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On the road with Brian Cushing (3)


Latest Posts

A stonemason's journey

Posted on 22nd November, 2018

The craft of the stonemason is very ancient. If you had been down at All Saints Church in 1100 AD when the church was under construction, or 1523 when the tower was first built, or 1875 when the new bells were added, you might have seen a small group of industrious craftsmen, hewing and chiselling stone, standing precariously on scaffolding, lifting the new blocks into place and cementing them in.  


But if you had been down at All Saints over this last summer, you would have seen exactly the same thing!   Almost.  The patient workmen, the sound of steel on stone and the huge blocks being manhandled, would be the same.  Only the van in the carpark and the electric cables would tell you which century you were in.  





During this summer, fundamental repairs have been made to the stonework of the tower, the vestry and the roof, by Steve Hill and his company of craftsment, Pinnacle Stonemasons. 





We interviewed Steve down at the church when the job was almost finished.  






Q:  Steve, what was wrong with the stonework?


Eroded stonework on the tower 


1.  Damaged and eroded ragstone up the side of the tower. 


You can just see that the protuding stone ledges (the "string courses" at the top have been completely eroded, allowing rain to wash down the stone below.)

















2.  The eroded stonework at the top of the tower - an old brick chimney - and a tree growing out of it!  The crenellations and the little round turret on top of the tower were quite worn away and in bad condition.












Missing render3.  Large patches of missing or damaged render which protects the soft stone underneath















It's all quite daunting.  We wondered how long it takes to learn about stone.


Q:  Steve, is it hard to become a stonemason?  How did you get into this trade?


A:  When I left school, I got a youth opportunity job at York Minster.  There were 15 masons and 15 carpenters permanently employed there, maintaining the building.  I stayed there 7 years.  And then I got a chance to study in Venice, at the San Cervolo Centre for craftsmen.  I studied there for 6 months.


Q: And that was it?  You were an expert then?


A: Not exactly.  Then I came back to England and worked as a banker.


Q: A banker?!


A:  It's the name given to a self employed stonemason.  You have your own tools, hammer and chisel.  And you move around from site to site, wherever there is work.  I did that for years.  I worked a lot in the West Country.


Q: I see.  And what about Pinnacle?  When did you start that?

A: That was 3 years ago.


Q: Is this one of the biggest jobs you've done?

A: No.  We do a lot of work on churches.  Recently, St Mary at Dover.  And St Mary the Virgin at Stanted, where we rebuild some of the buttresses.  St Margeret at Dover, lots of stonework there.  And next door, we did a lot of work at St Peter and St Paul at Yalding, taking out the ferramenta - that's the iron bars that support windows - and replacing them.


Rebuilding the little turret


Q: What was the hardest thing about this job?

A:  Well, the tower of All Saints is kent ragstone.  Candidly, it's a horrible stone to work with, much harder than the British limestones  like Portland.  It's hard and dense. And chips.


Q: It's amazing to me that the original builders were able to work it at all!


A:  In those days a stone yard would have had stonemasons and full time blacksmiths on site, always busy.  The chisels and saws would become blunt in 5 to 10 minutes.  Then it was back to the blacksmiths to be sharpened.




Preparing the new ragstone in the workshopLowering the new block into place


Q:  And nowadays?

A:  Nowadays we have diamond tipped angle grinders, the edge last longer.


Q:  So the ragstone was the most difficult thing about the job?

A:  No.  The most difficult thing was the render.  The coating of small stones, sand and lime which protects the stonework.  


Q:  I thought that was something the Victorians put on?

A:  No, it's been there since day 1.  See, the walls themselves are made of stone, almost rubble in places, with bits of flint stuck in as well.  The joints are wide, not completely filled.  The render is absolutely necessary to protect the materials behind.  Otherwise it would erode the soft tufa stone of the main walls, rapidly.


Q:  Is tufa stone with render better than cut stone blocks?

A:  No, it's just a lot cheaper to build!


Q:  So what was hard about replacing it?

A:  We don't have the original recipe for it.  And we have no records about how they put it on.  Right from the beginning, I was convinced they filled rectangular panels.  You put the little stones in panel first and then the lime mix. 


When you present the panel to the wall, the stones are then on the outside.  In some places you can see lines in the original render, but not everywhere.  I think when they put it on, the most skilful workers left no lines.  So we did a trial with approval from Derek Hudson, the architect.  We covered the north chancel.  But it was the wrong colour.


The rendering box, empty


Q: But wouldn't you expect that?  The old render is a hundred years old.  Or more.

A.  That's right.  So the new render should probably be a different colour, to start with, even if we've got it right.  We think we've got close.  It's been a journey and a lot of rework.  


Well, Steve, the church looks wonderful now.  Thank you and your Pinnacle craftsmen so much for what you've done.




Posted on 16th November, 2018


Jewelultra, a company with its head office in West Farleigh has donated new football strip to the second XI team.


They were presented to the club by Lance Boseley.



The club are very grateful for all the help they have from Jewlultra. It makes a huge difference to both the football and cricket teams.





Posted on 20th September, 2018





Jewelultra has had its head office in Ewell Lane since 2005. They produce chemical treatments for the motor industry. Their research laboratory and factory are in Loughborough. We recognize the name in the village as they sponsor the Sports Club and the name Diamondbrite can be seen around the village on the Cricket Covers and the football hut.


They have won the KEiBA (Kent Excellence in Business Award) in the Exporter of the Year category. 



Their market is now worldwide. Export Sales are the fastest growing sector of the business.

The success is attention to detail. They find out exactly what the clients require and go the extra mile to develop and market it. In India, rats were eating the electrics on new cars. Jewelultra’s research team found that rats do not like peppermint and eucalyptus flavours, so a chemical spray, containing these flavours, was developed to treat the underside of then new cars!

The judges commented “that they were not afraid of new markets and develops its products to meet their customers’ requirements in the local market. The continued investment and customer focus is evident throughout.”

John Boseley CEO and Neil Simmonds Global Export Sales Manager, are very proud of their success.


Posted on 26th July, 2018


‘How safe do you feel where you live?’

That is the one of the key questions Matthew Scott, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent, is asking residents this summer.

Mr Scott said: ‘I set Kent Police’s priorities based on the things people tell me matter to them. My Annual Policing Survey is a key way in which I get to hear what you think about your police force. I want to know what you think Kent Police does well and what it could do better.

‘I’m responsible for ensuring Kent Police provides an effective and efficient service so I’m asking you, plain and simple, to rate how safe you feel in your community and also what to extent you think you get value for money.’


Mr Scott added: ‘I’ve had a tremendous response from those I’ve met at big public events like the Kent County Show and the Kent Police Open Day so far this summer but I want as many people as possible to take the opportunity to have their say. Based on the results of last year’s survey, I took the decision to put more money into recruiting up to 200 more police officers, so your views really can make a difference.’


The survey, which only takes a couple of minutes to complete, is available at www.kent-pcc.gov.uk/consultations. A hard-copy leaflet, and a large print version, are also available on request.

Questions about people’s gender, where they live, age and ethnicity have been included to enable the PCC to spot trends among different communities.



Posted on 9th July, 2018

As the heat increases, so does the amount of water we all use. To cope with this, South East Water is producing an extra 100 million litres a day across its supply area – the equivalent of 40 Olympic swimming pools of water.


High demand for water is often caused by garden watering – on a normal day it makes up six per cent of water use in the home, but on hot days this can soar to 70 per cent, mainly due to garden sprinklers which use as much water in an hour as a family of six uses in a day.


During this period of high demand some people may experience lower than normal pressures during times of high demand such as breakfast and dinner time so everyone is being asked to reduce garden water use during these times to try to make sure there is enough water for everyone.


Being water savvy in the sunshine will help ease pressure on the company’s extensive network of 9,000 miles of pipes, pumping stations and treatment works which are working at full pelt around the clock to keep taps running.


Despite the recent dry spell, reservoir and ground water levels are as expected for this time of year.


Saving water means saving money too and top tips and free water saving devices can be found at: southeastwater.co.uk/savewater.


Many thanks for your help in advance – it is very much appreciated.


Kind regards.



On behalf of South East Water



Road Verge Rage!

Posted on 16th May, 2018

It always leaves me amazed and in wonder; an early evening stroll from East Farleigh Station along the lovely magical River Medway, a right turn at the top of St. Helen's Lane and I'm heading home towards West Farleigh, picking up the gentle but unmistakably enchanting scent of freshly cut grass, and then catching sight of the neat precise finish left behind by the grass cutters at the junction of Kettle Lane and Lower Road, at this point I'd be hard pushed to think of anything that would top this.


But how about this, if the Lower Road Layby 'Island' was cut at the same time along with Hoppers Corner at the foot of Charlton Lane (and the steep banked verges on the left towards Teston) then I would almost be in paradise, but no, even after all these years, all of the above including the Village Green & it's verges at the top of the Village as well as the 'triangle' just below, all appear to be cut at different times in different ways by varying bodies leaving an inconsistancy to the village..


Shame, if we were joined up how good would that be and not just from a visual viewpoint but also from a conservation & wildlife viewpoint ! This led me to a spot of interweb surfing and I came up with the following quote from John Burton, Country Life, 1973:


“Throughout the spring and summer the wild flowers of our country roads and lanes delight all who walk or drive them – or rather one would think that they delight everyone, but this is clearly not entirely so because each year, at the height of their glory, mile upon mile of them are ruthlessly cut.” 


During my daily commute into London, whilst looking for more information on these much loved areas of 'no mans land' I discovered a group called 'Plantlife' who seem to have nailed it; I've taken the liberty of cutting an extract from their latest publication, and will post a link to their website at the end of this article; happy reading, and do leave any ideas, comments you may have;


Taking a different approach, Plantlife’s vision for Britain’s road verges is one where all verges are managed for wildlife as a matter of course, restoring and expanding flower-rich habitats along our road network. This will ensure the survival and natural spread of both common and rare species, for their own sake, for the sake of the wildlife they support and environmental benefits they bring, and to enhance the contact with nature experienced by users of Britain’s road network.


We know that verges are under considerable pressure. Priorities for safety and access, along with budget constraints and difficulties with the collection of litter and grass clippings all mean that enhancing their wildlife value is often low on the list. But we believe that the adoption of a few basic principles can significantly improve the biodiversity on our verges, bringing benefits for wildlife, for us and for future generations.


Basic road verge management  for enclosed, grassy verges: 

The following should be undertaken on all enclosed  grassy road verges (apart from those areas, such as junctions,  where safety is a priority)


We have developed two main management prescriptions:


The first A. Basic road verge management is aimed at all enclosed grassy verges in the lowlands, regardless of current condition.


The second B. Enhanced road verge management is aimed at sections of verge that are still rich in wild flowers, such as Road Verge Nature Reserves. We have also provided advice on the management of other types of road verge habitats.


If only one cut is possible: Cut the full width of the verge once a year, between mid-July and the end of September. This allows plants to flower and, importantly, gives time for seed to be set.


If more cuts are required, do one of the following: Cut the full width of the verge between mid-July and the end of September. Then cut once more before Christmas. This is the ideal option to conserve and enhance wild flowers, as it mimics the pattern of traditional meadow management.


Or... Cut the full width of the verge as early as possible, during February and March. This is before most verge plants flower and it won’t disturb ground-nesting birds. Cut the full verge again during September and October. This slightly later date for the second cut allows plants that were cut earlier in the year sufficient time to flower and set seed.


If it is not practical or desirable to cut the whole width of the verge: On large verges, cut a 1 metre strip at the edge of the verge as early as possible – during February and March. This allows grass at the back of the verge to grow longer, providing a diversity of habitat that is especially important for invertebrates.


Or... On small verges of less than 1 metre, leave some sections uncut, for example 100-metre sections every 200 metres. In both these cases, cut the full width of the verge during September and October.


There is much much more........ I'll be persuing this with our local authorities to find out their views and see if they are onboard for any change.


Plantlife can be found at https://www.plantlife.org.uk/uk


If you made it this far, many thanks, you deserve a cup of tea (at least)!


Ed Boyd



Let's All Say 'NO' To Plastic Bags

Posted on 26th March, 2018

We have all seen the impact that plastic has on wildlife and the environment on TV documentaries and in the media. We know that plastic bags are not biodegradable. They fly off rubbish heaps, get thrown from the windows of passing vehicles and are dropped on the floor by passers-by. They clog water infrastructures, float down waterways, and spoil the landscape. If all goes well, they end up in proper landfills where they may take 1,000 years or more to break down into ever smaller particles that continue to pollute the soil and water.


Take a look at what West Farleighs litter pickers collect on a monthly basis http://www.thefarleighs.co.uk/monthly_litter_pick.html - quite incredible!


Plastic bags exposed to sunlight for long enough become brittle, breaking into ever smaller pieces. The small fragments then mix with soil, lake sediments, are picked up by streams, or end up contributing to large oceanic trash deposits. Endangering and often killing our wildlife and marine mammals.


Finally, producing plastic bags, transporting them to stores, and bringing the used ones to landfills and recycling facilities require millions of gallons of petroleum, a non-renewable resource which can arguably be better used for more beneficial activities like transportation or heating.


Since the charge for a plastic bag was implemented in 2015, the impact can be read  from our Government’s research  https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/carrier-bag-charge-summary-of-data-in-england/single-use-plastic-carrier-bags-charge-data-in-england-for-2016-to-2017


But what can we do individually and what difference will it make?

Apart from lobbying shops, supermarkets etc to provide paper bags we can consider a personal ban on plastic bags. 


I have made the decision to stop using plastic bagswhere possible and over a course of 12 months I believe I will have avoided using at least 500 plastic bags, following a friend’s example.  Think how many we can avoid using if we all adopt a ban? Ok so it’s a bit fiddly at the check-out ensuring all the fruit and veg are together but I am sure it’s worth it – it’s how we used to shop.  You could go to a farm shop or green-grocers who use paper bags.


You can also:


Switch to reusable bags made from renewable materials. Make sure you wash them regularly. If you do end up using plastic bags now and then be sure to recycle them.


Make your own

You can make pure 100% muslin bags, using 100% cotton you can knit, crochet or buy (or ask someone to do it for you) cotton dishcloths, scrubbers and washcloths. See below for patterns. 


Let’s all do our bit and help save this wonderful planet for generations to come.


Shopping bagsMuslin shopping bags

Cost: about £1.98 137 cm (50” wide) per metre from Amazon for white muslin 100% cotton or alternatively you can by the bags from around £2.99 each.

First, cut the fabric into rectangles that are 17" by 27", which makes a finished bag 15" tall by 13" wide (with double hemming). You can make them bigger or smaller, though. (If any of the edges are excessively frayed, cut that off first before cutting to size.)


Then you need to hem any sides that are not on the selvedge edge (finished edge) to keep the whole thing from unraveling over time.

Next fold in half and pin - the right side is the bottom of the bag and the left is the top. Sew around 3 sides leaving the top to make a channel for the twine.

Once you've sewn the bag, make the channel for the twine by folding down and pinning the top edge.

All you need to do to finish the bag is to tie a knot in some twine, push a safety pin through it and feed it through the channel. Leave about 2 or 3 inches hanging out on each side and tie it in a knot. When you want to close up the bag, just do a slip knot.





100% Cotton Yarn

Size H Hook

Yarn Needle


Note: Leave a long tail at both the beginning and the end for weaving.Crochet in the back loop through the entire project


Chain 25


Row 1:

2 sc in second chain from hook, sc across to the last 2 chains, decrease using the last two chains, chain 1 and turn (25 stitches)

Row 2:

Decrease using the first 2 stitches, sc across to the last stitch, 2 sc in last stitch

chain 1 and turn (25 stitches)

Row 3:

2 single crochet in first stitch, sc across to the last 2 stitches, decrease using the last 2 stitches

chain1 and turn (25 stitches).


Repeat rows 2 & 3 for a total of 25 rows


To complete:










Lay piece out with beginning and ending tail at the bottom









Fold bottom right corner over to the bottom left corner









Foldtop left corner up to the top right










With a yarn needle whip stitch together. Do not knot the end









Now you have a tube









Thread one of the long tails and into the yarn needle and weave it in an out along the edge











Once you have gone all the way around, pull the tail to gather the edge together.  Push the needle up through the hole on the gathered end.  Pull tightly, but be sure not to break the cotton by pulling too hard











Now weave around the open edge.  When you have gone all the way around, Pull the tail to gather the edge together. The two ends will come together to form the spiral. You have to smooth and straighten the scrubby to form a nice circle.












Knot the two tails together tightly.  Weave the tails in and cut.





Worsted weight, 100% cotton, approx. 2 oz in any colourr of your choice. Have fun! Use scraps in many different colours as an option.

J (6.00 mm) hook

Tapestry needle



Special Stitch

FPSC – front post single crochet: insert hook (from the front) around the post of the dc in the row below.  If you are left handed, you will insert your hook from the left to right around the post.  If you are right handed, you will insert your hook from the right to left around the post.  Finish your single crochet as you would normally.





double crochet

sl st

slip stitch


front post single crochet




single crochet


half double crochet





The sweeper cover measures 10” x 4”.  If you have a newer or older model, you can decrease or increase in multiples of three, just make sure to keep track of proper placement of the PFSC pattern in order to keep the wave stitch look.




Row 1: Ch. 35.  Work dc into the 4nd chain from the hook.  Dc in each ch across.

Row 2: Turn, ch 1.  FPSC around the first 3 dc, (1 dc in next 3 dc, 1 FPSC in next 3 dc), repeat to end.

Row 3: Turn, ch 3 (counts as first dc). Skip first FPSC, dc in next 2 FPSC, (1 dc in next 3 dc, 1 dc in next 3 FPSC), repeat to end

Row 4: Turn, ch 3 (counts as first dc).  Skip first dc, dc in next 2 dc, (1 FPSC in next 3 dc, 1 dc in next 3 dc), repeat to end.

Row 5: Turn, ch 3 (counts as first dc).  Skip first dc, dc in next 2 dc, (1 dc in next 3 FPSC, 1 dc in next 3 dc), repeat to end.

Rows 6 – 9: Repeat Rows 2 – 5 once.

Row 10: Turn.  sc around edges, spacing stitches evenly across each side, working 3 sc into each corner.

Row 11: Join to first sc with sl st, ch 2.  hdc across to last sc before corner sc begins.  If you have skipped row 10, your row 11 will read:  Turn.  Ch 2, hdc across in each dc.

Row 12: Turn, ch 2 (counts as first hdc).  hdc across to end, working last hdc into ch 2 of last row.

Rows 13 – 14: Repeat Row 12 twice.

Row 15: Turn, ch 2 (counts as first hdc).  Hdc in next 12 hdc (13 hdc made).

Row 16: Turn, ch 2, hdc across

Rows 17 – 20: Repeat Row 16 four times.

Row 21: Turn, sl st to opposite edge of swiffer to appropriate 13 stitches.  Fasten off.



Row 1: Turn and attach yarn with sl st to opposite side (Row 1). Ch 2 (counts as first hdc), hdc in next 12 hdc (13 hdc total)

Rows 2 – 6: Repeat Row 16 five times.

Row 7: (Buttonhole row): Turn, ch 2 (counts as first hdc), hdc in next 5 hdc, ch 1, skip next hdc, hdc in next 6 hdc.

Row 8: Turn, ch 2 (counts as first hdc), hdc in next 5 hdc, hdc in ch-1, hdc in next 6 hdc. Fasten off.

Sew the button in the 2nd row of the cover base.  Slip on to your cleaner, button, and enjoy!






Cast On 14 stitches and knit back




1.Knit 4, yarn over, knit, leaving 2 stitches and knit back

2. Knit 4, yarn over, knit, leaving 4 stitches and knit back

3. Knit 4, yarn over, knit, leaving 6 stitches and knit back

4. Knit 4, yarn over, knit, leaving 8 stitches and knit back

Cast off 4 and knit to end – knit back (should be 14 stitches on the needle)

Repeat for 14 points

Leave enough yarn to sew sides together and go around circle and draw circle together. Tie ends in a double knot

On the road with Brian Cushing (3)

Posted on 17th March, 2018

In the third of his occasional articles, we visit a place not so far afield - Germany in mid-winter.








            Most of my travels in marine surveying have taken place in warm climates – mainly on ships in ports located in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Central America. So it made a change to get an instruction to get to the depths of Germany, Saarbrücken in the Saarland (southwest of Frankfurt) in mid-winter, to attend the loading of a large piece of offshore oilfield equipment on to an aircraft which would then proceed to Singapore.


            This was 2007, and looking now at the contemporary weather charts for Germany I can quite see why it felt so perishingly cold, particularly standing on airfield runway at Zweibrücken, near Saarbrücken, waiting for our plane to come in on the evening of 21 December. There was high pressure stuck over Germany which meant clear skies and easterly winds, which together with an air temperature of about -5°C delivered a ‘feels-like’ of about 10° less than that. It certainly made me wonder what I was doing here and if it was all worth it. In short:-


            The piece of equipment in question had been manufactured in Saarbrücken for installation in an offshore oilfield development. The flight from Germany to Singapore was insured by London underwriters who had appointed us to check out and approve (or otherwise) the carriage logistics and hence safe delivery of the unit. I had drawn the short straw to attend the loadout in Germany, while our technical folks cheered me on from a warm remote office.


            The plan was to deliver the unit from its manufacturer’s premises in Saarbrücken to the airfield at Zweibrücken, where it would be loaded on to a chartered cargo aircraft, safely secured and then flown in a couple of extended hops, via Russia and India, to Singapore. The aircraft in question was an Antonov AN-124-100, chartered from Ukrainian operators, operated by a crew of 8 and capable of lifting a 150 tonnes cargo payload. With a length of 69m, a wingspan of 73m, and a height of 21m, it was slightly larger than the 747-400’s around at that time.  Here are a couple of stock photos:-
















Antonov 124-100                                        Cargo access nose cone raised


            The cargo which was so urgently required on site at the offshore oilfield that this aircraft could be exclusively chartered for the trip, was what they call a ‘Swivel Head’, a piece of precision engineering weighing just over 50 tonnes, which would be fitted  inside the turret mooring system of a Floating Production Storage and Offloading (FPSO) installation.  An FPSO is usually based on a converted oil tanker hull, fitted with processing equipment for separation and treatment of crude oil, water and gases, arriving on board from sub-sea oil wells via flexible pipelines.  The turret is moored to the seabed with chains, wires and anchors and has a bearing (the swivel head) which allows 360° rotation of the FPSO around the turret, to the prevailing wind, sea and swell conditions.


            The FPSO has storage capacity and is equipped with an offloading system to transfer the crude oil to shuttle tankers for shipment to refineries.




















FPSO – how it works


















“Raroa”, FPSO based in the Maari Field, New Zealand, where the swivel head was ultimately bound.


            The insured value of this particular piece of kit was about US$2.5M, so its safe transportation from the manufacturer had to be organised in minute detail by the appointed freight forwarders. I was there as the London insurance warranty surveyor, meaning I had to approve and sign off each of three legs: at the manufacturer’s premises, loading and securing onto a truck and trailer; transporting the unit safely to the airfield; and loading to and securing on the aircraft.


            A couple of days before the aircraft arrived, the swivel head was lifted into a bespoke steel cradle, and then craned on to the trailer. My role, together with reps of the freight forwarders, was to check the cradle, the truck and its trailer, and to inspect all the lashing chains for correct size and tensioning, and the suitability and certified strength of shackles and rigging screws. The truck then proceeded to the airfield, about 40 kms distant, arriving there in the afternoon of the day the Antonov was scheduled to arrive. A heavy-lift crane of 160 tonnes safe working load was standing by to lift the unit from the trailer and on to the aircraft loading ramp when the plane arrived. My job here was to inspect the crane and its condition and certification. (This being Germany, all the transport and lifting equipment thus far was spot on.)



















Loading and securing of the swivel head on the truck



            Everything being in place on the airfield, we now had to await the arrival of the Antonov, the estimated time of that being 8:00 pm. The sun set at about 4:40 and it got rapidly darker and colder. And colder. Since the aircraft was flying in from Ukraine, I was prepared for a lengthy delay beyond its ETA; so it was a pleasant surprise, insofar as that could be registered through the general numbness, when landing lights appeared beyond the horizon pretty well smack on time. With a thunderous roar, the huge plane was on the ground and taxiing in by about twenty past the hour. The next step was to load the swivel head and its cradle on board.


            Now here’s a thing. In over forty years of seafaring and then surveying, I’d loaded and secured cargo on many ships, but I’d never had to go through the exercise with an aircraft. Thinking about it, I supposed that a huge cargo plane would hardly be manoeuvring like a fighter, and the largest accelerations would, or should, be on takeoff and landing – but there could always be atmospheric turbulence en route. In fact, ships in severely adverse weather conditions would probably experience greater accelerations in terms of pitching and rolling, for which their cargo has to be adequately lashed down and secured.


            It’s one thing to figure this all to yourself, and another to confidently sign off the securing of a piece of kit valued at two and a half million dollars. So I thought I’d leave this to our technical people, who spent their sad lives number crunching. Guess what – they’d never worked out the securing requirements on an aircraft either, so there was a certain sucking of teeth. In the end, they calculated the securing (number and size of chains, hooks, shackles, rigging screws and so on) as though the swivel head was going to be loaded and lashed down on a ship, and then multiplied the number of chains by three, which seemed a nice round number if not exactly scientifically come by. It certainly afforded a good margin of error, and probably meant that under unforeseen stress, the aircraft would fall apart before the cargo was dislodged. 


            Certainly, when I got to talk with the Ukrainian Antonov crew, and told them what was required by way of the quantity of securing chains, they looked at me as though I was completely mad. I don’t think they’d ever been asked to go to these lengths before. I gave up on getting the phrase “belt and braces” through, too.


            The professionalism of the crew, under the command of a load master and flight manager, was most impressive. First, the nose cone was raised up to the open position, then the forward landing gear of the plane was hydraulically shortened so that the loading access sank to within a couple of metres from the ground.




















Nose cone raised and forward fuselage lowered



            A sloping loading ramp with fixed rails was then run out in sections and locked in place, down which a flat steel skid was electrically winched from the cargo hold interior. All the certification for this equipment had to be inspected and approved, as the ramp and skid would have to bear the weight of the 50-tonne cargo.


            When this was completed, the mobile crane moved into position and lifted the swivel head from the trailer on to the skid, which was then winched back into the aircraft’s cargo hold to a position calculated by the load master to suit the plane’s stability and trim.


















Ready to lift the swivel head from the truck to the loading ramp



            Once in place, the crew started the securing process, in which the size, angle and placement of each chain had, in theory, been calculated by our technical people. In truth, there were so many chains involved that it was impossible to achieve the theoretical plan – there were simply insufficient fixing points, so a compromise had to be reached, with chains being placed and tensioned wherever possible.


















Placing and tensioning the securing chains



            The final result resembled a cat’s cradle; but I was happy that it wouldn’t move in a hurry. In the words of my loadout report prepared for the insurers:-


          Lashing and securing of the swivel and its cradle comprised a total of 60 doubled chain lashings of 7 mm diameter affixed to 25 mm diameter patent rigging screws hooked onto ‘D’ rings secured to female connectors set in the aircraft deck. The chains were set through the padeye lashing points on the swivel cradle or other strong points such as the cradle chassis transverse or longitudinal girders. The chains were tensioned by means of the patent rigging screws. This arrangement gave at minimum an approximate 150 tonnes restraint transversely, 150 tonnes longitudinally, and 150 tonnes vertically.


            Yes, that’s sixty chains!





















Secured in place on the aircraft



            The actual loadout and securing was completed remarkably quickly – by just after 2 a.m., so the operation from start to finish took less than six hours. The various certificates which I had to prepare and print out, and the necessary export paperwork - freight forwarders’ responsibility - took another couple of hours and then, in accordance with its flight plan, the Antonov taxied out and took off with an ear-busting roar, at 8:00 a.m., just before sunrise.


            As far as I was concerned, that was that, apart from the usual report writing – although I was relieved to be told a day or so later that the swivel head had arrived safely and without incident in Singapore. I would have hated to think that such a valuable piece of kit had got bent in transit. And the bonus was, I got home in time for Christmas.




Brian Cushing

West Farleigh, 17 March 2018

On the road with Brian Cushing (2)

Posted on 13th November, 2017

In the second of his occasional articles, Brian takes us back to 1990 in the Middle East - Yemen:-








“Welcome aboard, wack”, said Captain Billy, skipper of the tug “Fast Fox”, who clearly hailed from Liverpool. I’ve forgotten his surname, if indeed I ever knew it. Everyone seemed to know him as Billy. This was 1990, and my dealings over the past few days up to arrival in Hodeidah, Yemen, had been pretty exclusively with Yemeni officialdom, so Billy was a real breath of fresh air. His tug, in the ownership of Cory Towage, a UK firm, was on charter to the Hodeidah Port Authority, whose director had instructed him to take me out to the position of the bulk carrier “Nirja” which, laden with bagged rice, had gone aground some days previously when making a nighttime passage into Hodeidah Port via the entrance channel. The ship was stuck there and various attempts to refloat her using the main engine had failed. I was there on behalf of the ship’s insurers and owners to see what could be done.














“Fast Fox” – Built 1974; 264 tonnes deadweight; 41.66 m length overall


The tug’s mooring lines were let go and Billy conned her clear of the wharf and set off up the channel toward the “Nirja”, which at this stage was just visible some miles distant. The tug was crowded – apart from Billy and his crew, there was the inevitable assortment of harbour officials and sundry hangers-on out for the ride. Some military personnel were there too, since at this time unification of the two constituent states of the Republic of Yemen had just taken place and the general atmosphere was a tad febrile. It had, for instance, been suggested that the grounding of the “Nirja” was a deliberate act by a hostile foreign power, since the ship was now partially blocking the entrance channel and disrupting shipping movements to some extent. It was all a bit political.























Al-Hudaydah [Hodeidah] at centre left


Before unification in 1990, the country was split into two states: the Yemen Arab Republic in the west and the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen in the south and east. There was ever tension between the two but the general idea was that after 1990 they would work toward integration, a goal not helped by ideological differences and the complex involvement of America in the (nominally) democratic YAR, and Soviet Russia in the marxist PDRY, together with their respective allies.


In the 1990’s, Yemen was a rather different place to the extensively war-ravaged country that we see in the media today. Not that it was ever stable: in my own lifetime, between 1948 and 1994 there were no less than eight attempted coups, civil wars and emergencies. Since 1998, al-Queda and Houthi insurgencies led in their different ways to the total warfare which has lasted to this very day, with the involvement of other countries, which visits much misery and suffering, and death, on the civilian population as well as the combatants.



Travel between the two unified states in 1990 was feasible, but not particularly simple nor was it 100% safe. However, I just had to get from Sana’a, the capital, where I had arrived a couple of days previously, to the port of Hodeidah – both cities being in the Yemen Arab Republic. There were two ways to do it – a flight, or by driving.


In the event the Hodeidah flight had been cancelled, which at least gave me a chance to see something of the country on the road from Sana’a. Our local agent arranged a car (a Nissan Patrol, which was reassuring) and driver, and we departed the town early in the morning. The distance by road was about 250 kms,by the highway which wound through the Sarawat mountain range, with numerous hairpin bends and precipitous passes.

The outskirts of Sana’a featured an amazing phenomenom -  ancient skyscrapers built of mud bricks and intricately decorated. Tragically, it seems they have now been reduced largely to rubble.





























The mountain road was as rugged as predicted, with the odd accident to remind one that sometimes the drivers’ enthusiasm overtook their skill.



























After the descent from the mountains, the final stretch was about 100 kms over the coastal plain into Hodeidah. Everywhere in the mountains where there was a level patch, and significantly in the plain beyond, there was evidence of coffee plantations (Mocha coffee!) which well before 1990 were being rapidly swallowed by a more profitable cash crop – khat [gat, qat] which is ubiquitous throughout Yemen. Most of the men (and no doubt the women, although you don’t usually see that) stuff their cheeks with the leaves, until they resemble a hamster, and chew it to a green sludge. 
























Yemeni man chewing khat


It’s supposed to be a stimulant, and in the south, which is rather less Islamic, they take whisky with it which does seem to enhance the effect. I have tried some, and cannot report much if any stimulation; just a lasting aftertaste of what I imagine privet hedge to be like.





Back in Hodeidah, the good tug “Fast Fox” bustled up the entrance channel and closed on the grounded vessel “Nirja”, which was indeed stuck fast with her stern projecting into the channel.















m.v. “Nirja”: a shot taken in Germany. Built 1972; 30,255 tonnes deadweight; 190.02 m length overall


Having got on board, I interviewed the Master on the circumstances of the grounding. It seemed that when entering the channel, which was marked with lighted buoys, he had mistaken his position and exited the channel on its east side, where the ship had grounded. It seemed one of more of the buoys had not been lit, which had misled him. He briefed me on the failed refloating efforts to date, and then the next task was to figure out how to get the ship out of its current situation.


She had gone aground on a spring tide at high water, following which of course the water depth fell with the ebb tide, and she was well and truly stuck. In the few days since, the tidal range, which is never that big anyway in Red Sea ports, had steadily diminished from its spring tide maximum. In other words, the ship had gone aground on a highest high tide of the monthly cycle between spring and neap tides. Consequently, in her present condition, loaded with cargo, was no chance that high water would refloat her until the next spring tide in about two weeks’ time. This was too long for the ship to be partially blocking the channel and interfering with navigation in the port. The only feasible option was to lighten the ship by discharging some of her cargo of bagged rice, so that her draft (depth in the water) decreased. This had to be attempted, and speedily.


Refloating efforts like this are frequently undertaken by professional salvors who are rewarded by a percentage of the value of the ship and cargo saved, which varies according to the degree of peril that the vessel is in and the extent of effort put in. The big international salvors such as Smit typically operate large ocean-going tugs and can command extensive logistical support and the speedy provision by air freight of equipment such as pumps, air compressors, and so on. If, as was the situation here, the grounded vessel is within a nation’s port limits, then the permission and agreement of the government and port authorities has to be sought before the salvors can enter and attend. The “Nirja” was not realistically in immediate danger, having grounded on soft mud and in ongoing clement weather, but as was their right the Hodeidah Port Authorities had demanded of the ship’s owners (i.e., their insurance underwriters) that she must be removed due to the hinderance to navigation within the port, and the possibility of damage and pollution if she broke up in future adverse weather.


The Port Authorities had decided to do the job themselves, with an eye to the financial reward, and had forbidden entry to the international salvors prowling outside the port limits. My role as the representative of the ship’s insurance underwriters and owners was to liaise and assist, and generally ensure that the reward that the Port had negotiated was justified and fairly earned. The figure was US$ 250,000, which sounds a lot but bearing in mind that professional salvors could in the event of a successful refloating have been awarded around 15% of the combined value of ship and cargo (around US$11M), the insurers would have had to cough up about US$1.5M. So the Port Authorities’ price looked relatively cheap.


The first thing was to do some figuring on the weights that needed to be discharged, so I got together with the Master and Chief Officer, to go through the ship’s stability data and do some sums. Soundings around the outside of the ship showed that she was aground on soft mud from the forward end back to about a third of her length; so cargo would have to be discharged from the foremost holds so that the bow rose in the water until the suction of the mud was decreased sufficiently that tugs would be able to pull her free. Soundings inside the ship confirmed that she was dry, so we could assume that that was no damage to the hull plating and therefore that it was safe to pull her off into deeper water.

The calculations suggested (it was difficult to be precise) that about 1,500 tonnes, or 60,000 bags, of rice would have to be shifted from the two forward cargo holds, which would require the hiring of another ship, or barge, to be placed alongside to receive the cargo, and a lot of labour to man each vessel. We had to be careful too that shifting this amount of weight locally would not overload the ship’s structure.


I returned ashore that night on the faithful “Fast Fox” and through our agents arranged to meet with the Port Authorities’ director Captain Ali Noor. No harm in going straight to the top. We met up the next morning and over the course of several discussions got to be, if not quite friendly, at least on good terms. Ali was a short, pugnacious and ambitious man, who subsequently rose to be a shipping minister in the Sana’a government. I wonder where he is now, if indeed he’s alive, after all the internecine warfare.


I explained to Captain Ali that we would need to charter a suitable ship or barge to receive about 1,500 tonnes of cargo. Without much hesitation he told me that he had the perfect candidate, an Iraqi ship called the “Basrah Sun” (previously named “14 Ramadhan” under different ownership) which was in detention in the port, having been arrested by the Authorities for some transgression. The Iraqi owner was in town it seemed, endeavouring to get her released, so could be counted on to cooperate and hence gain some favour with the powers that were.














“Basrah Sun” under her previous name “14 Ramadhan” – Built 1962;

7,964 tonnes deadweight; 126m length


The only significant problem with this seemingly elegant solution to our needs was that she was in Iraqi ownership. At this time, 1990, the United Nations had placed extensive sanctions on Iraq following its invasion in August of Kuwait; and if I was found to be a party to doing business with an Iraqi citizen, i.e., arranging to charter his ship, I would be in deep trouble with my own government. Thoughts of being sent down flashed through my head.


“No problem”, said the ever-resourceful Ali. “Come and see me this afternoon”.


I did so, and he took me to his office window overlooking the quayside, where the ship was moored and a gang of workmen was busy painting out “Basrah Sun” and substituting “Hodeidah Sun”.


“I have confiscated the vessel!” exclaimed Ali, his beady eyes gleaming. “Now she belongs to Yemen, not Iraq!”.


I felt sorry for the ill-used owner, but on the other hand it overcame our immediate problem. I was able to sign up to the hire of the ship without contemplating the inside of Pentonville, and later that day the “Hodeidah Sun” departed the quay and made her way to berth alongside the “Nirja”. Efficiently arranged by Ali and his staff, labourers and tally clerks boarded the two ships and discharge of the bagged rice from one to the other started with commendable speed using the “Nirja” cargo derricks. My favourite tug “Fast Fox” was instructed by Ali to make fast its towline to the stern of “Nirja” early on in the exercise, ready to pull the ship off the mud as soon as any movement was felt.


Obviously we did not have priority on labour in the port, as other ships needed workers too. Most of our discharge took place on day shifts, and I figured about three or four days to completion. I was therefore pleasantly surprised when, at yet another meeting with Ali ashore in his office early on day three, we were interrupted to be told that the resourceful Captain Billy on “Fast Fox” had elected to give it a try and pulled the “Nirja”, still hitched to the “Hodeidah Sun” alongside, off the mud and into the deep water of the approach channel. The Master of “Nirja” had dropped anchor, Billy had let go and cleared the ship, and “Hodeidah Sun” was in the process of letting go to return to the port with its portion of the cargo.


Later that day, once the usual customs procedures had been completed and all the paperwork triple- and quadrupal signed and stamped, I boarded the “Nirja” for the passage into the port up the channel. We took careful soundings round the ship, but she was dry so it seemed no damage had been done. It was however not 100% certain that no damage had occurred to the main engine or propeller during the original efforts to manoeuvre the ship off the mud, so as had previously been arranged, the vessel was towed in by “Fast Fox” and two other port tugs “dead ship”, i.e. without the use of the engine.


Captain Ali had amongst his many attributes a keen sense of humour. Now when, as we had done here, you discharge weights from the front end of a ship, it rotates or trims around its centre of gravity; the bow rises and the stern sinks. This decreases the forward draft and increases the stern draft. At Hodeidah, there was a draft limitation due to restricted water depths, so that the maximum draft ships were allowed to enter with was 32 feet. For every inch over that, the miscreant ship would be fined US$3,000. We had discharged sufficient cargo from the forward end so that the after draft on arrival alongside had increased to 32 ft 6 ins. In other words the Port Authorities, for which read Captain Ali, who was probably laughing his socks off, fined the ship US$18,000 for the six inches over maximum permitted draft. This on top of the $250,000 they had made from refloating the vessel.



The London insurance underwriters who controlled my destiny, at least in the short term, decreed that I should stay on for the next couple of weeks while the rice cargo was discharged in full from both the renamed “Hodeidah Sun” and “Nirja”, to check whether there was any damage to it. This was a fairly tedious exercise but eventually the task was through and no deficiencies attributable to the grounding were found.


Once the financial arrangements (the Port Authorities’ reward for refloating the ship, and so on) had been completed, the “Nirja” was free to leave. It had been decided that she would proceed to the French ex-colony of Djibouti, just across the Bab-el Mandeb strait from Hodeidah, in order to undergo a divers’ survey of her underwater section and check for any physical damage due to the grounding. I was instructed to go along, and very pleasant short voyage it was in fresh sea air after the heat and dust of Hodeidah.


The diving survey was completed pretty rapidly, with no damage to the ship’s hull having been found. I said my fond farewells to the Master and ship’s staff, the ship sailed and I was free to return to the UK, the job complete except for the tedious task of writing it all up in a report for the insurers. All in all I’d been in Yemen for about a month.




Brian Cushing

West Farleigh

November 2017

White Walkers stalk the Farleighs...

Posted on 5th November, 2017

Halloween Photography


With Halloween upon us, I was asked to take a few ghoulish photographs in and around the village. The snaps were taken using a technique known as Light Painting whereby the shutter of the camera is held open for an extended period of time and an image is created by drawing, or Painting using a light source.


These include torches, LED keyring lights, battery operated festive lights, glow sticks and wire wool. The basic photographic equipment is very simple: a camera with manual focus and manual shutter speed settings, a tripod, or other firm support such a wall, fence, gate post etc. and plenty of patience as there’s a lot of trial error.

T-Rex night hunting

As all the photographs are taken in the dark the basic is setup is the same of all of the photos, with only the exposure times altering from anything from a few seconds to 560 seconds in the case of the Dinosaur. I use an aperture of between F8 to F11 with the lowest ISO your camera has, typically 100 and any noise reduction features turned off. To focus the camera I illuminate the area of interest with a torch and use the Auto Focus to focus the shot then switch over to manual.

Upright Mummy

The various figures and creatures within the photos were created using a number of different methods. The  Mummy type figures were created with a translucent plastic deodorant bottle top placed over a torch to create an illuminated globe in lieu of the normal directional beam of light. The colour was achieved by placing a balloon over the end of the torch, but sweet wrappers work equally well. The torch is them traced over your own body using a side to side motion. By wearing dark and tight fitting clothing insufficient light reflects from you so you don’t appear in the final image. Once the figure has been traced the area is lit using a torch or flash, which reveals whatever is behind allowing the viewer to see through the figure.
















The Dinosaur, Skeleton and Knight Watchman were simply drawn using a LED keyring light facing the camera then the area was lit up using a torch. Finally, the bats flying over the winged figure at the top of the page were formed using a simple stencil placed in front of an off-camera flash.




The large ball of string in front of the cricket pavilion was created issuing a string of battery festive lights tapped together so all the bulbs form one large light with the battery pack at the other end of the wire. The lights are then spun in a vertical circle while the person spinning the lights slowly rotates on the spot.


None of the photographs have been Photoshopped or manipulated, however, they have been straightened and cropped where necessary. 


I hope this gives you a small insight into light painting, but if anyone has any questions or tips and tricks of their own to pass on please do not hesitate to contact me at Cliff@Kirk-Brown-Ltd.co.uk.