400 smiles a day
What a gas 1: It's in the pipeline


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BULLETIN 14, 03/09/07: The hunt for God continues apace. Here's an update. To recall the final picture from the last bulletin (repeated below left) with the arrow pointing to God, rumour has it that he's been spotted around the Bara Bara cave and tunnel complex of Carmarthenshire - well, I've often heard this part of the world described as God's country, so if he's anywhere, he'll be around here someplace. Incidentally, 'bara' is the Welsh word for bread - so cast thy crumbs upon the pipeline - and God only knows what will come out when you turn the tap on. He was allegedly spotted where the photo (below right) was taken.
 

If God was here, the evidence suggests that he doesn't have a long, white beard as suspected - but a long, white 4x4 pick-up truck, would you believe, which he appears to have abandoned in a hurry. Anyway, the word on the street - sorry, pipeline - is that some sensational God news is about to break. Keep your ear to the ground - and hey, be careful out there.


BULLETIN 13, 28/08/07: Time for another bit of a Dai Version before we arrive at the final graveside ceremony. As these huge pipes arrived on site, and were then welded together to form long sections, weird and wonderful bits of graffiti began appearing as if by magic. Clearly put there by the various workers on site, they wobble between the childish (hey, I love a bit of childish as much as the next kid, honest), curious, educational, puzzling, artistic, funny and witty. Enjoy, as they say ...
 

Now aren't they wonderful - and there's more where they came from. Apropos the one just above left, the 'official' question presumably refers to a missing section of pipe, but underneath - and not very clear because it's black-on-dark - someone has added: "Have you looked under the sofa?" However, the one up there which proclaims "I'm hetero, like ...... but Cam, I think I love you!" had me smiling out loud every time I passed it - magical sketch, and of course that insistent mobile going "Ring ring". What I noticed along the pipeline was a total lack of obscenities and nastiness. All good clean fun. Yes, the word penis crops up - at least it shows a bit of class - along with a drawing of one, a rather artistic one I have to say - but there's a delightful twist in its tail, which, as Dai Version would say, "I shall keep in back pocket for future reference!". Oh yes, the most intriguing of all, the final one up there. "God" - with the arrow pointing that away! The accompanying integral calculus probably provides the clue as to God's precise whereabouts. A sort of heavenly TomTom, Drums Across The Towy. The hunt is on big time ...


BULLETIN 12, 21/08/07: The resting pallbearers stir and spring into life: a throaty roar, a cloud of black smoke and  hearty Hi-Ho-Silver. The burial ceremony begins, a finely judged bit of work this, in which a picture really does paint a thousand heaves and strains and curses and sighs of relief as the body is safely lowered to rest: "In the name of the Father, the Son - and in the hole it goes." As with an orchestra, it is just the one man who conducts the whole performance - he waves his hands about, occasionally jumps up and down, oh, and shouts a lot - yes, who is that masked man?
 

Yes, it's all very impressive, and perhaps the photo above left sums it all up as the pallbearers bring the pipes - weighing anything up to sixty tons in total I guess - down that exceptionally steep slope before lowering the whole shebang into the trench. The final image in this little collection is one of my favourites thus far: the pipe finally laid to rest, looking much like a giant worm from Gulliver's Travels (Brobdingnag section), awaits the final act. The early morning light of a dull, drizzly dawn reflects off it rather hauntingly. At this point I'm reminded of something one of the Crazy Horsepower Saloon's great characters, The PM (Brian the Preacherman), occasionally recites to make us smile ...


Maes yn y glaw;
Byw yn y baw.
Y mwydyn!
 

Here's this from Hubie's Rough & Ready Guide to the Two Spokes ...


Out in the rain;
Live like a drain.
The worm!
 

Meanwhile, back with that very big worm, the pipeline, the next stage will mark the arrival of a truly weird and wonderful bit o' kit: earth to earth ...


BULLETIN 11, 12/08/07: Back on site, the pipeline is pretty much ready for burial along the whole length of my little patch. Below are some final images prior to the funereal process getting under way. The 'environmentally friendly' machine from the last bulletin does a bit of tidying up around the trench, while in the shot alongside a mini-bulldozer evens out a base of finely crushed material along the whole length of the pipeline. The relative size of the machine tucked away down there gives some indication of how deep the trench is - around 12 feet or so in places ...
 


 

 


Both above shots indicate the occasional precariousness of these huge pipes as they hover above the trench awaiting burial ... below, the pipes disappear over the brow down a really steep ingredient where the pipeline will approach the A40 main Llandeilo-Carmarthen road, and burrow its way across ...
 


 

 


Above, a final look along the pipes before they are given their last rites - and alongside, the pallbearers rest awhile, awaiting the call. These impressive looking and sounding machines will lift the really heavy sections of pipe before manoeuvring and lowering them into place. Quite an impressive operation, which we'll arrive at next time ...


BULLETIN 10, 01/08/07: With the never-ending grave nearing completion and the pipes awaiting their last rites prior to the burial ceremony, it’s reasonable to conclude that the whole shebang along my square mile is now around the halfway stage. So it's ‘End of part one’ then. And now for something completely different, a bit of a diversion – or Dai Version, as one of the characters down at the Crazy Horsepower Saloon answers to: “Look, this is how it all happened, right?” Yes Dai Version, three breathalyser-bags full, Dai Version.

Part of my regular early morning walk takes me along the path of the pipeline; out of the blue one of the lads awaiting the day’s instructions leans out of his excavator and waves. Wel-i-jiw-jiw, that’s Miles, local hero. I acknowledge his wave. Of the multitude of workers I’ve observed on site, this is the very first individual I personally know. Not surprising really because this civil engineering project is awash with specialist workers, experts who follow such contracts around the world. The dogs bark and the caravan moves on. Roy, a genial Yorkshireman I briefly encountered, reckoned that there are 19 nationalities working on this section. There are obviously some jobs where local talent can be employed: fencing, tractor and excavator operators, etc – not that these jobs are any less specialised than others, but it’s the sort of work that goes on here, there and everywhere, so local talent can be taken advantage of. This brings me back to Miles – who deserves a special feature on ‘What a gas’. Say hello to the Likely Lads. Miles first…
 


And the other photo? No, it’s not Miles as a young son-of-a-gun, but a sneak preview of a local 'crèche-course' for JCB operators. You’ll be familiar with the old Jesuit maxim: "Give me the child for his first seven years and I’ll give you the man." Well, here’s the new JCBuit maxim: "Give me the lad for his first seven years and I’ll give you the JCB operative." Anyway, what makes my encounter with Miles particularly memorable is the spot where I then saw him and his machine actually working. Miles was born and bred locally, at Dynevor Home Farm, the farm originally bought by his grandfather Wally Thomas, who moved down from North Wales circa the sixties. Wally was a rare character, full of memorable and pithy little sayings which we locals still use. One such is "Believe nothing you hear and only half what you see", which I regularly quote – and remember, Wally’s advice was offered way before the digital camera made all sorts of jiggery-pokery possible, not to mention the current shemozzle regarding the crookedness of what goes on in the world of the media in general and television in particular. These days it’s "Believe nothing you hear or see", although I’ve subsequently added "but everything your instinct tells you". Hope Wally agrees from way up there on high. My brother, who knew Wally much better than I, says that Miles is a chip off the old block (I love how genetic imprints regularly skip a generation, in fact I’ve been reliably told it’s true in my case too). Anyway, the farm was originally part of the old Dynevor Estate, sold off to pay crippling death duties. The core of the estate was subsequently bought by the National Trust, so it was only natural that a few years back the Trust made a tempting offer to bring Dynevor Home Farm back into the fold. The Thomas family now farm down in the West Country, but Miles stayed and settled in the area. But here’s the strange part of my encounter with Miles: a small section of the pipeline goes through a far corner of Dynevor Home Farm, which of course is now owned by the National Trust.

Now I've an ambivalence regarding the Trust: I admire what they do, and I take full advantage of it on my walks – indeed I get on well with those at the sharp end - but I firmly believe that they are now becoming a much too powerful organisation, able to make the rules up as they go along. And we all know what happens when individuals are given powers way beyond their natural station in life: I sort of suspect that in the National Trust’s perfect world the rest of us would go back to live in caves, while they continue to reside in the Big House, so it surprised me that they allowed the pipeline across their land, albeit a tiny corner. Anyway, here’s the rub: where I observed Miles actually operating his excavator was on that tiny parcel of land where he and his family would have farmed up to a few years ago. Life, the Universe and Everything are awash with delightful little coincidences. Is there something going on we should be told about? Talking of JCBs and excavators…
 


I love the irony of the slogan on the excavator above: Environmentally Friendly Thinking of the Future. Whenever, wherever an excavator digs a hole, another couple of dots are joined up to hurry along the destruction of our environment – and by definition our existence on this planet. This is not to rubbish J Ffrench, or anyone who operates these machines, after all they are only satisfying the demands of the society and the communities they serve. I used to think that the opening paragraph of the human race’s mass suicide note was written when the industrial revolution was born, for that was when we seriously began to poison our precious environment. It’s been downhill ever since. In fact, the industrial revolution is perhaps the second paragraph: the first was probably the invention of gunpowder, which led eventually to the atom bomb. And as politics attracts the worryingly flawed, it’s only a matter of time before we witness somewhere in the world that strange mushroom shaped cloud in the sky. Be that as it may, the above slogan tickled me. And wouldn’t it be revealing to know the carbon footprint of this whole gas pipeline project, from getting the gas out of the ground in that far away place with a strange sounding name, to the boiler in my house bursting into life at the flick of a switch. Yes, I too am a signatory to that suicide note. On a lighter note, I refer you back to the other photo above, the one of the JCB excavator. When I see an excavator, like most folk I call it a JCB – an excavator is a JCB is a JCB is a JCB, just as a vacuum cleaner is a Hoover is a Hoover is a Hoover - so it was nice to see an actual JCB, and they deserve a plug if only for the clever company name. Talking of names and slogans, here’s a perfect one for Flannery, the owners of the JCB featured above: Flannery will get you everywhere.

Finally, I’ll borrow a SMILE OF THE DAY from Look You – and I’m sure Miles will forgive me this one. Miles was visiting London on a weekend break, when he saw someone he thought he recognised from Llandeilo, so he approached the fellow: “Hello, I’m Miles from Llandeilo.” “Of course you are dear boy, 200 to be precise…”


BULLETIN 9, 28/07/07: My last bulletin ended on a puzzling note. What were all those holes they'd been drilling along the path of the pipeline - or at least along a section of high-ground? And why did the ground suddenly look disturbed, as if it had been rotavated? Indeed, there was a clue written on one of the machines drilling the holes, not to mention the 'Wear ear protection' warning notice. But before I move on to the next stage of the project, this point of the operation was a bit of a watershed. Literally. Up until this stage the photos along the way show a rather agreeable climate, the sun shining out of a blue sky, most of the time anyway. Then the rains came, the watershed! In this part of the country we've had much less rain than other parts of the UK - a map of the UK released by the Met Office showing rainfall from May 1 to July 22, 2007, compared with the average for 1971 to 2000, confirms that Carmarthenshire has had far and away the least rainfall compared with the rest of England and Wales. However, it's been exceedingly dull, and photos from now on reflect this. Anyway, back with the next stage, and now the heavy-duty excavators move in to dig the trench...
 


 

 


Written on the drill machine shown in the last bulletin was the word ROCDRILL - and as the above photos show, at this point they are cutting through sheer rock. Now no excavator would be able to cut through rock without help, and of course the other clue was the name of the company that owned the ROCDRILL: Blasting Services Ltd. That's right, the drilling along the rock strata was to place explosives deep into the ground - hence the other clue: 'Wear ear protection'. Quite obviously the blasting would not have been like that in a quarry, for rather obvious reasons, but just enough oomph to loosen the rock and make it easier for the excavators. Hence my noticing the ground having been pushed up, which I'd described as if someone had been along with a giant rotavator. All clever stuff - and rather obvious when you look at the rock the pipeline has to navigate. And here was I thinking that laying a pipeline was one of the easier of civil engineering projects.
 


BULLETIN 8, 16/07/07: With significant sections of the pipeline now welded together and lying on the surface awaiting a respectful burial ceremony, the next stage truly baffles me. By a curious coincidence, the pipeline I encounter on my walk is, at about 1.2 crow-miles long (1.9 worm-miles), precisely relative to the 120-odd crow-miles (190-odd worm-miles), of the total length of the pipeline. It enters ‘my’ square mile under the River Towy near Cilsane Mill, then gradually climbs through a few hundred feet, past Birds Hill, then levels out along a kind of plateau, before plunging straight down to cross under the A40 near a farm called Ffrwd-y-Drain (the stream of the thorn-bush). On the high ground three strange looking machines make their debut (one pictured below). It turns out that they’re a very boring lot – not yawn-yawn but drill-drill – and they proceed to drill rather deep holes every few feet or so…
 


There’s a hopper on the drill machine which appears to discharge some dark coloured stuff into the holes, a finely crushed material bordering on powder – traces of it are seen in the photos here. I am baffled. A few days later I notice that the holes have disappeared - to be replaced by a mound of rather stony soil, as if a really heavy-duty, giant rotavator has been along and churned up the ground. How very odd. Some days later I was to discover that the second photo below provides a clue as to what was going on. Indeed, a clue was written on the above machine as well. To be continued…
 


BULLETIN 7, 07/07/07: A mass of moons ago I remember reading about a major problem with domestic farm animals in New Zealand; in particular, cattle were developing a curious blindness that the veterinary bods couldn't diagnose. Then they cracked it. Running down the centre of the country was a major pipeline, something akin to the one featured here. Those familiar with cattle will know that they're exceptionally curious animals: do a little job in a field, and before you know it you'll be surrounded by cattle being nosey and staring at you. Just as here in Wales, as with any pipeline, its path is fenced off, but this doesn't stop the cattle coming up to the fence. And in NZ they'd been doing this while the pipes were being welded together before going underground. Anyone who has even just glanced at somebody welding without having eye protection will know that it's an effect similar to sand being thrown into the eyes. Extended exposure to a welding arc causes blindness. Period. And this is what had happened to the poor Kiwi cattle. As you will have noted from my last bulletin, the welding operation is now protected from the outside world by a canopy, a kind of tent. Below I show how cattle gather at fences where there's work going on, in this case newly welded pipes - and alongside an inside view of the welding 'tent', which shown it to be a wonderfully enclosed little workshop.
 


Over on the blog I've been commenting on this curious weather we've been experiencing. Following the warm, sunny spring, it's been, to say the least, a rather damp summer thus far. Some still mornings have been incredibly misty, foggy really, as some of the images below bear out...
 

A foggy day in
Pipeline Town

"Bugger! Missed again - I blame the fog."
 

"
How did that battleship get there?"
"Must have been the fog!"
"I see no ships ......
...... only hardships."


Oh yes, in Bulletin 6, below, I briefly refer to that tantalising sign bearing the word "Grip". The first thing that came to mind was a glorious local character from yesteryear, Hardy McHardy, a World War II pilot of note. Typical of that breed of person he had a language and a way with words that were unique. As a young lad I recall him once describe a local lady of note who had clearly been placed on this earth to put life into all the men in her life. "They tell me," said Hardy, "that she has more fingerprints on her derrière than they have at New Scotland Yard." Sad to say that the word "Grip" in this instance appears to be another word for a little ditch - hang about, I'd better leave it there... Anyway, see below. Also, and to balance the books, I can't resist a snap presentation of Beauty and the Beast...
 


BULLETIN 6, 30/06/07: The arrival of the huge pipes and the equipment needed to lift and weld them together saw the appearance of some serious looking rigs. Featured in the first photo below is just one of a fleet of rigs used to manoeuvre the pipes to a position of conjugality (ignore that tantalising word 'GRIP' for now). The photo alongside introduces us to a curious bit of kit that could be straight out of Dr Who. The strange and rather phallic looking thing is pulled through the pipes and appears to apply pressure from inside where they conjoin - in grand phallic tradition it expands to fill the space available - at which point the two pipes are then welded together, for ever and ever, amen. I call this mean lookin' thing the Pipe Endoskeletal Nuzzle Insert Synthesiser - or PENIS for short! Weeeell, the handy handle sort of grows on you...
 


When the serious welding starts, I count eight welding units working together. On the left below we see what appears to be a row of golf carts, which is quite apt as each one is a sort of caddy to the actual welding machine the other side of the pipe, as featured below, right.
 


The next photo below gives an idea of what a major job the welding operation is, probably the most crucially important part of the whole affair. This is where the gas is likely to leak, obviously, so no wonder welders can earn £500 a day, which gives an idea of the work and its importance. The weld is visually inspected - you could say that the whole pipeline is a game of a snake and a ladder - there again, perhaps not. Each join is then either x-rayed, or something called an ultra-sonic weld check is done, to ensure the weld is - well, spot on!
 


Sometimes the pipes are rejected even before the nuptials get going - below left - that must be what they call the kiss of death. Occasionally the pipes are not even mated - below right. But what do you suppose those crucial initials PT mean? Could they possibly be two Pipe Teasers? Perhaps the PENIS above didn't like what it felt. To be continued...
 

 


BULLETIN 5, 25/06/07: The story so far ... Firstly the pipeline's personal space was pegged out, an average width of some 50 yards, with additional and regular lay-bys, plus extra 'parking' spaces as and where required; then the whole shebang was fenced off. Next the top soil was removed and piled high to the side; hedges were cleared, with all hedge bank material carefully deposited and cordoned off to be put back, as was, or as near as possible - should be interesting. A 'road' was then fashioned alongside the path of the coming pipeline to cater for all the heavy equipment needed to lay the pipes, and where the ground was not firm enough hardcore material was put down to render it safe and solid. Where the small country lanes are not good enough to cater for the heavy loads, special roads were built, along with impressive bailey bridges where necessary. The cost is awesome. A couple of points of order: in the previous bulletin I'd wondered why the archaeologists had shut up shop where the old Roman road had been uncovered - but they're back, probably as the whole lot is set to disappear as the pipeline's trench is about to be excavated - the Roman road passes just between the 'quote' lines shown below, the pipeline running south-north, to the left of the made-up track which the excavator is about to climb. As for the portaloo and the sign 'Seatbelts must be worn at all times' - you thought I was joking, right? Well, just look at the photo below as to what can happen - so next time you pop into a portaloo, clunk-click, every drip...
 


Now the huge pipes arrive, each one custom built to sit in its precise spot. Every pipe has its pedigree stamped inside. The shot below confirms this particular pipe to be about 60 foot in length and weighing around 12 tons. Incidentally, the whole length of this pipeline is made up of 23,000 sections, and as this pipe bears the number 21,992, it suggests that this is pretty much the final part of the jigsaw - not surprising if its true that the pipes are scheduled to be carrying gas by the end of this October. Oh yes, the pipes are some 4 foot in diameter. Impressive bits of steel.
 


The different coloured pipes shown above are down to increased thickness, the darker and heavier pipes service pressure points such as road crossings, or anywhere that is subject to increased stress, really. The photo below revisits the very spot where I took my first snap of the curious sheep investigating the white pegs that marked out the pipeline's path - the sheep are now relegated to a side show ... see the second photo, where some pipes have now been welded together - which I'll cover in my next bulletin, if spared...
 


Where once those sheep did gently graze....

Now ruddy great pipes just lie and laze

 


BULLETIN 4, 18/06/07: Today, the media here in Wales has been awash with reports of a Roman road unearthed in the Brecon Beacons by the pipeline's construction workers. Oh dear, if you want the hot news you need to read Hubie's 'What a Gas': In Bulletin 2 below I report - wait for it - yes, the discovery of a Roman road near Llandeilo, and the accompanying photo is dated 26/04/07. Curiously, since that date the archaeologists have covered that particularly intriguing piece of unearthed road with a tarpaulin, stuck up the NO ENTRY sign shown below - and buggered off. At the spot where they've put up this sign is where I cross the pipeline's path along my regular walk - and the contractor has provided gates for that very purpose - which is why I know about the Roman road in the first place. Now I'm supposed to keep away while they twiddle their thumbs - as if I always do as I'm told! I suppose I could get a wee bit annoyed about it all if there weren't plenty of rather amusing diversions to distract me - like the sign in the photo below, right...
 


Strange and weird things happen along this pipeline, but when I saw this 'Seatbelts must be worn at all times' sign bolted up outside a portaloo - well, the mind boggled (excuse pun). Mind you, the crazy gang that operate along the length of this pipeline are likely to come along at any time, pick it up and move it - God knows where - so just imagine that you're inside, sat on the throne minding your own business, in a manner of speaking, and suddenly your airborne. Well now, you'd need to be belted in rather tightly I'd say. See, there's method in their madness. And for heaven's sake, never ever remove your hard hat. Meanwhile, back at the coalface...
 

A very big Cat purrs contentedly as a
banksman prowls the operational boundary

The bull at the gate gets down and dirty
as his second looks on admiringly
 

BULLETIN 3, 30/05/07:

Well, well - perhaps JCBs do breed and
have little JCBs after all (see Bulletin 1)
Good heavens, a crane on the Tywi -
but I can't tell if it's dancing
 
l do an Oddie and search for a Humble
Bumble among a fitting of foxgloves
Would you believe it: a foxy
fancies its chances with a crane

BULLETIN 2, 01/05/07: Just ahead of the actual laying of the pipeline, a team of archaeologists enthusiastically scrape a living. Llandeilo is historically significant; a few moons back, on the outskirts of town, the remains of an important Roman fort and settlement was uncovered. The image below on the left is a site where the archaeologists descended en block in search of buried treasure. On the right is a cobbled Roman road discovered far away from the madding crowd, hiding away under a foot and more of soil; there’s a school of thought that such astonishing civil-engineering undertakings crisscross the country…
 

What did the Romans ever do for us? Well, this - and all done without JCBs, 4x4s, hard hats, luminous jackets, mobiles...


Below, a couple of photos where an entire field has been cleared of topsoil, presumably to provide space to park machinery, along with the huge pipes when they arrive; what caught my eye was an excavator parked up in the field – but the topsoil has been cleared neatly around it leaving it stranded on its own little roundabout; I presume that those who cleared the field did this for a laugh – note the turf neatly stacked in the bucket - and yes, it made me smile…
 

Here's another fine job well done Here's another fine mess you've
gotten me onto

 

BULLETIN 1, 20/04/07: Towards the back end of 2006 I encountered a group of surveyors. Their head-honcho eyed me suspiciously as I approached, camera slung over shoulder, for they weren't sure how locals would react to the project. "Strikes me there's something big in the pipeline," said I. He slowly smiled: "You could say that." First contact was established. The physical approach of the pipeline did not materialise until spring 2007 - and below are the initial images that caught my eye. The very first evidence of its approach was the pegging out of its path; the white pegs mark the precise course of the pipeline itself. The second image was watching an excavator clearing topsoil - when a swan wandered across in front of me – and I couldn’t help but notice the similarities…
 

 
Hey girls ... have a sniff of this Neck and neck in the
Evolution Handicap...
But I can build the mother of all nests... True, but will you end up with little
JCBs as beautiful as my babies?

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