400 SMILES A DAY ~ What a gas, Page 3: It's in the pipeline
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Scroll down for Llandeilo's Hallelujah Trail + Penlan Park's Centenary Celebration...
Meanwhile, the Gas Pipeline Bulletins have a little catching up to do...

MARCH, 2007 ... A BRIEF INTRO FOR NEWCOMERS: Crossing some 130 crow-miles of southern Wales - nearly 200 worm-miles - from Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire to Tirley in Gloucestershire, is a jumbo LNG (liquefied natural gas) pipeline which will pump 20% of our natural gas needs into the national grid.

The pipeline is likely to cost a cool billion quid - part of a 12 billion going on 15 billion overall project to bring gas from some faraway place with a strange sounding name to where you put your feet up - and no expense is being spared to cover the backsides of politicians who find it impossible to think ahead further than the 5 years needed to get themselves re-elected. The pipeline crosses a corner of my square mile, the place where I find myself at one with nature - X marks the spot, above. Red marks the pipeline from Milford to Felindre, near Swansea (compressor/pumping station), orange its track from Felindre to Tirley.
     I accept its arrival as a necessary evil, and hopefully I’ll capture some off-beat images of its passage. As it turns out, I had no idea of the circus - in the best big-tent sense - that would arrive on my doorstep......


BULLETIN 41, 17/05/09
The end of the line ... part one...
Dateline: Tuesday, 12 May 2009


Two households of note come together to give the royal seal of approval to the UK leg of the controversial multi-billion-pound LNG (liquefied natural gas) energy project as they attend the inauguration of the sprawling South Hook gas terminal in Milford Haven.
     Alongside, the Queen with the Emir of Qatar during the inauguration of the South Hook terminal. Three things catch my eye: he's a big lad; love the pen he is sporting in his breast pocket; and I am suitably bewitched by the elegance of the lady at the very back, right.
     Actually, four things catch my eye: how sprightly the Queen looks and performs for her age. Yes, yes, of course, she has led a privileged life - but I wouldn't swap, honest - but there's more to it than that. So well done her. At least there's one person in the UK who does her duty for, er, Queen and country.
     The massive £1bn terminal at South Hook with its five huge storage tanks, each able to house the Albert Hall, has taken three years to build and is at the precise mid-point of a going on £15b delivery chain stretching from the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious gas fields of the Persian state of Qatar via the West Wales port, and then onward by giant pipeline across southern Wales to join the national grid in Gloucestershire - and finally by modest pipeline to the central heating boiler in my homely little cwtch of a cave.
     Directly below is a rather wonderful graphic from the BBC which highlights brilliantly what's involved: the route from Qatar; the entrance at Milford Haven, including the UK's gas pipeline network; and finally the pipeline route across Wales.
     Alongside the graphic, the massive 315m long, 136,000 tonne Tembek, one of 14 huge Q-Max tankers - the largest LNG tankers in the world - arriving at South Hook with its load from Qatar. Note those huge storage tanks, just visible onshore.


These ships are so large it is quite impossible to put their actual size into context, so I turn again to a perfect BBC graphic...

So what now? Well, I shall trawl back through all these bulletins I've cobbled together and bring you my favourite images...

A man's man of a machine boasts a curiously camp accessory...
...a bit of kit clearly operated by Butch Cassidy and the Raindance Kid

When a pipeline worker is threatened with a good hanging,
it concentrates his mind wonderfully (with apologies to Samuel Johnson)


During the dreadfully wet summer of 2007, Raindance was a popular Kid -
but note what the machine has just discharged into the trench...

...no, not Raindance Kid, but Billy the Kid...
...a whole pile of soil magically morphs into a Billy Goat Gruff


Meet Dutchman Peter van Dijk, Chief Sitting Bull of the actual
pipe laying project itself - who kindly gave me the three shots here...

...taken just a few miles up the valley at Myddfai, Prince Charles
territory, and give an idea of the challenges faced along the way...


Here, this image is taken from where the previous shot shows the
pipeline disappearing over the brow of the hill...

...and this, looking back at where the previous shot was taken from!
Now you understand why the whole pipeline cost a cool billion quid.


Back on my little patch ... it's not all simple soil to dig through...
...but occasionally solid rock has to be blasted away

Meanwhile, the pipeline winds its merry way along...
...like a slithering jumbo worm from Brobdingnag in Gulliver's Travels...


Note how the worker is dwarfed by the pipe...
...suddenly, the worm disappears even deeper...

...where there's one more river to cross - or under, actually...
...this deep shaft leads the pipe under the River Towy


Above ground though, it's all very serene and picturesque...
...which disguises the hectic goings-on underground

Here, a brace of huge cranes throw a great
big sws (kiss) across the valley...


...which is a perfect place to leave part one of this final journey. Next time out, I shall concentrate on the images which made me smile...


BULLETIN 40, 15/02/09
The green, green grass of home...

With the laying of the pipeline itself having been completed just over a year ago, pretty much on target, I was intrigued as to why there had been no news of any gas actually being pumped along the line. Which, in the general context of things, is important news, for sure. Then, just the other day on our local TV news bulletins, there were numerous items confirming that in fact, Milford Haven, with its huge storage tanks and conversion plant, was now ready to receive the first of the 14 supertankers bringing the liquefied gas from Qatar - phew! - expected sometime over the coming weeks.
     So this seemed like a good time to bring my part of the story bang up to date - and I use the word 'bang' rather loosely, of course...

Last time out I left the tale with the pipeline track having been reinstated and reseeded, looking pristine and proper. Above, aerial shots - compliments of www.floatingoverwales.com, Dai Balloons is yer man - showing part of the pipeline I have written about here.
     Everything is neat and tidy, awaiting the conversion to green, green grass. The shot above, right, shows the pipeline track as it
approaches the River Towy - running up on the right is the access road specifically built to serve the pipeline - and the cultivated areas either side of the river show where the deep tunnel was bored to take the pipeline under the river. Interestingly, if you look the far side of the river there is no trace of the pipeline exiting that site ... that's because the field directly above it was reseeded the autumn before and all trace of the pipeline has disappeared. Just like that. Magic!

Above, the newly reseeded grass is already growing (taken end of June), but more interesting is how quickly nature reclaims the land with masses of cobwebs all over the track. A more general shot, above, taken around the same time - and there's that distinctive old tree covered in ivy which features in so many of my photographs.

Above, a re-laid and newly fenced hedge (pictured at the end of May) awaits some grass seeds and the important saplings, but again nature's survivors - some would call them weeds - quickly re-establish themselves ... ... and above, the same length of hedge, just a couple of months later, with saplings planted and well established - and the grass growing apace along the pipeline track as it climbs the field above.

Above, another section of newly planted hedge, with reseeded track either side (taken at the beginning of July), Above, the distinctive tree once more, with the grass coming along nicely (during August). The damp summer made it perfect growing weather.

Above, a more general shot of the new growth - and the other side of the fenced off pipeline track, the sheep patiently await the day when they can reclaim their very own green, green grass of home. Above, a much wider shot of the same length of pipeline - Towy Valley mist in the background - some five weeks later, and the grass is pretty much ready for grazing.

Above, an interesting shot taken looking across the pipeline track, highlighting what looks like vehicle tracks. In fact they are wildlife tracks - foxes and badgers, probably - as they move about their territory, crossing from the untouched 'virgin' land the other side of those gates, to similar land behind the camera. Normally these tracks would not be obvious, or at least only obvious to the highly trained eye familiar with the comings and goings on the wild side of life. And above, at last, the sheep are back on familiar territory and dining out on some fresh grass. Yum! The white post with the red top is directly above the pipeline ... these posts are markers and are spotted at regular intervals along the length of the pipeline.

Talking of nature re-establishing itself, the above picture of a solitary bluebell was taken around the middle of May - the pipeline track can just about be seen in the background ... and alongside, above, bang in the middle of a newly laid hedge, a foxglove makes a diminutive but powerful statement that you just can't keep nature down.
     Finally, below, as Milford Haven awaits its first tanker to enable the gas to flow, a picture from November 18, 2008, of the liquefied natural gas tanker Methania - and there lies a fascinating tale...
Just a year ago the world was experiencing rocketing fuel prices as demand exceeded supply. Suddenly the credit crunch, or more correctly, economic meltdown, hit worldwide, and boyoboyo, it struck with a vengeance. Demand for oil, coal and gas slumped, prices crashed.
     The above tanker, full of LNG, had sat for four weeks off Falmouth because plans to sell its cargo had to be abandoned ... the falling price of natural gas was keeping buyers at bay. The spot market for gas - something similar to the hedge funds we have heard so much about apropos the current financial crisis - had collapsed, so the load had to be returned to Belgium,
whence it came and where the LNG's owner, Distrigas, then had to sell it on locally. At a significant loss, it goes without saying.
     It shows what a dodgy business all this fuel malarkey is - just think of the recent and worrying standoff between Russia and Ukraine over gas, and how it affected EU countries dragged into the political shenanigans.
     Secure fuel supply is now crucial, and the UK probably can't wait for the ships to start arriving at Milford Haven, especially as our cold winter must have stretched our power industry to its limits.
     I await the arrival of that first ship with much interest...

BULLETIN 39, 02/11/08
Coming into the home straight ... and a burning issue

The burning issue, above, coming up, below! But first things first...

Just to keep you in the picture, the above shot highlights the mechanics of the reinstatement work. Below, left, a quick reminder of just one particular fleet - four bulldozers, two excavators - which work as a unit to level out the big mounds of topsoil...

Above, right, an excavator flattens the redistributed topsoil to get a fairly even surface ... but what is now scattered all over the pipeline track is evidence of the huge gang of workmen that has passed this way...

A plastic bottle awaits collection, and this is where, above right, we begin to espy flocks of the Greater Spotted Robin Redhead...

This species walks every square foot of the pipeline track, above left, picking up not only any foreign bodies such as the aforementioned plastic bottle, but also stones and bits of wood and root which will distract from the desired table-top smoothness of the finished track. Above right, the Greater Spotted Robin Redhead deploy good old-fashioned spades to even out any lumpiness.

Once all foreign bodies have been dispatched the rotavator, above, breaks up the soil ready for reseeding - but proceeded by the tractor and spreader, above right, distributing lime and fertiliser. The rotavator can be seen in the background.

In the meantime all rubbish and discarded hedge material is pulled together, and I was intrigued by the bits of paper spotted amidst the material - and alongside is the hidden message. On the banner signpost over on Look You I 'pushed the boundaries' and deployed some 'edgy comedy', in as much that, given the Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross nonsense currently doing the rounds, I added the names of Brand & Ross to the FOR BURNING instruction. Let's face it, those two are the equivalent of witches in a previous time, so the proper punishment is to be burnt at the stake. I think!

Loved this instruction spotted along the way. I have to admit to doing something I make a point of not doing, namely physically changing the image, but I couldn't resist adding the coma: STOP, DRAIN - as in STOP, THIEF! Little things... Alongside, above, this is the river bank where the temporary bailey bridge was built, and now everything is as was, with that degradable covering put there to stop the soil washing away with the rain, and through which the seeds will pop.

Above, left, the track is near ready for reseeding and then rolling - the soil is compacted with a heavy roller - and alongside, a balloon shot gives a perfect view of the finished product, all prim and proper and looking a treat. If you place an X in the centre of that aerial shot, then that is where the sheep were grazing when I took my very first picture of the pipeline project.

All the pipeline workers I spoke to along the way, from common or garden labourer to top gun, insisted that they would take great pride in returning the countryside to as near as possible its original state, and it has to be said, so far so very impressive. All that is now left is for the track to gradually blend in with the surrounding countryside. The green, green grass of home coming up shortly...

BULLETIN 38, 03/10/08

Tonight, smile at someone - tomorrow change the world.
                                                                                                                                                   with apologies to Bono of U2 for the slight paraphrasing
So what is the significance of the slice of graffiti as seen on the pipe photograph recently added to the 400 Smiles A Day link banner? Well, here it is, alongside, in all its glory...
     Back on August 28, 2007 (Bulletin 13) I did a feature on the
weird and wonderful and often puzzling bits of graffiti that gradually appeared on the pipes along the whole length of the pipeline - click onto the Page 1 link at the very top of this page to see just a few such images.
     All this graffiti was clearly the pride and joy of the various workers on site: it drifted between child-like, curious, educational, puzzling, artistic, funny and witty. Then the Bono one shown here appeared - there were many Irish working along the pipeline - so I presume whoever put it there was referring to Bono of U2 rather than Edward Bono of lateral and parallel thinking fame. For enlightenment, I guess you only need to cast a quick eye down a Bono quote list...
  *  "I'm not exaggerating ... this music changed the shape of the room. It changed the shape of the world outside the room; the way you looked out the window and what you were looking at." (Listening to John Lennon)

 *  "There's a great freedom when you have your feet in two so called mutually exclusive worlds: the world of irony, and the world of soul; the world of flesh, and the world of spirit; the world of surface and the world of depth."
  *  "Our music never had a roof on it."
  *  "As a rock star, I have two instincts, I want to have fun, and I want to change the world. I have a chance to do both."
Suddenly, you begin to grasp the message painted on a gas pipeline buried somewhere beneath the West Wales countryside. In fact, I know precisely where that length of pipe is, and as I walk that field I often wonder about those blessed with one specific, high profile talent, who then think they can change the world. A celebrity image regularly conceals the mediocrity of the individual behind the dazzle. The more I stand and stare the more I grasp that no one can do this. A mass of six-and-a-half going on nine billion people has a momentum all of its own. Despite what powerful, privileged and rich folk think,
they haven't a chance in hell. Think Hitler. And he really did have clout. All we can do is strap ourselves in tight and hope for the best. On a question and answer web site about U2, I learnt the following...
Bono's real name is Paul David Hewson. He was born in Ballymun, Dublin, Ireland on May 10th 1960. He got his original nickname, "Bono Vox", from the name of a hearing aid store in Dublin (actually called "Bonavox"). Bonavox is Latin for "good voice". The name Bono Vox was shortened to Bono sometime before U2's first album. Bono and wife Ali have two daughters - are you sitting comfortably? - Memphis Eve and Jordan, and two sons, Elijah Bob Patricius Guggi Q (yes, his real name) and John Abraham. Also, one question asked, How tall is Bono? To which the answer is "He's not!". Which made me smile.
     Perusing this information I thought, yep, the pipeline graffiti sits comfortably alongside all his quotes, especially this one...
  *  "We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong."

     Incidentally, to put the quote at the very top of this bulletin straight, what Bono actually said was...
"Tonight save a life - tomorrow change the world."
     Well, that's even beyond Bono. But I do think that a smile really does make things a bit more palatable. M
ind you, I do rather like this Bono quote:
“Next time you go out for dinner, have a look around the table and if everyone is on your payroll, the chances are you have become a prick.”
     Now the one thing
I noticed about all the pipeline graffiti was a lack of obscenity and nastiness. Just occasionally that was put to the test, yet it was always done with a bit of style and humour. For example, one morning I came upon this bit of graffiti, alongside ... the next day - and remember, quite a few women worked along the pipeline - directly below, is the image I captured.
     Ouch! Fork off, as the more spirited lady might say.
    And then, further along the pipeline, below left, I was surprised to find a boastful and highly dangerous message on a pipeline.


That anonymous fellow above is asking to have his pride and joy pricked - unless he got confused between the pipe he was handling and his willy.
     Shortly after, on a really misty morning, I watched a group of workers doing some of the very last welding along the pipeline. I hadn't entered the site, just leaning on a gate off a country lane. Given the mist, and being focussed on what they were doing, the welders never spotted me. Suddenly, one of the workmen decided to have a pee, facing directly towards me and my camera. He must see me, I thought to myself - but he never did.

All I can say is that I hope he wasn't the one who boasted about the size of his willy. Mind you, a rather sexy lady one assured me that it really isn't the length of the barrel but the power of the shot. That has kept my spirits up no end ever since. Happy World Smile Day to all those who follow my observations of life, the universe and everything.

BULLETIN 37, 28/09/08
A bit of ground work

With all the drainage complete, and some reasonable weather back in late spring, early summer, the levelling of the mounds of topsoil in preparation for reseeding unfolds rather quickly. Below, one of the first photographs I took of the pipeline project back in the spring of 2007, where the excavator is building a pyramid of bulldozed topsoil - I was rather taken with the juxtaposition of the excavator's 'neck' compared with nature's version.

Alongside, above, perhaps the same excavator returns a year later to dismantle the mound.

Above, a visitor is not particularly fussed about what's happening, whilst alongside, a bulldozer moves in to help level the earthwork, ready for the heavy mob.

A fleet of bulldozers push and redistribute the topsoil evenly across the complete pipeline track.

Above, the work goes on in the shadow of Dinefwr Castle. And alongside, a perfect view of the depth of topsoil returned to its natural habitat.

All these heavy machines are thirsty beasts. Above, in the early morning gloom they line up to quench their thirsts. Behind the excavator, at the entrance off the main road into the site, is mum, the fuel tanker. As I've mentioned before, it would be fascinating to know the carbon footprint of this contract. Alongside, above, the very last corner of "my" territory is covered with topsoil.

Whilst the ground is being prepared for reseeding, all redundant bits and pieces left lying about are cleared away. Above, a temporary drainage pipe is brought out to the road for collection and removal. Alongside, above, a sign warns the excavators and bulldozers to go carefully as they grab and shove. I am overwhelmed with a desire to add NO RIPPING ... OF BODICES IN THESE 'ERE PARTS.

As the above notice indicates, each individual hedge bank material cleared to make way for the pipeline was neatly heaped and fenced off so that the exact same material is returned whence it came from. To the right, above, an excavator starts to rebuild the base of the hedge with that material.

Above, the hedge banks are finally in place - and alongside, a picture taken at the same road crossing but from the opposite side, the hedge banks are neatly fenced off and protected ready for the saplings and hedge plants. In time, the casual eye should not be able to spot the join between the old and the new.

Next time, the final stage to return the pipeline track to normality...

BULLETIN 36, 02/09/08
Catching up with the comings and goings along the pipeline - but with Georgia on my mind...

Over the spring and summer months (sic), the reinstatement work continued with remarkable efficiency given the lousy weather. However, during the Olympics we were given a rude wake-up call regarding the precarious nature of our energy supplies. That's right, Russia invaded Georgia and put at risk a major oil pipeline. Just a quick glance at the map alongside gives some idea of the ambush-laden territories the Baku-Tbilsi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline has to negotiate. The pipeline meets just 1 per cent of the global demand for oil, but it carries enormous political significance.
     The pipeline was conceived in the 1990s as a way of reducing the West's reliance on oil and gas from the Middle East and, crucially, Russia. Now it is under threat. At stake, the balance of power in the Caucasus, and the vital questions of how, and where, the US and Europe will obtain their oil - not to mention the UK's gas needs.
     The parallels between the BTC oil pipeline and our own Milford-Felindre-Tirley (MFT) gas pipeline are striking. While the MFT pipeline snakes nearly 200 miles across Wales, the BTC pipeline covers a similar distance across Georgia (275 miles across Azerbaijan, 155 across Georgia, 669 across Turkey, giving a total of 1,100 miles, using over 150,000 steel pipes as against MFT's 29,000).
     Below, just a couple of photographs from the construction of the BTC pipeline, and in truth the images could be from either pipeline - except of course that it does look a bit sunnier out in Georgia. The rather striking image of the stacked pipes was clearly taken during the early stages of pipe production.


Anyway, back with our own MFT gas pipeline. When I left the pipeline last time out - to go gallivanting around Llandampness - I had just come upon this strange looking bit of kit below. It was laying drainage pipes along a clayey, wet section of ground. The plough at the back digs the trench and the length of pipe hanging up there at the front of the machine is automatically reeled out and laid as the machine trundles along. In close-up, below, a section of the pipe, showing the little slits all over and along the pipe which, once in the ground, suck the water in.

When I first saw this machine I thought it was re-draining wet ground that had been badly disturbed during the pipe laying. Also, the pegs were back, I presumed, to confirm the precise underground path of the pipeline so that the heavier reinstatement equipment would not trample all over it. Wrong! Yes, the machine was re-draining wet ground - then I saw the image pictured alongside. Now the pipe runs where the pegs are - and right under where that lump of soil is in the middle. But then look at those two parallel drainage tracks running either side of the pipeline.
     Clearly, where there is wet ground there has to be drainage to take away all the water in the ground otherwise there is a real risk of waterlogged ground bodily lifting the pipe with all its attendant problems. Below, one of the pegs shows the precise depth of the pipe - as do all the pegs you see in the photo below, right. There, again, that lump of soil in the middle as seen in the picture alongside.
     Talking of lumps of soil, note the mounds of topsoil along the sides of the pipeline track, waiting to be levelled out once the drainage is complete.


Below, a close-up of the drain tracks, filled with stone, which helps drain the water from the surrounding ground and straight down into the pipe. Across the middle of the picture just above, right, runs a ditch, and into this runs the water from the drainage pipe. Directly below is where the drain enters the ditch - note the little lid that covers the opening which stops little critters such as moles and rats and various things entering the pipe and inevitably causing a blockage. And that's that. All that's left now is the levelling of all the topsoil mounds I mentioned above.

And that's that, drainage complete. All that's left now is the levelling of all the topsoil mounds mentioned above in preparation for the reseeding. Oh, and the fencing and the relaying of all the hedges bulldozed to make way for a whole lotta gas. All that coming up shortly.

JULY 09, 2008
Penlan Park's Centenary Celebration

On the afternoon of Saturday June 14th, Llandeilo celebrated the 100th anniversary of the opening and presentation of Penlan Park to the Town of Llandeilo by Lord Dynevor, by holding a freebie Edwardian Party. Here are some images captured on that wonderfully sunny and pleasant afternoon - the weather is crucial to the success of this sort of do, indeed, if it had been held just a week later it would have been a total washout. The luck of the draw...

Above, perhaps the most instantly recognisable aspect of Penlan Park to those approaching Llandeilo from various points of the compass, the famous beech trees of Capability Brown - monikers don't get much better than that - and once you get there, the iconic bandstand, captured at sunrise, looking west and into history... there I met a fellow with a rubber trumpet ... who said he was looking for a rubber band. Well, if we are looking back, we are peeping into childhood.

Early morning, and the debenture seats are being dusted ready. Alongside, Jones International Buses gets into the mood, and under starter's orders to transport folk from the town centre to the entrance to Penlan Park - to the right of the trees, behind the bus, the bandstand is just about visible - and on the right the procession starts, headed by a man with a hi-viz jacket. Oh, just behind, Mayor Edward Thomas and Claire Mansel Thomas, High Sheriff of Dyfed. The occasional picture is captured in sepia, just to get in the mood.

The procession, having been greeted at the gates of heaven by the current Lord Dynevor, winds its way up to the Park - the Towy Valley providing a perfect backdrop.

Lord Dynevor responds to Mayor Thomas's welcoming address. Alongside, a couple of charming ladies looking rather jolly. Love the hats.

The Welsh word in the top left corner, above - arbennig, meaning 'special' - sums it all up, perfectly. Alongside, the Teilo Singers give it their all. All I could manage to capture of Llandeilo Church is the tower, extreme left. However, the cockerel atop the weather vane, appears to be cock-a-doodle-doo-ing with gusto.



In my lady's chamber!

I'm sure Gwyn (far right) will forgive me my little burst of Captionitis - oh, how rude of me - meet Gwyneth Davies, a leading light of Llandeilo Tenovus down the years, an organisation which has raised huge amounts of money for just causes. But what I like about the picture is the juxtaposition. Gwyneth in her Edwardian gear, arm around a rugby shirt, a popular mode of dress in 2008. Mind you, not just any old rugby shirt, oh no - a shirt signed by the Grand Slam team of 2008. 

Ah yes, the essential ingredient in any party, the Master of Ceremonies - meet Peter Emerson Thomas (Peter Em to everyone), one of Llandeilo's Hoelion Wyth (literally, Eight Inch Nails, but actually meaning Notabilities, 'Big Guns'). Above left, our MC entertains those in the debenture seats (Peter's memorable line), in the middle, listening earnestly to the Burry Port Town Band - oh, and watching, obviously! A few moons back I attended the funeral of another local character, Iwan Davies - known to everyone as Tish - who died much too soon. During the funeral service at Llanelli Crematorium, with the packed congregation in full voice, there was a power cut. The lights went out, the organ stopped, but the congregation ploughed on untroubled. After the service, Peter approached me. "In the years ahead, one question will be asked: Where was Tish when the lights went out?" If there's one person in heaven and earth who would have enjoyed and appreciated that, it was Tish, who always made us smile in his own, innocent and inimitable, little way, God rest his soul.

Above, the famous old bandstand, captured at sunrise the day after the big party - and looking forward to the next 100 years. And finally, a reflection, in sepia, of the very first picture at the top. Hope you enjoyed this little walk through time. "Chee'io!", as dear old Tish would have said.

JUNE 09, 2008
(addendum: June 12)
The Hallelujah Trail ~ High Noon @ Dodgy City

With all the ground works completed, and every bit of scaffolding stacked away, all that's left now is the resurfacing and the road markings - but the clock is ticking. Given the hassle and aggravation involved in closing the town off, the deadline has to be met, otherwise the penalty clauses aren't worth thinking about. So the tension is mounting. So much so, that it really does feel like watching the western film High Noon. Tick ... tock ... tick ... tock ... tick ... And then I come upon these two mean-looking hombres straddling the main drag through town...

"Watch yourselves," warns Kath, who works at the local Co-operative chemists, "Garry Cooper's coming!" Any minute now though I expect Kath to return with the first-aid kit and/or the town undertaker. When I snapped the two pictures above I knew the time was somewhere around noon, so when I checked the information encrypted onto the photos - I couldn't believe it. No, it wasn't Noon, it was even better: One Minute Past Noon. Honest, cross my heart and all that. Gary Cooper really is on his way. But of course what Kath had meant to say was "Barba Green's coming." Growing up on the farm there was a quarry not far away, and I'm sure that I regularly heard those who worked there refer to a tarmacadam laying machine as a Barba Green - or was it a Barbara Green? Anyway, I googled the thing - nothing. I must make enquiries. Perhaps I dreamt it all. Tell you what, henceforth the tarmacadam machine will be known as a Garry Cooper. Anyway, before I move on, certain folk will have noted from the above that, agreeably, Elvis is alive and well and living in Dodgy City!

So here we are, the boys from the black stuff, with Garry Cooper in action, plus clerk-of-the-works (or whatever it is such a post is called these days), and assistant, keeping an eagle-eye on things. Apropos the clerk-of-the-works, if we join the EU the job will carry the grand title Maître d'Oeuvres: does this mean he or she will make a meal of it? Moving swiftly on, there's that intriguing roadroller. Extraordinary bit of kit this. I just about remember the old style and rather grand steamroller - to a kid it was as exciting as watching steam trains - then came the diesel roadroller (just like the trains, again) - and now, this. When I first saw it I kept wondering how this thing is going to compact all that black stuff. Then the operator threw a switch and the whole ground vibrated violently as the titchy little thing put the tarmac to bed with a vengeance. Most impressive.

One minute you catch a lady pushing a buggy as she navigates the obstacles - the next, a man pushing a wheelbarrow - tradition dies hard in Dodgy City. You can have all the technology in the world, but a good old wheelbarrow refreshes the parts technology can't reach. Above right, with the tarmacadam in situ, a non-skid surface is applied around the pedestrian crossing.

And here's a shot I couldn't resist. All the equipment needed to resurface the road: at the front a JCB, in the middle good old Garry Cooper, and at the back, two roadrollers. Oh, and somewhere in there, a wheelbarrow. And all on one low-loader. Astonishing. Next comes the most important part, the man with the wheel, measuring up - and far right, the fellow with the clipboard counting them in... But what is he counting? Actually, I think he's counting the zigzags and the white markings on the crossing, which, when you think about it, is just about the only sensible way to measure all the 'painting' involved.

And here it is - tar-ah! - job finished - Rhosmaen Street, spick and span and ready for action. On the right, Heavenly Tracey Kindred gets to walk the walk - and quite right too having put Llandeilo on the map with her Heavenly Ice Cream - so Tracey's the last person allowed to jaywalk before all bets are off. Remember to look left, again, Tracey - the first horseless carriage allowed through since the road reopened is coming over the brow. Feet up at last. Relaxevous.

Well, not quite feet-up yet. I captured the image above after all the workmen had gone. Do you suppose than an officious traffic warden will, one day, book any water that dares to stagnate down below? Those yellow lines bring to mind the famous Banksy and his wonderful graffiti, or, to use its posh modern name, street art. Not only is Banksy's stuff great fun to look at, but it often carries some clever subliminal messages. I'm a big Banksy fan. That's it then, the Llandeilo adventure over. Oh, and to be fair to the contractors, and excepting the effect of the chaos on local businesses, the scheme was completed a few days ahead of schedule, indeed the general opinion is that the work was well managed and the workmen were both courteous and efficient.

Finally though, before closing the curtain on this episode, I shall leave you with a couple of teasers. Whatever does that
Caution mean? I shall leave it to your vivid imagination to reach a suitable conclusion. But I guess it all depends if you flirt with rather dodgy thoughts - like some people I know, no names no pack drill (damn, I don't know how to do whistling in print - oh, yes I do)...

And what in Dodgy City is going on in this other picture, above right? You'll have to come back again, soon, to see a rather thought-provoking juxtaposition...

Addendum: Someone has noticed a TO LET sign figuring prominently in many of the photographs featured here - outside The Castle pub, actually. But this is the question asked: Did I know why such signs in both Wales and England read TO LET, but in Scotland FOR LET? No idea. Well, once upon a time it did read To Let, but the Scots got fed up with graffiti piss-artists regularly sticking the letter i between the To and the Let.

Which brings to mind a personal observation. I've occasionally noticed a tradesman's van around Llandeilo which bears the grand and rather memorable name Roger Friend. I think he's an electrical contractor or some such like, from south of the border, somewhere down Cross Hands way - and I remember thinking if some rotten swine had ever inserted an a somewhere they shouldn't.

That's all Folks (I think)!

MAY 25, 2008
The Hallelujah Trail ~ continued......

With the first batch of photographs posted showing the superficial aspect of the work being carried out by Western Power and Welsh Water, it's fascinating to note precisely what they were doing down there in those holes and ditches. Firstly, below, the electricity aspect of the work, showing all the cables being renewed and conjoined, and in particular, the image on the right showing the mass of heavy-duty cables heading into a substation.

Makes you wonder what on earth lies beneath the roads and pavements we wander along. As these pictures show, it's all quite astonishing, really.  As for Welsh Water, they didn't appear to do anything much to the water pipes themselves, just renewing all the junctions and jumbo stopcocks that litter the ground. The photos below show just one such junction.

When I came across the above one early morning on my way to the newsagent, the water appeared to have been gushing out of the pipe all night long. When I took the first photo it was quite dark and the picture reflected this, so I used the flash for the second. What tickled me was that the stream of water seemed to be reasonably strong and continuous, yet the one with the flash creates the shadow which shows that the stream of water is breaking up quite spectacularly. This image fascinates me. Little things please little minds. Oh yes, the contractors remarked on the horrendous number of rats' nests they found below ground. Ugh! Or as we say in Welsh: Achyfi! Perhaps all the underground pipes should now carry the following legend...

Meanwhile, above ground level...

A couple of photographs taken from the forest of scaffolding along the main street. Above, left, the work continues apace as shoppers and townspeople pick their way through the messy maze. The photo to the right gives an idea of the work the properties along Rhosmaen Street are carrying out while the road is closed. Below, though, one of the more fascinating aspects of what went on. The middle section of the road outside
Pinc and the NFU offices has been slowly sinking for some years now, but all the council has done is regularly top up the subsidence. Rumours abound that the main drain is collapsing under the weight of all the traffic. So here was a chance for the council to dig deep and repair...


Curiously, the council only dug down about eight inches or so, but, surprise, surprise, couldn't find anything - so filled it up again. One of the workmen allegedly told an inquiring passer-by that a council bigwig had given instruction to dig down just those eight inches - probably afraid of what they would find down there - and if nothing obvious was found amiss, leave well alone, but make sure that when the hole was filled in, that it was adequately compacted - and get the hell out of there. That's why I've printed "WATCH THIS SPACE" on the photograph...

Anyway, the other work continues apace, the workmen move on, and all the scaffolding comes down. Folk begin to wander along the road where they chat and gossip happily in the middle of the street.

Just imagine how wonderful it would be if a bypass came and the main road through the town was pedestrianised - as the images below testify.


Below, a couple of images taken around dawn, looking over the brow of Rhosmaen Street as it falls away. It's only in a photograph of this nature - just as above - that you realise how steeply Rhosmaen Street falls away ... I like the one below, on the right, because it has that Dodgy City feel about. All that's missing is the horse tied up outside one of the saloon bars.

Finally, a few more traffic-free sepia images ... the main work is now finished, just the road surfacing to come...


The final batch of photographs coming up soon...

MAY 8, 2008
The Hallelujah Trail

(don’t know where we’re goin' or where we been; it's written in the dust and blown by the wind)

Welcome to Llandeilo, a town thrown into total chaos throughout the month of April - so, with apologies to the ghost of Rudyard Kipling...

They shut the road through the town
Thirty days ago.
Wear and tear have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the town,
Before they brought in the JCBs.

As mentioned in previous despatches, Llandeilo - also known as Llandampness, occasionally Dodgy City - is a one-horse town; not just any old horse, but a grand stallion, a glorious Welsh Cob of a stallion, rearing out of the morning mist - and of course the wonderful thing is that the town is shaped like a horseshoe (see alongside). When you approach Dodgy City from south of the border, cross the famous old bridge and climb Boot Hill (which slices through the local graveyard), it takes you straight onto the old road through the town - officially it’s Rhosmaen Street, but I fondly refer to as The Hallelujah Trail.
     Both Welsh Water and Western Power decided that some major work was required, Welsh Water having identified a need to refurbish the water mains system, and Western Power a major electricity infrastructure project. So the Hallelujah Trail would have to be closed with traffic diverted here, there and everywhere. Business folk braced themselves for loss of business, with shoppers and visitors expected to stay away in droves, a fear confirmed with a vengeance, in the first week anyway. Now for some images of the work...

Day 1: the town is ceremonially drained dry

There I was, a-digging this 'ole...

What turned Llandeilo from a place full of holes into a photographer's dream was that so many of the local businesses along the narrow section of the main street took advantage of the absent traffic to put up extensive scaffolding to get on with some urgent work of their own. Normally, scaffolding hereabouts is a dodgy business because something or other is bound to collide with it. So it gave the whole project a surreal look.

With all this scaffolding shouldn't we be organising a hanging?

Have you heard? Mrs Mole fell in a hole!

Below, a lady gingerly makes her way through the maze of barriers - I like the old spelling of Llandilo in the background. But the photograph which best sums up the chaos of April 2008 is the one alongside, the young lady with buggy and child merrily ploughing through the middle of a building site without a care in the world. Whenever I wandered on to the gas pipeline site without my fluorescent jacket and hard hat, I would be descended upon from a great height - in the nicest possible sense - health and safety, insurance issues... Which was fair enough, I had no problems with that. But where did health and safety stand along the Hallelujah Trail?

Mention of the lady above making her way through the barriers brings to mind the tale of the woman exiting a shop and asking one of the workmen - who everyone said were always courteous and helpful - which way to the Cawdor Hotel. The workman pointed in the required direction. "No, no," said the lady, "I know where it is, but how do I get there through all these barriers?" Below, I return to one of my favourite subjects: men peering into holes and wondering...

I dunno what it is - but it wasn't there last night

'Ello, I've had my final meal - now they're going to hang me


Is it a Prince Charles carbuncle? No, just a JCB lying low

Friday night, Saturday morning: vandals strike again


On my camera there's a rather curious option to take pictures in sepia format, you know, that brownish tone we associate with those marvellous old photographs from yesteryear. I have taken quite a few, but whilst the results come out rather well, they just don't look right. Those proper old sepia photos have that distinctive worn look about them, but I guess there probably is some software available to date them. Most of all though, they don't feel right. Sepia belongs to another age, another time, and that cannot be replicated.
     However, when I began taking the photographs shown above, it suddenly struck me that the town had probably not looked like this since the motor car first arrived on the scene - when horsepower replaced horse power - and I doubt if Llandeilo will look like this ever again. So click, click, click...
     I particularly like the photo alongside because there, coming towards me is Dewi, pillar of the community - and sporting a flat cap. Now when the original sepia photos appeared, flat caps would have been the order of the day, so Dewi gives the image a stamp of authenticity. Suddenly, Llandeilo from another time.
     Meanwhile, a few more sepia images of the town...

In the photo directly below I'm unsure whether the figure up there on the roof is Spiderman, Superman, Batman - or local hero, Titw Tomos.



I must say, old Laurence of Scaffoldia certainly left his mark on the place, much like that other Lawrence from another time, another place - and he was probably captured in sepia as well. Anyway, there we have it, end of part one, so to speak. Another batch of photos from the second half of the month coming up shortly.

BULLETIN 35, 30/04/08:

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain
The Waste Land, The Burial of the Dead (T S Eliot, 1888-1965)

The reinstatement proper has taken an age to get under way, but at last the machines have moved out of the shadows. Mind you, it's not the contractors' fault because it has been a shockingly wet and mucky spring - the very opposite of last year. While work could proceed on laying the pipeline in wet weather, the reinstatement is a totally different matter. Subsoil is not a problem, but returning the vast heaps of topsoil to its rightful place, ready for reseeding, will take longer yet because I remember from my days on the farm that reseeding in anything but perfect conditions was a recipe for a field full of weeds.
     The very first photograph on What a Gas was the flock of sheep inspecting the pegs running across their field, pegs which marked out the track of the coming pipeline - so I had to smile when Gwladys the sheep (below) found herself isolated along the track on the very same fields where that first snap was taken - and the pegs are back, presumably to confirm the precise underground path of the pipeline so that the heavier reinstatement equipment (coming up) know where to avoid...


Gwladys appears to be pleading into the camera: "When am I going to taste the green, green grass of home, then?" Not long now, Gwladys, for the Start/Finish rostrum has arrived on the scene. While I missed Mr Starter flagging 'em off, hopefully I'll be there when the chequered flag is waved. Actually, I think it's what they use for taking measurements. Mention of Start/Finish, below left, the very spot where the final weld took place along 'my' territory, and where I took the final shot following completion of the pipeline itself. The reinstatement is clearly under way.

The shot above, right, is of the machines refuelling from the blue tanker in the background. From this point on I thought it would all be common or garden equipment, but below, another of these extraordinary looking machines arrives on the scene. The appearance of this beast suggests that the pipeline negotiated some wet ground hereabouts - which is very much the case.

This bit of kit is here to drain the disturbed, wet, very clayey ground - or more correctly, to lay the drainage pipes that will take away the water. At the working end of the beast, above right, is a plough like device that disappears into the ground to dig out the trench - a sort of cross between a surgeon's scalpel and keyhole surgery - and on the 'roof' of the machine the pipe which is simultaneously laid underground. Below, the 'plough' is in the ground, and the machine now slowly moves off to the left...

Alongside, the nosey Gwladys is back, watching with keen interest what is going on. In the background, a trailer load of the drainage pipes that will be used on these fields, and behind that are mounds of the smallish stones which are used to fill the trench, which will aid with the drainage. As it happens, there was much more to this drainage business than I had imagined - I shall return to the subject shortly. Incidentally, down the right-hand side of the Gwladys photo, the mounds of topsoil awaiting attention. And now for something completely different...

When I first heard of this gas pipeline I had no idea what to expect; obviously a bit more grand than a pipeline going down the main street in Llandeilo, but the scope of it rather took me by surprise. Now the strange thing is that over the past month the main road through the town of Llandeilo has been closed in order for water lines and electricity cables to be replaced and upgraded. The town has been quite chaotic, so the juxtaposition with the gas pipeline is intriguing. To this end, I have captured some rather remarkable shots of the town as the work unfolded, and in a curious sense the scenes in the town took us back to another time. In the photograph above, where traffic is diverted away from the town centre, what is passing through the shot is that red vehicle, which belongs to the pipeline contractor - see the telltale identification mark near the back of the vehicle - something which stands out clearly on the 'Start/Finish rostrum' featured above... The photos of Llandeilo under the cosh coming up next time. Keep your hard hat handy.

BULLETIN 35, 19/03/08:

Points of order

Over the winter months the pipeline track went rather quiet while awaiting the arrival of spring and the reinstatement to begin in earnest. However, a little work did continue, maintenance if you like. The images below are typical examples...

When those curious little fences running across the pipeline track suddenly appeared, hello, I thought, perhaps until such time as the reinstatement proper gets under way they're turning the track into some sort of Grand National course, an Aintree - but, given the size of the jumps, perhaps a Knotty Ash Aintree for Diddy Men. Which reminds me: a little while back I penned a few lines about Ken Dodd (not long celebrated his 80th, still going strong), and suddenly had visions of his Diddy Men jumping these 'fences'. It brought to mind his infamous 5-week trial in 1989 for tax evasion - how ironic that a couple of the Diddy Men were called Dicky Mint and Nicky Nugget. Ken Dodd said at that time that his taxman came direct from head office ... Andover! And I vividly remember two new Diddy Men were introduced - actually, one Diddy Man, and for the first and only time, a Diddy Woman: Diddy Do It and Diddy El. However, if memory  serves, Doddy and his Diddy gang got away with it. Oh yes, the 'fences' above. These materialised on a slight gradient, so I guess they are there to stop water rushing down the slope and carting all the soil and muck with it.

But to business. I received an e-mail from a certain 'VB' making a few points, which deserve a general reply. I quote: "As a resident of the Swansea Valley whose house is very close to the Felindre to Cilfrew section of the pipeline (which you don't seem to be aware of on your blog), I was curious to know how close is the 'corner of my square mile' you mention, to where you live? Not as close as 40m I'd wager. Your attitude seems quite dismissive of the people who've objected to this project. The ones I know are not NIMBYs or Luddites, but have objected mainly out of fear of the unknown (largely due to NG's failure to communicate), and a fear of the consequences of a leak of non-odoured gas at 1,300psi caused by shoddy construction. Some protestors have also told me that they have not seen any evidence of the hi-tech welding processes and scanning of every weld which was promised by NG - I don't see any evidence of them amongst your photos, either. Did you not see any of these processes, or were they not interesting enough to post? I would also take issue with some of your poetic descriptions - the views around my area could in no way be described as 'hauntingly beautiful' - they're still a muddy, ugly mess. Good luck."

Well now... Probably like most of the population, while I was aware of the pipeline construction from the media interest generated, it meant very little because it was all happening 'over there', out of sight and out of mind. Then one morning whilst out on my regular walk I noticed the pegging out of the pipeline's path - and suddenly, there it was. As the scale of the civil engineering project unfolded I decided to keep a superficial record of its two-mile progress through 'my' territory. I say 'superficial' because I decided not to go into any technical detail - between you and me, my little brain simply isn't designed to cope with technical stuff, I have no real understanding of what 1,300psi means in real terms, hence not dabbling in something I don't understand. So it was simply a pictorial record with my observations thrown in.

As for the welding techniques involved I never got that close - well, not until the latter stages of the river crossing - although there are some shots dotted about this blog to do with the welding, but not the actual process itself. Having said that I do remember a workman telling me that they had quite a sophisticated system of checking the welding, including x-rays, ultra sonic tests, that sort of thing.

The pipeline only comes within a mile or so of my home, as it does the town of Llandeilo, so it's impossible for me to empathise with those who live on top of the thing. I'm pretty sure that I haven't been dismissive of those who've objected to the project. That is not really in my nature. However, as I say in my brief introduction above, I see it as a necessary evil because of our addiction to energy. In the not too distant future, probably sooner rather than later, we will experience power cuts - indeed it was recently reported that if we'd had the fiercely cold winter the long-range forecasters had predicted, then we would already have seen power cuts. When those cuts become a regular feature, that's when we'll start to see civil unrest on an alarming scale. Get your Home Guard together now - or Vigilante Group as they will become known before too long.

Just a quick scroll down, I did a piece on how the gas gets here, and I quoted from that fascinating BBC TV series Coast, which did a rather good item on Milford Haven and the impact now that the place is being converted into a gas port. I can do no better that quote presenter Nicholas Crane as he rounded off his piece to camera...

"I have mixed feelings about this project - impressed by the ingenuity and the engineering skills, concerned that it has to here at all - but we have an insatiable demand for energy and the commercial solution to that is to build this place..." (and by definition the huge ships that bring the gas from Qatar, as well as the massive pipes that will deliver it into the national grid).

Oh yes, the 'hauntingly beautiful' photo taken after the completion of the pipeline, last December - reproduced above. Yes, I admit, a bit of poetic licence there - but the mist in the background, the colour of the sun reflecting off the muck - it all rather caught my eye, and the romantic lurking within got out. Bugger. Yes, I also agree that the place is still a muddy, ugly mess, so it will be interesting to see what they make of it. I will spy, with my little eye...

The above, taken last week, just down the road from my patch - and the machines are back. The reinstatement has begun. But here's an interesting observation. Land owners and farmers in these 'ere parts were given the option of waiting for the spring and the contractor to reinstate the land - or the contractor would pay the farmers to get on and do the job themselves. Most farmers I've spoken to were reluctant to do this because there would be no comeback if the reseeding went all wrong, so they'd rather wait. However, the most intensive farmers, those desperate to have the land back in use, actually did some of the work themselves last autumn, at least where circumstances allowed. But below is a truly revealing shot, again taken just last week...

That's the River Towy crossing at the bottom, before looping around and crossing again at the top. Now look below the river at the top, running from left to right, passing just behind that tree on the right - yes, that narrow-ish, light green track... That, is the precise course of the pipeline trench. A substantial part of that field was cleared of top soil to allow the pipeline to be laid. Last autumn the local College Farm, who rent the field, reseeded it all, after the contractor had reinstated it ready for the reseeding, obviously. Now isn't this photo fascinating. In fact, before I come to the end of the pipeline saga, remind me to tell you of something remarkably similar that happened on my brother's farm, except on a much smaller scale. To be continued...

BULLETIN 34, 27/02/08:
(ADDENDUM, 01/03/08)

Drums across the valley



Owain Glyndŵr, aristocat* and first class male
(striking image compliments of the Royal Mail)

* humanity is made up of rats, cats, pussycats and aristocats
(delete to taste)

It would have been around the middle of last June when I decided to take a stroll to the western perimeter of my much walked square mile, the point where the Bailey bridge had been built to enable access to all the heavy traffic needed to lay the pipeline, especially the River Towy crossing. When I got to the other side of the bridge I had to smile when I saw the notice, clearly put there by the Welsh battalion - and from that point on I began to register the delightful tribalism evident all around (tribalism and copycatism are both hard-wired into every human being, something to do with survival, I guess). Anyway, I've noted before that 19 nationalities worked along the pipeline, an astonishing cross-section of humanity. But of course those that put down their markers, the workers who peed longest and more often to mark out their territory - in a light-hearted sense, obviously - were the old traditional enemies, the Welsh and the English......


Here again, that home-made, very Welsh welcome, pinned to the bridge: CROESO i GYMRU / MEIBION GLYNDŴR (Welcome to Wales, signed, Sons Of The Self-Proclaimed Prince of Wales, c1400). In the background, Dinefwr Castle, one time seat of power in Wales - and as it happens,
unsuccessfully besieged by the forces of Owain Glyndŵr in 1403. Oh dear, mam's the word. Coming up, tribalist images captured, with added comments - with large tongue in cheek, obviously. Obviously!

"Okay chaps, let's run up the flag and see what happens!"

"Oh God, they're back. Why oh why on my patch?"

"No panic - time to put my feet up - and hey, just look...!"

"...see - they're just full of hot air and gas!"

"Hell! Now they've called in the footie brigade - and the French!"

"But messieurs - you say Llandeilo, we say Ffrench!"

But the battle begins to take its toll...

...the warring hordes' colours start to look a bit ragged...

But beware, over by there, lurks the hangman's noose - Welsh style

And the ghost of Owain Glyndŵr wafts over Castell Dinefwr

BULLETIN 33, 17/02/08: just a little Dai Version......

        Mustang Sally

What, you may well ask, has Mustang Sally to do with the now seriously infamous gas pipeline crossing Wales? Well, last time out I poked gentle fun at all the pipeline workers I'd witnessed and photographed just standing about with their hands in pockets or gassing on their mobiles - before putting the record straight. Then I saw this extraordinary image, left, with all those workers hanging about underneath something rather dodgy looking......

But what exactly is it? Well, it's a 30ft polychromed fibreglass sculpture of a mustang, being installed at Denver airport in Colorado. The artist, Luis Jiménez, died in June 2006 when part of the sculpture fell on him. At such moments I'm never sure whether to laugh or cry. Kendall Peterson, Denver Public Art Administrator said this: "Luis loved this spot because he thought of the purple mountains' majesty, the idea of this rearing horse looking at this incredible landscape."

It is, to say the least, an astonishing vision.

BULLETIN 32, 28/01/08:

If you find yourself in a hole......

......then stop digging
. That's the received wisdom anyway - unless of course you happen to be laying a pipeline. Whatever, the central truth of that wisdom came to mind reading about the astonishing £3.7 billion scam masterminded by Jérôme Kerviel, a Machiavellian fantasist and third-rate trader who managed to outwit the toughest financial control systems and plunge Société Générale, France's second largest bank (commonly known as Soc'Em - sorry, SocGen), along with world markets, into disarray. But the thing about all of this is the actual sum of £3.7 billion ... does that mean anything to you? Can you relate such a huge figure to something concrete? To help make sense of it? I had this trouble when I first learnt that Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, had set in place a dastardly scheme to siphon £5 billion a year from our private pension schemes to help finance his grand plans. Thus far our pensions are £50 billion short - £100 billion in real terms according an insurance industry insider the other day. A hundred billion? That's a hundred thousand million! What on earth does that mean? Well, I began to grasp the meaning of these huge figures as the pipeline's twists and turns unfolded under my nose. The 200 mile pipeline will cost one billion, which works out at £5 million a mile. I blinked when, some 12 months ago, I first grasped the enormity of that figure, but as soon as I watched the laying of the pipeline I realised why the two miles I was interested in would cost £10 million, especially as it included the River Towy crossing.

Let's pause a while here ...... SocGen's rogue trader, in the blink of an eye, had fiddled enough money to lay nearly 4 pipelines ...... even worse, Gordon Brown has so far siphoned from our pension plans enough dosh to lay a hundred pipelines ...... I know, I know, it doesn't bear thinking about.

Anyway, back to our modest little pipeline. About a year ago, as the pipeline approached Llandeilo, I remember one of the regulars down the pub, a shrewd and successful businessman, telling us that every time he passed a road junction, or where he could see the pipeline work from the road as he drove past, he couldn't get over how many workers were simply standing about doing nothing. No wonder, he mused, that the thing was costing so much. So when the pipeline arrived on my square mile I also began to notice the number of workers standing around watching the world go by. I began to 'Click!'......

One fine day, from a fair distance away, I could see these two fellows down a hole, and the first thing that came to mind was Bernard Cribbins' memorable  Hole in the ground song, about a chap "a-digging this 'ole" - which I have slightly paraphrased below......

There we were, a-digging this hole
Hole in the ground, so big and sort of round it was
And there were we, digging it deep
It was flat at the bottom and the sides were steep
When along comes this bloke in a hard hat -
which he lifted and scratched his head
Well he looked down the hole, poor demented soul and he said

Do you mind if I make a suggestion?

Don’t dig there, dig it elsewhere
Your digging it round and it ought to be square
The shape of it’s wrong, it’s much, much too long
And you can’t put hole where a hole don’t belong


As the camera pans back you can see that there are five men in 'ard 'ats approaching the two 'ard 'ats down the 'ole. In the photo alongside, another five - six if you include the machine operator - looking, well, I'm not sure where or at what.

Below, we're up to eight 'workers' earnestly discussing what's down that 'ole we can't quite see. And what I like, if they're not on the mobile, they've got their hands in their pockets - that in itself is not a criticism because I tend to stick my hands in my pockets when I'm watching the world go by. Next, I've captured twelve standing or sitting around doing nothing - but five are looking down a very big hole.

Below is perhaps the smiliest one of all, five simply doing nothing, just looking down a 'ole, and all under that wonderful banner headline, ho, ho, ho! Incidentally, what a memorable name to have plastered all over your earth-moving equipment. Then suddenly, there I am down this 'ole and I become aware that I'm being watched ...... how the hell did they get there? Perhaps they're pipeline workers off to a fancy dress party?

I've mentioned before the tale from New Zealand about cattle going blind because they were just standing there watching pipes being welded together - today of course, as previously illustrated along the way, welding is now done within a 'tent', away from prying eyes. Also, the photo below captures rather perfectly how inquisitive cattle are, for if they see anything untoward going on around them they'll just wander over to nose and stare.....

The final photo above confirms that the game's up. The workers sensed that they too were being watched and they caught me lurking and capturing them busy doing nothing. It's a fair cop.

Right, having had a bit of fun at their expense I should come clean. As I've attempted to explain over the past 9 months, it became quickly apparent that so many aspects of the pipeline was highly specialised work. One gang would move in, do their bit, move on, then quickly followed by another lot doing something else highly specialised - and so on. Now nothing in the world runs smoothly, especially civil engineering as complex as the pipeline, so all you need is a problem and quickly everything builds up behind. Before you know it you're in a tailback. And of course rarely can workers be moved elsewhere, unless it's a major problem. Back on September 6, Bulletin 15, I showed two lads just sitting in their trucks, twiddling their thumbs, 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. There was nothing else those two could have done except sit and wait.

Indeed, what is this life if full of care, we have no time to stand and stare......

Postscript: Just before posting this bulletin I read that French bank SocGen has now detailed how the aforementioned rogue trader had evaded all its controls to bet £37.1 billion - more that the bank's £26.5 billion market value - on European markets. The bank admits that he hacked computers and used other "fraudulent methods" to cover his tracks, causing billions in losses. And all in just 10 days flat. Let's see now, £37.1 billion: how many pipelines? Anyway, you get the picture. Talking of pictures, I couldn't resist this one of gloomy traders in Chicago as stocks plunged......

I love the badge: Y-R-U 001 ... Y, indeed? For sure 007 never looked that down in the mouth, even when Goldfinger's laser was tickling his bollocks. (Which reminds me of one of the great filmic exchanges. Bond: "Do you expect me to talk?" Goldfinger: "No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die.") Yes, my word is my bond. Those were the days, my friend. But I guess the real question is this: do you feel all relaxed and safe when you discharge a bit of financial trading via the internet? You do? Oh dear ...... don't say you haven't been warned about the ambush lurking around the next blind corner or two. Safe journey!

BULLETIN 31, 15/01/08:

From Qatar to Quoditch

The tale of the gas that will travel along the pipeline to arrive at our houses to fire our central heating boilers is as fascinating as the building of the pipeline itself. Yes okay, the photograph alongside of the central heating timer in my home is a bit obvious, a cliché some would say - I hate using that c-word because its use has become a c-word in itself, especially these days when you hear footballers using it when really I don't think they know what it means - perhaps though as it's a photograph I should invent another word ... a clické? Whatever, the picture really highlights how much we take energy for granted. The other day I was asked what I thought had been the biggest single improvement to our lifestyle in my lifetime, and I have to say that I believe it's central heating. The huge jump, from sitting in front of a fire, albeit a roaring one, in a single communal room - to relaxing in any room of the house, at any time of the year, in shirtsleeves, is extraordinary. And as is now well established, cold is a ruthless killer.

Anyway, that endlessly fascinating BBC TV series Coast recently did an item on Milford Haven and the impact now that the place is being converted into a gas port. The gas itself comes all the way from Qatar, a country half the size of Wales on the Arabian Gulf, but it's gas reserve is so huge it could keep the UK going for 250 years. Transporting Qatar's gas the 7,000 miles to the UK relies on a remarkable idea ... turn the gas into liquid. At Qatar a massive refrigeration plant concentrates the gas down into liquid by a process called super cooling. At this point in the Coast piece, presenter Nicholas Crane and a lady, Jo Harris, conducted a most remarkable and simple experiment to show us how this is done. He took a balloon and simply blew into it, the equivalent of filling it with natural gas. The inflated balloon was then immersed in a container of liquid nitrogen chilled to minus 190˚ Celsius. As the balloon was immersed it instantly began to deflate. As the gas cools it takes up less and less space, quickly turning to liquid. The now limp balloon was then removed from the container - and it rapidly inflated to its previous state. As soon as liquefied gas is returned to room or ambient temperature it is self-inflating. A quite extraordinary visual experiment of science harnessing nature. Oh yes, the photograph opposite: tie a yellow balloon round the young oak tree - I really loved the image when I stumbled upon it, especially the colours - and I've been wondering when or where I'd get the chance to use it. Some things do indeed occasionally come to those who wait......   

To transport the liquefied gas to the UK fourteen supertankers have been built. When natural gas is super chilled its volume shrinks by a mind boggling 600 times - yes, six hundred. This makes it economical to shift around the world. It will then arrive in Milford Haven as super cold liquid, where it has to be kept chilled for it to be stored as a liquid. For this purpose, 5 massive tanks, each one big enough to hold the Albert Hall, have been built. Once pumped into these tanks the liquid is kept cool by loose-fill insulation - small, round balls of insulation, the sort used as loft insulation in our homes. The tanks then act like giant thermos flasks, and the liquid gas is stored at minus 162˚ Celsius (see alongside, though I am thrown by that 'bottom heater' bit!). When gas is required, the liquid is drawn off and fed into a regasification plant. As it looses its insulation and rapidly warms to the ambient temperature it will again expand 600 times. The insulation of the tanks, as efficient as it is, does result in some warming of the liquid, called ‘boil off’. This ‘boil off’ is collected from the tank and sent to the gas output line connecting to the national gas grid, or used as fuel on the site. Amazing.

Ah yes, the headline above: From Qatar to Quoditch. If the gas comes from Qatar it must, for the purposes of this particular bulletin, end up in a place starting with Q. A bit of balance, that sort of thing. Now let's see: well, there's the Queen's Hotel ...... or Queensferry, up there near Chester (spent a few years based in Chester, so the place is familiar). Hang about, I know, I'll have a look at a Road Atlas of Britain. Well, I was taken aback by the number of place names starting with the letter Q ...... then I noticed Quoditch - no, not Quidditch, although there is, would you believe, a Quidditch Lane in Lower Cambourne, Cambridgeshire. No, I'll go with Quoditch, given as I've spent much of the past 9 months either looking into a ditch, so to speak, or indeed down in one. If 'quo vadis' means 'whither goest thou?', then 'quo ditch' must mean 'goest thou to that bloody trench again?'. Out of interest, Quoditch is found in Devon, a good few miles inland of Bude and south-east of Holsworthy. There y'go, every day a day at school.

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