The Bedford HA Van Tapes an Introduction

Thirty years ago I embarked on my very first job, and subsequent unintentional career in the Water Industry. Not realizing it at the time, it was the best job in the world!

The 12 month contract consisted of two parts, the first part was to sample every (600 plus) private Drinking Water boreholes in East Anglia, the second part was to sample all Bathing Waters along the East Anglia Coastline. For my one day Induction I was provided with a van, sampling equipment no one knew how to operate, a full set of Ordnance Survey Maps and 6 different bosses depending on which county I was working in. In other words left to my own devices.

The van was a Bedford HA, first registered in 1976 (P Reg) . With a manual 4 speed gearbox (5 if you include reverse), a staggering top speed of 55 mph either with a tail wind or the drag of an Articulated lorry on the A1. Other quirks were a fuel filter I had to Hoover every week to stop the shards of the rusting tank blocking it and a starter motor I had to whack with a rubber camping mallet to nudge into operation. The latter events always nearly happened at somewhere embarrassing, for example the one way Huntingdon High Street, or a traffic light inter-change in the middle of Ipswich during rush-hour. However, second to my very first car a 1972 Ford Escort Pop, I loved this van for all its eccentricities.

The sampling equipment I was given was unique, so unique in fact that I was the only one who knew, through trial and error, how to operate it. I was given a depth charger!, a Casella (ironically manufactured in Bedford) and an array of ropes, poles and tin cans. For my on-site laboratory equipment I was given a suction pump with filter set, a Nessleriser 2150 with stand, about 200 meters of different diameter hoses, a large tub of jubilee clips, a Beaufort meter and a set of waders with a coloured scale on the toe-cap! The hoses and jubilee clips were the most important equipment of all, as they were used to carry-out a number of repairs including repairing the split fuel line of the HA which left me stranded somewhere between Market Deeping and the North Sea one foggy November.

30 years ago H&S and PPE was a low-key affair, just as well really as there are enough stories to tell on operating a depth charger to fill a chapter in a life of RIDDOR’s. The depth charger was a steel tube approx 1 meter along that contained a steel ‘hooked’ bolt (so that it wouldn’t fire straight out of the housing) which in turn was connected to an electronic firing mechanism. Its use was to sample well’s and boreholes that were over 30 meters deep, it had a range of 100 meters (the length of the power line). In basic terms the power cable was hooked up to a caravan battery (which was a chore to carry across muddy fields) and when lowered into the water you would fire the bolt which in turn filled up the vacated space with the sample water, a measly 250ml at best (I required about 5000ml!).

The problem was it was extremely temperamental; when connecting to the battery source if would often fire without the trigger, on one occasion I left it upright with the bolt loaded and on connection it put a hole in the concrete paving and jumped 30 ft in the air! Often it would fire on the slightest, jerk or knock, however you did not find out until you lifted it (it weighed a few kilos on its own so you never noticed the difference if it contained sample water or not). However the Casella was just as unreliable, a co-linked pulley mechanism ( 2 ropes) freed an air valve when submerged sucking the water through the inlet valve, however the knack of releasing the toggles on the valves when submerged was more luck than science. At least you could hitch up a litre of sample water when it did work.

As I was expected to plan and execute the sampling programme, so long as I achieved the fag packet targets (this was a state job, after all) I was pretty much left to my own arrangements. The second part of the job was a monthly programme of bathing water sampling. Raybans were optional as I had to plan the 30 odd locations based on high tides and good weather. Believe it or not the on site tests included counting the bathers in a sq km, measure the wind speed and to wade out and collect samples. The waders had a light to dark scale on the toe caps to measure the visibility/turbidity. As this was the North Sea the chances of counting bathers and having clear sea water were low, just as well considering how far the tide goes out on the East Coast! However on the rare nice days I may have made the most of a long lunch break.

There was a lot of travelling and the local radio stations were ‘real life’ Alan Partridge, so it became necessary to wire the old HA for sound. Using a couple of old Amstrad speakers I connected a Walkman that was an unwanted Christmas present I bought of a friend. I then recorded a collection of records either bought second-hand from Bob’s Records or borrowed from friends and two of my new bosses Messrs Brimley and Reeves who recommended the likes of Costello, Dylan, Springsteen and Young amongst many to an impressionable 18-year-old brought up on a teenage musical diet of new wave and heavy metal.

The Walkman was state of the art for the time, it even played both sides thus negating an awkward eject and spin whilst driving. This also meant I could master the art of ‘splicing’ (not a term you hear often these days) so that there was a neat seg-way between albums. It’s with a warm glow of nostalgia that I reminisce these tapes or cassettes to give them their proper name, TDK D90 the most popular choice, recollecting great memories of a young free and single life! The music I still own today, gosh knows how many copies of Forever Changes I have owned over the years, although I am ashamed to admit that none of the tapes (which was illegal at the time, according to the inner sleeve liners) have survived, then again I don’t have a device to play them on anyway.

During the course of the next few days, weeks probably months I will share these tapes as best my memory will allow, if only for the excuse to play such great albums in full again, as intended, like the old days when the term shuffle referred to a pack of cards.

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