15.11.2005 21:21 - Golden Showers
Yonks ago, I used to work for a company that was in the process of installing a remote-control system for the Isle of Wight power station.
Now, Cowes power station isn't your typical coal/gas fire power station. No, your Isle of Wight power station is what's called a rapid-start gas turbine generation system. It consists of two huge jet engines which burn diesel. These two gas turbines can be run-up and generating power within a couple of minutes, hence their use to top up the national grid. Compare that to a typical coal-fired power station (where pulverised coal is burnt in gas jets, which heat water to steam to drive turbines) which takes several hours to start, and so only occasionally get switched off.
Interestingly, in researching this, I discovered that five years ago, one of the turbines at Cowes was destroyed when it stopped rotating. At 3200 rpm. According to Murray Jones, the site engineer, "That led to a massive amount of energy being dissipated within the rest of the machine, catastrophic failure and a subsequent fire, resulting in devastation of the unit." In other words, it blew up. Never one to mince words, was Murray. Worryingly, this is the second power station I worked on, for that particular company, which blew up, the other one being Aberthaw. (If anyone's looking in from Aberthaw, Hi guys, I'm the one that wrote the "Merry Xmas" message that comes up on the display screens. That's if you're still running PDP-11 kit). Before any of you ask, I might point out that the entire "Birmingham ring" - that's all the substations supplying Birmingham - is also remote-controlled by software I helped to install that was written by this company. You may also filter in the fact that I now write programs for websites in Germany. Draw your own conclusions. All I can say is I'm glad I had nothing to do with the absolute neutron monitors built for Sellafield.
But I digress.
Whilst working upon this power station, we were billeted in a Hotel, which was originally a fortress built by Henry VIII, who watched the "Mary Rose" sink from the roof. It wasn't a bad place, although we did get chucked out for a couple of days whilst ELO part II stayed there, apparently bringing a complete Czechoslovakian orchestra with them. However, ELO weren't really the sort of band who damaged hotels - they just nicked the towels, and left it at that - so it was relatively intact when we got back, which wasn't much of a surprise as the walls were built to withstand assault from cannon-balls, and so they were thick enough to give even Keith Moon pause for thought.
The hotel did, however, leave some room for improvement in certain areas.
For example, water-proofing.
One day, our little team of engineers came down for breakfast, and picked our usual table, in preparation for a "Full English". That's a fried breakfast consisting of egg, beans, bacon and dreadful english sausages as described in a previous post. Whilst we were waiting, I noticed that Mark (from Purley), who was sitting directly in front of me, was focussing on something behind my head. I turned round. Water was dripping from the ceiling. We bravely tried to ignore it. After all, the place was built by Henry VIII. There were bound to be a few leaks.
The dripping increased, to the point where it was no longer a drip, but a stream.
It was at this point, that we decided, due to our razor-sharp thinking, to act.
We changed tables, moving as far away as possible from the drip, making it quite clear that it was nothing to do with us.
Time passed. The stream got worse. It was now big enough to look like a tap had been turned on in the ceiling above us. A pool had accumulated on the carpet underneath, and was threatening, due to the unevenness of the floor, to come our way. Serious damage had obviously taken place, and my money was on it either Bev Bevan or the 2nd Viola player being responsible. Something had to be done.
Not only that, but our breakfast still hadn't arrived.
There was only one thing to do. I took matters into my own hands and walked bravely into the kitchen - never a good idea in a British Hotel, as you might see the conditions your food were being prepared in. I hailed one of the chefs, who we had become friendly with, and informed him that he had a slight problem with the swimming pool in the breakfast room.
"But there isn't a swimming pool in the breakfast room."
"There is now."
His eyes widened. They widened even further when he saw the downpour. A Porter was summoned. The Porter summoned the Receptionist. Hurried investigations discovered that the leak was coming all the way from the top of the Hotel, passing through all four floors. The source of the leak? The source of the leak was a female guest who was taking a shower, and was claustrophobic, and so didn't like to shut the shutters on the shower. Apparently, she was only millimetres away from causing the sort of severe dip in the National Grid power levels that Cowes Power Station had been build to top up.
Good job we were there, then. We got extra sausages for that.
They still didn't taste of anything, though.