Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Boat that Guy Built - episode 4

The Boat that Guy Built 
Episode 4
March 2011

OK, there seems to be a view that I am dissing this programme, and that I really don't like it. This is well wide of the mark - its quite a charming series which totally  engages with the schoolboy scientist within. If I really found it annoying I wouldn't watch each week.

Mind  you, I still think there could be more about canals, but that clearly isn't going to happen so I will stop banging on about it.

Written as I watch:

So, tonight is on the theme of food - a subject which is close to my heart. First its make a can of baked beans, then make some cutlery and finally bake some bread and toast it in a 1st generation toaster. Lots of interest there.

Baked bean can
Baked beans in a can - how hard can that be? Well actually - very hard. Take a sheet of very thin iron in a Cannock "tinnery", do some magic with acid and water and then dip it in super heated and super expensive tin (£50k a drum). Cut out a top and a bottom, hammer the edges over and then solder the joints up. Its a slow job and 200 years ago a factory could produce maybe 60 per day, compared to 2,000 a minute today. Cans used to be a luxury item when they were invented in 1824.

Making the can, with its hole in the lid, was interesting but getting the beans in was pure slapstick. There was no way the beans were going down the funnel and in the  end they resorted to the time honored approach of stuffing them in with their fingers.

A quick shift up to Sheffield, cradle of UK cutlery manufacture - an area which used to make 97% of all the UK's cutlery. But wait a minute - did you know that to be cutlery the item has to "cut" so forks and knives are in but spoons are out. I never knew that.
Along the way they examined a spoon press and we saw a tiny reproduction of the Lords Prayer on a  pendant - a testimony to both Gods faithfulness and the quality of the Sheffield press setters.
The end result was impressive by any standard. I would be very proud of what Guy produced. Good on you mate.

Now this was a sort of a two part challenge. Guy was off to the Hovis factory where we learned about the hand mixing of wheat, water and yeast - oh and also the importance of washing your hands which probably isn't one of Guys strong points. I was particularly taken with the sight of the yeast being killed and reduced to a liquid by the addition of salt. Is there such a thing as the yeast protection league out there. 

My grandfather used to grow a yeast plant to supply his manufacture of ginger beer. Now Thomas W Cooke was a tee total man but with an inventive streak, and he loved making his ginger beer - and supplying me with a steady supply. What he didn't seem to realise (and my father found very funny) was that it had a super high alcohol content - on a par with the stongest beer. So there I was, an innocent little school boy downing half pints of a stong brew given to be by a very devout local preacher!

The bread looked excellent - as good as the stuff my mother used to bake. But of course, as a child I didn't appreciate it. It was so unfair - why couldn't I have plastic white shop bought like all my mates.  

And as for the toaster, Mave showed how to generate a stunning 10 milliwatts by turning a copper disc within a magnet. It wouldn't solve Japan's power crisis but it would be a whole lot safer. Then onto a rebuilt "Eclipse" toaster, manufactured by Crompton. I loved to see the bread cut with a tenon saw - I must try that at home one day, Belle would do her fruit!

The end result:

Beans - absolutely terrible but it was a cooking problem, not an issue with the tin.
Cutlery - a masterpiece of craftsmanship
Bread - superb
Toaster - well, it worked after a fashion

All in all - wern't those industrial revolution boyo's a bunch of clever chappies!

See - I can do a positive review.......


Nick said...

I think the problem with the beans, apart from not being cooked was the amount of salt...never seen anything like it

Halfie said...

Another great review, Andy. If you watch these programmes just as pure entertainment then few will be disappointed - and there are the occasional nuggets of engineering thrown in. I have a horrible feeling the salt pouring was for the camera's benefit - surely no-one could seriously have done that.

I think forks were also excluded from the term "cutlery", by the way.

Interestingly all four progs so far are still available on iPlayer.