Thursday 30 December 2021

Britain, a country where an old General, Nick Carter and an old MP, Peter Bottomley can air old fashioned views on BBC Radio

The Guest Editor of the BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme this morning was the 67 year old General Sir Nick Carter, who as Chief of the Defence Staff, presided over Britain's ignominious scramble out of Afghanistan in August this year, in which thousands of Afghans, who had helped the British were left behind and to a bloody fate at the hands of the conquering Taliban. As a youth, his educational background had been the standard upper class route of a public school for boys, in his case, Winchester College, followed by army officer training at Sandhurst Military Academy. 

One of those interviewed by Mishal Husain on his programme was the 77 year old, Member of Parliament and 'Father of the House of Commons', Sir Peter Bottomley. Like the General, his education had also been based on the standard upper class route of a public school for boys, in his case, Westminster School, followed by his undergraduate studies at Trinity College Cambridge. Mishal had been asking him what advice he would give the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the light of the predicted massive squeeze on living standards in Britain, predicted for 2022. His reply might have been made by a Liberal MP in the House of Commons, two hundred years ago in 1821, when discussing 'The Paupers'  : 

"Remember 'The Poor', but have the long term interests of the economy as the focus of your work".

At the end of her interview with the General, in which he failed to either explain or apologise for his shortcomings in Afghanistan, Mishal said : "Your successor, Sir Tony Radakin made a speech more generally looking at the Armed Forces, calling for greater diversity than the present situation, with the woefulness of too few women. Do you think you should have done more ?" His reply might have been made by the Head of the Army, seventy years ago, in 1951 : 

"Actually, looking back on it, we did a lot. I was the Head of the Army who removed restrictions on where women could serve in the Army and for that matter in the Armed Forces. No, I think we did a lot. At the end of the day we are in a generational, cultural shift and Admiral Tony Radakin is exactly right to keep the momentum going in all of this". 

Wednesday 29 December 2021

Britain is a country where too many old men still ignore the symptoms of their prostate cancer and should listen to Errol McKellar

Errol Mckellar, who is a 64 years old car mechanic, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2010 and has been on a mission to let other men know about their risk ever since. He recalled that two weeks after taking a PSA test he said he : "got a call from my doctor who asked me to come back and do another blood test. I did the test, then a further two weeks after that I was asked to come in for a biopsy, followed by a scan. My doctor then sat me down and said my prostate was covered in cancer. I ran out of the room, went and sat in the car and I think the word 'cancer' hit me then. I just burst into tears. Fortunately, my cancer was picked up early so now I’m determined to raise awareness of the disease". In February 2011 Errol had an operation to remove his prostate and went on to have three months of radiotherapy. He is continually dealing with some of the serious side effects from his treatment, including bladder control and erectile dysfunction, nevertheless, he has remained clear of cancer.

My own prostate cancer was discovered, almost by accident five years ago, when I had my bladder removed because of bladder cancer and as a matter of course my prostate was also removed and a biopsy revealed it too had evidence of cancer. It is one of the reason why I, like Errol, tell the old men and young men I meet, to get themselves checked out. It is a disease specifically for men, since women do not have a prostate gland and in Britain is now the most common type of cancer for men, with one in eight white Brits diagnosed in their life time and one in four black. 

Prostate cancer featured heavily on the BBC Radio 4 'Today' programme on Monday this week at the behest of the guest editor Michael Dobbs, the writer and Conservative peer who was diagnosed and treated for prostate cancer this year. It killed his father and one of his brothers. Errol was interviewed for the programme and delivered powerful testimony : "I told my Dad, when I was diagnosed with prostate cancer a decade ago and my Dad turned to me and said : "Son, I had this problem five years earlier" and I said to him "Was it not something that you needed to tell us ?" I was so angry I couldn't talk to him for nearly six months over it and what we learnt was that this is a conversation that is not always had. That's why it has the title of 'A Silent Killer' because people are reluctant to talk about it and we are high risk". 

"The truth of the matter is : This cancer don't care about your colour. It don't care about your wealth - don't really care about you. What it does, if you ignore it - it will kill you. And that's how I put it across to all men".

Michael Dodds said : "Errol felt so strongly about it that he offered a discount at his garage for anybody who could show they'd been tested and because of this about 50 customers discovered that, they too had prostate cancer. Did Errol's discount save lives ? Almost certainly".

The much-loved TV presenter Bill Turnbull told Michael that he had ignored possible symptoms for months before finally going to see his GP. “Maybe if I’d seen my GP earlier, I wouldn’t be in quite the mess I am in now. But men do that. "I’ll be all right, there’s nothing wrong with me", and it’s embarrassing”. In that respect he had been been like many old and 'not so old men' who do not get tested and do not seek help despite the outcomes of being treated being good. Bill's prostate cancer is treatable but not curable and he said, laughing, that his hope in life “was to stay alive as long as possible”.

There are about 50,000 new cases of prostate cancer in Britain each year and about 11,000 men will die as a result. Despite this death toll there is no totally effective screening programme because a blood test showing levels of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is only a guide. It does not accurately distinguish between dangerous cancers and harmless ones.

Professor Nicholas Van As of the Royal Marsden Hospital, Chelsea, underlined this point when he said : "The problem with prostate cancer is you may find the cancer and it may be a cancer that men never needed to know about because in his natural lifespan, it was never going to progress and he'd never need treatment. Although we have a blood test - a PSA test which is useful in prostate cancer, it's actually not a good screening test. You can have an elevated PSA and not have prostate cancer. In fact, you can have a lower than, what's classically thought of as a 'normal PSA' and still have prostate. So it's not a very good diagnostic test".

Professor Ros Eeles, of the Institute of Cancer Research, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that if a PSA test was carried out now on every man in Britain over the age of 55 it would lead to over-treatment. She said : “We will end up treating at least 12 men for every one man that you should really find disease which is going to impact on that man’s life. In the breast screening programme, it’s three to one”. 

However, she was optimistic that situation would change “with the advances in genetics and also imaging, particularly MRI, realistically we do need some more data but we’re probably looking at getting close to a tailored screening programme in the next three to five years. We might need to use all of them together so we can find those who have significant disease”.

Professor Peter Johnson, the 'National Clinical Director for Cancer' at NHS England, told the programme that, because of the pandemic, there were several thousand fewer men starting treatment than in a normal year. He said : “It isn’t that there’s a big backlog in the system of people waiting to be diagnosed, it’s literally we haven’t even met them yet and that’s what we’re anxious to reverse”. He urged men to use the risk checker on the 'Prostate Cancer UK' website.

Errol received his MBE honour from the Queen for : 'Outstanding Achievement in the Community'.

Wednesday 15 December 2021

Britain in 2021, a country awash with rogues and liars in high places, said "Farewell" to 23 honest and honourable old men, born in another century and another Britain

Born in the decades beginning with :

The U.S.A. may have lost, but Britain made and says "Farewell" to its old and gallant, Prince of Peacekeepers, Brian Urquhart  (link)

Why has Britain failed to say "Farewell" and "Thank you" to John Bartlett, the Engineer who gave it the Dartford and Channel Tunnels and the Victoria Line in London ? (link)

Britain says "Farewell" to Owen Luder, Architect and one-time Prince of 20th Century Brutalism, who saw his once-lauded monuments destroyed before he died (link)

Britain says "Goodbye" to Edward Barnes, the Godfather of Children's Television (Link)

Britain says "Farewell" to an old iconoclast called Ken Garland who became its Legend of Graphic Design (link)

Britain says "Farewell" to its brilliantly versatile and richly talented TV screenwriter, Bob Baker, who breathed life into Doctor Who, Eddie Shoestring and Wallace and Gromit

Britain says "Farewell" to Colin Jones who triumphed over adversity and joined the Giants of 20th Century Photojournalists (link)

Britain says "Farewell" to its brilliant pioneer of electronic music and uncrowned 'Prince of Synth', Peter Zinovieff (link)

Britain made, but America has lost its much-loved Maestro Wig Maker, for actors of stage and screen, Paul Huntley

Britain says “Farewell” to one of its Giants of Modern Sculpture, Phillip King (link)

Britain says "Farewell" to an old iconoclast called Ken Garland who became its Legend of Graphic Design

Britain, awash with rogues and liars in high places, says "Farewell" to a Principled old Nurse and Truth Teller called Graham Pink (link)

Britain says "Farewell" to its old 'Playwright of the People and Champion of Community Theatre'
, Peter Terson (link)

Britain says "Goodbye" to an old and much loved actor called Trevor Peacock, who once told Mrs Brown "You've got a lovely daughter"

Britain says "Farewell" to Victor Ambrus, gentle 'Prince of Illustrators' who brought its past to life

Britain is a country which made and lost and now says "Farewell" to its old Prince of Backpackers, Geoff Crowther (link)

Britain once made and the world has now lost and says "Farewell" to a 'Valiant servant of Truth’, foreign correspondent, Simon Dring, সাইমন ড্রিং (link)

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to an old  Neuroscientist who unlocked the secrets of sight, called Michael Land (link)

Britain says "Farewell" to Philip Wolmuth, Champion of the People's Photography and Chronicler of the changing face of Speakers' Corner (link)

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to the much loved 'Prince of Architectural Photographers', Dennis Gilbert (link)

Britain's Northern Ireland is a Province which says "Farewell" to its Giant among Diplomats and 'Wee Man of Larne', called Norman Houston (link)

Britain is no longer a country for and says "Farewell" to its Brave and Brilliant, Prince of Public Health, Paul Cosford (link)

Britain says "Goodbye" to Ian Rawes, celebrated Field Recordist, Sound Archivist and Londoner, who let the City he loved do the talking (link)

Monday 29 November 2021

Why has Britain failed to say "Farewell" and "Thank you" to John Bartlett, the Engineer who gave it the Dartford and Channel Tunnels and the Victoria Line in London ?

Page views : 76

John's death at the age of 94, has been noted only by my single comment on twitter and has received no attention from press or media and no obituary from either the pages of the Times, Telegraph *, Guardian or Independent. Yet, in the last century he was recognised as a premier civil engineer who, not only was instrumental in creating state of the art underground tunneling machinery, but also went on to lead and execute the construction of the Cross Thames and Cross Channel Tunnels, which have transformed the way that millions of British citizens travel by road across London and to the Continent. In addition, he was in charge of the construction of the Victoria Line in London (link) which transformed the way that millions of Londoners traveled north to south and back again, across their city by tube.
* Telegraph obituary published 19th Jan 2022

He was born, to the day, exactly 20 years before me, on the 18th June 1927, the son of Olga and Vernon, a civil engineer. He was packed off as a boarder at the fee-paying Stowe Public School for Boys at the start of the Second World War. It was here that he was captain of cricket and rugby and head boy and left in 1945, at the age of 18, with a career in the legal profession in mind.

In 1946, although the Second World War was over, conscription for men into the armed forces was to continue for two years and, at the age 18, John, given his public school background, joined the Army as an officer cadet in the Royal Engineers and held a regular army commission, being promoted to Second Lieutenant in June 1947. After he was demobbed, he gained a place at Trinity College Cambridge as an undergraduate in the Autumn of that year to study for a Law degree. 

As an undergraduate he acted and sang with the Footlights and performed in Julian Slade’s 'Bang Went the Meringue' and his success in it led to an audition with the D’Oyly Carte Company, which he attended in the largest sombrero he could find and a costume to match. However, having graduated he now switched to study for a degree in civil engineering and on graduation got his first job with the contractor John Mowlem, while still continuing to study for his bar exams. At the age of 30 in 1957 he left Mowlem and he joined the consulting engineers, where his father was a senior partner, 'Mott, Hay and Anderson' and stayed with them from 1957 until his retirement at the age of 61 in 1988.

In the late 1950s he worked on the first, Thames crossing, Dartford Tunnel, now known as the West Bore. Engineers started work on this tunnel in 1936, but construction stopped with the outbreak of the Second World War. Digging restarted in 1959, which was when John became involved. The project team used a traditional tunneling shield to excavate the tunnel with a frame with pockets and each pocket had a man with a spade who dug out the earth in front of him. Built at a cost £11million, approximately £226 million in today's money, it opened in November, 1963.

In the same year, John was on a visit to Milan to advise a contractor on tunneling through the city’s gravel deposits who was laboriously using traditional methods. However, while there, he was able to see how the city's first metro line had been built, using the ‘cut and cover’ method, rather than bored tunnels. In this, Italian engineers had developed diaphragm walls, an ingenious method of constructing vertical retaining walls in non-cohesive ground by exploiting the properties of bentonite clay to support trenches during excavation.  

Bentonite was a commonly available clay material that, when activated by chemical treatment to form a slurry, became 'thixotropic', which was a gel when at rest, but a liquid when agitated. On his flight back to London, John, in a stroke of brilliance, visualised how slurry trenches and mechanical digger technologies could be combined to create a new type of tunneling machine, with fluid support of the working face. 

With this in mind, back at the drawing board John began developing plans for his prototype and on completion, patented the 'Bentonite Tunnelling Machine' in 1964. After that it took many years to find the funding to take the invention forward, but in 1971 his prototype machine (left) was built to drive an experimental section of tunnel in New Cross, Southeast London, for London Transport who were planning to extend the tube network. To service the machine, a spoil/slurry treatment plant was built at the head of the shaft with twin 12-inch diameter hydrocyclone units and a vibrating screen behind (right).

In technical terms, the new machine used pressurised bentonite slurry in a sealed bulkhead behind the cutting face to balance the water pressure in the ground and stabilised the tunnel while supporting rings were installed. The excavated soil was then separated from the slurry, which was recirculated to the cutting face. The experiment was deemed to be a great success, with tunnelling rates of four metres per 10-hour shift achieved. The invention, and the prototype, included all of the essential ingredients of a whole new class of slurry tunnelling machines (STMs) that were to follow all over the world, with many improvements were made on the way and by the end of the 1970s more than 1000 had been used worldwide. Unfortunately, further development happened outside Britain, since – apart from a single sewer contract in Warrington – no suitable projects emerged here for a decade or more.

In 1966 John became the partner for Mott, Hay and Anderson and director responsible for the firm’s transport and tunnelling work, including further projects in Toronto, advisory appointments in Madrid, Brussels and the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop. He also headed the project management of the Tyne and Wear Metro, coordinating its design and construction. 

In 1971 John became a founding member of the British Tunnelling Society (BTS), a professional association established in London by tunnelling professionals, led by Sir Harold Harding. A 'Learned Society of the Institution of Civil Engineers', its mission being to provide a forum for meetings and discussion on tunnel-related matters. It subsequently took part in the founding of the International Tunnelling Association in 1974 and by 2016 it had 800 members.

The origins of the London Underground's Victoria Line can be traced back to the 1943 County of London Plan, but the shortages of the post-war years had caused delays. Parliamentary powers to build the line were obtained in 1955, but further funding delays meant that construction work did not start until 1962. (link) In his mid 30's, John was appointed as the 'Project Engineer' and was 41 when he saw it opened in 1968 between Walthamstow Central and Highbury & Islington and on to Warren Street a few months later and then saw the line was completed to Victoria in 1969. 

John now faced the greatest challenge of his career as the 'Engineer with 'Design Responsibility' for the British side of the Channel Tunnel, first as a Principal Designer for the scheme and following the project's revision in the early 1970s, as a 'Principal Design Consultant' for all civil and geotechnical engineering on the British section. Digging began on both sides of the Strait of Dover in 1987–88 and was completed in 1991 and the tunnel was officially opened on May 6, 1994.The digging was done by huge tunnel boring machines, known as TBMs, which cut through the chalk, collected the debris and transported the debris behind it using conveyor belts.(link) 

The descendants of John's original machine have been used in many major civil engineering projects. They include 'Ada' and 'Phyllis' (left), named after Ada Lovelace, the world's the world's first computer programmer, and Phyllis Pearsall, who created the London A-Z, the giant boring machines used by Crossrail to construct tunnels between Royal Oak and Farringdon. Also 'Busy Lizzie', which was used to cut the Lee Tunnel, the first section of London’s Thames Tideway ‘super sewer’. 'Mary' and 'Sophia' (right), the two tunnelling machines which completed the Thames Tunnel, were named after the wives of Isambard and Marc Brunel who constructed London’s first Thames Tunnel over 150 years ago. (link) 

When the Martime  Maritime Museum was created in Cornwall in 1992 it was the result of collaboration between the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich and the former Cornwall Maritime Museum in Falmouth. It formally opened in February 2003 and its research work was led by the 'Bartlett Maritime Research Centre' which incorporated the 'Bartlett Library'. This was a resource of books, archives and records on maritime matters, the core of which was a library collection of 16,000 books donated by John, whose interest in all types of maritime craft prompted him to start a library collection when he was 18 years old,  back in 1945. Since this time the collection has grown to include around 19,000 maritime reference books. 

John served as President of the Institution of Civil Engineers form 1982 - 1983, but the greatest tribute he received from his profession came when he was 91 in 2018. As the inventor of prototype soft ground pressurised TBM technology, he was recognised by the Royal Academy of Engineering with its highest accolade, the Sir Frank Whittle Medal, named after Britain’s jet engine genius and awarded to an engineer resident in Britain whose : 'Outstanding and sustained achievements have had a profound impact on their engineering discipline'. 

In a congratulatory letter to John, Ivor Thomas, the Chair of the British Tunelling Society wrote : 'Your invention of the slurry machine and its subsequent development has made a tremendous difference to how and where we can tunnel. Slurry tunneling has allowed us to develop tunnels in geology that would previously have been either very difficult and costly or impossible. Much of the Jubilee Line to the south of the River, the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Crossing and the Crossrail River Crossing were only made possible by the use of slurry machines'.

Lord Robert Mair, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, echoed these sentiments with : 'There can be no doubt that a major revolution in the worldwide tunnelling industry was triggered by John Bartlett's invention of the bentonite tunnelling machine. It has enabled a rapid increase in tunnel construction around the world, particularly in urban areas, for water supply, sanitation and transport with remarkable benefit to humanity'.

On receiving the award, John said, with perfect self-effacement : 

"Civil Engineering today is a team game. I hope members of my team will enjoy sharing the recognition given by this award. Many thanks to those who put me forward".