Friday, 5 April 2013

The engineer and the Harrod's toilet brush

Newcastle upon Tyne, where we are based, has proud tradition of engineering. There is a lingering scatter of ship yards along the Tyne now used to pamper North sea oil and gas rigs and, over in the west end of the city, a massive workshop constructing armoured vehicles where once lord Armstrong's yards supplied battleships to the world. The heyday of engineering has largely gone nowadays, leaving a strange flotsam in the Discovery Museum which has galleries of shining engines, pistons, motors, winders, winches and mills. In the days of digital the knack of manufacture still has its place and research often brings out the best. We have been struggling with how to take a core of sediment from the ponds. We need to be able to drive down into the thickest mud, sometimes through mats of roots, pull out the whole core and not lose the gloop at the top. Dave has lovingly designed our very own corer, all the state of the art standard ones having proved a failure. Hand welded is resembles a hydrid between a bazooka and broadsword. We tried it out in the sudden sunshine up at Blakemoor farm on Thursday. The substantial metal pushes into the mud with satisfying substance, unlike some of the flexing and buckled plastic tubes we have tried. Dave laments the absence of foot braces to help push down but I’m sure they can be added. The metal tube has a cunning, calibrated plunger to push out the core. The only thing we need is something to clean out the inside of the tube between cores. Dave has the answer: a toilet brush from Harrods. This is the charm of research. Here we are struggling to pull out plugs of mud, accurately and precisely to measure weights and volumes and this has required a craftsman’s eye for design and an inexplicable bit of top quality bathroom shopping.

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