Well, it is all over for another Christmas season. On Saturday morning, three of us went through town turning all the feeds off, ready for the big push.
Both machines were out on Sunday, with a full complement of people. Starting with the removal of the tree (where we found that pigeons had been nesting) we then moved on section by section through the town, taking the whole display down, and moving everything into the stores for safe keeping, finishing at about 7.30 in the evening. The town always looks so bare afterwards!
We have been quietly very pleased with the reliability this year, with only a couple of very minor failures, which is quite remarkable. The new pieces performed faultlessly, which was great. We were, of course, also lucky with the weather, with very little work having to be done in the rain, and little time lost.
Of course, that is not the end of the matter. Roo and David W are both scheming out ideas for next year, and indeed one replacement controller – for the catherine wheel – is being made now. Behind the scenes, paperwork still has to be done, with Roger W and David G sorting all of that out. And, of course, fundraising never stops; donations are still coming in, for which we are extremely grateful. Richard Laming and David James are sorting out the local business donations with some gentle (and some not-so-gentle) persuasion, and bringing in the collection boxes from the shops and pubs. I also gather that a Lights Bingo is shortly to be held. None of this could happen without a great deal of behind the scenes work.
I have no doubt that all of the Lights Brigade will have their eyes and ears open to new ideas, new plans for later in the year. And your scribe can now look back on fifty years working on the lights – and several of the others are not far behind!
Thursday evening, December 15th saw a machine out and about carrying out various repairs, replacing a few dud lamps and, much more importantly, repairing the two missing snowballs between the snowmen in Tenbury Road. There are four, which light up in turn, and somehow two (each consisting of a metre of ropelight) had conspired to fail. It was a lengthy old job, and its a long way up there! Roger and David W were up top, and Edgar and Ian down below. Roo was looking very carefully at what we were doing with one of his great creations! Anyway, all went well.
Edgar and Roger had previously been out the previous week, sorting out minor defects on the big star at the top of Sherford Street, the Twying Street bell (both of which are now fine), Happy Xmas and also the Catherine wheel on the Dentists, which sadly is not fine. One sector was out, and replacement of an internal fuse now means that the same sector is now fixed on. This is an old mains-powered unit (it used to go where the cracker is now), and the electronics are well past their sell-by date, so we can do no more. We are now designing a new controller, with a view to converting it to 24 volts for next next year.
We used to have to be out three or four times during the season, before LEDs came about. The reliability of LED lamps is amazing; not only that, but if they do fail, we only have to replace the LED cluster and not the entire lamp. With that, and the fact that our electricity consumption is down 80%, and you can see how worthwhile the changes were.
Well, the lights are on; the festivities of the Switch-On day are behind us. Phew!
The previous Sunday saw the whole of the day with one machine erecting and dressing the main Christmas tree, and the three small trees to the side. The tree came from Dinmore – it is a great tree. The gap in the rear is because it grew by the hedge! But that suits us rather well. Rock Caravan Park very kindly paid for it, which is a most generous gesture – hence the small sign at the base. Machine No 2 saw to the remaining set pieces, installing the new lamps by the leisure centre and in Pump Street (those came from Blackpool, for which many thanks for letting us buy them) and checking all the trips and feeds, and measuring our current consumption (for the record, it is 80% down from the peak, all due to LED lamps).
Meanwhile, David Wilkins was finishing off “Merry Christmas Bromyard”, and it was duly erected on Friday night! The basic frame was an old piece obtained from Blackpool, which was stripped back to bare metal, new “BROMYARD” letters made from aluminium, and welded on by Roo; then new 24v LED ropelight was fitted, a new Arduino controller designed by Jez Slater, built and programmed by David, and there you are. It works, and many people seemed to notice it was new. The best part of three weeks work.
The switch-on day was hard work, but all went well. The Grotto has seen its last outing in Twyning Street. This superb creation by Brian Johnson and his wife Judy has been built up by the “Grotto Crew” every year, fitted out, and later dissembled. A few days earlier, a large gang of Santa’s Helpers, helped by the odd glass of vino, spent a long evening wrapping the presents. The crew of elves and others were perished by the time the last visitor had left, but it was a truly joyful experience. Brian feels that the time has come to pass the Father Christmas Grotto on, and we have all given Brian and Judy a huge vote of thanks for a superb job well done.
Bill Holden did an excellent speech, backed up by the Mayor, the Chairman of the Chamber, Roger Page, and Toni McDonald from the BBC, standing on a substantial podium erected every year by Pete Goodson. Thankfully, the lights went on without a hitch – followed by a sprint around town by the brigade to try and get all eleven feeds on before the crowd caught up with them! The nicest of experiences for some of us is meeting the crowds coming up town, and hearing the comments. It does make you realise it is well and truly worth it.
Now it is nightly checks, and hopefully not too many outings with the cherry picker to correct faults. Last year we managed to only need one outing, and let us hope the same is true this year. All too soon, twelfth night will be with us!
Bromyard Christmas Lights Preparations – Week 5 of 6
A bitterly cold day today on the lights, but, once again, a very successful one. With repairs to the second machine done, we had both cherry pickers out and about, and delighted to have Chrissie driving number two, with all his customary care and attention. It is always good working with him.
We had all the lights on, testing; we fixed all the dud lamps with the exception of Cruxwell Street, where we have uncovered a problem with the timeswitch; plenty of time to get that fixed, hopefully. The latest digital timeswitches are a nightmare! What was the matter with simplicity?
The lanterns, all having been jet-washed during the week, have been erected, along with snowflakes, bows and other decorations. The last festoon has also been put up in Broad Street and Cruxwell Street. To end the day, we started putting the miniature lamps in the trees in the Square.
Thanks, as ever, are due to the Fox and Badger for their superb coffees, hot chocolate and scrumptious cake, which really are appreciated. Thanks also to the antique shop in the Square for tea, when we were suffering at the end of the day.
Next week; the big one, erecting the tree, and decorating it, plus the other “resident” trees. We will also be fixing Cruxwell Street. If all goes according to plan, we will be doing something special with fancy lamps as well, but more of that later. Also, back home, our refurbishment of a set piece from Blackpool is under way, and that is almost a full-time job in itself.
Sunday 30th October was a very successful day, despite still being down to a single machine. A very well organised back-up team made sure that all the set pieces and materials were delivered to the right place at the right time, giving a full day of virtually continuous progress.
All the main set pieces are now in place. There are, however, some omissions – the festoon from the Square to the Launderette has still to be erected, as is that across the front of the Leisure Centre. There is one set piece, yet to be completed, to go up outside “Food for All” and there are probably three days of work there for two people to get it done – plus the computer programming. These jobs are not quick!
Public comments about “how early the lights are being put up” resulted in David Grant being interviewed on BBC Hereford and Worcester at some awful time in the morning. In fact, the timings are exactly the same as they have been for probably thirty years. The lights are switched on to give five clear weeks up to Christmas Day. It takes us five Sundays to erect them (plus, of course, many more days background work), but of course we now spend an extra day beforehand checking wall anchorages.
Someone in high authority apparently said it took so long because we only work Sunday mornings! Our days are 9.30 to around 7.00, for the record…..
Next week, we hope to start testing the system, and correcting any faults, replacing faulty lamps and suchlike, plus making a start at erecting the lanterns and remaining festoon. The last Sunday sees the erection of the tree, dressing it with lighting, and lighting also the other trees in the Square – a job which takes virtually a full day for one gang.
There will be a Christmas Arts Fair at the Chapel in Sherford Street on 19th December to coincide with Christmas Lights Day. Details below:
During the week, Ted and Roger spent a good deal of Friday checking through the set pieces in the main store, replacing the ropelight where necessary, ready for erection.
“Young” David, with assistance from Roger, is busily rebuilding a set piece inherited from Blackpool (personalising it for Bromyard) and has also completed rebuilding the second ringing bell, at 24 volts, ready to put back opposite the Falcon.
Sunday was a good day, and even though we were down to one machine, and with a limited crew, we completed the festoon to Pump Street, High Street and Old Road.
Attention was then turned to set pieces, with the Snowmen, Mary and Child, Robin and four candles erected, plus “droppers” all through the town.
All the festoon is now up, except a bit in Cruxwell Street, and part of Broad Street, where we are hoping to try something new, but that depends upon an outside source. But, all in all, it was a good and productive session.
Our second Sunday has seen real results in the town, although due to problems with Machine No 2 we were down to just one cherry picker, but we made the very best use of it, with the gang not finally finishing until 7.00.
The gang – Ian, Edgar, Roo, Roger, David and Richard – completed the installation of festoon cabling to the Square, Twining Street and the top of Sherford Street, Church Street, and about half of Broad Street and High Street. Given the lack of parked vehicles in the Square, we decided to erect the more inaccessible set pieces in that area.
We have ordered some new lamps from Blackpool, and a start has been made on rebuilding a set piece from them as well. Over the years, we have done a lot of work on other people’s cast offs, from Hereford and Leominster in particular, stripping them back to the frames, and rebuilding them with new 24 volt LED ropelight, and designing and installing new controllers to give them movement and life.
In that way, we produce very greatly improved versions of the originals, at a fraction of the cost – albeit with many hours of work behind the scenes!
The work on the 2016 display is now under way, and last Sunday was spent doing the obligatory testing of a third of the wall anchorage bolts. Roger and Ian were, as usual, “up top” for this rather tedious but essential task, with Edgar and David W on the ground.
This was preceded by a trip to Coleshill a week beforehand to get our equipment calibrated. A long day, with nothing to really show for it – save some pretty orange tags on the tested bolts!
On Wednesday, three of us squeezed into Bryan James’s van for a run up to the Illuminations workshops in Blackpool, where we had a good catch up with their Director, Richard Ryan, who of course switched our lights on a few years back, and came back with various raw materials, and with more to order.
We always have a very warm welcome up there, and remain stunned at the incredible work that they do. Their staff has reduced from nearly 40 some years ago to 14 now, thanks to austerity cuts, and those left work very, very long hours to keep the six miles of illuminations going.
Our main work starts this Sunday, with the festoon cables going up, so evidence of our work will be very apparent afterwards.