The Music of Friendship


I love music, many styles as long as they are melodic and stir the soul. I was returning some CD’s to a friend and it made me realise just how many of the bands I like and have within my CD collection are ones I have been introduced to by friends. When I thought about it, whilst I have ‘discovered’ bands via other routes by far the majority have come from introductions from friends. This means now not only do I love the music and it may bring back memories of a gig, it can also bring back memories of the person and the occasion when I was first heard their music.

Take the favourite band of my teenage years, Status Quo, whilst they had some singles in the charts in the mid 80’s it was my woodwork teacher, Jim Boyd who lent me his vinyl back catalogue for me to listen to and copy to tape. What a great teacher – I won the schools prize for woodwork and took away with me a love for music which should really have been 10 years before my time – I continue to love the music of the mid 70’s.

Getting into Queen from this period was thanks to my college buddy Jon who I used to visit regularly and listen to his music as a group of us tackled ever more complex and geeky board games. I first heard AC DC with Jon too.  He’s still in geek in a black T-shirt, heavy metal remains only on the edge of the fringe of what I now enjoy.

Move on a few years to my time at University. I spend many really mellow evenings with the guy who was to become one of my closest friends and best man. Goodness only knows where he got his musical inspiration from – it was (and is) eclectic to say the least. He introduced me to lots of artists new to me, not all of them stuck, but many did – ELO, The Saw Doctors, Mary Black, Nancy Griffith and Donald Fagen. Our tea cupboard has a greater variety within it thanks to Richard too.

More on a few years again and my flatmate Tony, now a man of the cloth, introduced me to Deep Purple. What a find, what a drummer – whose patterns I copy to this day (I wonder if the church family realises where they’ve come from?). A new friend, Chris, is the person who lent me Made in Japan which was new to me and prompted me to think about this link between friends and music in the first place. I’ve never much been into live albums, but this is reputed to be the best of all time – I have no reason to disagree with this, thanks to Chris I bought my own copy.

This introduction to new delights does not stop though – just a couple of years ago a work colleague invited Mrs W and myself to a gig to see / hear ‘Show of Hands’ – Another fine find – folk music for the modern age. If you haven’t heard their song AIG, go onto YouTube or Grooveshark and look it up.

Whilst it may be true that I have come to love some bands through what I have heard on the radio, it’s interesting to me that most of my music has come to be through friends and has enriched my life still more than their friendship.

Thanks guys!

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HPV CommuteMachine II


Finally a picture, taken on my first proper ride on the new commuting machine – a 35 mile loop via my favourite cider mill (no prizes for guessing why!)

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HPV CommuteMachine

It always seems a shame to put up a post without a photo or two within it. Perhaps I’ll have chance to add one later. What follows is likely to bear relation to many people who have been bitten by the recumbent bug. One is never enough. I think the reason is clear and normally unspoken….   For all the advantages of riding recumbent, the challenge is which design of bike or trike to choose.   When you have a choice with anything in life you have to play the pluses against the minuses – but with ‘bents the designs we have today, I am not aware of a machine out there which has the breadth of utility of a conventional diamond-frame design. With my 531 steel tourer, a little gentle off road is OK, riding with a group of roadies is OK and it’s good for commuting to work, pulling a kiddy trailer and of course it excels at touring. But if such true versatility exists in a ‘bent I have yet to see the design to achieve this. I would however be delighted to be corrected on this, dear reader.

My recumbent journey started with a trike. I opted for full suspension as it had 20” wheels and being a ‘bent I could not hitch myself out of the saddle for pot holes. It was supremely comfortable and an enormous amount of fun. It was fabulous for commuting and OK for short local day rides. However for longer day rides or touring the mechanical inefficiency of having three wheels on the road, the losses into the suspension / chain tubes and the weight meant that 40 miles felt like 60, especially when hauling panniers or a baby trailer. I did take it on a tour  which I really enjoyed, but it was too hard work up hills with a load. As I say, 40 miles felt like 60. It was however great in the snow and I think it is this capability that I will miss most, but probably only for one week every five years. She is now sold.

My downfall was looking for the most efficient long distance, hill climbing machine on the market. There seemed to be two designs considered to contend for this prize. The Lightning P38  and the Metabike.   I did get to sit on a P38 thanks to a kind young lady in Edinburgh who dropped into Laid Back Bikes (LBB) when I was there for a test ride. But in that short time I simply could master riding it. Also, it had a 20” unsuspended front wheel which from my experience is just not practical on British roads where we don’t so much ride on the left of the road as ride on what is left of the road!  Whilst I was at LBB I tried a Nazca Fuego (20” unsuspended front wheel) and whilst this was great in many ways, on Edinburgh cobbles it did seek to shake out all my fillings! So having tried a few designs I opted for the Metabike, where the 28” wheels take the edge off the British roads without having the inherent inefficiency of mechanical suspension. It was and is great, but as I said it was also my downfall. This showed me just how fast and efficient a ‘bent could be.  It doesn’t have suspension or chain tube losses, it isn’t heavy and yet the frame is braced and stiff. It allows me average speeds, over the same route, some 2 mph faster than my standard touring bike. So I found I did not need to compromise efficiency to enjoy the laid back posture of ‘bent riding, from then on the days were numbered for the trike.

However, whilst the Metabike is truly fabulous for day rides and touring, and if you are a regular reader you’ll know I rode along the Pennines / Spine of the England in the summer, it is not ideal for commuting in stop / start commuter traffic.   So what to do if I want to keep my ‘bent muscles working between tours, have the pleasure of a laid back commute into work but not be peddling something I know is far harder (less efficient) that I know it could be? It was time to research a compromise machine. Something easier to balance in stop/start traffic, good over potholes and yet not as inefficient as the trike… I guess it should be no surprise that my choice was to be the recumbent which is the most popular in the UK. Others also must have been looking for a versatile machine, and perhaps it is what I should have started with too. That said, hindsight is always 20:20!

So three weeks ago I went for a long drive to test ride, then purchase and bring home a second hand HPV Streetmachine GTe.   The first thing it needed was a change of drive chain to lose the grip shifts and 8 speed rear mech. My thanks to the ever helpful Richard at ATR Cycles for his advice and speedy work upgrading me to bar end shifters, cable oilers (ready for the winter) and rear cassette. She is now a great ride. Not as efficient as the Metabike, but on the spectrum from suspended trike to High Racer I know I am far closer to the High Racer end of the range. And for me efficiency really matters, not just as a concept but because my commute home involves picking up my son in his trailer and then cycling up hill to get home.

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‘bent over the Pennines 5th and Final Day : Holmfirth to Ilam – 60 miles

Life has rather got in the way of blogging, so the conclusion of my tour notes has been somewhat delayed. For this, dear reader, I apologise. However the distractions have all been good ones! When I left off I had just reached Holmfirth, stopping some 10-12 miles before my planned end point because day four had proved to be the meanest stretch that the Pennines would have to offer. The Holme Valley Campsite proved to be very good. That it was so quiet was not be expected from the map, falling as it does between two busy A roads. However not only was it a haven of peace, the staff were fabulous and hospitable too. Also their new shower block was nothing short of the state of the art – and no coin slots for the showers. What a welcome change compared to our time in Barnoldswick.

early_LOTSW_5Rolling back into the town centre was an easy start, but Holme Moss was there waiting for me. Once again the initial climb was very steep, but soon settled out to a manageable 1:7. The TDF went this way, but took the A6024 over the fell which was (once again) a slightly easier route than NCN 68. If I were to do it again, I’d follow the A road, as the support van reported that this was a pretty quiet road even at around 5 pm. On top of the fell is was a little misty, the first less than perfect weather of the trip. However I was soon down from height and barreling down towards the Woodhead Pass (A628). Luckily I joined this on a downhill section (heading West) and so was able to keep up a respectable 38-40 mph and was thus not so much slower than the trucks. There were plenty of those and I was glad to get to the Torside Resovoir and onto the B road on the other side. The ride down into Glossop was both glorious and all but traffic free. I didn’t stop in the town, nothing invited me to do so and it was busy with traffic as usual. The really steep hills were now behind me, but there were still a couple of significant climbs ahead. The countryside rolled and swayed as I entered Derbyshire and apart from one navigational error it was an easy ride to my lunch spot. The wind had built up, and whilst this is not a big issue peddling a ‘bent, it did mean seeking cover for my lunch. The Pack Horse Inn filled my beer stomach nicely, and after a rest it was time to hit the road again. My hope (which turned out to be realized) was that this should turn out to be the easiest afternoon of the trip.   In terms of what I had seen up until this point, really there was only one more ‘real hill’ to get over that day. This was just outside Buxton. I deviated away from NCN 68 as my advice had told me that ‘off road’ section was far too rough for me. Sticking to the A5004 I thought I had ‘hit the wall’. Instead it turns out that Long Hill is aptly named. I could see that I was on the side of a hill, but not until the road snaked back on itself did I get to see where I had come from… And this told me that I was not running out of steam, I was instead battling up a very long [if gentle] climb. This was finally rewarded by a sweeping decent into Buxton and a trip to Gregg’s to try out a couple of their Danish Pastries. Two for the price of one, it would have been rude not to! Mrs W and the support van arrived in town just after me and together we had a fun conversation with a cycling cleric who wanted to know more about my Metabike. What a great chap he was and I was buoyed up for the final leg with the assurance that ‘there are no more big hills South of here.’

The Quiet Woman PH

10 miles outside of Buxton I joined the Monsal Trail. The surface was much better than I remembered from my last trip here in 2005. Perhaps it had been improved? The dry weather will have helped. Now the challenge was on; would I be able to complete the final 20 miles before dinner time / my own personal energy store ran low? A nice flat level trail really is ‘bent country, and apart from negotiating around dawdling grockels I was managing 20-22 mph all the way. This suggested that I would get to Ilam, my end destination within the hour. This is in fact exactly what happened. Whilst lacking in geological drama, the rail-bed route made up for this with bucolic views seen at high speed, or at least what is high speed for a long distance tourist at the end of a long day.

Our final campsite proved to be the delight we hoped it would be. The NT site at Ilam Hall. A little luxury and the chance for a couple of days family time at the end of the tour.

Ilam HallSo would I recommend NCN 68? A qualified yes… …the scenery was outstanding, the route quiet (apart from the Woodhead Pass!) and the sense of achievement massive. I’m glad I got the chance to do it ‘supported’ however and did not have the weight of touring gear. Given the hills on days three and four, very short days would have been in order had I had this weight with me. I would have added a day. However I had no weight, so for me it as an excellent route.  Pleasingly also, I can counter the misconception that ‘bents cannot climb.   It is true that a lot of ‘bents ate built for comfort rather than speed, but there are at least two designs out there which have the same / very similar mechanical efficiency to the standard diamond frame design and the Metabike is one of those. So it was a great route for a great bike – luckily I was on just such a machine and had great weather thrown in for good measure.

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‘bent over the Pennines Day 4 : Salterforth to Holmfirth – 41 (hard) miles

IMG_6419The campsite at Salterforth had little to recommend it apart from its convenient location so I headed out early along the canal towpath towards Foulridge. The flat start to the day was to be a vast contrast to what was waiting beyond Colne. The next three valleys I was to cross seemed to have near vertical sides to them, and the initial climb was tough to impossible in each case. Could I have ridden all the way up these on a conventional bike? Somehow I doubt it would have been possible even then. However, in each case the gradient soon reduced some quarter of a mile up each climb into something steady and manageable. The tops of the fells were at their very best in the glorious sunshine. Reservoirs were features at the top of each of these fells and they were lovely in each case


On one fell top, as I stopped for a drink, I met the only people I was to meet on the tour who were riding the same route as me – NCN 68. They were heading North and were keen to hear which sections of ‘off road’ where OK to tackle and which to avoid. As I said in an earlier post I was indebted to the group from CTC Cambridge whose blog had given me the low down on this and had guided me well on all but the rail bed of day 1.

The next landmark was the M62. Whilst I was doing this ride to enjoy the wild splendor of the hills, there always seems something special about crossing a motorway. Perhaps this is because of my penchant for riding or walking ‘Coast to Coast’ and because the M6 and A1 feel like major milestones on such crossings? Route 68 takes a tunnel under the M62 which was rather fun.

It was time for a rest when I reached bustling Hebden Bridge and time to top of up water. The Metabike turned heads and a number of people were keen to know ‘how do you start off on that thing’ and ‘can we watch you set off?’ It pays not to be too shy if you ride a ‘bent because you are always going to stand out from the crowd. I decided to follow the canal towards Sowerby Bridge but soon found this too slow for my liking. Also I simply didn’t feel confident riding over the cobbles which seemed to be a feature under each bridge so I headed out onto the A646. Route 68 takes you South of the canal on minor roads, but this would have been very up and down. After my climb over the fells from Colne I wanted lunch before I tackled anything too challenging again.

IMG_6426On the outskirts of Sowerby Bridge ‘Friendly Fisheries’ came into view and this looked a good place/plaice to buy lunch. The day was sunny and warm, the hills significant and your truly was good and sweaty. As the lady behind the counter rooted through the Haddock to choose one to fry she seemed to be paying undue attention to the task. I must have looked like I’d done a good mornings work because the result, once cooked, was a very big portion – I must have conveyed the full hunger I was feeling! Once again I had to push the bike up the initial ascent out of Sowerby Bridge– but a bench at the top of the steep section gave me a lunch-spot with a view over the town.

This time the fell had a greater length of elevated section which I enjoyed greatly. Once again there was an attractive reservoir to ride around. Interestingly some of the reservoirs in this area provide water to the high sections of the local canals rather than drinking water. Finally I descended through the attractive and amusingly titled Upper Thong. My schoolboy mind boggled! It had been the toughest day yet by some margin and it was almost dinner time when I peddled into the attractive Holme Valley campsite just outside Holmfirth. I was to save Holm Moss, made famous by day two of the TDF until the morning.

Coming soon – Holmforth to Dovedale, the concluding section of my Spine of England tour.

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‘bent over the Pennines Day 3 – Castle Bolton to Salterforth – 45 miles

IMG_6412The start of the day took me along Wensleydale; fast riding with gentle undulations. Soon however, the climb up into Coverdale began along with the wonderful views which this affords. For most of the ride up this Dale the gradients are gentle, but you know you are heading ever upwards. Finally the string of settlements come to an end and the real climbing, up the Flank of Great Whernside, begins. Once above the treeline, the views stretch a long way and you really feel a sense of exhilarating isolation. The final stretch of climb saw me walking on two occasions, but thanks to a quick prayer, the clouds depositing their blessings into the next valley and not onto me. A climb like this, in summer, in Goretex would have been very warm indeed. The view from Park Rash Pass made me feel I was looking down on the whole of the Dales.

The descent towards Kettlewell was steep and winding, the 25% sections reminding me why I’ve always ridden this from NE to SW and not in reverse. Descending a 25% gradient on a recumbent is an odd sensation as it almost feels as if you are standing upright.

I was feeling tired as I headed along Wharfedale towards Grassington and glad to be following the valley floor. Lunchtime would see me all but on the edge of the Dales and about to leave Yorkshire for Lancashire. My support crew met me Hetton for lunch and I was able to shelter from the lunchtime shower in the van, Barm cake in hand.

I was now back on familiar ground with my route criss-crossing the Leeds to Liverpool Canal through Gargrave and Barnoldswick and finishing in Salterforth. I was now on the route I took when I first took the Metabike out for a long ride. Finishing mid-afternoon gave time for Nathan to enjoy an a bath ‘al fresco…


…and then for the whole family to take a walk along the canal, albeit in the rain which I had managed to miss seeing close up all day.

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‘bent over the Pennines Day 2 – Appleby to Castle Bolton – 40 miles

After rain overnight, the weather cleared for another dry sunny day. This was to be the dawn of the greatest day of cycling I’ve ever enjoyed in the UK.   The day started on gentle rolling terrain heading East into Kirkby Steven. Mellow riding in lovely sunshine. The gentle ripples of the landscape became ever bigger, just like the pattern of waves on a pond as you look towards where the stone plopped into the water. I was now on the same roads as the part of our extended Dales Cycleway but without any hint of rain this time. Then I came to Barras and what a mighty slope faces you when you leave the village on the Tan Hill Road. Last time it beat me, but this time I conquered! Once up the steep section it was then a really pleasant gentle climb all the way up to the highest pub in England. The views just got better and better as I climbed. I recalled slogging up here in heavy rain just a few weeks previously – what a difference some sunshine makes (I imagine the lack of a 20 kg trailer helped a little too). I was buoyed up by the time I reached the Tan Hill Inn and had worked up a thirst.


Suitably hydrated I headed up onto Arkengarthdale Moor which yielded a fabulous vista over Yorkshire to the West, whilst temptingly hiding the delights of Swaledale to the East. A satisfying flat section (possibly the last I was going to see before reaching Derbyshire three days later) the gave way to a sweeping descent towards the fabulously named Whaw – and phwoar! what a view greeted me there.


A cheeky little climb is all the stood between me and the steep drop into Reeth and my lunch spot – sat on the green in the sunshine alongside the support crew who met me for lunch.

ReethThere wasn’t far to go now, it being a day it would not be practical to extend. You don’t just slip Coverdale onto the end of a day as an afterthought, well not unless you are Sir Bradley anyway. Next was [Côte de] Grinton Moor – one of the climbs on Le Grand Depart. I noted that the TDF route took the lower, easier road over the aptly named Wimp Hill… I took the route over the top on the Dales Cycleway, although admittedly I did have to stop for a puff on a few occasions on the way up. On a recumbent you have to spin up a hill, which is OK unless the hill is too steep for too long. A short section of 1:5 is OK, as is many miles of 1:8 but something in between can leave you anoxic. Once again, what was steep at the start settled out as soon as the first 10% was out of the way. How lovely to then freewheel down into Wensleydale, the home of Wallace’s favourite cheese and a chance to take Mrs W (and Junior) out to the Bolton Arms to celebrate our 8th wedding anniversary. And since this is apparently the ‘salt’ anniversary, chips were a cultural must. What a truly great day.

 Coming soon ‘bent over the Pennines Day 3 – Castle Bolton to Barnoldswick.

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The Spine of England Cycle Tour – or ‘bent over the Pennines!

Day 1 – Haltwhistle to Appleby-in-Westmorland – 57 miles

 When pondering what to do for our next holiday, Mrs W came up with an interesting and very generous idea. ‘Why don’t you find a route you want to ride, and Junior and I will drive along in the [camper] van as your support vehicle, meeting you for lunch and each evening.’ So I found a topographical map of the UK with all the long distance Sustrans trails overlaid on it – Route 68, or the ‘Pennine Cycleway’ jumped out as being an ideal length and also, given the terrain, a good route to ride supported rather when hauling panniers.  Ideal for the Metabike.

A long stretch of the Northern end of route 68 is on ‘non road’ cycle routes. A helpful blog account of someone else’s experience of the ride told me this would be far from ideal on my very rigid recumbent, so I started on the Northumbria border at Haltwhilstle.

The start of the ride

The start of the ride

The initial cycle-route was tarmac paved and a pleasure to ride along. However after a few miles the surface changed to cinder track – OK – and then to crude hogging and then ran mostly in tree lined cuttings. The surface required a a good deal of concentration meaning I could not look at the view, and then in the cuttings there was nothing to see but trees anyway. Luckily my GPS Map told me I was about to come alongside the A689 which also went to my next waypoint of Alston. Normally I’d avoid A roads, but it seemed a better option so I hopped off onto it. In fact it was quiet, and for anyone wishing to ride this route who wants to see the gorgeous Northern Pennines rather than tree lined cuttings I would recommend it. It runs all the way from Haltwhistle to Alston.

 The route then continued on the road and took me towards the infamous Hartside. I had memories of climbing over this 1900’ hill from two years previously as it also features on the C2C route. Last time we had approached it from the West and into a headwind blowing at a bracing Force 7 (I did see one lad blown over backwards – akin to a wheelie going to far – by the wind last time…). Ironically I found myself facing a headwind again despite now approaching from the East! However, not only was it only very modest, I experienced the benefit of riding recumbent and it had very little impact on me at all. Hartside, I’ve now come to learn, is an easier prospect from the East. It is a longer, more gentle and more consistent gradient.   Nevertheless getting to the top felt good.

Hartside Summit

Hartside Summit

The route then took me on flatter ground with the hills to my right. Lovely views tracked me all the way to Dufton. This was were I was ‘due’ to stop for the day. But it was only 1430, I felt good and the campsite looked less than inviting so after a call to the support crew we decided to meet up for the night in a campsite just outside Appleby. The final sweep into Appleby was glorious, with a slight downward slope following a very pretty stream into the outskirts of the town. Ideal ‘bent terrain which I enjoyed to its best employing the ‘big cog’ and getting up a good speed until reaching the town itself. A close look at the map suggested that it would be possible to bypass the town and cut a couple of miles off of my ‘extended’ day by taking advantage of a footbridge across the River Eden. After then a total of 57 miles I met up with the family and the van for the night.

Coming soon – ‘bent over the Pennines Day 2 : Appleby to Castle Bolton via Tan Hill…

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On yer bike again..and a rant


A good list from James which all car drivers should read. If every one road a bike for a while then we’d all be better drivers (not just a flippant comment, but a statistically proven fact)

Originally posted on Bike Around Britain:

It’s been great getting back on my bike again over the last few weeks, after a significant pause due to travelling for work and being otherwise busy. I turned 39 over the weekend and have resolved to try and manage my work-life balance a bit better, and to get healthier both in body and spirit. Being totally focused on the job just isn’t good for oneself, and actually makes you less productive at work; starting to write my blog again will no doubt keep me motivated.

The last major cycling I did was back in March when I took a holiday in Tenerife with my brother, sister-in-law and their kids. It was a great break, and Tenerife is brilliant for cycling; many a professional team have training camps out there. I hired a bike for a few days and cycled up Mount Teide, Tenerife’s volcano and one of the longest…

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The best (technical) question I think I’ve ever been asked…

Over the thirteen years I’ve been employed as ‘Technical Support’ on various chemical plants and processes I’ve had a good number of unusual requests : What would be the relative stability of iridium verses ruthenium acetate when mixed with soil? Why does the calcium level in our product seem to trend with the extent of local rainfall? What are these cheap carbon monoxide sensor actually made of? Can I tell someone if the black solid coming out of their new plumbing is coming from their old lead piping? The cork is stuck in this wine bottle, do I know clever way to get it out (I did – I used the differential expansion rates of glass (fast) and cork (slow) and heated the neck of the bottle under hot running water).

 But last week I believe I had a question to top them all. “My white horse has poo staining on the skin of his buttocks – what would I suggest to get it off? I’ve already tried bleach, Napisan and oven cleaner.” First let me say I would not advise the application of any of these products to the skin or any animal or any human for that matter. I once worked with a chap you used bleach to remove silver oxide stains from his skin at the end of a shift – it is true that it removed the silver, but it also removed a significant amount of skin (so don’t try this one at home.)

 I wondered if the question came to me because Mrs W is a vet or whether as the senior chemist on site this was a question I would be expected to answer? I like to think the latter, but I guess when my applied biochemistry lectures covered the removal of stains from horses rear quarters I must have dosed off and missed that section.

 In fact advice on the removal of metal / metal salt residues from reactor walls was a relatively common question in my last but one job. However generally this was related to ruthenium or palladium and not poo! However a question is a problem, and a problem can always be broken down and then a solution can be devised by finding the key part of the deconstructed problem. It was fortunate that I had been of enquiring mind when changing the nappy of our son a few weeks ago and was reminded that poo comes in many colours. So my wife being a vet (and thus an expert in all things excreted) I asked, because she was on hand and I’d never pondered the question before in the last 40 years, what is it that makes poo brown? The answer? Old discarded blood cells. So of course the reason behind the colour of blood is the iron in the hemoglobin . So my question was really – how can you solubilise an iron salt impregnated into skin to be able to wash it out? It is clear that the use of bleach (hypochlorite) or nappy cleaner (peroxide) was never going to help.

 So I asked myself – how would I remove iron salts from a reactor? Nitric or hydrochloride acids would both be good choices, but in my case this would be rather bad news for the horse. Then I thought again, what could I use to complex the iron and render it soluble? Well that is something of a schoolboy question when you think like that – EDTA would surely be a great choice. I recall my Ph.D supervisor demonstrating some iron chemistry in a champagne bottle in a lecture and getting his reagent levels a little wrong a coating the first two rows of the lecture theatre in iron oxide – and then a number of us in the lab having a lot of buckets of clothes to clean on his behalf, we used EDTA solutions. To bring this ever lengthening story to a close – it worked. The horse is fit to go to a show in the summer and the groom made me a proposal of marriage she was so surprised that I had suggested something that worked. Of course I politely declined, but figure this was the most effective problem solving I’ve done on site this month and the most obscure question I’ve get been asked in my role as Technical Support. Do keep them coming though…

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