Light Brigade News 2017 #7

merry christmasThis blog post is really all about the mechanical side of the Christmas lights – for, for us, the switch-on was the culmination of all our work.

On the day, everything performed as it should. When Pam Guiver, that amazing exemplar of the Girl Guide movement, pulled down that big double knife switch, she really did turn on the lights – well about ten percent of them, as the switch, running on a 12 volt battery, turned on one feed by a system of relays. Three other people were in immediate sight of the podium – one, Edgar, about to celebrate his 80th birthday – and they switched on their feeds immediately afterwards, and then a couple of others sprinted up the street from switch to switch until all the feeds were on.

Walking back down against the crowd is just the very best of times, watching everyone look up at the lights, spotting new things, how things have changed. And people really do know their lights; many of the overheard comments make you realise some people don’t miss a thing!

Afterwards, for us, there is an awful lot of clearing up, removing the special switch-on cables, the loudspeakers, tents, chairs, barriers – all that stuff we had spent the morning putting together. And, of course, we seem to be strangely related to the grotto crew, who did a fantastic thing in setting up the new Grotto in the Falcon Mews to replace the much-missed Grotto which was built every year by Brian Johnson and his gang.

Now, a week later, we have had an hour out with a cherry-picker, repairing the feeds to two set-pieces, one on the Hop Pole, and one in Church Street, to make them work properly, sorting a few dud bulbs, and “droppers”, and resetting the Church Street clock, which was out of sequence.

Sunday saw two thirds of the Christmas tree out; we quickly realised that some mindless prune had climbed up the tree and pulled some plugs out. Apart from being highly dangerous, all that did was to try and ruin things. Now if that inventiveness could be reapplied, we would welcome some further help in building rather than destroying things – any takers!!??

We do, between us, go through the lights almost every evening, and try to put right any major problems that same night, if we can. Dud lamps will obviously build up over time, but having a period with no failures is always very welcome. Thankfully, with LED technology, problems are very much less than they were in the old days, and the system has been remarkably resilient in recent years – let us hope that continues! But with thousands of lamps, and dozens of circuits, there is bound to be the occasional failure. It is interesting that Blackpool has two cherry pickers plus an electrician at the depot working flat-out whenever their illuminations are on. Even the very best systems need continuous care.

Enjoy the lights; if you enjoy them half as much as we do putting them together, we will be well satisfied. Have the very best of Christmases, and a Prosperous and Peaceful New Year!

Light Brigade News 2017 #6

christmas cracker

The sixth – and final – Sunday of construction went really well, despite the odd shower, and a bitter cold wind.  All finished, apart from one piece which will hopefully be erected one evening this week.  The tree looks very fine, with Ian and David G doing the honours with arguably the worst job of all – dressing the tree with 150 metres of coloured and flashing LED lighting!  Baubles all in place.  A quick tidy up with outstanding small displays, and finally our version of the Dancing Diggers, hanging nets of miniature lIghts in the silver birch trees in the square.

Behind the scenes, the Grotto crew have been working like fury helping Santa wrap presents, and making arrangements for his new grotto in the Falcon.  David G has been chasing everyone up with their tasks for switch-on day with the benefit of his impressive and very daunting spreadsheet!  Now all we need is good weather, and a good crown for next Saturday.  A very pretty leaflet has been produced, and circulated very widely, so we should be sure of good coverage. See your there!

Light Brigade News 2017 #5

bromyard christmas lightsWe like to keep in close touch with Blackpool Illuminations, so four of us (totally at our own expense, I hasten to add!) took ourselves off up to Blackpool for a visit to their workshops last Friday.  As ever, we learned a great deal; about record keeping, electronics, new forms of transformers, mains switching and other matters, purchased some new flashing lamps, and agreed to buy replacement festoon cables ready to re-cable certain sections next year, where the cables and / or the lampholders are getting a bit long in the tooth.  Those people there are the true masters of the craft, and we had a good tour of the illuminations afterwards.  It is also good to see that those in charge up there are as enthusiastic and mad about their illuminations as ever.  All nerds together!  We must have been mad to do this in a day; it took six hours to get there, due to problems on the M6, and three back.

Back home, Sunday No.5 was devoted to going through all the lights so far erected, replacing dud lamps and correcting other faults, installing droppers and bows, testing all the trips for correct operation, and measuring the electricity consumption for the suppliers (subject to minor additions next week).  In case you were wondering, the supplies are, in the main, off spurs from the street lighting circuits, and unmetered.  We are billed by calculating the current flowing and specifying the hours of operation, and that gives an accurate figure.  With LED technology, we have seen a reduction of eighty percent in consumption.  If ever there was an advert for low-energy lighting, this is it.

We have also made a small extension down Sherford Street; we would like to do more here in due course and, if it were possible, extend Pump Street to the Bypass as well in the future, but there are many hurdles to be overcome.  Meanwhile, behind the scenes, work is going on building and rebuilding a couple of set pieces; a frantic race to get matters complete in time.  Arrangements for the switch-on are progressing; this year, the new Grotto will be at the Falcon; a full programme of events will be out this Wednesday, and distributed throughout the town.

Light Brigade News 2017 #3

light brigade in actionWeek three saw some quite substantial progress by the Light Brigade, with two machines working all day.  All the festoons (with the exception of one very short piece) plus one or two set pieces were erected.  Week four was even better, with all the remaining set pieces erected, with the exception of the “Trumpets” which are receiving some modifications to the electrics, and, of course, the Catherine Wheel, which used to be on the dentists’ facing up New Road, and which failed last year, and which, it is hoped, will be replaced by something new (and secret!) IF, and it is a big IF, it can be finished on time.  David Wilkins (third generation on the lights!) is working on this, with the help of Roo and his father.   Making one of these set pieces involves hours and hours of work; the frames are made from aluminium, cut and welded, then all the LED ropelights fitted, and wired up to the control box, which also has to be designed, built and programmed.  We use Arduino project computers, which are amazing but baffling bits of kit.  We will see…….

We are very grateful to Sal Handley for the use of her kit to move stuff around this year, following the retirement of Bryan James from the Light Brigade crew at the end of the last season.  We do miss his van, but the new arrangements are thankfully working very well.  Bryan is much missed but, following ill health, it was the right thing to do.  Meanwhile, our new member Paul is very welcome, and extremely useful; it’s great to have new blood in the team.

This weekend we will be going through the system, checking for dud lamps, and getting everything ready for the tree (always to biggest job of the lot) on the final Sunday.

Light Brigade News 2017 #2

Bromyard Christmas IlluminationsWeek Two of the 2017 setup – things are really beginning to appear in the streets ready for Christmas again.

The two Davids (Wilkins and Grant) were “up top” all day, erecting the festoon cables and lamps down Church Street, the top of Sherford Street and the full length of Broad Street, whilst Dafydd Williams fed the cable up.  Edgar, Roger and Sid chased around down on the ground, amongst other things replacing the worn-out sections in the Church Street cable with new material.

There was a major slow-up when it was discovered that a span cable had been brought down in Broad Street, by the looks of it by building operations, which meant replacing two anchorages and installing a new span cable, and repairing another.  A lot of time was also taken up with ensuring we had the right lamp sequence in Broad Street – you will have to wait until they are turned on to see the significance of that!

We were also very grateful to the Handley family for the loan of a trailer to move the equipment around.  Bryan James, to whom we owe very many thanks, has for many years provided a van from Bromyard Glass for this, but his semi-retirement, and reduced  energy following recent health problems, has meant he has had to retire from the gang – and we are all very sad that that has a happened.  Hence we have had to make new arrangements – which have thankfully worked very well.  Also present and correct was the late John Wilkins’s 1990 Volvo, which, for the last twenty five years, has been in use towing the equipment around.  It’s amazing how much the spirit of those old members of the gang who are no longer with us – John Wilkins, Bill Morris, Eric Gibbs and others – is still with us, and regularly recalled!

Light Brigade News 2017 #1

Christmas Tree In BromyardChristmas is coming……. Oh no! You can’t be starting on the lights already!

Every year people say that, but we have indeed now started, and indeed we have to programme six Sundays to get the lights erected and tested ready for the grand switch-on, which this year will be on November 18th.

October 8th saw a machine out, testing anchorages, with a crew of five.  Every year, on a three year cycle, we not only visually inspect the span wires and anchorages, but test the bolts by pulling them with a special device which applies a test load.  The anchorages are now labelled, and a test log kept.  This year, it was the turn of part of the Square, Pump Street, and everything above the Queen’s Arms.

Behind the scenes, preliminary work for a new set piece has commenced – drawn out in chalk on the garage floor! – and various new materials ordered and arrived, for we also have to replace some electrical cables this year as well.  We have also been out to inspect Christmas Trees, and agreed the purchase ready for delivery the week before the switch-on.

Next Sunday, erection will start in earnest, and we hope to have a good amount of the festoon installed, and it will be very obvious work is under way.

Light Brigade News 2016 #8

bromyard illuminationsWell, 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!

Light Brigade News 2016 #7

christmas lights -  fixing snowmanThursday 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.

Light Brigade News 2016 #6

merry christmas from bromyard christmas lights

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!