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More TV and Progress

18th February 2015
Following on from the visiting Channel 5 documentary team (14th January), we had a flying camera team turn up to film some additional footage for the programme.
Officially a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) or vee-hicle, as our American cousins like to call it, this fancy piece of flying wizardry sports a whole host of amazing gizmos.

Drone Camera

There’s no need to go into great amounts of techy detail, but essentially it carries a full HD video and still camera, which has a gyro stabilised, three-axis gimbal. This means, no matter what the UAV is doing, the camera always remains perfectly level and stable. This is all done of course, like most electronic stuff, by smoke and mirrors.
How do we know it’s done by smoke and mirrors? Well, it’s obvious. Once all the smoke leaks out, the electronic thingy, whatever it is, just stops working. You may have even witnessed this phenomenon yourself.

Such is the complexity of this bit of kit, it takes two to actually produce any useful TV footage. The pilot, who is licensed by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority), has to guide the UAV between power lines, houses and other obstacles (like large trees) all the while observing the correct regulation clearances of course. Meanwhile, the cameraman, who has his own remote control, is looking at his monitor to ensure the camera is pointing where it should be.

Drone camera monitor

All fascinating stuff, although it meant another day standing outside getting freezing cold.
In an effort to replicate some of their footage, I took my new UAV out for a quick flight.


You can immerse yourself in the quality of my single-handed flying and camera-work below;

For those of you that have never met me, I promise I’m not really as scary as I look in the footage. It’s just that I was terrified of crashing the thing!

In other news, our Men in Boots have excelled themselves by finishing the grouting of the sinkhole ahead of plan. After 8 days, 4 very large lorry loads of ash and countless bags of cement, the sinkhole is no more. Yippee!
The only downside to this work is that we’ve lost our Leaning Tower of Oakamoor. The Elves of Safety apparently demanded its destruction, due to the likelihood of it falling over and squashing an unprotected toe.

Leaning Tower of OakamoorStill, at some time in the future, they’ll be able to build us a brand new vertical one to replace it.

Having swept up the remaining ash in the car park, that was slowly turning into a grey soup, the Men in Boots have now ordered us a road sweeper to finish the job. Well, we think that’s what it’s for – either that, or they took our appearance in Channel 5’s other masterpiece Britain’s Most Dangerous Roads a bit too literally.

Next on the plan, they’ve got 10 days to fix the sewer and top off the sinkhole area with a large pad of solid concrete. Stay tuned 🙂 

The Doctor Calls

11th February 2015
We’ve just had the pleasure of playing host to the media again.
BBC Midlands TV sent their very own Science Correspondent,  Doctor David Gregory-Kumar (DrDGK) and cameraman, sound recordist and editor-in-chief Andy Cam. 

They’d arrived to film the grouting of the sinkhole. Unfortunately, our Men in Boots had gone at it from around 08:00 and by 09:30 they’d already drilled down around 40 Metres, to the bottom of the sinkhole. Given that DrDGK and Andy Cam didn’t turn up until 10:00, the only action available to commit to the film was the guys drinking a well-earned cup of tea, kindly donated by The Laurels B&B.
This, of course, is bread and butter to TV people. They’re well versed in hanging around waiting for things to happen – coiled like springs, waiting for the action to unfold, so they can press the record button.

As it happens, Helen and I were deemed to be suitable substitutes for any other live-action, so were fitted with mics and stuck in front of Andy Cam’s surprisingly wide-angle lens.
This concerned me only, as lenses of this type tend to accentuate large noses – and mine had inconveniently decided, just the night before, to grow a rather large, adolescent-type spot on it. Strange, that even at 50 plus years old, my body knows exactly when to show me up – just as it used to as a greasy teenager, when meeting a pretty girl for the first time.

Somewhat refreshingly, we were given the chance to talk about things other than the sinkhole. Which allowed me to vent forth about The Idiot Builders, as you might just be able to tell from the photo below!

BBC Midlands TV Interview

After we’d given our view on the World, the Universe and all things slippy-slidy, the first of an unknown number of rather large lorries arrived. This eight-wheeled leviathan was loaded with one of our portions of the European Ash Mountain. Which reminds me – we must get on to Cecilia Malmström to see how much the subsidy is worth.
Did you know €295.5 billion in payments has been made to 23,110,639 recipients, in farming subsidies since 2013? Having tasted salted liquorice from Scandinavia, we don’t see why coal ash can’t come under the food umbrella too.

After skilfully reversing up our drive, without removing the side of DrDGK’s pool car, the contents of the lorry were dumped into the previously assembled AHA (ash holding area).

Sinkhole Ash Delivery        Sinkhole Ash Delivery Area


Those of you who’ve managed to navigate the complexities of clicking on these images to make them bigger may well have noticed Mad Maurice (our next-door neighbour) atop his roof, taking photos for posterity. Not to worry though, he’s only in his 70s! 

All we needed to do now, was wait around for another hour or so for the cement to arrive. In my time at British Airways we used to call it JITD (Just In Time Delivery), which means things turn up as you need them. Not too early – and not too late. In reality, the cement delivery man probably has more in common with BA than he realises – users of the JITD system actually used to call it JTLD – Just Too Late Delivery.

All of which allowed us to break for lunch, whilst the TV boys sampled the delights of The Ramblers Retreat, a wonderful watering hole just over a mile from us.

Luckily DrDGK and Andy Cam arrived just in time to film the giant washing machine being fired up for the first time. The BBC is clearly more efficient than BA in this respect, which is just as well, as BA isn’t using public money any more.

Sinkhole Plug Washing Machine

A secret ratio of cement, water and ash was duly poured into the giant mixer. This was then pumped down the middle of the hollow drill bit to start grouting the sinkhole, as you can see in this expertly filmed video.

This just left the raw TV footage to be edited down into a finely honed news item, ready for airing after the 6 o’clock news. Andy Cam clearly comes into his own here, so he disappeared into the editing suite (aka Mercedes van) to do his magic.

TV Editing Suite

Hopefully, when they come back sometime in the future, it will be to announce the Grand(ish) reopening of The Laurels 🙂

To finish – keen readers of this tome will know we were visited by Channel 5 some time ago, looking to include us in a series of documentaries called ‘Homes under Threat.
It seems they’re sending out a flying drone (with a pilot) to do some aerial photography tomorrow. Updates to follow. 🙂 

Stop Press: XXL Washing Machine Arrives!

10 February 2015
Our internet woes continue with day 6 of Digitel Europe’s inability to supply us with a connection past 17:30.
I’m reliably informed via email, by their CSCSM (Condones Shocking Customer Service Manager) that the Managing Director is due to call us any day. Our fingers are crossed, but our breaths aren’t held. Mainly on the grounds that we’re quite likely to turn blue well before the phone rings. Still, you can but hope.

It seems news of our sinkhole has reached far and wide, as we’re now being mentioned in none other than Sinkhole News!
This feels a bit like an episode of Have I Got News For You – but Sinkhole News is very probably the best place to find out about all you wanted to know about (you guessed it) sinkholes.

The Men in Boots excelled themselves today, with the arrival of The Mole. A dandy device normally hidden in one of Thunderbird 2’s pods.

Thunderbirds, The Mole

This sizeable bit of kit is apparently a fair bit smaller than some of the stuff that’s due to arrive, but it looked pretty big to us.

This beasty is going to drill down the middle of the rocks in the sinkhole, through which they’ll then pump the grey goo.
Before it can do that though it needs a drilling platform, which sits over the sinkhole. You can see it being craned into place below.

Drilling Platform        Drilling Platform

They also delivered what looked like the world’s largest washing machine. I’m guessing this is what the grey goo will be mixed up in, then pumped into some bit of kit which will inject it into the hole.

Having said that, it could just be that our Men in Boots suffer from OCD and just like to have all their kit washed every day. If you click on the photo below, you can probably tell that one of our helmet-clad men appears distraught at the thought of not be able to wear his freshly cleaned kit tomorrow.

Sinkhole Grouting Machinery

Once they’d all disappeared off home I did have a close-up look at their bright yellow toy. It’s nice to see the daily inspection has been carried out, as we don’t want any HSE contraventions here.

Grouting controls
I’m guessing too, that if you play with the collection of levers long enough, you’d be able to figure out what they all do because the diagrams below them sure don’t seem to help. What does seem sure though, it looks like a plumber’s nightmare to fix if anything goes wrong.

Grouting Drills
They do seem to have turned up with plenty of drilling rod, pole, thingys though. These are 2 Metres long and although they probably won’t be able to reach Australia, I reckon they’re good for at least 70 Metres (around 230ft).
Let’s see 🙂

Meanwhile, in The Idiot Builder’s excavation, the other Men in Boots have been busy constructing a piling mat. This basically a level surface from which the enormous piling machine can do its thing.

Here’s a video of 2 days work compressed into just 1 min 38 seconds;

No Internet & Noise. What More Do You Need?

7th February 2014
Another slightly delayed blog thanks to Digitel Europe, our friendly non-internet supplier.
In a totally coincidental and unconnected freak of events, following receipt of a more than a scathing email from us, Digitel decided to prove us wrong and provide a service that was actually worse than before.
The latest way in which they believe they can serve their customers better is to ensure it falls over every evening around 17:30 and not work again until around 08:00 the next day. It’s done this now for the past 5 days, which has been a wee bit irksome, to say the least.
We’re currently waiting for the Managing Director to contact us, as promised by their Customer Service Manager, who incidentally has never bothered to talk to us once in the last 2 years we’ve been having problems with them. Perhaps they could rename her role to something more appropriate – Condones Shocking Customer Service Manager perhaps?

Anyway, one bunch of people who we can seem to rely on, are our Men in Boots. They duly arrived as promised and delivered what can only be described as the components for a motorway central barrier. These massive lumps of concrete were ferried up the drive one by one, as the rather large artic they arrived on couldn’t fit through our Laurel arch.

Concrete Blocks

We believe these blocks are going to form a kind of temporary holding bay for a rather large pile of ash. This ash is actually the waste product from coal-fired power stations, which is going to be interesting on a windy day.
The reason for this addition to the European Ash Mountain is to enable the Men in Boots to mix it with liquefied cement so it can be pumped into the sinkhole, via a hole bored to the bottom, to form a rather large solid plug.
When quizzed about how far exactly they were going to drill down, we were told: “As far as we need to”. So, you heard it here first – if you live in Australia and grey goo starts seeping out of the ground, you know who to blame!

The purpose of the road-roller became clear today too. Unfortunately, it was at 07:20 this morning, when we were roused from our slumbers by a less than subtle din, which didn’t impress us much. God knows what the people living right next door to The Idiot Builder’s excavation thought.

 Bund Excavation
Having delivered several loads of stone to the excavation area, it seems a working area is being constructed for some heavy machinery. This consists of putting down some kind of sheeting, covering it in stone, then rolling it with said roller. Anyone who’s heard a steel roller on hard stone will appreciate the noise involved
Next up will see the start of work on grouting the sinkhole. Stay tuned for more tales of the unexpected 🙂

Diggers, Drains and Dirt

4th February 2014
Well, who’d have thought? A deadline that didn’t come and go without anything happening!
As promised, Men in Boots arrived in their day-glow jackets, helmets, gloves, boots and other paraphernalia to start work in the excavation created by The Idiot Builders.
They started the day by scraping ice off the road with a JCB. We’re not 100% sure why they did that, as no sooner had they removed the ice than they attacked the road with a pneumatic drill – which we’re fairly sure is able to penetrate a couple of inches of frozen water. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that though, they did end up digging a trench in the road, which was soon to be followed by another one in the excavation. Its purpose may, or may not become obvious in the following days.

In the photo below you can see the trench on the right-hand side – just next to our neighbour’s fence, which has suffered a serious case of the leans.

Building Site

It’s also clear from the photo, just to the left of the JCB, that what was once a very steep (and high) bank of earth, has now moved very gracefully back from whence it came.
I call it a JCB of course, but it’s very probably a Caterpillar or Kubota, or other tracked digger thingy manufactured by someone other than JCB. It’s funny the way some things become ubiquitous like that. Think of Biro, Hoover or Google. Strangely enough, although the verb to Google is now an accepted term, Google themselves are apparently unhappy with this because it means people may be using Bing or Yahoo to do their searches, in which case Google think they may be getting sub-standard results. Very bizarre.

One other oddity, as can be seen in the photo below, is the appearance of a road roller. We may have missed the point somewhat, but can’t help thinking its arrival is about 10 months premature, as they won’t be rolling any new tarmac until everything else is finished.

Building Site

Whilst all this digging was going on, very noisily it has to be said, we were visited by a chap hoping to sell us some solar panels.
He came with promises of saving thousands of pounds and benefiting from getting all our daytime electricity for free.
You know what they say – if it sounds too good to be true. It probably IS too good to be true.

Unfortunately, the sunshine salesman knew about as much about solar panels as I do about String Theory.
Here are a few of his pearls of wisdom;
Us: What sort of panels are they?
Him: They’re German. They’re the best. They come with a 20-year warranty.
Us: Yes, but what is their construction? Monocrystalline or polycrystalline?
Him: Err, yes, the mono ones. They’re German. That’s the best
Us: You said we have to have felt under our roof tiles, otherwise you can’t fit the panels. Why is that?
Him: That’s because of the damp. The solar panels might get damp. The warranty would be void then.
Us: You said all our daytime electricity would be free. We use over 3,300KWhrs per MONTH. Your system would only generate about 3,700KWhrs in a YEAR. That doesn’t really add up, does it?
Him: Err yeah, but you get the money from the feed-in tariff too. (We’ll let you work that one out).

And so it went on.
Suffice to say he left empty-handed, without selling us his solar panels. Can’t quite remember where they’re made though…

Apologies for not posting this sooner, but our wonderful suppliers of the infernal interweb (Digitel Europe) have excelled themselves again recently in not providing us with any internet for the past 9 hours. This was followed by it dropping off no less than SEVEN times this evening. In fact, it’s taken me over 2 hours to post this one item!

Still, having requested a call from the Customer Service Manager, which didn’t happen, followed by requesting the MD to call, which didn’t happen, we’re not holding our breath for any improvement. Only 12 months to go on our ‘contract’.