2018 Light Brigade Update #7

christmas lightsWell, it’s Wednesday 27th, and I’ve just returned from our first tour around with the cherry picker, replacing dud or dull lamps, fixing broken holders and the other small faults.  Everything should now be working perfectly – but it will probably only take minutes for some lamp or other to pack up!  But it will probably never look better than now.

The switch-on went well from our point of view.  It was a bit of a frantic rush getting finished, with the re-programmed controllers for the new set pieces being completed the morning of the switch-on!  But, come the time, when our very own Edgar Whiteley pulled the big switch, everything came on as it should.  When the celebrity (whoever he or she might be) switches on the big switch (which lights up part of the Square and Sherford Street) other members of the crew immediately switch on the feeds which serve the rest of the Square, Church Street and Broad Street – then it’s a mad race, one team racing around the back street to the top, to throw switches, and the other up from the Laundrette going the other way. So that by the time all the public starts moving up, the lights should appear to all be on!

The day was wonderful, and plenty has been written about all the events.  But the Grotto has a special place in our hearts, with wives and friends running it, and we also help dress the amazing grotto structure.  But the reindeer; the music; the parade; the swingboats; this year it just seemed to be better than ever, so thanks to everyone involved.

Now we, the Light Brigade, have to keep up with regular inspection and repairs (which we pray are few) , until (hopefully) they are turned off and dismantled on Jan 6th.

2018 Light Brigade Update #6

Well, last Sunday was our last full day; and we are nearly finished!  The tree was delivered at 9.00am and we quickly got it lifted into place and packed, before zooming off to the top end of town to erect the cut-out memorial soldier over a white background, over the Robin, in time for the March after the service of remembrance in church.  There was a short service at the memorial garden there.  All the gang took time out to help steward the march, as we do every year.  Then one gang spent all day decorating the tree, whilst the other gang installed a new solid-state transformer in Pump Street, and erected the final set pieces, including the new Angel and Star in the Square, which are pretty impressive.  After testing, we have taken the controllers back to do some tweaking to the sequencing; they will be refitted on Saturday morning, along with a couple of other minor items.

Now – Saturday!  – the big day.  It is a pretty hectic time for the Brigade, who are mainly shifting chairs, tents, PA equipment and suchlike to enable the day to happen.  The Grotto crew have helped Santa wrap all his presents, and are lining themselves up for the big event. Let us hope the weather is kind, and the crowds have a great day.

2018 Light Brigade Update #4&5

bromyard christmas lightsWeeks four and five have seen some real hard work done – and the system is substantially complete, save for two new set pieces, a new power supply, and, of course, the tree – the biggest single job of them all!

The main jobs on week 4 were the completion of the smaller set pieces, and the installation of new festoon cabling to Pump Street, which has also been extended by two crossings towards the Bypass, with a view to a further extension, perhaps, to the bypass next year.  A lot of time was spent on the previous Saturday cutting and splicing the cables to fit, using the old cables as a template.

Week 5 stared with loading the big set pieces – the Cracker and the “Tree and Father Christmas”, together with all the lanterns, and taking them around town.  One crew then went about fixing the pieces and lanterns, whilst the other made all the electrical connections, turned on the various sections, and replaced all the dud lamps.  The day went well, despite the persistent drizzle – which soaked everyone.  Poor old Father Christmas, from the Dentists, had to be removed for repairs, as a substantial part of his red outline was faulty; the same happened with the reindeer on Shun Fat.  Both are being repaired ready for next week.  We also have to install a new transformer for Pump Street; the end of the line is deficient in volts so additional arrangements have to be put in place. It is proving to be a very busy week in various Light Brigade members’ workshops!

Behind the scenes, there have been many meetings of a combined Chamber / Light Brigade committee, expanding ideas and arrangements for the switch-on day.  The programme is out, and it promises to be a really good event.

2018 Light Brigade Update #3

christmas lightsWeek three saw a reduced team this week – we only had one cherry picker as the weather was perfect for planning the crops!  The farm must come first, and we are so fortunate with the help we get with the lights, and we never forget it.

Nevertheless, we got on and erected nearly all the wall-mounted displays, plus the festoon and wiring around the Square, reworked with further voltage changes.  We also erected a new span cable in the square, and two in Pump Street, where we became entangled with the poppy planting, and for the record got our pictures taken with the Mayor, Mayoress and all holding poppies!

The display is the most fantastic effort by the Bromyard Branch of the British Legion, and as fellow members of the Festivals association we salute them for the truly amazing – and most thought-provoking – display.

2018 Light Brigade Update #2

light brigadeDespite the pouring rain in the morning (and yes, we all get soaked to the skin) we had a good start to the building up of the system on our second Sunday.  The festoons – the rows of lights which go back and forth across the street – are complete from end to end, with the exception of the Square (where some remodelling is taking place) and Pump Street, where we are hopefully replacing the cabling as this is the oldest section still in use, plus, of course, extending it by a couple of crossings towards the bypass.  A keen crew, coupled with both cherry pickers, made for a good day’s work.  And thanks again to the Fox and Badger for coffee and hot chocolate, and some wonderful cake!

Two set pieces from years past have now been retired, namely Santa and his Sleigh, in the Square, and the large snowflake, also in the square (provided the new pieces are complete in time!).  These are old 240 volt units, which use a lot of power.  The change to LEDs has, overall, so far reduced our electricity consumption by 85%.  Hopefully, it will be even better this year.

2018 Light Brigade Update #1

Is it really that time already?  Do you put the lights up earlier and earlier?

Well, no we don’t.  The formula of five clear shopping weeks before Christmas for the switch-on has been in place for years, and it is that time of the year again, and on Sunday 7th October the Light Brigade started work on the 2018 display, initially by testing a third of the anchorages in the buildings around the town.  One week later, we will be starting putting the lights up proper, initially the festoon lights which zig-zag the way down the various streets.

Will there be anything new this year? – that is the other question.  Well, we are planning two new pieces, to replace two mains-powered units with new, low-voltage LED items, home-built as usual.  They may not be as large as the huge Christmas Tree with Father Christmas throwing up a star which was erected last year, but they all take a great deal of time to devise and manufacture.  There will hopefully be a small extension in Pump Street, although plans to reach the bypass may have been stymied by technical difficulties in getting the various permissions in place, so the final work there may be for next year.  Anyway, it all depends on the weather, and how well it all goes, so we will see.

As ever, apologies for the inevitable delays in town whilst we work.  It should be well worth it in the end!

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.