently styled old buildings.

We wandered in to Rochester Castle & clambered up & down many uneven stairs as we explored inside & between the huge stone walls that are all that remain of the structure. It was quite incredible just how much had survived considering that parts of the fort go back to 1088. The walls were suitably thick & the beams that stretched between them to support the four floors must have been similarly impressive. The view over the Medway River was pretty good too.

We also took a quick look inside the cathedral. Bigger than it looked from the outside, there were a few other sightseers poking around too. The cathedral must have some unexplained link to the Royal Engineers as there were inscriptions to fallen servicemen all around the place. Strangest sight however were the five young women congregating in full goth regalia.

This paddle steamer was moving quicker than I expected - see how its stack has been folded down to fit under the bridge