Friday, February 09, 2007

Snow business

Two days running we woke up to discover that snowfall had transformed the view from our house - a brief delight only, since the not so low temperature ensured the few centimetres quickly melted underfoot. I was glad of the new hiking boots I bought last weekend, having binned a tired 22 year old pair at the end of my visit to Switzerland. The fresh enjoyment of the comfort and warmth of my late sale bargain purchase, as I strode in to church, made me aware of how few other pedestrians about were wearing either boots or Wellingtons. I noticed many expensive damp pairs of trainers, and 'indoor' shoes with slippery soles being worn on slushy streets, and looks of discomfort being worn on the faces of their owners.

It struck me how ill-prepared most 'townies' are for a bout of bad weather. People appear poorly clad, without top coats or pullovers or rain gear when it's cold and wet, dashing from cover to cover, through shops, malls and arcades (thank God for Cardiff's arcades), hardly anybody can stand around and enjoy a brisk winter moment out doors. And it's not because people are poor, for often their scant clothing is expensively branded, and most pairs of damp trainers cost double my bargain boots, if not more. It's not as if we're unused to bad weather - we get too much wind and rain for my pleasure too - but we seem to have difficulty in being prepared. Six inches of wet snow causes traffic chaos. Motorways get closed. People scurry home early from work, just in case, causing all-day traffic jams. City buses stop running because they can't get up the mild gradients with which the city's flood plain environment is blessed (or affilicted if you miss having a decent viewpoint). We seem altogether less prepared to cope with the vagaries of weather, individually and socially, than I recall in my youth. Or was it that I just didn't notice in those days?

Work goes on

Anyway, I noticed that the weather didn't stop the demolition machines from getting on with chewing up Oxford House. But those pieces of equipment, menacing though their countenance may may be, are the epitome of robustness. Further south, on the John Lewis store construction site, there were fewer people in evidence on foot, but the cranes were active, drilling in the steel tubing piles. Some slightly well meaning person has cut large observation holes into the blue painted wooden shuttering that surrounds the site, covered with mesh grilles, to allow outsiders to see the work going on within. One problem. There's no pavement there, on which to stand and peer through the holes, and it's near a traffic junction, so that only car drivers could safely see through as long as they were stopped. But this is, of course nothing more than a distraction from being attentive to the traffic lights, and a potential safety hazard.

Taking advantage of the snow induced lull in traffic, I went and surveyed the scene on-site. Already dozens of piles and steel shutters have been sunk to define the boundary of the excavation area from which tens of thousands of tonnes of material will eventually be removed. In place where it seems as if excavation has begun, once can see the reason for this in the form of smallish concrete platform bases sprouting steel re-inforcement rods, already inserted as mountings for the framework of the building to be erected above. The excavations will work around these. It's a little glimpse of the immense forethought and planning that must go into construction work of this kind, to ensure time (and thus cost) efficiency in the overall run project - many small projects, all conducted in a huge chorus of engineering activity.

Inspiring stuff here for curious kids - better than video and computer games any day.

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