September Digest 2020

September Digest 2020


September 2020

“The older you get the more important it is not act your age”

Covid 19 consequence

As we lost many meetings due to the virus your committee decided we had paid insurance while our insurer was off risk.  The request for a refund was met with an offer of over £80 which we accepted.

August talk

Your editor in chief drew the short straw.  I was persuaded to summarise my time in the oil business that lasted from 1956 to 1996 .

My career was all to do with turning crude or better raw oil into marketable and useful products. 

Crude oil is found in most places in the world because it resulted from the decaying of trees that covered the earth millions of years ago.  Most became oil but peat and coal come from the same source.  Trees are made of mostly carbon which came from atmospheric carbon dioxide by photosynthesis.  The carbon dioxide was spewed out by volcanoes exactly as is happening right now. 

If you dwell on this a moment you will realise that most oil products are burned thus returning the original carbon into the atmosphere.  Looking forward, the greenhouse effect is going to warm the planet to the extent that complicated life will be eliminated and the trees will take over again.

What we know as oil would not exist but for carbons almost unique ability to attach itself to itself.   Silicon shares this property to a far lesser extent.

The carbon in oil is always associated with hydrogen which originated from water so are called hydrocarbons of which there are 3 basic sorts,  paraffin’s, isoparaffins and aromatics.

   H   H H H

    |   |  |  |


    |   |  |  |

   H  H  H  H

This is butane, a very basis paraffin.  If one of the H’s above or below were replaced by a C also with hydrogen hangers on is becomes an isoparaffin.  Make six carbon atoms form a ring and you get the simplest aromatic, benzene.

There is almost no limit to how many carbons get together so crude oil is a mix of methane to the tar used on our roads.

If you look at a refinery you will see it is dominated by towers.  These are distillation columns that separate it into the products you would recognise.  LPG, petrol, diesel, lubricating oil and bitumen or tar.  It would be nice if distillation got what is wanted and in the right proportion but it doesn’t.  It needs many secondary processes to make marketable stuff.  Also there can be nothing left over.  There is no such thing as a refinery slag heap!

When it comes to petrol I asked what is the second thing you look for when buying it?   My answer would be ‘octane’ number.  What’s that?  A brief definition would be, resistance to auto ignition.  The up stroke of a car engine compresses the mix of air and petrol.  At some point when you have squashed it enuff it will auto ignite or more crudely explode.  In a real car engine you hear pinking rather than allowing the spark plug to do what it is supposed to do.

To measure this many years ago an arbitrary scale was invented where octane became 100 and heptane zero.  So, 95 octane fuel equates to a mix of 95% octane and 5% heptane.

Now in the real world your cars engine has a fixed ability to squash so if it will run on 95 it makes no sense to buy the more expensive 98!

Incidentally, if you run a diesel none of this applies.  They operate by auto ignition hence they are noisy.

I spent time in UK, Japan, Germany, France,  USA, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and the Netherlands. I lived for a time in all but the first three.  Of these the most interesting was Saudi.  It was the best part of 2 years and as part of an expat community.  I showed several fotos of life there away from the office.  They are too many to show here but this is the one that got Jean off her seat for a closer look;

These were two of my Saudi colleagues visiting my home when I was half my present age.

The location was Jeddah on the Red Sea.  The country does not allow tourists and to get in you have to prove you are a believer.  There I learned how our number symbols are based on Arabic.  The jewel was the sea.  Snorkelling in there was in warm water and surrounded by tropical fish.  Our communal activities included a darts league, softball games and table tennis and snooker matches against the Japanese contractor.

Saudi is also the hub of the Islamic religion.  It turned out that all the pilgrims headed for the Haj in Mecca first came ashore in Jeddah.  I fotografed a huge building that was their stop over before going on.

Our group and many other westerners could have expected serious cultural differences to emerge.  The big one of course was prohibition of alcohol.  My theory is that because Saudi is one of the hottest places on earth it is downright dangerous to pass out inebriated in the scorching sun.  Thus prohibition eliminates that danger.

I soon learned that there was great tolerance to western ways.  There were no pubs or off licences but all the material to make your own was easily obtained.  I learned to make beer by the dustbinfull and wine by the gallon.  One of the US airline companies operated a still so whisky strength liquor was available for the frequent parties in what was the perfect evening temperature.

About the other countries I learned some national characteristics.  French are wingers and never far from striking.  Germans are formal.  In a mixed nationality meeting they will address non Germans by first name but each other as Herr (Mister).  Singapore is super clean.  Chewing gum is not even sold.  We called it a fine city as you can get fined for the most minor of offences.  Japanese are sweet and willing and love to decorate their streets.  The cruelty of WW2 is nowhere to be seen.

The lighter side

From a book of “Blackboard Blunders”

When we go and see my Nan she always gives us nise things to eat.  My mum has a current bum and I have a batenball cake.

Thoughts on Modern Life

Muddled messaging by the governments over Covid-19 has left much of the public confused.  Our August meeting attracted a normal number.  Two of my other groups won’t go near each other.  The rules on returning from Portugal are idiotic.  The first question to the Any Questions panel recently was. “If I return from Portugal to Liverpool Airport and then go home to Wales what am I supposed to do?”  It is easy to conclude that Whitehall is deliberately destroying the travel and leisure industry.


After much delay since the end of March when our old one was terminated Roger Savage of SAVS has made the new one ready for us to learn.  Jean, Margaret and myself have been given instructions on how to manage it and told to get familiar.  Once that is done it will be launched.  We know not many members use it and that is to be regretted.  It is, however, a valuable source of information for our speakers.

Dates for your Diary

30 September :  Lunch at the Brewer’s Fayre, Eastern Esplanade.  12 noon.  Tell Jean on 341047. 

21 October:  Members meeting, 1st floor Balmoral Centre.  2pm.  Balmoral is a “Covid-19 secure Community Facility”.  So do attend.

© JDS/ September 2020.  Tel 01702 472670