Director’s Diary: Schooling Fish and Doing Scales

This week we took part in celebrations for the arrival of Spring, with a Scandinavian food Market between the Norwegian and Finnish churches in Albion Street. There were crowds in the sunshinebut if you missed it, put the Yule market in your diary. At the museum, two new schools came to meet Mr Brunel. The Gallery Singers sang spirituals in the wonderful acoustics of the Grand Entrance Hall and in the Cafe Gallery, artist Ed Bucknell opened a show called Views from the Thames. These are exquisite miniatures painted on marble fragments. But more importantly, perhaps, we scooped a Tunnelling story:

LIQUID ENGINEERING

At a high level meeting yesterday, the board of Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) and High Speed 2 (HS2) agreed to build a new rail link between Paris and Birmingham. The new route will cut hours off the journey, sweeping up the Thames valley to Birmingham in an audacious curve. For much of the way, the railway will exactly follow the line of the River Thames, so resolving issues around disturbance and property values, and the engineers are already calling it H2O, which smells nicer than H2S. In France, a symmetrical loop via Boulogne Rouen and the Marne supplies the obvious acronym Ligne BRUM. Entering Paris from the east – Gare de Marne la Vallée Chessy – it will avoid all the congestion on busy TGV lines.

What is widely seen as something of a surprise decision has come about because of recent and groundbreaking advances in tunnelling technology. Sol Grabbit of CTRL explains:

‘Tunnelling methods today are very sophisticated, but there remains the problem of driving heavy and expensive machinery through variable ground. There is a tendency for bores to tangent through soft earth and, conversely, screw when the going is hard. It is not dissimilar to the golfer’s hook, or the batsman’s pull. This is why so many projects overspend and end up in the wrong borough.’

‘Unlike the very heterogeneous substrata of London, the water in the Thames is of uniform consistency from estuary to source. This makes water very easy to dig through, and more importantly, to dig through in a straight line. Tunnelling through the Thames, equipment will not veer to one side or the other, so there will be no expensive and time consuming course corrections. And we estimate savings of £175 million by tunnelling above rather than below Thames Tideway Tunnel’

This simple discovery is expected to revolutionise tunnelling in years to come. Engineers are also very interested in a methodology that is less invasive and much kinder to the ecosystem; green credentials are always important to companies taking on multi million pound projects. With this new method, there will be no spiralling costs seeking environmentally friendly methods of spoil removal. As the water is removed it will, self evidently, find its own level. If the water becomes too contaminated it can be discreetly dispensed in pubs at closing time.

The solution to finance – a problem that has vexed engineers since Marc Brunel’s days- is also quite simple. Firstly, wherever the tunnel finishes, the Frenchman pays for it. Secondly, there are potentially huge savings in construction costs, as all the machinery will be operated by specially trained intelligent fish.

Poisson d’Avril as the French say on 1st April.

Today in the Museum gardens, 175 intelligent fish are circling Brunel’s original shaft. The fish are not imaginary, they are very concrete and were made by local children under the supervision of artist Liz Leyh. Liz also made the concrete cows in Milton Keynes. She explained that working with cows meant you could milk a joke, but paradoxically, working with a large number of fish was easier because of the schooling. There are 175 fish and next year the Thames Tunnel (1843) celebrates its 175th anniversary.

Next week we welcome back Pop Up Opera with I Capuleti e i Montecchi (The Capulets & The Montagues) by Bellini. You may remember them from the Press launch last March. On Thursday the Anglo-Russian Culture Club offer Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov in their second monthly concert and on Friday Channel 5 film here and at Great Eastern launch ramps for a new series about Brunel. Every afternoon next week we have craft workshops for the school holidays and the usual heritage walks and boat trips. Details below:

Sunday 2nd April
10.40 riverside walk from Bermondsey tube offered in partnership with London Walks

Monday 3rd April
10.40 riverside walk from Bermondsey tube offered in partnership with London Walks
13.00-15.00 Arts & Crafts activities for Easter holidays. Drop in.

Tuesday 4th April
10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks
13.00-15.00 Arts & Crafts activities for Easter holidays. Drop in.
19.30 Pop Up Opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi (The Capulets & The Montagues) by Bellini
And Cocktails with the Midnight Apothecary

Wednesday 5th April
10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks
13.00-15.00 Arts & Crafts activities for Easter holidays. Drop in.
18.15 riverside walk from Bermondsey tube offered in partnership with London Walks
19.30 Pop Up Opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi (The Capulets & The Montagues) by Bellini
And Cocktails with the Midnight Apothecary

Thursday 6th April
10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks
13.00-15.00 Arts & Crafts activities for Easter holidays. Drop in.
19.30 Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov with Anglo-Russian Culture Club

Friday 7th April
10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks
13.00-15.00 Arts & Crafts activities for Easter holidays. Drop in.
Channel 5 filming here and at the Great Eastern launch ramps for a new series about Brunel.

Saturday 8th April
10.40 heritage boat trip from Embankment tube offered in partnership with London Walks
13.30 lunch at the Tunnel Club, Mayflower pub upper room

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