Mumbles

For most people in Swansea, Mumbles head, with it’s lighthouse and distinctive twin tidal islands, is iconic. It can be seen from the whole 5 mile sweep of Swansea Bay and, by design, it’s lighthouse is visible much further away. I’ve written about it before, here.

The first lighthouse was built there in the late 18th century. It had two coal fired lights in open braziers. The island just out into the Bristol Channel and catches every last whisper of wind; keeping an exposed coal fire burning in those conditions was well nigh impossible. So it wasn’t long before the coal fires were replaced by enclosed oil lamps with reflectors to improve visibility. There was a house on the outermost island for the keeper to live in during his (or her – there were wives and daughters here sometimes) duty, which must have been a lonely existence.

Meanwhile, Napoleon was causing mayhem in Europe and to protect the country, coastal forts were built at strategic points. By this time, Swansea was an industrial centre producing copper and other metals and exporting coal. Copper was particularly important strategically as copper coated hulls allowed Nelson’s ships to move more quickly and maneuver more easily. Mumbles Head was the ideal place for a defences and in the early part of the 19th century a stone fort was built which still stands today. Over the years various guns were placed here. Initially, 6lb cannon protected the port and these were replaced by bigger calibres until 68lb cannon with a range of 5 miles were sited on the island.

Eventually, modern 4.7″ guns were emplaced on the island and the 68lb cannon were unceremoniously dumped into the sea. One was recovered in the 70s and is situated in Swansea Marina. During WW2, these guns formed the inspection battery part of the defences of the port of Swansea, which was one of the biggest Bristol Channel ports during the war. Their responsibility was to enforce the requirement for all shipping to stop and be identified before proceeding into the docks and they were manned by regulars of the 299th Coastal Defence Battery, with Home Guard units and women of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRENS).

A pair of 6″ guns formed the defence part of the battery and were sited further back on the mainland, above the Bracelet Bay car park. These heavier guns with their longer range and better visibility would have engaged any enemy shipping trying to enter the bay. Search lights and local defences completed the battery. Further back on Mumbles hill was the 623rd Heavy Anti-Aircraft battery comprising 4 x 5.5″ guns sited to engage enemy aircraft flying in to bomb Swansea.

The whole area was defended from attack by Territorial and Home Guard units in trenches, machine gun emplacements and pill boxes. A mobile 75mm gun was also available to be used where required and there were minefields laid for further protection.

Where Bracelet Bay car park is now were the Nissen huts and other temporary accommodation for the garrison troops. Immediately after the war, these were used for homeless refugees while new houses was built to replace those destroyed in the bombing of Swansea earlier in the war.

The islands are accessible at low tide. A concrete walkway built to improve access for the battery garrison was destroyed after the war when it was found to affect the way the tide interacted with the beach. As you walk out, you can see the remains of the walkway along with railway lines and, as you near the outer island, posts for guide railings. On the outer island, the Napoleonic fort forms part of the current lighthouse structure. Around it there are the remains of the buildings that made up the more modern defences. And engine room to provide power for the searchlights; barracks for the garrison; platforms for the defence of the island from landward attack and the two search light houses.

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The Simple Things

There are some simple things in life that really aren’t that hard to get right. This blog is about one of those things – customer service. ┬áThe basic premise for me, which holds true for many situations, is that if you promise to do something, then do it, or explain in good time why you can’t do it. The measure of good customer service is not just whether it is 100% perfect first time but how, when things do go wrong, it is dealt with.

Here are two recent examples that illustrate my viewpoint.

We are told that we are living in hard times, and small businesses are struggling. Support your local trader, they say. I used to support my local grocery shop until the first time we had a really bad snow fall, with roads blocked and traffic at a standstill. Then, to support the people he had previously asked to support his business, the owner of the shop raised all his prices. He’d had deliveries because he was on a main road. He just chose to support his profit margins rather than the loyal customers. He went out of business a little while later because we all stopped supporting him.

It sometimes seems, based on the level of customer service, that many traders don’t really need our business. In fact, it seems that they only provide us with a service out of a noble, charitable sense of duty. So when I went looking for someone to replace a gas fire and back boiler, I should have been eternally grateful that anyone was able to offer that service. And I was. He turned up, looked around a bit, muttered some technical stuff and then said he’d get back to me with a quote within a few days. That was four weeks ago. Clearly a more deserving cause came along and mine was relegated to a back burner. Or boiler?

The bigger companies are more financially sound and are able to help more people out of goodwill alone. So when I went to a big company to ask them if they would consider selling me a kitchen and fitting it too, I was a little more hopeful. And to it’s credit, the big company said “yes, we’d love to sell you a kitchen and we can get someone to fit it as well”. They did a good job of designing a kitchen just the way I wanted it. And since I’m not very good at that sort of thing, they also steered me away from the bizarre and unworkable ideas I’d had and gave me a practical solution. But silly me, I went away and decided that I couldn’t afford the quote and needed something a little less expensive. So I rang them up to ask if it was possible to save some money. Well, I tried ringing them up. But the first number I was given turned out to be a local insurance company, who explained that they didn’t offer a kitchen design service. I used the general number for the big company and for two days running, every time I got through someone picked the phone up and put it down immediately.

Not easily deterred, I finally got through on a different number they had forgotten to hide from me and explained to someone that I needed to save some money. I asked if it would be possible to do this when they came to my house to do a final measurement. They said yes and gave me an appointment, 11am today. I even checked that they had my address, to which the person said yes. Imagine my surprise when I had a phone call from the big company this morning to ask what I wanted from our meeting, and found out that the meeting was for midday, not 11am, and that no one was coming out to see me. I would have to go to the big company. Again.

Maybe I’m a fool, But I went. And to it’s credit, the big company managed to retrieve the situation. And that’s the measure. Yes, they shouldn’t have got things wrong in the first place but it was a simple mix up. The measure was that when I turned up a little annoyed at the big company, the gut I dealt with apologised, explained how he was going to make sure that didn’t happen again and provided a swift and pleasant service changing my design. The result – I placed an order with the big company, because they got their customer service right. And an added bonus is that they might be able to get me a gas fitter to do the fire and boiler.