7 December 2010 2 Comments

For Railway buffs…

For Railway buffs…

I’ve just been to see Reading’s biggest ever Christmas present. You’ve probably heard about the disruption to rail services  over Christmas, while they transfer operations from the old Reading signal box to a state of the art centre in Didcot and then haul a massive new 1000 ton steel bridge , which they’ve been building next to the station, to it’s final position across the Caversham Road where it will carry extra tracks. They say it’s the biggest operation on the line since the days of Brunel. They’ll be working 24/7 over  Christmas and New Year to make sure everything’s up and running by 4th January.

Bridge works 3.11I’ve been listening to stories about this for the past few months but this morning, it was awesome to stand in the old post office yard, looking up at the massive completed steel structure, clad in scaffolding, having it’s final waterproofing before the the big move begins on 31st December. It will take four days to get to it’s final position and the move has been carefully rehearsed on CAD systems, as there’s just 25cm of clearance between the bridge and the offices it passes on it’s way to Caversham Rd.

They won’t be using a crane , instead it will be moved by a self propelled modular transporter with  72 axles, each axle turning independently to allow for very precise movements.

If you live nearby and fancy a different start to 2011, the best time to watch the move will be from 8am on Jan 1st. They’re building a mini- grandstand for spectators.

photo-26I’ve never been in a signal box before, so it was great to have a final look at the room where they set 3,700 train routes a day. It wasn’t what I expected. The dark, womb -like atmosphere, the sixties equipment and the silent focus. It is the quietest place on the station.

If you’re a rail buff, check out the signal box website.

Back in the day the Reading Panel Signal Box was ‘BR’s widest ranging signal box’. But this will be the last year a Christmas tree lifts the atmospheric twilight, before progress and the new Thames Valley signal box at Didcot sweep it away.

TVSC desk view

13 November 2010 3 Comments

The “open ” MRI

The “open ” MRI

Just over ten years ago I was diagnosed with cancer and along with the obvious shock, fear and worry about the disease itself came other fears.

One of the most difficult experiences was having an MRI scan. It’s a really important tool for diagnosis and you’d think with everything else going on,having a scan would be the least of your worries. But I’m claustrophobic so it was a huge ordeal and one that I wouldn’t like to experience again.

Cross Section MRI Scanner - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory

Cross Section MRI Scanner - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory

Recently I’ve been in Windsor experiencing a machine which makes all those fears evaporate. I met Harry , who has prostrate cancer and knew after his first scan in a conventional MRI that, no matter how serious his condition, or how important the diagnosis, he’d never be able to get in one again.

So he was relieved to realise that there is now an alternative which takes all the anxiety away. The “open” MRI scanner is just what it says it is – a scanner which doesn’t feel in the least claustrophobic.


I thought it was worth flagging up because if you, like Harry and myself have huge anxiety about confined spaces and you know you need regular MRIs, it’s worth knowing there is an alternative.

19 September 2010 27 Comments

About Betty

About Betty

Very, very sadly, my Mum died two weeks ago. I didn’t feel comfortable blasting my grief across social media – but now it feels very odd not to confide in you brilliant, kind and witty people who’ve been such good company over the past couple of years.

If you’ve been through this,  you’ll know the wretchedness and childlike disbelief. You’ll understand how ridiculous  it seems that flowers she bought are only now starting to fade. The way I can’t sit in her kitchen and look at a plastic bucket or tin of shoe polish or the fruit cake she bought at the village fete two days before she died, without resenting the way they survive and she does not.

We’re a very close family and we’re doing our best to help each other. My lovely Dad, who met her sixty years ago, when he glanced up from the dance floor to the balcony of the Ritz ballroom in Manchester and spotted a pair of red shoes, has cried with us and shared his love, his memories and his agonies over the loss of someone he forever saw as that striking woman he walked  to Victoria Station to catch her last bus home.

I just wanted to let you know.

mum at kilworth house

24 August 2010 2 Comments

Science Book of The Year – the shortlist

Science Book of The Year – the shortlist

Two parcels will arrive at Downing Street and Whitehall this morning, with the  six books shortlisted for  the Science Book of the Year.

book prize parcels

I’m not sure I should really show you my bedroom at the moment. I’m still weaving my way through book stalagmites to get to my wardrobe…but that’s the only drawback to being invited to be one of the judges for the annual prize run by The Royal Society.

Beyond frightening. Books to be judged have just arrived. *wo... on TwitpicI was thrilled to be asked… not only because it’s such a treat to have the best science writing delivered to your door but it’s also a chance to meet some brilliant fellow judges : author Tracy Chevalier, comedian Robin Ince, and Professor Tim Birkhead and  Dr Janet Anders both Royal Society fellows. We’ve worked our way through a scary amount of coffee, cakes and biscuits to reach our decisions.

It’s been an absorbing, mind-stretching and challenging few months. Over 150 books, covering every imaginable area of Science. From sea ice to unknown medieval geniuses, the natural history of everything from unicorns to teenagers,the inner workings of the brain to the wonders of the universe.

book pilesThe 150 became 12 and we’re  now re-reading the final six, before making the final decision on the winner in October. In the meantime, I’d love to hear about the Science and Technology books you’ve enjoyed over the years, while I put up a few more bookshelves.