Got a story? . . . Just click on the message box to send it in!
Living like the other half?
On 22 October, members of the Isn’t That Interesting! group visited furniture-maker Jeremy Norton in North Mills. He moved his one man business to Bridport from north London about 6-7 years ago once his children had left home. He is happy to make anything from a small shelving unit to a fully-fitted kitchen, with bespoke staircases and one-off tables in between.
Everything is made from solid timber or veneered plywood as appropriate. MDF has its place in the world but not in Jeremy’s, partly because it’s not enjoyable to work with, partly because the dust is unpleasant. He selects the solid timber from the timber yard rather than having a batch delivered, to ensure that each piece is suitable for the project in hand. In addition he has a stock of timber that he’s chosen because it has particularly decorative grain and may well be useful one day – some has followed him around over the years.
Many of his customers are still in London but with others in the South West. He showed the group his current project, a large suite of kitchen units that are destined for an extension to a house in the north west of London. The extension is somewhat larger than many Bridport houses and the units featured walnut veneered backs plus copper sinks that may well have been hand beaten. When finished, the suite will be hand painted then broken down into blocks that are suitable to be transported. A trusted team will install everything, and then the final coat of paint will be applied in situ. The price, several tens of thousands of pounds, reflected the care and quality of the work. (Jeremy confessed that his own fitted kitchen came from IKEA).
All of the dozen machine tools that cut, prepare and shape the timber are connected to a central extraction system that collects the sawdust and shavings. This is then compressed into blocks that can be burnt in a log-burner, thus avoiding waste going to landfill. In his previous workshops he has been able to burn them for winter heating. However, North Mills is listed and can’t have a log-burner installed, resulting in an embarrassing excess of blocks. After the group had enjoyed another visit to an unexpected Bridport business, several members went home with a bonus sack of blocks for their own wood burners. They had strict instructions to return the empty sacks that were more costly than their contents. . .
Death and taxes?
When the Isn’t That Interesting! Group visited AG Down Funeral Directors in June, Karen Hussey suggested that they should also visit a local Crematorium. Thus on 2 October, a dozen slightly nervous members found themselves over at Weymouth Crematorium. After a brief introduction by manager Richard, they were shown the system that controls the many thousands of pieces of music that can be played. It’s mainly a mixture of non-religious and Christian music but the Crematorium can cater for any other religion. There are no restrictions on choice provided it’s lawful but the staff would advise against anything particularly offensive.
The group moved into the main hall of the building where they were shown how it was adapted with lights, flowers, candles and religious symbols to suit the occasion and requirements. They heard about the procedural aspects, ranging from how to deal with a crowd of several hundred mourners to times when the funeral ceremony has taken place in, say, a local church and the committal has been carried out by just the funeral director and the Crematorium staff. All are treated with the greatest respect. It’s never a case of just dropping off the coffin round the back.
Next, the group were shown the two cremators by technician Ian. The width of one cremator had been chosen to suit the ever-increasing size, weight and girth of Dorset’s population. The exhaust gasses pass through a filtration system that is designed to trap dust and mercury vapour (from tooth fillings). It’s seems that ‘back in the bad old days’, mercury vapour was blowing over towards Scandinavia, being washed out by rain into the North Sea and absorbed by fish that we than ate.
At the end of the end of the process, the ashes of each individual are processed separately and stored until collection. In most cases, any surgical implants such as replacement hips are kept back and sent for recycling (although they are occasionally returned to the family). Since these are made of tungsten, they have considerable scrap value and, very pleasingly, the payment that comes to the Crematorium is passed on to local hospices and similar charities.
While it wasn’t the most fun visit the group has ever made, it was pleasing to meet such sympathetic, professional staff and it was, of course, most Interesting.
Down the drain in Lyme?
In previous trips the Isn’t that interesting! group had visited the water supply works at Sutton Poyntz and the sewage works at Dorchester. They completed the story on 13 September by visiting the Sewage Pumping Station in Lyme Regis.
With its entrance on the promenade, the pumping station is buried under the Gun Cliff sea defences near the Museum and Marine theatre at the bottom of the town. The lowest part of the system is about 8 metres below sea level so the whole plant is vast, extending along the promenade. It’s a combined sewage and rain water system with both of these inputs flowing under gravity into the plant.
When sufficient is accumulated, powerful pumps switch on to send it about 200 metres across the town at about 50 metres below the ground level, then up to the sewage works near Uplyme (that wasn’t part of this visit. Here it’s settled and filtered more or less as at Dorchester but with additional UV treatment). The water outflow from the sewage works meets the requirements of EU bathing water regulations and flows under gravity through a pipe back to the pumping station and then 1.4km out to sea where it discharges.
At times of very heavy rainfall, the pumping and treatment system cannot keep up with the incoming volume of water. Thus the sea wall incorporates a huge 2000 cubic metre storm water storage tank that holds the excess, ready to be pumped and treated later.
At the end of the visit, the members were shown photographs of other parts of the disposal system and instructed that only the three Ps (pee, poo and paper) should be put into the system, nothing else, especially fat and the dreaded wet-wipes that cause massive, expensive problems.
As always, a most interesting visit (and virtually odour-free!)
How big? How many?
Then, just like London buses, another visit came along straight afterwards.
On the following day, they visited ‘CNC sliding head turning specialists’ Finetec Precision Engineering on the Dreadnought Estate in Bridport.
A small company, they take round metal (or sometimes plastic) bars and machine them to produce a wide variety of components. Some parts are vaguely recognisable but others are known only to the final customer.
Look carefully in the bottom right of the ‘components’ picture and you will see the smallest part they produce – about as big as an ant’s body – in batches of about 5000. It's inside the 'O'. The machines are essentially complex and fully automatic lathes that also incorporate milling and other similar cutting functions.
The company is owned by husband and wife team Justin and Becky Jennings. Becky runs the office while Justin runs the workshop. He completed a machining apprenticeship and gained experience in the industry, went travelling with Becky, returned home and looked unsuccessfully (because of the recession) for a job. His last attempt was at Finetec. He was turned down because the then owner had put the company up for sale, so Justin and Becky bought it. Since then they have moved to their present unit, invested in more plant and taken on three more staff members.
Justin explained that he programmed the machines manually rather than using standard sequences because the resulting production was more efficient. He then demonstrated how the bars feed into the machines. A number of sequenced cutting processes take place and finished components emerge. Once the program has been proved, repeat production is very straight forward. The machines themselves were made by Citizen (of watch fame). They weigh more than a tonne and the precision is impressive. Parts can be machined to an accuracy of 0.01 mm (or 1/10 of a human hair diameter!).
The group were delighted to find yet another enterprising business in Bridport.
Expedition food from Pymore!
On August 20, the Isn’t That Interesting! group made a visit to yet another extraordinary business that you wouldn’t expect to find around here. Firepot produces dehydrated meals for expeditions,
using fresh ingredients from local suppliers. As founder John Fisher says ‘As adventurists trekking through Greenland, we wanted our hikes to be punctuated by slow-cooked, natural food that tasted delicious. And we couldn’t find it anywhere. So (about three years ago) we made our own in Dorset’
Without any background in catering he experimented at home with a domestic food dryer, developed recipes and techniques, set up a business in a barn in North Chideock, outgrew it within a few months and moved to the present site in Pymore.
He explained to the group that his customers are typically ‘characters’ who run ultra-marathons, cross Antarctica by bicycle, circumnavigate the UK on paddle-surfboards, and of course row the Atlantic and climb mountains. All of these adventurers must be self-sufficient and avoid carrying excess weight. They need to consume quantities of calories so dehydrated food is the answer. Just add hot water to the pouch, wait 15 minutes and tuck in..
The group were shown around the kitchens. Some of Firepot’s competitors simply blend pre-cooked and dried ingredients but here fresh ingredients are cooked, (often to customers’ specific requirements –‘No celery!’),
then dried and packed into pouches as individual portions. Not only does John run the company, he’s also developing and manufacturing his own drying oven, his present American ones being not up to the requirements of the expanding business.
The group then sampled the products, including beef stew, pasta Bolognese and porcini risotto. They all tasted and had the texture of ‘proper food’ and in no way resembled the Vesta curries of our youth!
Woodwork (but not as you know it)
The Isn’t That Interesting! group visited yet another unexpected Bridport business on 9 August. Crafty & Co design and manufacture an extraordinary range of products, using CNC (computer numerical controlled) equipment to cut and shape sheet wood, plastic and composite materials. When assembled, the finished products range from table lamps and storage units to custom car door linings and prefabricated building units. Aaron Leedham, whose business it is, started out with an Art degree but somehow drifted into machining. However, he has followed one of his student interests and makes a range of Hi-Fi speaker cabinets and turntable assemblies. Not surprisingly, his business is the only one like it in the area.