Sunday, June 08, 2008

Stuff That Goes Boom

Victoria Station. A sizable edifice built in 1862, it houses not only rail links for all over this nation, but a bus centre and the Underground. The picture (left) does poor justice to the intricate designs inside the roof support system. It's usually packed with people, 55% of them clueless as to where they're headed. That makes for some bottlenecks when someone suddenly stops in front of you with "deer in the headlights" syndrome. When I find myself getting that way I try to drift to the fringes of a situation, but it doesn't always happen. It's easy to get turned around in Victoria. I suspect some time/space continuum issues but have no way to test that theory.

Had the opportunity to watch a very tender scene at the station. A young couple, most likely in their early twenties, were saying goodbye. She was wearing an engagement ring and crying. I didn't get to see which ones of them was departing (I think it was her) but it was clear they didn't want to be away from each other. Very touching.

I hopped a train north to Waltham Cross, then a taxi to Waltham Abbey, home of the Royal Gunpowder Mills. The nice folks at the Mills said I could walk from one to the other (only 25 min or so) but I know that people often miscalculate the actual distance. Besides, it's been warm over here by British standards -- 80 degrees. Add the need to tote a messenger bag, a few too many extra pounds accumulated by overeatage and the results aren't pretty. The taxi service worked quite well.

Since explosives play a big part in the third book, I needed to do a bit more research into their manufacture. The Gunpowder Mills is situated on over 200 acres now converted to a museum and a wildlife refuge. The museum went into the details of gunpowder, nitroglycerine and cordite manufacturing in terms I could understand. Fascinating to me, but probably not to the average person. There were tons of old buildings to visit (incorporating mills, pressing rooms (gunpowder increases in explosive power the more it is compacted) and a nitratum (where they made nitroglycerine). At left is a gunpowder barrel from the 1830's. It shows the grain (or size) of the gunpowder, the weight and that there's a waterproofed bag inside to keep the powder dry.

Safety, as you can imagine, was a big thing at this site. There were blast walls (traverses) all over the place to shield one part of the manufacturing process from another. Buildings were well spaced apart. For those structures in which dangerous processes were being carried out, they had a couple ingenious ways to deal with potential blasts. The sheds below have flimsy roofs and side walls, but thick blast walls between each room so the blast will go up and out, but not into the next compartment. Clever.

I returned to London in the late afternoon and tried to get more editing done. It's been hard because by the end of the day I'm knackered (tired). Tomorrow I'm off to the Old Bailey (Central Criminal Courts). That outta be an experience.


Pam Wyant said...

Nice shot of V station!!! You know how I feel about good light. That is a good way to start my day.

Jana Oliver said...

I could spend hours over here just shooting pix but then I'd never get any of the other research completed. I did some photos of Westminster Cathedral (not the abbey) which everyone seems to ignore since its not the really big building. I'll be posting those tomorrow.

Compared to our visit, lots of stuff is now automated. You buy an Oyster Card and tap it against a little plate to get in and out of the tube station. Tap once to get onto a bus (no $$ involved anymore) and the train ticket you bought gets sucked up into the gate before you enter the platform. The problem is you have to keep track of the Oyster Card $$ so you don't run out. The Brits have "auto top-off" on their cards so money is automatically added> Us foreigners don't have that advantage. I have to truck into a convenience store, hand the card to some little fellow behind the counter and he'll top it off for me. If you stop using the card for a certain period of time the remaining credit goes bye-bye. Still, it's efficient as all hell.