GF Blog 23 – Week 33

15th September

Libya, Lambeth, London and eventually Coventry, this week dips into many different areas, with much helpful input from ‘Other Voices’.

As you may have noticed, my usual choice is to begin with a set of colourful images from nature. But the horror of last weekend’s flood disaster in Derna, Libya, has relegated those to further down. The BBC link provides many different before and after pictures, but only today (Friday) have I heard broadcast acknowledgment that climate change will very likely continue to cause similar tragedies around old dams all around the world. Like RAAC, that we considered recently, this structural failure is another example of ageing concrete, plus lack of care and investment in checks and maintenance. 2 dams were involved, which – seen in historical context – were so insignificant! Tiny, compared with the massive structure of underground pipes and reservoirs called the “Great Man-Made River”, conceived in the 1960s and built in stages over the following 40 years. It is the largest irrigation project in the world, enabled by the largest underground network of aqueducts and pipes (2,820 kilometres or 1,750 miles). What a tragedy to see a country, which had such brilliant hydro engineers at that time, so divided by civil war that any routine, simple repair project has become impossible to deliver.

With a death toll already well above 11,000, I just do not understand why we are not being asked loud and clear, to make donations. If you would like to help, please use this link: –


Arriving into the South London streets of Lambeth Borough last weekend, I was reminded of a famous song from the show ‘Me and My Girl’:-

Ev’rything’s free and easy
Do as you darn well please-y
Why don’t you make your way there
Go there, stay there
Once you get down Lambeth way
Ev’ry evening, ev’ry day

You’ll find yourself doing the Lambeth walk

I have run the Lambeth back roads many times over the years, but – by a strange coincidence – this visit saw every street in the neighbourhood in turmoil. Anything further from ‘Free and Easy’ I couldn’t imagine! Not only have they numerous deep trenches, as Thames Water replace old lead pipes with new, but also are now implementing various schemes that require roads to be completely cleared, ready for painting instructions and boxes all over them. (An aside … isn’t it astonishing to learn that lead has been still in use til now and that many will continue to be used, between the property boundary and kitchen tap?!)

Replacing lead pipes after 150 years
Resident permit boxes, to commence Oct 2nd
Lambeth Lollipop Lady – says educate the drivers

My first ‘Other Voice’ interview was with a lady who grew up in South Africa and who, along with her husband, runs a business importing and selling a unique plant called Moringa. Their business leaflet describes this as ‘The King of Superfoods’ and most of the sales happen at different London street markets, from Hammersmith and Kensington, to Queens Park and Islington, As you will hear, she and her husband felt pressured in so many ways to get rid of their car, and now – having done so – are having to struggle on public transport, carrying their sale goods in suitcases! This appears to me to be the exact opposite of what any good local council would do – where is the support for a unique small business? Where is the understanding of an ordinary couple, living a peaceful life and only wanting to play a positive role in their community?

Contact Freda, for more about Moringa using the web address

In Lambeth democracy has disappeared (59% opposed the new Residents parking but no notice was taken), and even more so in next door Southwark, where the CLZ will be implemented regardless of any counter arguments. However, in Cambridge (another of my stopping off points last summer) the entire scheme has been thrown out.

Controversial plans for a congestion charge in Cambridge have been scrapped by its Labour council because of concerns about the cost-of-living crisis. Car owners were facing a £5-a-day charge to drive at peak times, even if they lived just within the boundary and were heading out of the city.

But my Cambridge friend, living right in the thick of congested traffic every morning, says the true reason is ‘having seen Uxbridge bye-election result, Labour can’t risk losing their seats next year, over this one campaign.’ Their summing up of the scheme tells us:-

There were bits we liked and bits we remained concerned about.”

“Sustainable travel has not gone away – something is going to have to happen.”

“Something will have to go ahead because we have a problem with congestion in this city, which is only going to get worse.”

Education and Communication – the missing ingredient

Back on my running route I was delighted to connect again with that woman of great character, who I interviewed in 17th June 2022 blog – a Lambeth Lollipop Lady! We had another long chat, from which one little fact stood out – the best and most responsible users of the new system of  cycle lanes are Reception age children! She said, as the Head Teacher of the big primary school pushed for the changes to occur, most likely the children are being well-briefed about it. By contrast, if you observe the youthful testosterone-fuelled car drivers, you will hear horrible bad language, impatience and aggression. She anticipates seeing some bad accidents before long. ☹.

STEM in London, South Kensington 

I have wanted to experience some Science CPD training for a number years, ever since my friend Laurence Pears described being employed as an ‘Explainer’ to show people a little hands-on activity about making arches of a viaduct or bridge. On Monday I finally made it, up to the ‘WONDERLAB’ section on the top floor of the vast Science Museum building. The webpage told us in advance ‘it is the most spectacular interactive gallery in the world’; spread across seven different zones, it offers loads of opportunity to interact with real scientific phenomena – see lightning strike before your eyes, play with forces on giant slides or travel through space under a canopy of stars.’

Although we enjoyed ourselves and learned a lot, it didn’t seem to merit quite such a list of superlatives! What was marvellous however, was my next interview (Other Voice 3), with one of the team of ‘Explainers’. I think it was a big surprise when I came to this young man, pointed to the Periodic Table and asked ‘how much do you know about Indium (No. 49 on the table)?’ I then explained that our Meadow Barns display lists copper, tin, lithium, cobalt, zinc, tungsten, silver and indium as base metals found in Cornwall, for connecting Clean Green Power. After our chat (& to give even better information to future Meadow Barns visiting groups) I found out more about Indium:-

(An invaluable development), for creating a very effective thermal path, to take heat out of a semiconductor, is a thermal interface material, where you take some indium, indium alloy, and you put it between the semiconductor and the heat fins. You just put mechanical pressure on it, and the indium alloy being a very soft material, will flow into all the little cracks and crevices and work really well.

Indium is also one of the few metals that will bond mechanically to glass and seal the glass. There are cases where it is required that a metal should bond to glass and Indium combined with tin to make ITO or indium tin oxide, can do so successfully. This is used for flat panel electronic screens, as it can make glass conductive while remaining transparent.

Build the arch over a block support, then carefully remove & test it!  
We moved this Explainer on to the topic of Indium
Watts steam engines fill the basement

Now is not the time to explore further, the worrying lack of availability of Indium and dominance of China, but I cannot depart from the Explainer without also reporting his story, about a visiting teacher from Canada. Apparently, the statutory curriculum in Canadian schools only takes up 50% of a student’s time, the rest being ‘elective’ from a wide range of arts, sports, outdoors and practical activities. I was ‘gob-smacked’ and envious. If only we had such flexibility here! Which brings me to the next Guest contribution, from Roger Larham, who clearly feels very passionate about this very topic and wants our schools to be able to offer similar breadth. He has written over 2,500 words about this, from which I gratefully cherry-pick some key sections for you. If you have no interest in children’s learning, feel free to skip over. But on the other hand, if you would like to read the whole thing, please email to ask for it.

Why I recommend Membership of Meadow Barns – Cornwall’s Unique Science/STEM Museum

I have been involved with the Meadow Barns Centre since Day 1, when my wife and I volunteered, along with our grandchildren, to be guinea pigs for testing the outdoor activities. 4 years later it is great to follow Caroline’s pursuit of STEM solutions for Climate Hope in this blog and – this week – to be able to draw parallels between what she has just observed for her own CPD/ enrichment at the Science Museum and our experience as a family.

In South Kensington, as I understand it, the arch activity teaches one thing – you must support the blocks below, whilst building, but then if the pieces are made to fit well enough the support can be removed and your structure will bear weight.  At Meadow Barns, with Caroline, the learning occurs on many levels. I thought you might like to see some of our photos from summer 2019, as illustration:-

First ever ‘re-enactment’ of mining. Shell of the classroom shown behind
STEM, arch making, using sugar cubes and icing. Went down a treat!
Stories of working women, called Bal Maidens. Ages ranged from 7 to 70 years

If the promise of learning about Treffry family, the history of the area and the foibles of the locals didn’t immediately thrill KS2 and KS3 – aged children, the mood soon changed as it became evident that these sessions were FUN – full-on immersive, kinaesthetic and fast-paced.

Our youngest grandchild wasn’t quite aware as she built an arch out of sugar cubes and icing that she was using all sorts of STEM skills! Initially she had been withdrawn and reluctant, so this was a very happy outcome. I will never forget her beaming smile by the end of the day.

As a retired secondary Head of English, I especially value the way STEM concepts are wrapped in tales of social history – colourful, rich storytelling, ‘literacy and learning by stealth’. If still teaching, I wouldn’t hesitate to purchase Membership for a Year Group or specific set in English, and either bring them to the centre or book a visit to school, by the ‘Team of 3 Historians’, so they could help  to create our own ‘Story Walk’ locally.

My other ‘hat’ as a teacher was helping to deliver the Duke of Edinburgh and Ten Tors activities on Dartmoor, plus occasionally accompanying groups to stay at Outdoor Education Centres, like Porthpean and Carn Grey. In these days of intense time-pressure, I am amazed and delighted to see that some teachers still give up their own time, for this. But, since Covid, most of the Outdoor Centres have closed, leaving the children who most need to develop resilience of this sort without opportunities. I want schools to become aware that Meadow Barns can provide a low-cost but equally valuable option. Here is a snatch adapted from my diary after a very wet walk day (September 2020)

We had a wonderful walk in simply atrocious weather (‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing’) but only after savouring the delights of specially-made ‘old fashioned’ Cornish pasties, in keeping with the history theme. All three grandchildren are good walkers so we covered plenty of ground, tackling various terrains and spotting archaeological and historical items of interest. Learning to read the landscape – and what it reveals- is a great introduction to nature and environment for any child. Caroline’s quiet promptings and probings elicited some excellent and perceptive answers.

Brief break in the rain, playing with ore
Drenched all the way, we walk a carriageway over a granite bridge
And eventually reach the iconic Luxulyan Valley viaduct

Cheerfully battling through the Cornish elements, sticking to physical and mental tasks whilst the rain soaks and vision is impaired, is a great introduction to Duke of Edinburgh Bronze award or Ten Tors itself.

In Conclusion, schools in Cornwall are fortunate to have this Science Museum on their doorstep. I know many teachers support the idea of Renaissance Man (or should I say Renaissance Person?!) in principle and would love to feel they are enabling development of cognitive, physical, social and sporting talent in each and every pupil. Children need opportunities if they are to grow into life, into awareness, into adulthood. So, we have a duty (all of us, parents, grandparents AND teachers) to help prepare the youngsters we know, for the next few decades, caring and shaping their own environment with a sense of new possibilities and hope.

Coventry and M5 return journey

My travel both to and from Coventry, on Wednesday and Friday, involved grueling hours in hot, frustrating traffic jams. The more I experienced, the more I wanted to visualise a new way of individuals and small groups moving from place to place. As our ‘State’ obviously cannot deliver public transport at a reasonable price and high level of reliability, then what about alternatives to ordinary cars?

Electric Transport – Future Visions

Carole had mentioned in passing, a trial in Sweden of the 1st electrified road for EVs. The aim of this experiment is to greatly reduce the weight of batteries, and time taken for static charging, by direct charging from the track in the road during transit.

There are 3 options under consideration:- i) Connecting to a supply in the sky, as happens with electrified trams ii) Connecting to a conductive line in the ground or iii) Inductive connection

We think the electrification solution is the way forward for decarbonising the transport sector and we are working with a number of solutions.   Jan Pettersson Director of Strategic Development, Trafikverket

The charging method for E20 hasn’t been decided but there are three types of charging: catenary system, conductive (ground-based) system, and inductive system. The catenary system uses overhead wires to provide electricity to a special kind of bus or tram and therefore can only be used for heavy-duty vehicles.

Conductive charging, on the other hand, works both for heavy-duty vehicles and private cars, as long as there is a conduction system such as a rail. The vehicles are charged through a stick that touches the rail.

Reader, you know I am no scientist, even after all my self-improvement! But here is a challenge, for those who have greater skill than I – design a system, using magnets and sending power between the 2 metal crash barriers of a motorway, so that 2 lanes of differing speeds can be operational with individual pods being conveyed automatically. No demands on a driver, possibility for them to lie down or have a read or study and all the movement just happens through ?? Bluetooth or something!

Yes, OK … utterly fanciful. I have the desire to travel in a new way and the creative brain to imagine it. Over to someone else, to make it happen!!

Carole also sent a link about a new type of e-bike, without Lithium in it.–Q7JckqW6QdJyIGrOp0ylihxkjgTeDUx062ChkFfHKr6S7UM5HNRq9iFTG620t7JLkRxYIzOBHJCOBkO1HzyGEJcJcDlp2LWt5f8Vs3yDAA7T8jx4&utm_content=273260155&utm_source=hs_email

Well, having imagined my Blog would be sparse due to my travels this week, through all these other contributions it has become a big fat wonderful one!  Many thanks again to all those ‘Other Voices’. Let’s finish with some Coventry and M5 images.

Coventry Windmill, 1827 restored 1970s & 2020s
Canal walk – W Midlands power station, at the heart of National Grid
Future style pylons in Somerset, noisy and deeply unpopular with residents

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