CSG: From One Revolution to the Next – A History of our Cadishead Site

Posted on www.csg.co.uk/blog on January 17th 2018

https://www.csg.co.uk/blog/one-revolution-next-history-csg-cadishead

Our recent blogpost about CSG’s heritage showed the importance of history to this company. Developing the idea, we thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at one of our sites, our processing facility in Cadishead, near Manchester.

Like many towns in the swathe of territory between Manchester and Liverpool, Cadishead became thrust into the heart of the Industrial Revolution by the construction of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway from 1826. In fact, Chat Moss, an area of marshland just north of our site became notable for the challenge it provided to the railway’s engineers, led by the renowned George Stephenson. Four years later, on September 15th 1830, the new line, a marvel of the Victorian age, opened to wide acclaim – with Robert Stephenson’s famous Rocket among the first locomotives to run on the line.

Cadishead’s significance was further assured in the late 1880s, with the construction of the Manchester Ship Canal. On the day it opened, January 1st 1894, it was the largest canal of its type in the world and would enable Manchester, a city located some 40 miles inland to become Britain’s third-busiest port. With such strong transport links, this previously agricultural area had, within a couple of generations, become one of the most strategically important locations in the country.

If you’ve ever used the stretch of the M62 between its junctions with the M6 at Birchwood and the M60 at Eccles, you may have noticed just how uneven the road can be – and how often it seems to be re-surfaced. Local wisdom suggests that the ground beneath is so criss-crossed with mine shafts and extracted coal, even after over a hundred years, the soil is still settling into place, disrupting the surface. In the early 1890s, with the advent of the Ship Canal, nearby Cadishead suddenly became a hugely important location to load millions of tonnes of coal onto waiting barges.

An early map of the canal shows a high concentration of recently-laid railway lines nearby, crossing the canal and terminating at a loading areas on both banks – the viaduct remains today, albeit unused. It also indicates that while the immediate area around our Liverpool Road site remained quite agricultural in nature, even then, a mineral line ran alongside the canal, where today’s Cadishead Way by-pass (A57) begins.

As the area began to prosper from its now enviable location, it was clear that the site around Hayes Farm was far too important to be left unexploited and a local railway historian suggests that around the turn of the 20th Century, it became the home of the Lancashire Patent Fuel Company, a manufacturer of fuel briquettes. Around the time of the First World War, the company was acquired by the Manna Oil Refinery, a name which would make newspaper headlines in 1915.

It was on the 8th October that year that a fire broke out at the refinery. With highly flammable liquids stored on site and no public fire-fighting service in the vicinity, there was grave concern that a deeper tragedy may occur. Quickly, the Works Fire Brigade of the nearby Co-operative Wholesale Society (CWS), a volunteer force of 25 men and their horse-drawn appliance. With seven police constables holding back growing crowds, they were eventually supported by the Eccles Fire Brigade with their more modern, motorised, fire engine.

Thankfully, no lives were lost although three of the men who fought the fire were severely burned. The damage to the site resulted in a £3,500 insurance claim (£370,000 at today’s value) and the resulting inquest decided that the Eccles Fire Brigade should take responsibility for Irlam and Cadishead. It would be another eight years until Irlam was afforded its own Fire Brigade and Engine.

In 1916, British Tar Products opened a site at the end of Hayes Road, making explosives for the war effort, gaining a capability that extended beyond the war with the production of other oil-based products. Tar became an even more important part of the local economy when, a few years later, the Lancashire Tar Distillers opened a plant in the shadow of the Cadishead Viaduct.

In1932, the then Duke of York – later to become King George VI – the father of Queen Elizabeth visited Irlam to be given a tour of the nearby CWS Margarine factory and Steelworks. Around the same time, this aerial photograph of Cadishead was taken – our Liverpool Road site is unfortunately just out of shot to the left of the picture.

EPW045089_British_Tar_Products_Ltd_and_the_Manchester_Ship_Canal_Cadishead_from_the_east_1934_Smaller-800x638

With the country at war once again between 1939 and 1945, the area was vital to the war effort, supplying coal, steel and household goods to power and sustain the country. The strategic importance of the Manchester Ship Canal was not lost on the Luftwaffe, who repeatedly bombed Salford Quays, famously damaging Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground in the process. With so much vital industry and infrastructure, Cadishead did not escape the bombing, with properties on Liverpool Road amongst those hit by the bombs.

By the end of the war, Cadishead was given an eerie reminder of the reason behind the hardships of the previous six years. With victory in Europe declared, the U1023, a 500-ton German U-boat, captured by the Royal Navy, embarked on a tour of the country to raise money for the King George’s Fund for Sailors. She was sailed along the Manchester Ship Canal, passing a matter of yards from our Cadishead site, to Salford Quays, where she was on display between 6th and 11th July 1945.

With the war won and, eventually, rationing over, Britain began to recover her prosperity and, by 1957, with the words of the Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan that “most of our people have never had it so good”, Irlam and Cadishead was indeed teeming with industry and opportunity. Aerial photographs of the time show a thriving steelworks in Irlam separated from the British Tar Products site in Cadishead by the Cheshire railway line approach to the Cadishead viaduct. Britain’s post-war resurgence was quite literally forged in places like this.

On the morning of Tuesday April 14th 1970, five men were killed while being ferried over the Manchester Ship Canal by “Bob’s Ferry”, a service that had existed for almost a hundred years, which operated from Bob’s Lane, adjacent to our current site. Further upstream in Partington, a Dutch vessel was being loaded with 1,800 tons of petrol and, due to the negligence of those who should have been supervising the operation, upto 14,000 gallons had overflowed into the canal. It was never known what sparked the fuel but within seconds, upto a mile of the canal became engulfed with flames upto 60 feet high. On April 30th, a sixth man died, as a result of the injuries sustained.

In the 1970s, times were changing and Cadishead seemed to be a perfect example of the transition from one era to the next. Like many heavy industries in Britain in the that decade, it was clear that decline had set in and in 1979, the Irlam Steelworks closed, resulting in redundancy and uncertainty for hundreds of local families. In the same year, a Cadishead-born graphic designer called Ray Lowry saw the release of his most famous work – the iconic cover of The Clash’s most famous album, ‘London Calling’. The demise of heavy industry coinciding with the rise of the creative economy and popular culture were apparent in many places in 1979 but in this respect, Cadishead seemed to be a microcosm of the whole country.

In 1981, the Manchester Ship Canal railway closed, leaving the British Tar company to operate its own rail connection. By the mid-1990s, the Tar production stopped and the site was cleared, eventually used for housing development a decade or so later.

Our site at Liverpool Road in Cadishead was by this point operated by Lanstar, a derivative company of the Lancashire Tar Distillers who had occupied a site in Cadishead for over 80 years and had developed an expertise in treating industrial and hazardous waste.

With the emergence of ever-tightening restrictions on waste, this was an industry in its own throes of revolution and opportunity, just like Cadishead had seen with coal, oil and then steel over the previous century. With its enviable facilities and strategic location (although now, proximity to the motorway network had become more important that the Manchester Ship Canal), it was a prime candidate for acquisition and in August 2000, Lanstar Holdings was acquired by CSG.

With such a rich history, and a key part in the Industrial Revolution, the Co-operative movement and then the subsequent decline of mining and steelworks, Cadishead and Irlam’s development has, to a large extent, become a textbook example of the very history of industry in the UK over the last two hundred years. With CSG’s focus on recycling and commitment to development to achieve better waste outcomes in future, it combines two of the most sought-after elements to meet the challenges ahead: environmental sustainability and the so-called knowledge economy.

In many ways, this part of Cadishead is as well-placed to meet the needs of the future as it was when Stephenson’s Rocket raced past, all those years ago.

CSG: Happy Xmas (2017 is over)

Posted on www.csg.co.uk/blog on December 18th 2017

https://www.csg.co.uk/blog/happy-christmas-2017-where-did-it-go

And so, as 2017 draws to a close, the time comes, once again, to wish you a Merry Christmas, to reflect on the year just gone and to look ahead to what may lie instore in the New Year.

With the festive season upon us, there’s also the more practical consideration of our Christmas opening times – which can be found here…

2017 has been another busy year, here at CSG, with more customers served, more volumes moved and more satisfaction with our services than ever before. It was a year that saw the launch of ‘The Hart of Waste’, the second edition of the book, which contains the official history and current portrait of CSG. It was also a year in which we strongly identified the four pillars that make our brand so strong: Customers, Heritage, Innovation and People.

More awards came our way in 2017, including the ‘Best Use of Technology’ in the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce Awards.

Merry-Christmas-2018-3

We’ve seen many great strides in the CSG family of businesses, not least the opening of our new, ground-breaking sewage treatment plant in Worcester. We’ve also seen the addition of more Oil Monster trucks, covering a greater portion of the UK. At Willacy, we’ve seen a greater emphasis on overseas work and a move to apply their market-leading oil-based lagoon survey technology to water-based applications.

We’ve made donations to numerous charitable organisations and made meaningful contributions to the communities in which we operate. We’ve continued to develop the careers of the hundreds of people we’re proud to call colleagues and we’ve supported our local economies wherever we can.

In 2018, we plan to do it all again – with some significant advances along the way. In the New Year, we’ll launch the new CSG website, featuring a host of extra information and functionality – together with a brand new corporate video, to help spread the word of our accomplishments even wider.

Until then, it only remains for us to show our appreciation for your support and custom this year, to thank you for reading our blog and wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a happy, prosperous New Year!

Yours sincerely,

Everyone in the CSG family

CSG: The Importance of Being Recognised

Posted on www.csg.co.uk/blog on December 12th 2017

https://www.csg.co.uk/blog/the-importance-of-being-recognised

It’s been an enjoyable month of compliments and affirmation, here at CSG – and an important reminder of the importance of recognition.

What started with a speculative conversation in early summer eventually led to us attending a prestigious formal event in London, surrounded by many of the UK’s most go-ahead businesses. How did that happen?

We’ve recently become a member of our local Chamber of Commerce as well as others around the country to help support our local economies; something we’ve found to be tremendously useful both for supporting our staff and also for developing contacts with potential customers. When we received a communication from the Greater Manchester Chamber, inviting us to consider entering their annual awards, we wondered if we should.

CoC BA 2017 logo

At this point, all the usual negative thoughts tend to fight for attention: ‘we won’t win’, ‘there’s bound to be somebody better than us’, ‘it’ll take up more time than we can commit’ or ‘it’ll cost too much for very little benefit’. None of the above is to say we’re not proud of our capabilities and achievements but when surrounded by the unfamiliar, it’s naturally the safest course of action not to be taken in by the allure of glamour and glitz. After much conversation about the chances of success in the various categories, Louise Holgate, our Marketing & Tendering Manager decided we should go for it – in the ‘Best Use of Technology’ category.

Over the next few weeks, with the Chamber’s very specific brief as our constant guide, we lifted the lid on all aspects of the whole CSG group, interviewing a range of knowledgeable people from all parts of the company, understanding all the technical processes we undertake. We asked questions about the technology involved: why it improved things, how long it had been done this way versus that, what difference did it make? One curious discovery we made was that very often, the people closest to the technology were so used to its capability, they didn’t always recognise the significance of what it enabled them to do. On several occasions, impressive processes that are done every day were seen as ‘everyday’ in nature – and that’s nowhere near the same thing! Using the freshness of a different perspective, we were able to remind ourselves – and, importantly, the very people who use the technology – just how amazing it all is!

Very quickly, we realised that all the examples we’d found tended to fall into two basic categories: principally, the technology necessary to do the job itself and then the technology to help us run the operation that supports the services we offer. Basically, What We Do and The Way We Do What We Do. At that point, we realised that not every competing organisation would be able to have that dual reliance on technology. Suddenly, we began to wonder if our chances of winning the award were better than we’d previously imagined.

With the information gathered, written up and the entry submitted, the use of time was already justified by the deeper understanding we were able to convey to the rest of the business about so many practices within it. As an exercise in internal PR alone, we felt it was time well spent.

Then, one day in September, we were contacted by the Greater Manchester Chamber to inform us that we’d won the Regional Award! We were invited to collect our award at a lunchtime presentation at the Chamber itself, on Deansgate in Manchester. Excitingly, this also meant that we would be automatically entered, as a Finalist, in the National Chamber of Commerce Awards in London, in November.

The Manchester presentation was an informal affair, a chance to talk to the winners of the other categories in a relaxed atmosphere, comparing experiences and making useful contacts. Each winner was announced and, in the customary way, representatives were invited to the podium to receive a framed certificate, naming their company as the award winner. A Chamber-branded backdrop and official photographer lent a little extra ceremony to the proceedings. Once all the categories had been awarded, each winning company wished each other luck for the National Awards in London, together with best wishes to the Greater Manchester Chamber, which was itself in the running to win the prestigious ‘Best Chamber of Commerce’ at the awards night.

A few weeks later, it was time for the main event, a black-tie occasion held near the Barbican Centre in London’s financial district. The winning companies from each of the various Chambers across the country assembled and took the opportunity to share stories and experiences in a rather more formal setting. We were welcomed by Francis Martin, the President of the British Chambers of Commerce and reminded that, as regional winners, we represented the very best of British commercial expertise before handing over to the host for the evening, TV presenter Kate Thornton.

And so to the main event of the evening: the awards themselves. Tension filled the air around the CSG contingent when the time came to announce the winner of the ‘Best Use of Technology’ category… …and unfortunately, it wasn’t us! No matter; the experience of getting this far had proved invaluable, providing a huge amount of positive publicity for CSG along the way. Added to that, the chance better to understand the finer details of many of the processes across the company and, by doing so, recognising their importance – and, by extension, the contribution of those who are closest to them.

It’s fair to say that most people in most companies would have asked themselves the same rather negative questions when faced with the opportunity to make an award submission. There’s nothing wrong with being pragmatic and unwilling to be distracted from more important day-to-day matters. The underlying message from our experience is that the true importance is the value of recognition – especially internal recognition. Of course, the ultimate accolade, the Award itself, was the most obvious form of recognition – and that’s a great thing to have – but perhaps it’s more important to be able to recognise the excellence that’s before our very eyes every single day – and ensure that recognition is acknowledged.

In that sense, just as the saying goes, our experience of the whole exercise shows that it really was the ‘taking part’ that was more important that the ‘winning’.

CSG: Making Your Waste Work

Posted on www.csg.co.uk/blog on December 11th 2017

https://www.csg.co.uk/blog/making-your-waste-work

You may have read about the way we’ve defined the four main aspects of CSG, our brand pillars – and perhaps read more about two of them, Customer Service and Heritage. In this, the third of the series, the focus falls on another of our pillars: Innovation.

Most companies will claim to be innovative and, while many are, few will be as indoctrinated by the principle as we are – and with good reason. Since the early 1970s, when dumping of hazardous materials led to major regulations of the waste industry, environmental legislation has been made ever stronger. While we can agree this is to all our benefit, such stringent rules have forced those who make waste their business to think differently about their processes, their capabilities, even the very point of their existence.

In such conditions, innovation became essential for CSG to survive and flourish over the last 45 years, which is why it’s something we hold dear to this day. Here are a few innovations we’ve recently made:

Twenty years ago, one of our subsidiary companies (Willacy Oil Services) developed a sonar tool that charts levels of sediment in oil tanks, ensuring that the costly process of emptying and cleaning them is only done when absolutely necessary. This year, to enable diversification, we have been able to adapt this technology to water-based tanks and lagoons. It gives visibility of the extent of an inevitable problem, which allows customers to decide when (and when not) to commit to the cost of a full tank or lagoon clean, a unique selling point.

Our new sewage treatment plant in Worcester was uniquely designed to minimise manual effort and use a combination of technologies to ensure that the raw sewage is processed almost fully automatically into water that can be discharged back into a water course. Only the removal of solid ‘cake’ matter is now done manually. A more efficient process means fewer overhead costs, which can be passed on to the customer with a lower price.

We have developed unique and innovative processes for recovering precious metals from aqueous wastes including Nickel, Copper, Silver and Aluminium. We’ve added a service that uses industrial washing machines to clean ‘hazardous laundry’ – oily rags, wipes and spill mats for our customers – to avoid them being illegally disposed of. We also offer a fuel polishing service, in which contaminated fuel oils are passed through our specialist rig to remove the contaminants and return fuel that will not pose a threat to any pumps, engines or generators it is intended for.

All this innovation is a great way to offer unique or unbeatable services to our customers and, as you’d expect, innovation never stops, which means that our most important innovations are those we haven’t yet implemented.

We’ve also learned that it’s not enough to be innovative merely in the services we offer. Perhaps more importantly, we must also embrace innovation in the way we carry out our services, to increase both our capability and our efficiency – innovations like these:

Each of our hundreds of tankers has a device fitted to allow communication with Head Office. This allows jobs and routes to be sent to each driver to ensure more jobs are completed with the lowest-possible mileage – which means more happy customers and a significant saving on running costs. This fine level of control of our logistics gives us the opportunity to encourage online bookings for collections, something our Oil Monster site has already started to offer.

The trucks themselves are ‘smarter’, with driving data able to be monitored centrally. Greater visibility of driving style encourages safer, more efficient driving which also saves fuel and ensures a greater degree of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Innovation isn’t just a device to maximise opportunity. Our Health & Safety Manager Kevin Mooney recently demonstrated how it’s also a great way to reduce threat; his Manhole Safety Barrier is a fascinating invention, which may see a wider application than just CSG’s requirements.

Email, social media and web-based technologies are no longer considered ‘new’ but the way we ask our domestic customers for feedback, track the usage of our site and ensure we address the issues they raise is an innovation in our ability to respond effectively, enabled wholly by the Internet.

Finally, the very obsession and desire to constantly innovate are vital to CSG’s core strategy, driving most of our decisions to acquire subsidiaries and allow them to reach their potential.

We may think innovation is something we’re good at but it appears we’re not alone. Embracing any technology requires innovative thinking and earlier this year, we were delighted to win the ‘Best Use of Technology’ award by the Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, making CSG one of the seven finalists in the country.

As with any award, nice as they are to win, the real prize comes in the popularity and commercial success that an award-winning capability can attract. In future, we expect the demands of best practice to continue to increase processing costs for everyone in the waste industry – our continued success depends on our ability to maximise efficiency and minimise wasted materials and effort. Today, possibly more than ever before, our future depends on our ability to keep innovating.

CSG: Treatment and Recovery

Posted on www.csg.co.uk/blog on September 26th 2017

http://www.csg.co.uk/blog/treatment-and-recovery/

If you’ve spent any time involved with the Waste industry, it’s a fairly safe bet that you’ll be familiar with the Waste Hierarchy.  As long ago (or as relatively recently, depending upon your viewpoint) as the 1970s, the time came for waste to cease to be thought of as something you could just ‘throw away’ – which usually meant simply burying it or burning it (and burying what was left).  Disposal as a default method had finally become seen as unsustainable.

In 1975, the EU – or the EEC as it was, back then – announced a directive, which sought to rank the options available to minimise the creation and impact of waste.  Like most directives, its guideline status meant that it could easily be ignored and, by and large, it was.  Fourteen years later, the idea was revisited and drawn up into a hierarchy of management actions, to encourage its more widespread use.

waste-hierarchy-2

At the dawn of the 1990s, the concept of recycling began to gain some favour – where conditions allowed – with notable successes in campaigns to use recycled aluminium drinks cans or literature printed on recycled paper but these were examples of ‘soft’ social pressure rather than ‘hard’ legislation taking effect on areas that were, technically speaking, arguably ‘easy wins’.

Only by the turn of the millennium were the principles espoused by the hierarchy finally drafted into UK law, a quarter of a century after the concept was first proposed.  To put that into perspective, when in 1998, ‘Bob the Builder’ was first broadcast, encouraging children to “Reduce, Re-use, Recycle”, the mantra was still officially nothing more than an idealistic guideline.

Of course, in the years since then, legal expectations and waste practices have changed almost beyond recognition; the industry has had to re-invent itself from one that largely just ‘got rid of’ waste to one that was willing to go to ever-greater lengths to find a way to reclaim it in one way or another.  The relative inertia of the 25 years beforehand has been well and truly washed away with a growing tide of ever-more stringent waste regulations in the 17 years of the 21st century.

Jen Cartmell, our Operations Manager, based at our Cadishead facility explains further:

“Higher landfill taxes not only had the effect of calming the demand for simple disposal but they also encouraged operators to develop alternative solutions and created the conditions for them to invest in those alternatives.  That, combined with the higher standards expected of those who make money from waste has led to a far more professional industry today.”

Following on from those ‘easy wins’ of the 1990s, the move to expand the scope of treatment and recovery has led to ever-more intricate processes to extract reclaimed materials in one way or another.  Inevitably, the ubiquity and the residual value of oil has led to oil recovery being one of the most lucrative areas in this burgeoning sector, a logical development reflected in CSG’s strategy by our acquisition of Willacy Oil Services in 2015.

With the industry’s successes in extracting waste oil for re-refinery, together with the growing capability for separating precious metals from waste streams to create a ‘circular economy’, it’s tempting to think of waste treatment and recovery as a modern-day form of alchemy, the mythical ancient art of turning base metals into gold.  For centuries, many cultures have tried in vain to find a process to do just that. Are we, figuratively speaking, now at that point with a large proportion of our waste?

A qualified chemist, Jen is quick to point out the limitations. Treatment processes are vital to recovering the material but they’re only one part of the equation – and very often, the easiest part.

“In order to have a truly viable treatment and recovery capability, you need three things. First, a guaranteed supply of a particular waste stream, in which there is little variability of supply or composition; second a reliable, process which efficiently allows the material to be recovered in a re-usable state; and third a market for that recovered material.  Even if you’ve mastered the recovery process itself, if you can’t guarantee a steady stream to apply it to, you can’t make the investments needed to operate it and, obviously, if it’s too difficult to sell what you’ve recovered, it’s clearly not an economically viable proposition.”

Simply put, even if you’ve worked out the ‘how’ to treat and recover, you always have to be able to prove the ‘why’, the commercial incentive to actually do it.  Such pragmatism can seem rather negative but only because it flies in the face of the conventional view that re-cycling is akin to a magic process, capable of solving the world’s consumption needs.  As consumers, we’re invited to buy into that rather simplistic viewpoint because it increases the effectiveness of those ‘easy win’ examples like aluminium and paper.  If you look at these two cases objectively, they’re both perfect examples of the three-stage rule Jen explained – offering a steady supply of waste and a strong demand for the reclaimed matter.  Particularly in the case of paper, if a more digital world significantly reduced the need to buy as much of it, there would be far less incentive for anyone to recycle it.

There are some great examples of advances being made to broaden the principle in other areas – fly ash into bricks and desulphurisation gypsum from power stations into plasterboard.  Here at CSG, we’ve been able to develop commercially-viable methods to treat and recover tanalised timber and recover nickel from aqueous wastes, painstaking methods of recovery to sell to a market that was previously less well-supplied.  Even so, in both cases, the reclaimed products currently struggle to match the success of our subsidiary J&G Environmental which takes large volumes of rejected egg boxes and merely shreds them in order to make them a valuable animal bedding product.  Once again, it proves the process of recovery isn’t everything.

Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the growth of treatment and recovery is the fact that it’s still in its infancy.  As an industry, we’re only a couple of decades into even entertaining the idea that waste materials can be reclaimed and re-sold – and you could argue that so much has already been achieved.  Future development will not be without its difficulties – Jen is concerned that the suspension of the Environment Agency’s Definition of Waste panel is currently a disincentive for many companies to invest heavily in treatment and recovery research – but history teaches us that commercial imperative is not to be resisted for long.  There are some intriguing areas of opportunity, should the will be there to exploit them, with phosphorous suggested by experts as a particularly lucrative example.  Similarly, a means of more finely treating the waste water system to harness microscopic traces of gold that wash from our jewellery could represent a big enough prize for someone to attempt it.

To take advantage of such imaginative thinking, you have to decide what could be achievable if anything was possible.  Having identified what’s achievable, you then have to decide how you make the technique possible.  Whether in the name of science, discovery or commerce, such ‘blue-sky’ thinking has always been a potent driving force.  It’s a sign of how far the waste industry has come in a relatively short time: two generations ago, it was little more than a dirty job for hardened souls, in two generations’ time, it really could be the preserve of alchemists.

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics?

As a Wiganer, I don’t mind admitting I’m still getting over our 18-14 defeat to Hull in last weekend’s Challenge Cup Final.  I feel I probably shouldn’t be so affected by it, these days – I’ve been here enough times before: in 1984 (crushingly), in 1998 (inexplicably) and in 2004 (rather drunkenly).  I’d like to think that those experiences, plus of course the very many Cup-winning years (including the famous eight-in-a-row) would give me sufficient perspective to absorb the disappointment a little more adroitly.

Sadly, just like Tony Clubb’s doomed attempt for the line, it was not to be.  Now, four days on, the anguish at the outcome has dissipated slightly.  I know this because I’ve now come to believe that the scoreline was not, for once, the most significant statistic of the day.

Before I explain what I believe is, I should move to deny any stirring suspicions you may have that I’m displaying sour grapes or even revisionism.  Of course I wish we’d won but the day highlighted an issue much more concerning than merely the non-adornment of yet another trophy in cherry and white – it’s an issue that has implications on the future of the sport of rugby league itself.

You may or may not have picked up on the story that the attendance of 68,525 was the lowest at a Challenge Cup final since its return to the re-built Wembley in 2007.  There are a number of facets to this simple stat, together with a fair degree of context, to increase or reduce the level of alarm it elicits, depending upon your viewpoint.  If nothing else, this is very much a matter of interpretation and opinion, which rather thickens the plot but also fuels the conspiracy theories.  It all brings to mind the phrase, often attributed to Mark Twain who believed himself to be quoting Benjamin Disraeli (although no record of Disraeli saying it exists): “There are lies, damned lies and statistics”.

Before we go any further, is this story true and by how much is the figure lower than any before?  According the BBC match report, the figure was “by some distance the lowest” but what does the data say?  As ever, my friends at Wikipedia are a handy place to check:

2007  St. Helens 30–8  Catalans Dragons 84,241
2008  St. Helens 28–16  Hull 82,821
2009  Warrington 25–16  Huddersfield 76,560
2010  Warrington 30–6  Leeds 85,217
2011  Wigan 28–18  Leeds 78,482
2012  Warrington 35–18  Leeds 79,180
2013  Wigan 16–0  Hull 78,137
2014  Leeds 23-10  Castleford 77,914
2015  Leeds 50-0  Hull Kingston Rovers 80,140
2016  Hull 12–10  Warrington 76,235
2017  Hull 18–14  Wigan Warriors 68,525

So, there you have it: in headline terms, no different to last year (which was itself the lowest post-2007 figure) but almost eight thousand fewer again, quite a significant drop.

The chief reason for the sudden discrepancy appears to be the widely-quoted accounting change that for the first time this year, debenture-holders’ seats were not automatically counted as occupied, giving a more accurate figure.  This is basically a way of suggesting that every previous new Wembley figure was utterly fictitious and that in real terms, this year’s attendance figure was no different to any other year.  It all sounds incredibly convenient to spare any blushes the RFL may have – but can it be true?

At this point, most people would probably just shrug their shoulders and move on with their life but this requires a level of stadium geekery that I feel able to provide – and to some extent, corroborate.  When the current incarnation of Wembley Stadium was built, part of its funding came from a debenture scheme (“Club Wembley”) in which holders were given a middle-tier seat for use at any event held at the venue – a sort of super season ticket.  Inevitably, most of these were seen as justifiable investment by companies with an eye on the corporate hospitality opportunities they afforded and they signed up in their thousands.  I know someone who did, a print supplier with whom I used to spend a lot of money.  In 2011, as I was one of his biggest rugby league-following clients, he offered me his seats to watch that year’s Challenge Cup Final.

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“It’s who you know”: The 2011 Challenge Cup Final between Wigan Warriors and Leeds Rhinos, taken from the Club Wembley seating in the middle tier

You can most easily see the seats in question in the ten minutes after the re-start in any home England football match as the mostly corporate inhabitants struggle to down their half-time pints until about the 55th minute.  It was, I believe, at one such occasion that the seat-holders’ conspicuity by their absence provoked Adrian Chiles to give it its most scathing (and most apt) nickname: “the ring of indifference” – perhaps the most John Lennon thing he’s ever said.  Anyway, as their debenture holders were seen as ‘customers’, it seems every official attendance at the new Wembley has counted each and every one of them, whether or not they were represented on the day by anyone in person.

I can only presume that in 2017, ten years after the stadium’s opening, the debenture terms have elapsed and different rules now apply.  The good news is that 68-odd thousand is not really any lower than any other year so the “lowest attendance” story is (and I hasten to give this term the credence it ill-deserves) ‘fake news’.  The bad news, rugby fans, is that for a decade, we’ve been kind of kidding ourselves about the true numbers.  The case is perhaps most clearly made by this Getty Images picture, taken during the 2010 final between Warrington and Leeds.  The official attendance that day was 85,217, purportedly less than five thousand people shy of a 90,000 full house and yet, despite the tightly-packed crowds in the upper and lower tiers, the whole middle tier appears sparsely populated.

Does any of this bean-counting matter, then, if it’s all built on a farcically inaccurate trend?  Clearly, not as much as is being made of it – but it does beg the rather more fundamental question of why we’ve probably now had a decade of Challenge Cup final attendances that were ‘only’ c.70,000.  In the days before the old Wembley had its capacity reduced to 70-odd thousand, finals regularly attracted crowds in the 90,000s.

Looking at the pictures from this year’s final, it’s easy to see that this year, the RFL knew the problem was coming.  I’d already received increasingly urgent emails from them with various last-minute deals, including “£5 for under 16s”.  On the day, this tweet of Wigan legend Martin Offiah in the Royal Box clearly shows the upper tier opposite ‘blanked off’ by decorative red*-and-white/black-and-white sheeting over vast swathes of the seating area which were not expected to sell.

*by the way, RFL, Wigan’s colours are cherry and white, not red.

What’s most interesting about this development is where the empty seats where.  If you know Wembley, you’ll know the Royal Box is directly opposite the TV camera gantry.  To the viewers at home, it would, for most of the time, seem as though Wembley was full.  Depending upon your viewpoint, this is either a case of good PR or managed decline.  It’s also something in which the RFL have a fair degree of form.  Remember the 2013 World Cup?  The opening fixtures were a double-header in the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff.  My son Charlie happened to be a mascot that day and I took as many pictures as I could of him with the England and Australia teams as they lined up before the game.  The attendance was 45,052, the capacity in Cardiff is 73,000, leaving around 28,000 empty seats for the organisers to hope no-one sees.  From the picture below, would you care to take a wild guess which side the TV gantry is at the Millennium Stadium?

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England v Australia, the opening fixture of the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff

To be fair to the RFL, there are exceptions.  For six of the last ten years, the Grand Final has attracted a 70 thousand-plus crowd to Old Trafford (nominally with a 75,000 capacity but slightly reduced for such occasions to allow a stage to be built on the South West quadrant for the pre-show live act).  As a percentage of capacity, the Grand Final is now almost always in the upper 90s.

2007  Leeds 33–6  St. Helens  71,352
2008  Leeds 24–16  St. Helens  68,810
2009  Leeds 18–10  St. Helens  63,259
2010  Wigan 22–10  St. Helens  71,526
2011  Leeds 32–16  St. Helens  69,107
2012  Leeds 26–18  Warrington  70,676
2013  Wigan 30–16  Warrington  66,281
2014  St. Helens 14–6  Wigan  70,102
2015  Leeds 22–20  Wigan  73,512
2016  Wigan 12–6  Warrington  70,202

And then there was the success story that was the 2013 World Cup Final – a crowd of 74,468 which is still, I believe, the world record attendance for an international rugby league match.  Much as I’d prefer to gloss over the fact that this game didn’t include England (thanks to both a piece of sublime magic and a last-minute try from New Zealand in the semi-final), the absence of the home nation makes the subsequent sell-out for the final even more worthy of praise for the organisers.

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Not the best picture of the crowd at the 2013 World Cup Final but the filled stand to the left is where you’ll find the TV camera gantry at Old Trafford

The common denominator to both these successes is, it’s safe to argue, the fact that they both took place at Old Trafford, Manchester, set almost perfectly within the very heartland of rugby league.  Wembley and Cardiff, on the other hand, are not.

The point is, I would contend, strengthened further by the somewhat chequered achievements of the ‘Magic Weekend‘, the newest kid on the block of annual rugby league showpiece occasions in the UK.  The reliance on compound attendance figures for these two-day festivals has more than a whiff of an initiative seeking attention via the biggest number it can lay its hands on, which is why I prefer to look at average attendances over the two days.  Over the last ten years, the numbers have barely edged beyond plus-or-minus 10% of 30,000 per day.  That sounds great, compared to a regular fixture (in 2016, Super League fixtures averaged 9,134) but for three fixtures in a day (and sometimes, it’s four), 30k seems like a case of negligible uplift.  Add to that the fact that the fixtures for these events tend to be ‘marquee’ games like Wigan v Leeds or derbies like Hull v Hull KR which tend not to struggle for numbers when left to be played in their normal surroundings and the whole thing feels like it might just about be ‘washing its face’ and no more.

Of course, all of the above is not the be-all and end-all: the Magic Weekend adds a marvellous sense of occasion to those there, it helps to generate extra national press from a largely union-centric media and it ‘spreads the gospel’ further afield and all that but after all that effort, it’s difficult to claim that, empirically, it’s added even a single extra bum on a seat.  Throw in the fact that the venues (Millennium Stadium, Cardiff; Murrayfield, Edinburgh; Etihad Stadium, Manchester and, latterly, St. James’ Park, Newcastle) are all much larger than 30k and you’re back to the same game of ‘hide the empty seats from the cameras’ – average daily occupancy has ranged from 40% at Cardiff to 67% in Manchester.  Just how commercially successful is the whole enterprise, really?

It’s an important point to make because one theory I’ve read is that the existence of the Magic Weekend is the most likely cause of the trimming of Challenge Cup final crowds.  An alternative away-day at which your team is guaranteed to play does seem like a slightly more appealing alternative to the more traditional, relatively vicarious pursuit of turning up at Wembley in your team’s colours “for the day out” even though two other teams are actually contesting the final.  Having been part of the convivial, ‘rugby league family’ atmosphere, it would be a shame to see it lessened but equally, it takes a bit of fortitude to walk proudly down Wembley Way in a Saints shirt, for example, knowing you’re going to suffer a few hours of (mostly) light-hearted ribbing from the assembled hoards of Wigan and Leeds fans milling around outside the stadium when your team isn’t even there.  As someone who must admit to being part of that ‘friendly fire’, I can confirm I’d think twice about taking the time and expense of going all that way not to see my team, knowing I’d be on the receiving end of it.

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Spot the Saints fans, if you can.  And then mock them!

I think there are other factors.  Bank Holidays are divisive things: enabling grand days out for many but also providing prohibitive alternative attractions which aren’t always easy to avoid, like weddings, long weekends away or, in my case, family holidays (I was driving home, trying to avoid being drawn onto the Péripherique in Paris, last Saturday, while asking for regular updates from Wembley on the BBC Sport app).  Bank Holidays also seem to promise extra travel problems too.  A terrible crash on the M1 and the closure of Euston station, last Saturday seem to be further invitations not to bother again, in future.  I appreciate there were many finals held on the Saturday of the May Day weekend, years ago but was the Challenge Cup not equally well served by holding its final in the last weekend in April?  It seems so: 94,273 Wigan and Halifax fans attended the 1988 final on April 30th, that year.

The mood music is not great, wherever you point your ear, though.  Earlier this year, the RFL caused some consternation by raising the possibility that future Challenge Cup finals may not be played at Wembley, surely a red line-crosser for most fans of the sport.  Even in Australia, the home of the dominant Kangaroos and the all-conquering NRL, all is not rosy in the garden.  As in England, parochial imbalances afflict the sport there, with comparable constraints and similar initiatives to counter them.  In particular, the go-to remedy to address the suburban Sydney clubs’ willingness to exceed their local confines is to play selected regular season games at the 83,000-seat ANZ Stadium, the cavernous-when-empty home of the 2000 Olympics.  If you think the hastily-decorated bank of empty seats at Wembley signify problems in our game, wait ’til you’ve seen a round of NRL played before barely 10% occupancy and a veritable Southern ocean of blue seating blocks.

I’ll soon get over Wigan’s loss at Wembley, I’m sure – possibly as soon as Friday if we can bounce back and put one over on our bitter rivals from St. Helens.  I’m also sure that this year’s Grand Final will attract around 70,000 or more again this year (hopefully with around half of them wearing cherry and white, again).  The real litmus test will come the next time the game holds a showpiece away from the M62 corridor.  The location of the 2018 Magic Weekend is, as yet, unconfirmed.  The three most-attended incarnations have all come at Newcastle – albeit no single day there has ever left fewer than 12,000 empty seats – so it’s the most obvious choice.  An outside bet may be the Ricoh Arena in Coventry: desperate for the money, tried successfully for home internationals in recent years and offering an achievable capacity of over 32,000.  It would be a venue less likely to visually advertise any shortfall in ticket sales but its very selection could be seen as a tacit admission of the RFL’s desire to play safe and not over-extend.

As a fan, I wouldn’t be terribly concerned, either way, about the choice of venue for a round of Super League fixtures in late May.   I would however worry what the implications would be of anything that could be construed to be ‘damage-limitation thinking’ on the future of the game’s oldest and noblest occasion.  Wembley is a non-negotiable part of the Challenge Cup and more must be done to ensure it is filled on the one day a year our sport has it.

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CSG: Going With The Flow

Posted on www.csg.co.uk/blog on April 27th 2017

http://www.csg.co.uk/blog/going-with-the-flow/

Brett Ashton is a difficult man to pin down. I called his mobile one morning to discuss this article, only to be met with the reply “Sorry, I’ll have to do this another time – I’m in a nuclear power station”.  As conversation-stoppers go, it’s a pretty good one so we rescheduled at a later date.

Of course the reason Brett can be so elusive is that he’s simply just so busy. As Engineering Supervisor for CSG, he brings an extensive knowledge of pumps and pumping – an ideal specialism as moving liquids is a mainstay of our services. He alternates his time, seemingly daily, between our Head Office in Fareham and any of a number of sites that he oversees.

Service and Maintenance team based at our Head Office in Fareham. Brett Ashton far left.

“I’m really a troubleshooter”, he explains to me, when we find a more appropriate time to speak.  “I carry out the surveys, examine the data, provide the quotes and source the parts.  I do still get my hands dirty but I’m really here to pass on my knowledge when it’s required.”

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Naval life is a great preparation for a career in engineering.  Image: Paul Bentham

Aged 32, he started his career in the Royal Navy, not uncommonly for a son of Portsmouth, and served for two years as an Engineer, mostly aboard HMS Manchester.  Thereafter, he worked in London, maintaining pumps for a variety of clients: “hotels, department stores, fast-food restaurants; mostly heating systems but all pretty similar pumping requirements”.

For the last four years, he’s applied his specialist knowledge here at CSG. He patiently explains the rudiments of pumping: “you’re either looking to get the right level of flow (in litres per minute) or the right distance, which is represented as a curve on a graph.  The complicated bit is when you need to move the curve with the current you have”.

Slowly, it dawns that ‘current’ and ‘flow’ are not interchangeable terms.  ‘Flow’ refers to the liquid motion but the ‘current’ is of the electrical variety, the means of powering the whole operation. Brett casually confirms the realisation “I’m actually a trained plumber and a qualified electrician, which is funny really because usually, they don’t get on!”

Confident and yet self-effacing, he certainly doesn’t give the impression of a person given to internal struggle but his point is well observed – anyone who’s worked on a building site will know the two trades can be capable of mixing about as harmoniously as… well, electricity and water.

It’s certainly not a job for people who don’t like exams.  Brett has had to undertake confined space training, is a qualified slinger and banksman and is UKPIA-accrediated to work on a forecourt.  He’s recently added to this roster by taking a Level 2 & 3 City & Guilds qualification to bolster his electrician’s credentials.  “It involved two years of travelling to London for weekends and a lot of A-level maths!”

Perhaps the most enviable aspect of Brett’s work is the wide variety of places it takes him to.  Aside from his regular presence at that nuclear power station he’s responsible for operations at schools, Forestry Commission sites, RAF barracks and even TV and Film Studios. As it’s a working studios, you have to check your mobile phone in at the front desk because there’s a strict ‘no photography’ policy – so there’s no chance of a selfie with any of the film stars you might come across!”

Occasional brushes with celebrity are nice enough but they pale in comparison to ensuring a job is well done.  Brett explains how smarter technology is helping him to do exactly that.  “Many of our pump stations now have a smart element to them.  This means that not only do they monitor the levels and spot a fault, they can diagnose the problem and email the client and the team here at CSG.  Now, we often don’t need to send out an engineer to look at what’s going on, which is more efficient all round and saves the client money.”

Unsurprisingly, for someone so busy, Brett remains just as active outside of work.  A black belt at karate at the age of 13, he also boxed for the Navy at Lightweight (60Kg). Running and weight-training burn off whatever excess energy remains at the end of the day.

Perhaps the most surprising part of our discussion comes when he declares he’s a big fan of rugby league, in particular the Leeds Rhinos.  Portsmouth is a long way from the sport’s M62-corridor heartland and over 250 miles from Leeds so why the affiliation?  “My Dad used to play for Leeds – when they were just called Leeds – so that’s the main reason but I’d still far rather watch a game of rugby league over union and I try to get up to Headingley to watch a game, when I can.”

What does the future hold for this rugby-league-supporting ex-serviceman of many talents?  “I’ve always preferred to see money as a means to travel rather than just owning stuff and I would like to see more of the world but with a young daughter at the moment, we can’t be too ambitious”.  It’s clear that, sooner or later, this elusive engineer is hoping to be even harder to pin down – for a few weeks of the year, at least!

Diaries of a Texan Traveller – pt. 10.2

A verbatim record of a diary I wrote while visiting friends (Paul & Rice) in Austin, Texas during the Easter holidays of my second year at University in 1994.  Re-blogged on the anniversary of each entry.  2017 Commentary, where necessary for context, added as footnotes in italics.

Friday 1st April 1994,  16:14 (CST)

TERMINAL 3, O’HARE AIRPORT, CHICAGO, IL

Flying into Chicago was equally as impressive as flying over Dallas.  Marginally cloudier, it was still easy to pick out O’Hare as we flew PAST it!  Why?  Because we had to approach from the east.  This meant flying over Chicago itself, five miles out over Lake Michigan, and turning around, thus presenting a near-perfect view of downtown Chicago.  Remember ‘FlightSim’?  Taking off from Meigs airport on the lake shore?  Past that tall , black building with its two antennae*?  I’ve just re-lived it — for real (except we didn’t take off from Meigs**) — but I did see it!

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My flight is at 6:10 and there’s an aeroplane to Paris at my gate (K11) right now.  I’m still in Terminal 3 so no need to take the monorail today.

I’ve made the customary ‘phone call to ensure Dad gets to bed early — it’s 20 to midnight there, right now.

I met a bloke on the last flight from Cleveland, Ohio who was thinking about holidaying in England.  Naturally, I did my bit for the North West Tourist Board but I still had to tell him: “Manchester — it’s 200 miles north of London”.  GRRRR!!

He went to University in Columbus (Ohio, again) and we swapped student stories.  He asked me how well-travelled I was and I think I surprised him with the ensuing list — especially Moscow!!

Looking around this place, it’s scary.  As I’ve mentioned, this airport is unbelievably large but so is its volume of traffic.  For example, when we landed, we crossed (at an altitude of lower than 50 feet) another runway from which a plane, in the distance, was in the process of taking off!!  I’m surrounded by stationary ‘planes, there are more taxi-ing behind them and yet more swarming around, incoming and outgoing.  It really is like a bee-hive, with continuous, seemingly ad hoc arrival and departure.  I’d just rather not try and think about how difficult it is to co-ordinate a place like this!  And then there’s Heathrow, which although (or is it because) it is smaller, it is the busiest airport in the world.  Now, there’s a comforting thought, and that’s not even accounting for the IRA!!  God, I’m glad I’m flying into Manchester!

By the way, ‘Cowboys from Hell’ was sold out and just in case you think we deluded ourselves in assuming it was Pantera, Rice saw their drummer in Town Lake Foods — ordering nachos!!

“Nachos rule!!”

[I think I’ll check in now, as Paris has gone and the board now says “Flight 54 Manchester” — Yes!!!]

18:00 (CST)

ABOARD FLIGHT 54, STATIONARY

Sunset in Chicago.  We take off in 10 minutes.  It’s going to be a long flight (believe it or not).  I may sleep.  I’ll try to watch the film (which looks crap) but I am planning a finale to this, an all-consuming Palinesque summary of the US, warts and all, but to also attempt to quantify the expectations one should have if you are planning to visit.  I know I’m waffling a bit but I feel I should depart from Chicago first, before I depart on my journey into the life of a Texan traveller.

The sun has gone down now; only a red hue exists over Chicago — and the vapour trails of another plane as presumably, others are going home too.  The seat-belt sign is on, the (video) emergency performance is about to begin and we’re asked not to use electrical instruments until we are in flight.

Did I mention I got another window seat?  3 out of 4!

I’m also praying that no-one comes and sits next to me.  That vacant seat here would be very useful if I fancy a sleep.  We’ve had the “prepare for departure” notice; I think I’m sleeping on a padded surface again!  Yes!!

There goes the door — it’s official — we’re moving!

Time to conclude *this* entry.  A handful of boiled sweets and a peep out of the window are on the agenda now.

See you later!

* The John Hancock Center.

** Meigs Airfield was a single-strip airfield on a man-made peninsula in Lake Michigan, just south of Chicago.  It closed in 2003 and the land is now used as parkland.

Diaries Of A Texan Traveller – pt. 1

A verbatim record of a diary I wrote while visiting friends (Paul & Rice) in Austin, Texas during the Easter holidays of my second year at University in 1994.  Re-blogged on the anniversary of each entry.  2017 Commentary, where necessary for context, added as footnotes in italics.

Synopsis:

I call this account “a video diary in non-video form” because ‘diary’ sounds…   …well a little drab and soft really, doesn’t it?

I aim to make the reader feel part of every entry.  I hope to match the style of Michael Palin or Clive James* but I’m not sure how that will go.  I aim to include the unexpected aspects of visiting America, to educate, evaluate, criticise, elucidate, inform, encourage and probably mislead your perception of real life in this nation look upon as some sort of elevated monolith of the world community, when basically its peoples are the same as us with ambitions, fears, traumas and ‘Roseanne’…   …just like we are!

I also aim to stop writing like I’m at University – this is my holiday for God’s sake!!

Finally and most importantly, I would like to share my most fundamental motivation with you.  As Garth Algar** once said: “I just hope you didn’t think it sucked”

I think there’s a lesson there for us all…

Enjoy.

PB

* They both were, and still are, amongst my greatest influences of travelogue writing.

** sidekick to Wayne Campbell in ‘Wayne’s World’, 1992 film.

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Friday 18th March 1994,  16:49 (GMT)

MID-ATLANTIC – ACTUALLY, MORE LIKE SOMEWHERE OVER CANADA

Took off from Manchester this morning with no problems.  As always*, I had the filet mignon for lunch; an American Airlines speciality I must say.  The film (‘The Addams Family Values’) has just finished.  This means I have successfully endured the first 6½ hours without turning to this diary to keep me occupied – I thought I would have written reams and reams by now!  Well, there’s always the Austin flight (in addition to the 1½ more hours here!)

The reason I have not yet got bored is partly because of the bloke I met.  An artist from Huddersfield** no less!  More later – snack time!

* Stretching credulity a little!  Two months previously, I’d flown to Denver, via Chicago, also with American Airlines for a skiing holiday.  I’d had the filet mignon on that flight as well.

** Another friend from University (Matt) is from Huddersfield.

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Friday 18th March 1994,  17:40 (GMT)

PROBABLY STILL OVER CANADA

The Immigration and Customs forms have just been filled in.  Still just over an hour to go.  Everything looks white down below but as I do not have a window seat, I can’t confirm what’s happening right now.  The newspaper says ‘unseasonably cold’ for Chicago.  Oh well!

Austin is supposed to be 29°C – Chicago’s probably going to be 29°F!!  Anyway this bloke (Andrew) lives about 3 miles from Highburton*.  He’s into skiing and has watched Manchester United for over 20 years — now is it obvious why I haven’t started ‘The Liar’** yet?!  He’s going to Toronto to sell his paintings and we had an interesting chat about marketing art — you learn something every day!

* Matt’s family lived in the Highburton area of Huddersfield at the time.

** Semi-autobiographical novel by Stephen Fry.

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Friday 18th March 1994,  13:46 (CENTRAL; GMT-6)

CHICAGO O’HARE AIRPORT (T3)

I don’t fly to Austin for another hour yet so there’s plenty of time to hang out and take in the scenery — again!

Yes I’m once again sat in the little café in Terminal 3.  Everything is the same (Michael Jordan is everywhere!) — except it’s not snowing.  Little things spark off my memory like those bending iron columns — what were the initials again?  Must remember to ask Martin!*  Well, yes, they’re still here, not surprisingly!

It was a weight off my mind to ring Chris (whoever he is!)** who confirmed that Rice and Paul will be at the airport in 3½ hours’ time.  I think Dad was pleased I rang — from the very same ‘phone booth from which he rang Grandma only 8 weeks ago!  Not that he was to know that, but it sort of seemed right.

Blasé as I appeared before I left (well I probably was blasé), I’m not now; I can’t really comprehend that I was sat in that very yellow plastic chair 2 months ago (unless they swapped them around for some reason) — but the effect is just the same anyway!

OK: an in-joke for anyone who has been to an American airport before:  “Mr Bloggs; Mr Joe Bloggs.  Please contact the information desk.” — it really is the little things, isn’t it?!!

[Somebody’s just sat in my chair — the yellow plastic one!]

I wonder why that Customs official was convinced I’d been to the Netherlands***.  I don’t look like Jan****, do I?

Actually, I didn’t handle that very well.  We both knew it was kidology but instead of being British and saying “I’m sorry but I’m afraid there’s some mistake here”, I overdid the staunch defence bit and sort of whined “but I havennn’t been there!!!”  Oh well, better luck next time — there probably will be a next time.

At least I didn’t bleep here.  In Manchester, I couldn’t believe being bleeped a second time!  10 years of air travel… (sigh)

Oh I think I found some Pepsi in my regular cup of ice cubes! — oh no, it’s just a trick of the light.

5 past 8 now at home…   …I wonder what happened on Coronation Street…   …Shit!  What time did I ring?  25 past I think…   …well that was a close one!  I know I’m in Chicago and all but CORONATION STREET!  Sorry Mum!*****

* My brother Martin and I had discussed the RSJs visible from the departure gate area (for some reason) during my previous visit, two months earlier.

** Another British overseas student at the University of Texas who had become friends with Paul & Rice,  Crucially (and a sign of the time), he was the only person among their circle who had access to a telephone.

*** Looking very bedraggled and student-like as I did, it’s no surprise that I was spotted by a US Customs official who came over to ask me if I’d “brought anything in from Amsterdam”.  I took him literally because I couldn’t believe that he would need to speak in euphemisms, even though it was perfectly clear what he meant.

**** Another friend from University, Jan came from Cleckheaton, West Yorkshire but had a Dutch mother.

***** My Mum was a regular ‘Coronation Street’ viewer then.  She isn’t now.

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Friday 18th March 1994,  15:03 (CST)

CLIMBING OUT OF CHICAGO

As I see the last, faint cloud-obscured features of Illinois disappear, my mind turns to filling the time on this 2hr 20min flight.  It hardly seems worth starting ‘The Liar’ now.  There’s certainly no opportunity for conversation as there’s no-one next to me — but I got a window seat!

I realised that, unlike many of the passengers, admittedly American and ‘frequent flyers’; who were perhaps nervy about the take-off, I was hugely relieved, probably because I know Paul and Rice are waiting for me and that after a 9hr flight, this little ‘hop’ is a mere formality.  OK, so I’m blasé again!

Sometimes though, I sort of catch myself off-guard and have to remind myself that I’m now in the USA all alone (for the time being) and despite the facade of casual ‘shit happens’ acceptance, sometimes it is all a little unreal.

I heard a Texan in front of me chatting to an Illinoian (?)*, saying that they wouldn’t need warm clothes as it’s (I’m sure he said) 98°!!  So that’s what “damn hot” means!

The captain just said there’s some “bumpy air” on the way, although it’s pretty clear right now.

What can I see?  Well, a large, (very) straight road, probably an Interstate and just lots of fields, like the plains of Eastern Colorado — no circular fields here, though!

There is a grid of roads at right angles separating the fields and tiny houses are dotted randomly about.  In the distance, I can see a small town where two roads cross.  It just looks like a gigantic patchwork blanket!

Well we are in the Midwest here.  Agricultural heartland of the US.  There’s absolutely no variation for as far as I can see (probably about 40 miles) and it’s completely flat.

Whoahh!  A large town *quick look at the map*.  Could be Springfield, Illinois — I dunno!

8:25 at home; I wonder what’s happening at home.  More to the point, I wonder what’s happening in Lancaster.  Hmmm… Paul & Rice will be told.  Oh yes, Paul & Rice *will* be told**.

This clock-watching is a bad idea.  I’ll have to do something or this flight will seem the same as the other one — which for a 9-hour flight, wasn’t that bad, but for a 2½?!

Wait!  Captain announced we’re going over St. Louis.  I can’t see it but I can see a river.  Mississippi or Missouri, I don’t know.

<<Important announcement coming up!>>  (hereafter referred to as !*!)

* Actually, it’s an “Illinoisan”, according to statesymbolsusa.org.

** I have no idea what this was specifically a reference to, although it’s worded in a ‘Wayne’s World’ style.  I think it had something to do with a rumoured sexual encounter of one of my house-mates.

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CSG: Kind Hearts this Valentine’s Day

Posted on www.csg.co.uk/blog on February 14th 2017

http://www.csg.co.uk/blog/kind-hearts-this-valentines-day/ 

Whatever happened to Valentine’s Day? Do you remember the special thrill of an unknown admirer professing their anonymous, unrequited affection? Remember how such a simple gesture meant so much more than any flowers or cuddly toy?

This year, CSG decided to make Valentine’s Day mean something more than just cheesy rhymes and sparkly helium balloons by turning it into a fundraising day – with the proceeds going, appropriately, to the British Heart Foundation.

The team at CSG’s Sales Office in Cadishead, near Manchester took part in a ‘wear something red’ dress-down day and were encouraged to channel their inner Mary Berry and bake something suitably themed for a cake sale.

Together, the activities managed to raise £73.22 to donate to a cause that fights one of Britain’s biggest threats to life.

As you know, CSG are no strangers to charitable initiatives and regularly support a variety of causes in a number of ways. Days such as this raise money but also add a sense of fun to the workplace.

To contribute to the British Heart Foundation, go to https://www.bhf.org.uk

CSG: Welcome Aboard, Louis!

Posted on www.csg.co.uk/blog on December 13th 2016

http://www.csg.co.uk/blog/welcome-to-csg-louis/

In October, we were pleased to welcome Louis Spencer to our Sales team at CSG Lanstar at Cadishead, Manchester. A recent Biochemistry graduate of Manchester University, Louis brings a level of technical expertise to our sales function.

Louis’ main responsibilities are outbound sales calls and handling queries from existing customers, combining his knowledge of the chemical processes with the finer points of salesmanship.

“I probably only use my degree knowledge a few times a week but the skills I learned at university have proved most helpful, especially the ability to think analytically”, he explains. He’s engagingly modest about his sales skills but anyone who’s ever worked in outbound sales will know that it’s not something you could ever describe as easy. “Outbound is more challenging’” he agrees “but I find it rewarding when I’m able to help find a solution to a customer’s problem”.

A native of Newbury, Berkshire, Louis chose to stay in Manchester after completing his studies: “I come from a small village in the middle of nowhere so I like the fact there’s lots to do in and around Manchester”. Amongst the ‘lots to do’, he spends lots of spare time sailing, having competed regularly for the University of Manchester Sailing Team.

So, two months in, what are his impressions of working at CSG? “I feel I’ve found my feet now. I like the friendly environment in the office – it’s a good atmosphere. I’d like to continue to improve at what I do and be able to match my more experienced colleagues. I just wish the traffic wasn’t as bad on the way to work every morning!”

If you have a waste collection requirement and you think Louis and his colleagues can help, they’re waiting to hear from you. Give them a call on 0800 116 600.

Archived: Who Will Support the Supporters?

Originally published as a FB Note, on 28 May 2008 at 00:19

Two weeks ago, I was very close to writing a post on the disgraceful trashing of Manchester by Rangers ‘fans’ during and after their appearance in the UEFA Cup Final.  Exasperated in equal measure as I was by all concerned, I saw no real injustice, so I decided to leave the subject alone – until now.
David Beckham on the bus being greeted by upto 700,000 fans after the Treble win in 1999.
David Beckham on the bus being greeted by upto 700,000 fans after the Treble win in 1999.

To recap, where there are 100,000+ Glasgwegians, copious amounts of alcohol and a high potential for disappointment, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what might happen next.  Given what did happen, it’s easy to paint the Rangers following as the villains of the piece.  Of course, they were the ones charging the police and breaking windows so whatever way you wish to look at it, they are hardly able to complain of victimisation.

Consider though for a second the role played by Manchester City Council here. Despite toeing the sensible line of advising ticketless United fans not to go to Moscow the following week, when it came to their own gig, the Council mysteriously and repeatedly trotted out lines beginning with ‘Despite all the advice, we know that more Rangers fans will want to be here than can be accommodated in the City of Manchester Stadium…’

When it comes to the injection of a few Bank of Scotland notes into the city’s coffers, it seemed the Council ‘bottled’ it – rather ironically.  Hey, what’s a bit of extra police overtime against a potential £50m in extra revenues? At the last minute, the City Council decided to lay on some big screens to make “better provision” for these fans that, had they been similarly following United in Moscow, the same Council would have advised not to travel.

So, as sure as a hangover follows a party, we had the flashpoint, the violence, the clean-up and the recriminations.  Another of the ironies of the situation was that the reported failure of one of the big screens was cited as a spark to the flame.  Like a rowdy regular, the Rangers fans took a certain delight in having their pint spilled and so had their fight to make their night. Like a greedy landlord, the city knew who they were letting in and only did it to sell a few more pints.  Both parties deserved what they got.

What about those caught in the crossfire, though? The real injustice only occurred eight days later when Manchester United’s Champion’s League victory was
denied a civic parade by the same Council, on police advice.  That’s right, the same supporters who voted for and pay their Council taxes to Manchester were asked to accept that the previous week’s maurauding Scots had irrevocably changed the risk levels of such a gathering that had caused no problems only eight years previously.

I was in the crowd at Deansgate on May 27th 1999.  The city’s main thoroughfare was carpeted with scores of thousands of people, all waiting patiently for the five minutes or so that they would have to see the team pass by. Aside from the odd over-enthusiastic building-scaler or lamp-post-climber, I saw nothing that would worry a police officer. The mood was overwhelmingly good-natured.  The atmosphere was almost identical to that at a festival or a major concert before the main act came on, euphoric and full of anticipation.

At the time, I was struck by the uniqueness of the situation that combined a Glastonbury feel with a city centre location.  Now the moment has passed and calls for a parade can only diminish to the extent that even if one happens, it will be a pale imitation.  Damn the brainless Rangers fans for their drunken idiocy.  Damn the spineless City Council for their greed and double standards and damn then feckless Greater Manchester Police for having the nerve to suggest that the two situations are even slightly similar.

Sadly, it seems I was right about the ’99 parade, but not in the way that it turned out to be unique. We may have a football team to be proud of , but
Manchester’s supporters deserved much, much more than they got from the people paid to act as a team supporting them.