400 smiles a day
What a gas 2: It's in the pipeline


BULLETIN 30, 31/12/07:

The silence of the missing lambs  

With the pipeline itself now complete, with just the tidying up of its meandering path remaining before the reinstatement of the significant scar upon the landscape gets under way in the spring, a few dots and crosses need to be addressed. The very first photograph on my very first bulletin back on 20/04/07 featured some sheep being extremely nosey, as sheep tend to be, inspecting the pegs that marked the path of the pipeline across the virgin land - so I thought another snap of the sheep, clearly now a bit pissed off with it all and desperate to return to some sort of normality, would be appropriate. The photo below was taken in November, and in the background, just above their heads, the mounds of top soil that await reinstatement - which also mark the sheep's fenced off, no-go territory. In the meantime, what I haven't covered thus far are the temporary service roads and bridges built to feed and satisfy the insatiable demands of this huge civil engineering undertaking, particularly where the country roads were unsuitable. Below, right, such a road and Bailey bridge: this is at Cilsane Mill, the River Towy crossing, taken mid-June, just as the summer turned into one long drip, drip, drip of an experience - the pipeline runs left to right in the distance, and at that particular spot, where the pipes lie, is where the final weld (on my square mile, that is) took place, as covered in my previous bulletin.


Apropos the bridge, a couple of points of interest. Attached to the left of the Bailey bridge, a warning notice: 70 TON MAXIMUM. This gives a perfect indication of the size of the equipment that had to cross this bridge to work on the pipeline. Attached to the right of the bridge, another sort of warning: CROESO i GYMRU / MEIBION GLYNDŴR (Welcome to Wales, signed Sons Of The Local War Lord). This notice cloaks a wonderful tale of tribalism along the pipeline, which I will cover over the coming months. Meantime, with the pipeline now finished, the next set of photographs were taken just before Christmas.


Everything to do with the temporary access now has to be dismantled or demolished, and cleared; above, on a cold and frosty early morn, a large crane sets about the task of removing the bridge. The first photo above, left, is taken from the pipeline track, looking back to the spot where last June's photo (at the top), was taken. On the right, Meibion Glyndŵr's bridge is down to its bare bones.


Above, with the bridge now gone, the final piece of heavy equipment, the crane, departs the site. In the photo alongside, a couple of small JCBs, along with some bits and bobs, await collection - but intriguingly, my faithful amigos the sheep have found their way onto the access track, as they do, and have come down for a nose. Below, left, again looking towards the pipeline, along where the Bailey bridge once did its duty, everything has now gone, just the mounds of top soil await reinstatement. The final photograph of 2007, a somewhat eerie and atmospheric shot, is taken along the pipeline track where the final weld took place - and all is now still and quiet and empty - and rather hauntingly beautiful......


But of course my story does not finish until everything - and I mean everything - is once again shipshape and fancy-free and you won't be able to spot the join. It's a curious fact that from the moment I first noticed workmen and machines appear on my patch - to the moment when the last workman and machine disappeared - nine months has passed. Given that everything should eventually return to give the impression of virgin territory once more, will the whole experience have been a sort of phantom pregnancy?

Until the pipeline track comes alive again, I have a few unusual and offbeat stories to tell. Did I find God lurking along the pipeline? What was all that tribalism thingy about? Why were so many workmen seemingly standing about doing nothing? How precisely does the gas arrive in these pipes from that far away place called Qatar? Oh, and did you know that you must never, ever pee in the same spot twice?

And of course we now learn, at the twelfth hour (well, with 5 minutes to go) that the European Parliament will hold an investigation into the terminals at Milford Haven and its associated pipeline. Apropos the pipeline, among the alleged shortcomings are the lack of supports at acute bends (known as 'thrust-blocks'), which according to protestors would be needed to stabilise the pipeline in its underground position, and concerns regarding the fact that imported, fine material was not used to surround the pipeline rather than the existing soil and stones at the site. By a curious coincidence, both these aspects were something that drew my attention and have been covered in these bulletins - but I shall undoubtedly return to these issues as the story unfolds.

So yes, the answers to the above - and much, much more - will unfold over the coming months, if spared. May the God of Happiness smile upon you in 2008.



BULLETIN 29, 19/12/07:

Sealed, signed and delivered  

So where were we? Ah yes,
on the 27th November 2007, "the liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline was officially finished when UK Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks opened a valve on the 193-mile pipeline at a compression station in Felindre, west of Swansea". So there I was on the misty morn of the 29th November watching the Side-boomers below move into place to join and weld the two loose ends on my patch. Funny old world.


Below, the Side-boomers, looking up from the point where the pipe crosses under the River Towy - in the photograph on the right you can see the small white marker posts which follow the line of the pipeline as it climbs; the mini pyramid to the right is the top soil which will be replaced in the spring when the field itself will be reinstated.


And below, proof positive that the weld has taken place and the pipes finally conjoined - oh yes, you can just about see the instruction 'TEST PT DO NOT WELD', and as these pipes had been hanging about for a goodly while I'd speculated that the PT meant Pipe Teasers, the civil engineering equivalent of a prick teaser - but of course now I appreciate that the 'TEST PT' probably means Test Point. The enlarged photo alongside shows the crucial date on which the weld was confirmed and finally passed as OK - hence sealed, signed and delivered. Note the date: 30/11/07!


Below, the final views of the pipe, looking north and south - the mounds of dark material is the finely crushed, almost powdery stuff that'll be filled tightly around the pipe to avoid foreign bodies such as stones coming into contact with and damaging the pipeline (in theory, anyway).


Well, old pipeline, old friend, so long, it's been good to know you - and every day really has been a day at school. I'm quite a bit wiser about the life and times of a jumbo gas pipeline these days ...
below, left, the trench is carefully filled in, and right, the final levelling off before the reinstatement of the ground starts next spring. However......


This wasn't quite the end of the pipeline. When the last two pipes are joined along the length of the pipeline, it's known as the Golden Weld. I was hoping that the above was the Golden Weld - but sadly it was not to be. Another couple of joins remained, a few miles south of here. The final, Golden Weld was scheduled for December 4th to the 6th - and I'm told that the pipeline was actually completed on the 6th. So I guess I was party to the Bronze Weld - I got into the frame, and that's good enough for me.

I'll have one more bulletin to bring this part of the story to a conclusion. Quite handy that everything will fall silent just before Christmas - for the time being, anyway - and here's hoping that there won't be an almighty explosion. Oh dear, shouldn't tempt fate.



BULLETIN 28, 10/12/07:

And there in a wood, a Piggy-wig stood  

The bulletin headed Pig! created much interest - in all sorts of ways, from "Do these pigs drop litters?" to a call from a certain lady who pointed out that having used the tale of the Pigs and the Wolf as the McGuffin (a plot device made famous by Alfred Hitchcock that motivates the characters or advances the story, but has little or no actual relevance to the story), I should have made it clear that there were 3 Pigs involved: Pinky, who built his house of straw, Perky, who built his of sticks - and a clever female pig who built her house of bricks, and ipso facto, fashioned the end of the wolf in her very own hot pot. This, of course, is true, so if Pinky is your Basic Pig, Perky the Slightly Smarter Pig, then the Super Duper, all-dancing, all-singing Intelligent Pig is - ta-rah......


Now how could any red-blooded male not fall for the charms of this lady? Yes, yes, I know, I know, she has a dangerous twist in her tail - just like real life, really - but we men avert our eyes when the "Look here, buster!" trips off her tongue in aggressive mode. Anyway, the strange thing is I suddenly began noticing pig stories all over the shop. The two rather clever images alongside Miss Piggy come from a just launched Keep Britain Tidy campaign. I wonder if, when Miss Piggy eventually has it away with Kermie the Frog, she will drop a litter of - well, frigs, I guess. Talk of Miss Piggy and Kermit brings me to a Christmas interlude - well it is that time of year.

Now I enjoy all sorts of Christmas music, from Rudolph and his red nose, all the way across the board to O Holy Night. Only today, Sarah Kennedy on her Radio 2 morning show said that they are not allowed to play Christmas music until next week, the week before Christmas. I've noticed that the BBC plays Christmas music later and later each year - probably within a few years they'll refuse to play it at all. It's PCGM (Political Correctness Gone Mad). Everyone's afraid to upset any minority group. There's a move to call Christmas trees festive trees, for heaven's sakes. Whatever, on the music front there's a free-to-air channel on the Sky satellite, Music Choice, and of the ten different music choices available within, throughout December there's a So this is Christmas channel, which plays a non-stop proper mix 'n' match selection, and all without the interruption of DJ's, presenters or ads. My Sky box is plugged into the music system, so I often have it on in the background - they've just played a track from a Muppets/John Denver Christmas album, We wish you a Merry Christmas, and as Gonzo sings "Now bring us some figgy pudding, now bring us - " Miss Piggy interrupts at her most aggressive: "PIG-GY pudding?" "No, FIGGY pudding," says a reassuring Gonzo, "it's made with figs." "Oh, sorry!" responds Miss Piggy, and you can hear and feel her aggression dissipate in those two words. But in the background Gonzo says "And bacon!" "WHAT?!" says Miss Piggy at her most cutting - but the chorus continues "We wish you a Merry Christmas..." It's very funny. Well it makes me smile. Which is a perfect cue to a have a look at some more pipeline pigs ... the first one below, just out of its polythene wrap, is a basic Pinky Pig - a simple 'shit, shave and shampoo' job ... next, a perfect shot of Perky and what it looks like inside the pipeline doing what comes naturally - a bit of a massage and "Will there be anything extra, Sir?" ... and finally, what can only be a Miss Piggy Pig. The most striking thing about this one is how its nose looks like - ta-rah - a pig's schnozzle!


So there we have it. Oh yes, the pipeline. Last time, as you recall, I showed a picture of
UK Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks opening a valve on the 193-mile pipeline at a compression station in Felindre, west of Swansea, signifying that the pipeline was complete - while taken at the same time I showed a photo of the pipeline definitely not finished. Anyway, things have pretty well come to an end now, as far as I can tell from some inside information - so I shall leave the final touches to the pipeline for the next bulletin. I'm sure Miss Piggy is not the sort to share the stage with a couple of pipes being joined together in holy matrimony while she is still working on her romance with wee Kermie ... Mum's the word ...



BULLETIN 27, 28/11/07:


Whose there?
(enquired the Wolf, stroking the hair on his chinny chin chin)
Pinky & Perky!
Pinky & Perky who?
(demanded the Big Bad Wolf, licking his lips)
Pinky & Perky come to huff and puff and blow your pipe clean!
(or - those of a nervous disposition should look away now -)
Pinks & Perks come to stuff a periscope up your arse, just
to see what nasties are lurking up there about your skeleton

Frank Muir in his autobiography A Kentish Lad tells the tale of driving along a narrow country lane, the sort that grow between trees here in Wales, when another vehicle comes to meet him on a blind corner. He slams on the brakes and swerves onto the verge to avoid a collision; the other driver, a lady, passes, but as she does rolls down her window and shouts "Pig!" at him. Infuriated, especially having just played the gentlemanly country squire, shoves the car into gear, puts his foot on the accelerator and shoots off round the bend - and promptly collides with and kills a pig in the middle of the road. No, that isn't Muir and his stuffed pig up there in the photo, but a hugely smiley promotional still from one of the six finalists in the film-makers TCM Classic Shorts Competition 2007. Tom Tagholm's short flick, A Bout de Truffe, is the "tragi-comic tale of the truffle hunter and his pig, who face destitution because of their uselessness when it comes to locating the prized fungus. But even as they uncover a monster truffle, tragedy looms ...". I'm not a film man, but the moment I saw that photo I thought, hm, must find some excuse to use it - and who'd have guessed that my modest little tale of a jumbo gas pipeline passing under my square mile would present the perfect opportunity. My very own little truffle.

And so to business. Once the pipeline is underground, at specific intervals along its line the pipes are left exposed and not joined as the pipeline has to be tested. One end of such junctions must be near a river. Such a junction lies just above the River Towy crossing detailed previously. In the photo below I've jumped the gun somewhat because this captures the two Iron French Letters (IFL) used to cover the pipe ends, each with its individual task. The one nearest the camera, the yellow one, is the first used. This is welded onto the end pipe as a normal pipe would. In the next photo along, you can see the current join on the left, and to its right, where it was welded to a previous pipe before being cut off to be used again here. The message on the cut-off pipe shows that it was last used on the 14th September 2007 at a junction called Derwen Fawr - we are now at the Cilsane Mill junction.


Below, warning signs go up. And to the right, meet a Pig! This is the quaint name given to a wonderfully efficient bit of kit.
A pig is a device inserted into a pipeline which travels freely through it, driven by the product flow to do a specific task within the pipeline. These tasks fall into a number of different areas: (a) Utility pigs which perform a function such as cleaning, separating products in-line or dewatering the line; (b) Inline inspection pigs which are used to provide information on the condition of the pipeline and the extent and location of any problem (such as dents or corrosion for example) and (c) special duty pigs such as plugs for isolating pipelines. Here a utility pig is shown exiting a pipe having done its work. To go back to the start, as shown above: the pig fits tightly into the pipe, manually pushed to where the pipeline proper starts, the lid is shut tight - and air is pumped in behind it through the IFL to drive it along the length of the pipe. It can be driven by air or liquid pressure, depending what job it has to do. And off it goes along the pipe ......


No 1 Pig, the one I've christened Pinky, is used to clear the pipe of any debris or materials that have been left inside the pipe - one of the workmen told me that it's an endless source of wonderment as to what actually comes out the other end, the equivalent of public transport finding mobiles, computers, dentures and false legs, all seemingly forgotten by their owners. But Pinky does something else: if those rings either end of the pig are consistently damaged then it means the pipe itself has somehow been damaged, for example, a big stone unnoticed under a pipe, and the force of the compacted infill forces the pipe down onto the stone, which then results in a dent. This has to be corrected. Now they have to deploy what is called an Intelligent Pig - the one I call Perky. This clever bit of kit will confirm the precise location of the damage, so the contractor then has to dig it all up and replace the damaged pipe. This must be one of the worst jobs, especially if the problem happens in a sensitive area. And Sods Law demands that it does. Backsides are then ritually kicked. Anyway, that's Pinky & Perky done. They have duly earned their swill. Next comes the second Iron French Letter......


Here it is, above, awaiting a bit of foreplay down below - and again you can see a section of pipe where it has been previously welded and then cut - hey presto, there it is in situ, alongside. This IFL is used to perform a pressure test along the line. This time, no pig, just water, hence being close to a river for extraction, and above you can see  the water line entering the pipe. It takes several days to fill the section of pipe under test. While we wait, below a couple of curiosities. This particular IFL is marked to confirm what has happened: 1. Pig, 18.9.07, meaning that was the day the first pig, Pinky, was deployed - incidentally, it's me whose printed Pinky on the pipe. I know I shouldn't laugh at my own jokes - but what the hell, I'm really pleased with that little one. I have visions of Pigs around the world now being christened Pinky & Perky.


Interestingly, on the same Iron French Letter, is written simply 2. Pig - with no date, meaning I guess that no problems were encountered on the first run and Perky was never deployed. Bonuses all round. Water is pumped up to twice the pressure of the gas - the usual belt and braces job there. Once that pressure is reached everything then goes on hold to make sure that pressure isn't lost. What happens if it does - well, I hate to think. Incidentally, on the pipe below, left, you'll see what looks like a wedding dress train: wel-i-jiw-jiw, I remember thinking, the two pipes are about to get married - but no, that covering reflects the sun's heat off the pipe because that would then affect the temperature of the water inside the pipe, which in turn would affect the pressure readings. All precise stuff. On the right below, water, water everywhere, and not a whiff of gas to heat the kettle. Which brings me to a curious point of order......


The photo below, left, was taken at 14.44 yesterday, the 27th November 2007 - pretty much, I guess, the precise time that "the liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline was officially finished when UK Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks opened a valve on the 193-mile pipeline at a compression station in Felindre, west of Swansea", bottom right. Why do these politicians do it? Yes, the pipeline is within a gnat's whisker of being able to deliver gas from Milford Haven to Tirley - but it ain't yet. You can't, as Eric never quite told Ernie, actually see the join! It's doubly puzzling as no gas will be available to flow until next spring - at the earliest. Do politicians not realise that there are curious, inquiring, observant - okay, nosey - people like me around who invariably have a small camera in breast pocket? Doolally world, doolally people.


So kiddies everywhere, the moral of the tale? Believe nothing you hear, only half what you see - and always, always listen to your mum.


PS: Oh yes, you'll be delighted to learn that the TCM Classic Shorts Competition 2007 was duly won by Tom Tagholm's A Bout de Truffe. Let's hear it for pigs everywhere - political oinks excepted, of course.

PPS: I know, I know - why do they call it a Pig? No one is quite sure, but I like this: two pipeliners were standing next to a line when a pig went past. As the pig travelled down the line pushing out debris, one of them made the comment that it sounded like a pig squealing. The pig in question consisted of leather sheets stacked together on a steel body. Without doubting the authenticity of the story, it does indicate that these tools have been around for some time. Another theory is that PIG stands for Pipeline Intervention Gadget. Me? I think they act like policemen: "'Ello, 'ello, 'ello, what's all this 'ere then? Come on now, move along there." And what do we call a policeman?  



BULLETIN 26, 25/11/07:

End of the line  

Before introducing you to the real pig of the show (as promised in the last bulletin) a quick intermediate bulletin to show the final touches at the River Towy crossing before everything, more or less, disappears underground for ever and a day. At the northern end of the crossing the wonderfully named Ozzies Outlaw Padder is seen at work - this is the kid brother of the Spit-spat machine introduced in an earlier bulletin. Like its big brother it grades the soil so that all the fine stuff is separated and shot out the side - see below right, beneath the arch of the JCB in the background......


This fine soil surrounds the whole pipe so that there are no stones or such like present near to the pipe to cause damage when the trench has been totally filled and pressures builds up around the pipe. Below left is the operator of said Outlaw Padder, Paul Evans from Cardigan - that's really way out west - and a fellow Welshman to boot, who also speaks the two spokes. Below right, the pipeline exiting the shaft, now disappearing fast.


Next, a roller compacts the soil - but alongside a bit of a calamity as the pump keeping the shaft free of water runs out of diesel overnight and the shaft quickly fills to the river level. The pump is now back in action - the water line can be clearly seen.


With the water problem solved, the shaft, as well as the pipeline trench, are rapidly topped and levelled ... all that is now left, as the next shot below shows, is a very wet mix of concrete pumped down below where the gap between the pipeline itself and the concrete sleeve first put in place to secure the river crossing, is filled to force out all air from underground.


Above right, the final touches to the levelling out of the ground, piloting the machine here, another Welshman, again from way out west, Simon from Haverfordwest. But the pipeline does not yet completely disappear. Below left, pipes from opposite directions meet, and the coded message
TEST PT - DO NOT WELD on both pipes now make sense, because the pipeline is now subject to various tests.


The final photo in this bulletin shows a sort of Iron Letter - the pipeline man's French Letter - covering the end of one of the pipes - and this is where The Pig enters, stage right. More next time ... Oink-oink!



BULLETIN 25, 21/11/07:

Coming up for air  

In my last bulletin, the gas pipeline itself had been passed through the larger pipe tunnelled beneath the River Towy, so now the pipeline has to be brought up from around 60 feet at the bottom of the shaft to its normal 10-15 feet or so at which it normally runs beneath the surface.
Below left, a couple of the big Sideboom tractors used to move the pipes about are seen resting against a backdrop of Dinefwr Castle before readying themselves to move a special section of pipe. At moments like this I find myself wondering what those who built those impressive castles would have made of these huge machines. Below right is the specially built 90 section of pipe that will connect the pipe beneath the river to the pipe climbing out of the shaft. As I understand it these 'bends' are specially made in Germany, to a very demanding specification because pressure of gas when in service is extreme at such acute angles.


Below, that section of pipe is moved slowly down towards the riverside - and right, the beast has landed at base camp.


Next the pipe is dangled from the crane that will drop it down into the shaft, having being first levelled out by a series of chains and pulleys, with the joint being prepared for welding to the in situ section. Below right, this section is now in place, with the section above having also been welded into place from that temporary platform.


A section of the shaft wall itself has be cut back for the pipe to emerge - after first removing the thick surround of concrete protecting the shaft. Below right, a cage is seen dangling in the shaft as workmen cut away at the wall.


Below left, the pipe can be seen exiting from under the river at the extreme bottom of the shaft, then climbing up before navigating another 90 turn and exiting into common or garden terrain and disappearing up the valley and through mid-Wales to appear next at Tirley in Gloucestershire. The workman squatting on the pipe, below right, gives a great indication of the size of this jumbo pipeline.


Finally below are shots from the other side of the river, the south side. The shaft there, at around 40 feet or so deep, is much shallower than the northern side - there's very little difference between ground levels either side of the river so therefore the pipeline must climb ever so gently as it passes beneath the river. The most obvious difference below is the lack of 90 turns, the pipe crossing and climbing the shaft to emerge as shown below, right, and head south and west for Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire. These lesser bends are again specially made to resist the intense pressures they'll have to withstand during their lifetime.


With the river crossing bringing the final-ish piece of the pipeline jigsaw together, all that is now left is the cleaning and testing of the pipe - so next time, and I have left it until near the end, I'll introduce you to the real pig of the whole operation. Oink-oink!



BULLETIN 24, 13/11/07:

The gas pipes went in one by one,
There's one more river to cross.


With the southern shaft of the River Towy crossing having been shoved back down, so to speak (see end of Bulletin 21, below), the task of tunnelling a passage for the pipeline under the river went ahead full steam. Top left, the crossing as seen from Dinefwr Castle; top right, the cranes either side of the river servicing the two shafts confirm what a significant project it is. Below left, dangling from the crane one of the cages used to transport personnel up and down the shaft, and below right a workman is lowered down the shaft in one of the smaller cages.


Down at the bottom of the shaft, the tunnel has been dug and the heavy duty concrete conduits which line the tunnel are in place awaiting the gas pipeline itself. The actual cutting machine that carved out the tunnel used water at high pressure to cut into the subsoil. Water is drawn from the river, but strict environmental rules mean that the same water has to be used over and over, so after the removed muck of liquid and solids are separated, the dirty water is then pumped up to a series of lagoons just above the crossing - below right ......


The water is first pumped into the top lagoon before it drains through a series of lagoons - to be used again from the farthest lagoon. Below, the gas pipes that will be lowered down the shaft to be welded at the base before being pulled through from the other side. Unlike the standard pipes they are much shorter, obviously - around 20' long - and below right, one is on its way down the shaft......


The rather dramatic photos below are not of this particular shaft, but of similar work which happened at a river crossing further west. These were kindly given me by a most agreeable and highly regarded Dutchman, Peter Van Dijk, Chief Sitting Bull of the pipeline laying process itself. In fact he kindly gave me a memory stick full of photos taken along the length of the pipeline, and I shall feature some of these when the pipeline has finished along my square mile.


Above, you can see that a section of pipe has been pulled through from the other side of the river, and the welders are awaiting the arrival of the next section; alongside they're preparing the in situ pipe for the welding process that will happen when the next section is lowered into place (as shown above). Next time, we'll see the pipeline come back up out of the shaft!



BULLETIN 23, 05/11/07: The sheep's not in the meadow ......

Another quick Dai Version: given the huge volume of vehicles, not to mention their size, motoring up and down the small country lanes that serve much of the pipeline, it goes without saying that damage is caused not only to the roads themselves, but also the grass verges where vehicles clip the verges or simply have to pass each other. Whilst those who drive the larger vehicles - such as above - are highly professional operators, damage must obviously be done to the road itself, but the verge problem is down to smaller vehicles such as 4x4s, tractors and the like passing each other. The contractors put up signs to warn their drivers off, but it's a losing battle. Walking along one of these roads I notice just ahead of me a rambling sheep exit the fenced off pipeline track and casually wander up the lane, minding its own business - or so it seems......

"Don't do this,
Don't do bleedin' that."
"No, best not to...
Someone's bound to catch me."
"Honestly, stealth and safety
will be the death of me."
"Look buster," in best Miss Piggy voice, "this lane ain't big enough for the both of us -
and I ain't stepping onto the verge, what with that Nogood Boyo behind me with the camera."


BULLETIN 22, 29/10/07: Bird's-eye view ......
Before returning to the final stages of the River Towy crossing, another bit of a Dai Version - or more correctly, a High-Di-High Version. Along my morning walk, especially since taking in the pipeline route, I regularly pass a homestead called Birdshill Farm, a location from where hot air balloon trips regularly take off - it's been briefly mentioned in despatches over on Look You - but curiously, and remembering that the Llandeilo area retains its sense of locality cum community, I have no idea who lives there, or at least I didn't until last week. I regularly watch balloons climb away, I take photos, and when I study these I see those on board returning the compliment. So I was thinking: it would be rather wonderful to have a few aerial photos of the pipeline, so last week I went on an afternoon walk and called in at Birdshill. I was made very welcome by hosts David Smith and his good lady, a delightfully charming couple, who kindly provided me with some great snaps of the route. So below I match up aerial shots with work on the ground, although the time frames do not necessarily match - that really would be asking for the earth. Let's start at the northern end, at the A40 crossing, and move south towards the River Towy crossing. The most memorable shot at the A40 spot was of the pipes being laid to rest on that exceptionally steep incline - X marks the spot ... and so on down the line ......










While the X at the top of the photo directly above marks the river crossing, the XX marks Birdshill Farm and its position relative to the pipeline. Now aren't those great photos. A hundred thousand thanks to the Smiths and Floating Sensations Limited. Check out the experience on www.floatingoverwales.com



BULLETIN 21, 17/10/07: Burning your bridges ......
ile the laying of the pipeline itself was all rather ephemeral as it shot through my square mile - not quite here today gone tomorrow, but each specialised group of workmen took very little time to do their bit before the next lot arrived on the scene - the one exception being the River Towy crossing, which has gone on for months and months, much longer than anticipated, apparently, because they encountered - let's not call them problems but rather challenges - challenges to do with water, surprise, surprise. The first photo below, taken down river of the crossing, shows the two alpha cranes located at the shafts either side of the river. The snap alongside shows the northern shaft while under construction......




Below, the shaft on the southern side, also under construction - Old MacDonald and his farmyard lot pretty much carry on as if nothing is happening. Alongside, we're back on the northern side, looking down, and this pic shows the arrival of the equipment needed to bore under the river (there it is, lying close to the shaft)......




Below, and behind the gas pipeline, the concrete pipes which will line the underground 'tunnel' before the pipeline itself is passed through. These concrete pipes are quite impressive, about 6' high, 9' long, and as the second shot below confirms, weighing in at around 5 tons each......




Below, a look into the shaft - around 60' deep I'd guess - and down there the equipment drilling away under the river: the system uses water, under high pressure, to cut through the ground. In the next photo alongside, a section of the tunnelling machine can be seen to the left of the shaft - but the significance of this particular snap is the river behind, and as you can see, remembering of course the soggy summer of 2007, the Towy is 'right up to here' with all the wet weather......




Imagine my surprise then one morning when I see the shaft on the southern side climbing skywards. "Why are they building it so high?" I remember thinking. Surely if they're expecting floods that high, it's an ark they should be building, not laying a pipeline. Normally, the shaft would only be about 3-4' above ground (just the width of one of those shaft rings), but that's about 15'. Well - no pun intended - blame the wet summer, because with the river so high, the water which has permeated every square inch of the adjoining ground, has physically pushed up the whole shaft - all that weight, as if it were a toy! The sheer power of water.




The surround of the shaft has a complex vacuum system which sucks up all the water entering the ground around the shaft, but from below, the shaft is sealed with concrete, but there should be allowance to let water through (which is then pumped out), but the seal at the bottom is too perfect, so the water, with nowhere to go, merely says 'out of my way'. Either that or the whole shebang wasn't properly pinned. Whatever, quite astonishing. The final photo in this bulletin was taken slightly upstream of the crossing, where the river dramatically cuts into the fields at a rate of knots, but it shows perfectly the constituent parts of the ground hereabouts: about 6' or so of really fertile soil, then gravel - and more gravel - which confirms why the Towy Valley is so quick drying - but when it rains and rains and rains the gravel is a natural soak to all the excess water that was the feature of summer 2007...... To be continued......



BULLETIN 20, 10/10/07:
If you didn't know how old you are, how old do you think you are?

What a cracker of a conundrum. I've already had some fun tossing it about down at the old Crazy Horsepower, especially listening to folk as they work through the various options to arrive at some sort of an answer, invariably a rather optimistic age many years younger than reality, I would say - one of these days I'll have to delve into it in more detail over on Look You - in the meantime, the question came to mind a few days ago when I met one of the more specialised operators doing his bit on the River Towy crossing. I'll return to the crossing itself next time; in the meantime, a rather atmospheric early-morning photo taken from the river itself, just downstream of the crossing......



The dominant feature of the above is obviously the alpha crane, around which everything revolves because it's what transports all the materials and manpower up and down the shaft alongside the river - for example, below, workmen being lowered to work on the tunnel that will carry the pipeline under the river. The photo alongside is the operator of said crane, Bruce, a sprightly 74 - yes, seventy-four and definitely younger than his actual age - and still going strong......




Chatting to Bruce, a most agreeable individual, he told me that there are three generations of the family working on the pipeline: his son, and I think he said two grandsons. I've sensed all along that this pipeline operation is a family affair - in more ways than one. With Bruce operating such a rig at 74, I've observed that most of the critical machines are operated by - how can I put this? - the more experienced generation! Bruce told me a nice one about his wife wondering when he was going to call it a day and retire. Well, he's done a deal: the day she stops shopping, he'll stop working! Which reminds me of the time a pal said that his wife was trying hard to convince her father, now that he was approaching 80, to give up the family farm. Old Griff, a rare character, had never had a holiday, and insisted that "If you're happy in your work, every day's a holiday". Too true, and something with which Bruce will wholeheartedly agree, I'm sure. Anyway, back with Griff retiring from farming, and it's important to note that even though he was farming on his own, he'd have been in good health at the time; oh yes, to put it in context, all this was unfolding in the late eighties, and he would have been about the same age as Ronald Reagan, then President of the United States of America. "Look," he told his daughter, "if Ronald Reagan can run America at 78 years of age, then I'm damn sure I can run this farm." There's no answer to that, really.



BULLETIN 19, 05/10/07


When I realised it was World Smile Day - see www.lookyou.co.uk - I knew that I had a perfect sequence, just recently captured. It was a beautiful early morning, a mist hanging about the valley, and a couple of the heavy machines used to move and place the pipes (I believe they call them Sideboom tractors) had come to a stop while specialists worked on the pipes. Then I noticed one of the Sideboom operators climb onto - well, the bonnet really - and have a conversation with all the other workers around him. Which is fine, except that this was quite one of the most delightfully animated conversations I've ever witnessed. Normally we wave our hands and arms about if we're excited, upset, angry, stressed - but this appeared to be just a normal exchange. From where I was standing, I sort of gathered that the gent in the pulpit delivering what appeared to be a good old fashioned fire and brimstone lecture to his congregation was French (later confirmed), so the performance below rather endorses the stereotypical Continental who waves his hands about a lot. I call the sequence, with a nod and a wink to Rooster Cogburn of True Grit fame ......


Excuse me, monsieur, but which is the way to Amarillo?


Phew! I'm not surprised that in the penultimate shot above he is seen to take a break - I was exhausted just watching. Now isn't it a wonderful sequence? Definitely honours World Smile Day. In the final photo he spots me - the snaps look slightly grainy because, as mentioned above, all this unfolds on a misty morn in the Towy Valley - and he smiles and sticks two thumbs up. Mind you, why aren't those arms extended? If he were a Wild West gunslinger, I think those hands are down there ready to go for his six-shooters: "Point that thing at me just one more time - and you're a dead man, gringo!"




I believe I've already mentioned that there are 19 nationalities working on this section of pipeline (apparently) - indeed someone recently told me he'd had reason to visit a site in connection with work, and the first person he approached couldn't speak English (Eastern European was his guess), but one presumes that there would be other similar nationalities around to act as translator. This episode highlights the international nature of this operation: Saudi Arabia yesterday, Wales today, Russia tomorrow ... the dogs bark and the caravan moves on. Given today's extraordinary display of rainbows - see Look You - I captured this rather intense Rainbow Nation image......

Over on Look You, scanning the rainbow from left to right, gave us
In Bed Give You Odd Reactions but here, again reading from left to right, its Richard Of York Given Blowjob In Vain. Well, you have to remember that getting down and dirty in a trench is a mans job! Oh yes, before you think that 19 nationalities equals one happy-clappy rainbow family, I have a series of photos and observations which prove that tribalism along the pipeline is alive and well - but as Kenny Everett's gloriously spoonercalifragilisticexpialidocious Cupid Stunt would say: "It's all done in the best possible taste, Michael." This delightful tribal episode coming up shortly......

BULLETIN 17, 20/09/07: Earth to earth ...... 

Old MacNacap* had a farm, e-i-e-i-o;
And on this farm it had a spit-spat˚, e-i-e-i-o.
With a "spit-spat" here and a "spit-spat" there,
Here a "spit" there a "spat",
Everywhere a "spit-spat";
Old MacNacap had a farm, e-i-e-i-o!

* Nacap is the main pipeline contractor
˚ Spit-spat is a machine that can create, in front of your very eyes, animals out of the very soil whence we all come
   Watch this pipeline......

I have lots of catching up to do. The pipeline, having been read its last rites (excluding the River Towy crossing at Cilsane Mill), has been gently and carefully lowered to rest. I quietly sing a hymn of remembrance: "Abide with me: fast falls the eventide; The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide ......" Now we await the final act: "We therefore commit its body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust ......"

When I stumble upon the sight below I suddenly wonder if I'm in the jungle; I half-expect to see Harrison Ford hurry across the makeshift ladder bridge, a huge ball in hot pursuit. At a guess I'd say the ladder offers temporary support for the water main beneath. The pipe on the surface carries ditch water. The photo alongside sees a start to the backfilling.

On an afternoon walk, I hear the roar of a machine. Through a gap in the hedge ...... goodness, what on earth is it?

When the actual trench for the pipeline was excavated, the significant amount of soil removed was piled high to one side - and now there's this crazy-looking machine clambering all over it like a mountain Billy Goat Gruff. I've never seen anything quite like this before. What is it doing? Well, it crawls along the top of the mounds of removed earth, scoops it up and proceeds to grade the stuff. All the fine material it spits out the side and into the trench; this is the backfill around the pipe. Heavy material and stones are spat out the back - hence the Spit-spat machine - this grading ensures that when the pipe is girdled with fine soil, no stone or such like from the remaining stuff used to totally fill the trench can damage the pipe if compressed against it. Every day a day at school.

Yes, as the telltale photo above right suggests, the Spit-spat machine comes from the States. Only the Yanks could come up with such a clever bit of kit. Hang about, I hear you say, what was all that stuff above about the Spit-spat, "a machine that can create, in front of your very eyes, animals out of the very soil whence we all come". Now this is where the machine comes into it's own. Only the Yanks would challenge nature. Look closely at the photo below left ...... especially that spot where the spit is about to hit the dirt ......

...... that spot has been enlarged alongside. Yes! - no, it's not Spit the dog - it's Billy Goat Gruff Junior, with a little goatee beard as well. See what I mean, Spit-spat creates animals in front of your very eyes. And there's no diggery-pokery involved, honest - cross my heart and hope to be slammed for six by the fearsome Troll hiding under Llandeilo bridge - just proof that photography is 99 per cent luck, 1 per cent inspiration. What I think happens is that the machine was restarted and the first lump of soil it kicks out morphs smilingly for the camera.  All hail the Spit-spat machine say I.

Do you know, between you, me and the Spit-spat machine, I think I'm starting to lose it. 

BULLETIN 16A, 17/09/07: Addendum to Bulletin 16, dated 12/09/07 ......
"Why do you call the pipeline Cary Grant?" was the query, "I mean, I could understand North by Northwest or even better, EMS - Eva Marie Saint - but Cary Grant?" Fair question. It's a variation on cockney rhyming slang, I guess. We all know that farmers are the great moaners and complainers of life, never happy with their lot - and I say this as a farmer's son. Over recent years the farming industry has had an awful time - forget the large units which rake in subsidies by the hundreds of thousands, they are akin to the multi-millionaires in other walks of life, wholly unrepresentative of life in the real world - so when the farming community complained bitterly about the total collapse in their income, nobody really believed them. The old crying wolf syndrome. If you go back to the Second World War and scroll forward to the early nineties, farmers were doing well, especially as they claimed subsidies for everything - commonly known as grants - so they shouldn't have been complaining. Then Mad Cow Disease, Foot and Mouth and Mr Tesco came in quick succession - crash! And now Bluetongue has entered, stage left.

Which has always baffled me. Three things we can't do without: water, food and an efficient sewage system. History warns us that we're overdue a global catastrophe: it could be man-made, a nuclear conflagration perhaps; a little visitor from space - not big enough to wipe us all out but just big enough to throw everything into chaos; possibly nature throwing a wobbly, a huge volcanic eruption causing a nuclear winter, or even a deadly disease akin to the black death - whatever it'll be, food, water and sewage will be the difference between life and death. These three essential items for existence should be treated separately and not exposed to market forces. When the disaster hits, politicians seem to think that we'll be able to stroll onto an abandoned farm, start up a tractor, throw a switch - hey presto, food - whereas in effect nothing will appear for about a year. Disaster. We'll all be at each others throats like cornered rats.

Anyway, back to Cary Grant, the key word being Grant: when the pipeline arrived, those farmers affected were handsomely rewarded for the disruption, in effect another form of grant or subsidy. As one local farmer said, if the gas boys want to come back next year, they're very welcome. The farmers badly affected were intensive, dairy farmers who had to find other land to rent for grazing and for silage and the like. A real headache, so they, out of choice, would probably rather not have seen the pipeline.



A perfect example of

the pipeline cutting a disruptive

swathe right across a dairy farm

However, for most farmers it's been like winning second prize on the lottery. Which reminds me of the tale from yesteryear about a local farmer, a sheep farmer with mountain rights - and these are the boys who historically shovelled the money into their bank accounts compliments of all the grants and subsidies. Anyway, this old boy regularly attended the local chapel, and one Sunday morning the preacher was into his prayer routine, a rather long, drawn out affair, and the farmer was gently sliding into the land of nod. "Grant us O Lord," announced the preacher in a suddenly loud and rather excited voice - at which point the farmer came to with a start and quietly nudged another farmer alongside him: "I missed that - what was that grant for?"

BULLETIN 16, 12/09/07: "Hubie - there's a bird on the line ......"

I shall miss old Cary Grant - which reminds me of the tale of a journalist doing a promotional piece on Grant, but being unsure of his age, sent him a telegram: 'How old Cary Grant?' Back came the reply: 'Old Cary Grant fine! How you?' "What's Cary Grant got to do with the price of gas?" I hear you ask. Well, that's what I call the pipeline. Every morning, you see, I head North by Northwest to reach the pipeline track, and I've got quite attached to walking its length, from the A40 down to the River Towy. It's given a whole new perspective to my square mile. At one specific point along the walk - before the pipes were buried - I regularly came across a little bird perched on the pipeline - pictured alongside. At first it would fly away as soon as I came within sight, but with each walk it became less wary and lingered longer on the pipe. I eventually captured this photo - not technically good because of zoom and poor light. Now I've no idea what it is - it continually wags its tail (up and down!), and flies as if on a permanent roller coaster. Actually I see more than my fair share of wonderful birds, and whilst I recognise all the obvious birdies, from the swan, via the goose, heron, little egret, duck, coot, pigeon ... even down to the blackbird, robin and wren - but as for the abundance of small songbirds, I've decided to simply observe, listen and enjoy, rather than load my already overstretched little brain with too much information. Mention of birds, I've noticed a few female employees working along the pipeline, a civil engineering world that not long ago would have been pretty much exclusively male...

Along my walks I'm occasionally passed by a young lady in a red 4x4 pick-up truck. We exchange typical country greetings of smiles or raised hands of acknowledgment. One morning I notice her parked just inside a site entrance. She appears to be alone but doing something in her truck, so I decide to have a word. There's nothing like a good opening line, they say: "Hello, can I be really rude and take a photo of you?" Which is nothing like a good opening line. However, she smiles and laughs - so I hastily explain about this pipeline blog and my use of photos - she agrees. I establish her name as Carol (with no e!: I've such a terrible memory for names, faces, facts, figures ... the only way I remember is to paint a little picture - so now I won't forget Carol with no e!), a Scottish lass, and that she works for the Environment. She's friendly, cheery and enlightens me with fascinating information about the rather complex river crossing I introduced in my last bulletin. It always helps that those who have unusual or off-beat jobs love talking about their work. And why not? During our conversation an urgent call arrives - captured here - and she has to shoot off. Now, if I'd been a head-hunter, and Carol's qualifications and experience were acceptable, those crucial first few moments when we decide whether someone is a dolphin or a shark, metaphorically speaking, she came through with a dolphinesque leap. But crucially, what she was doing when I first approached her was - cleaning the inside of her truck. Now can you imagine a man ever doing such a thing at seven in the morning while waiting for a colleague or a phone call? Carol, you're hired.

PS: Talk of Cary Grant, North by Northwest and great opening lines, I'm reminded of that memorable scene in the train, Grant is on the run and sharing a table in the dining car with the delectable Eva Marie Saint. He delivers a celebrated line to die for: "The moment I meet an attractive woman, I have to start pretending I have no desire to make love to her."

PPS: There was a discussion on the radio about man colonising Mars sometime this century. Someone rang in and suggested that the first settlers on Mars should be exclusively female; what with their legendary multitasking skills and all that, when we men eventually arrive, the place at least will be neat and tidy. Well I liked it.

PPPS:  Pondering on the different ways women think and act, I've noticed that when I visit a supermarket and pick up a carton of eggs, when I pass through the checkout, a female attendant will invariably open the carton to check that none of the eggs are damaged, but a male cashier invariably won't. Strange but true. Mind you, whenever I visit a supermarket I invariably take on the look of a little boy in a sweetshop suffering extreme toothache, which probably brings out the maternal instinct in the female of the species.

BULLETIN 15, 06/09/07: Before I return to the closing stages of the burial ceremony along the main track of the pipeline, I must take five to cover its more involved stages as it crosses my corner of God's acre (see previous bulletin) i.e. passing under a minor country road (twice), the main A40 road, and finally the River Towy, or The Duchess, as a director of Beechwood Construction, a one time local civil engineering company, christened her, for he found her a very unforgiving mistress to climb into bed with. Regarding the small country-cum-service road, it was simply dug up and spanned with a mini bailey bridge - as shown below. On the other minor crossing (the second photo below), I'm actually standing on the temporary bridge as a section of pipe is guided into place just beneath my feet.

The two likely lads below were sitting in their trucks waiting for the welding on the pipe beneath the temporary bridge to be checked before getting on with the job of covering the pipe and getting the road back open again. The lad nearest is fairly local, from the Amman Valley, I think he said, the farthest, an Englishman, apparently filling in between modelling jobs! To the right, an ultra-sonic weld check on the pipes beneath the road before the filling-in can start.

As for crossing the A40, the road is not dug, but the pipeline's path burrowed deep beneath - much deeper than its normal course, as the series of photos below show. Firstly the pipe levels out after coming down that steep track in the background - and then it dives under the road - exiting the other side, giving some idea of just how deep the pipe actually is under the road - the final snap shows the pipe climbing back to its bog-standard underground level.

The River Towy crossing deserves a bulletin all to itself. It's been a long drawn out process, the contractors having encountered all sorts of problems. The Duchess is alive and well and kicking. As a taster for ten, below I show the two shafts sunk either side of the river - as a guesstimate they look about 25-30 feet in diameter, to a depth of around 50-60 feet - which rather dwarfs the depth of the A40 crossing.


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