BUNHILL : Made in Britain: lighting up Mongolia

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The Independent Online
IT IS NOT often that Bunhill receives letters from former ambassadors to Mongolia, so it seems essential to publish this one. It is from John Colvin - our man in Ulan Bator from 1970 to 1975. I have been looking for ancient, but still working bits of machinery, and although Mr Colvin's contribution is not particularly ancient, it makes up for that with its exotic location.

Here is what he says: "The coal-driven electricity generating station at Karakoram, Genghis Khan's former capital in Mongolia, included three turbines manufactured by Hick Hargreaves and Co of Bolton, with other equipment provided by Hopkinson of Huddersfield, a rum sight in the People's Republic of Mongolia.

"Their technician, a genial Pole from former General Anders' army, said that all the British equipment had been given by Britain to Poland in 1946, through the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, and thence made its way to Mongolia. It was working well."

Mr Colvin adds a plug for his book. It is Twice Around the World (Leo Cooper 1991), and contains "these and other sexy details".

Closer to home, but older, is the press used by the Lymington Times until three weeks ago. Charles Curry, the editor/ owner, says it was made in about 1903 by the Northern Engineering and Motor Boat Co, of Sunderland, with electrical equipment by Fryer and Co of Paddington. It was originally used by the London Star, before finding its way to King and Hutchings, a printer in Uxbridge. Mr Curry bought it in 1950 "because there wasn't anything else at that price". Having adapted it so that it could produce a 32-page paper, he used it until it was displaced by a new machine - which is a mere 30 years old.

Topping this is the silk machinery my colleague Paul Rodgers has winkled out in Essex - 150 years old and still spinning. This tale is too grand for Bunhill, so please read the story above.

CONGRATULATIONS to Eric Deblonde, chief executive of the Four Seasons Hotel in London. He has been made a Chevalier de l'Ordre du Merite Agricole - which means, more or less, Knight of the Common Agricultural Policy.

I was particularly intrigued to see that this is the oldest of the French orders of merit, which is how it should be. France knows where its roots are - the soil - and it does everything it can to defend them. It made me wonder why we have the Order of the Bath. Was it an attempt to distinguish our fragrant selves from the slurry-covered enemy across the Channel, perhaps?

I also wonder whether young Mr Major could foster his attempts at "democratising" honours by inventing a new one more in keeping with the times. Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Council Tax, maybe, or Chevalier of the Share Option. Let me know what the new orders should be called, and which business people should be awarded them, and you could win a bottle of Bunhill's fizziest.

Jobs for the toys

IF ANY of you has been worrying what has happened to Steve Jobs, the man who created Apple Computer but who left it 10 years ago, please stop. You will soon know more than you wanted. Mr Jobs, who is still only 40, runs a company called Pixar, which has just produced "the first completely computer-animated feature film in the history of motion pictures". It is called Toy Story, it opens in American cinemas later this month, and it is a co-production with Disney, which means it will not fail for lack of any publicity.

I'm sure it will be terrifically successful. It begins in a young boy's bedroom, where the toys come to life when people aren't around. The hero is a cowboy called Woody, and his rival is a Space Ranger called Buzz Lightyear. The film also features a host of other toys, including Rex, a green plastic tyrannosaurus, and Mr Potato Head, who is already part of the Hasbro line-up.

I may be a little cynical, but I can't help wondering whether the film's makers had any thoughts of the money that could be generated by selling toys linked to the film. No, surely not, it was an unworthy thought that I will banish from my mind.

AT THE risk of being vulgar, I would like tell you about an American gentleman who sells what he calls "salonwear", I think for people who work in beauty parlours. He goes by the name of Ivan Bonk and he offers a Velcro Body Wrap at $18.50, a Terry Facial Headband at $3.95 and Sleeveless Moo-Moo for $20. I found him advertising his wares on the Internet: this is yet more proof that this device is indeed an inestimable boon to modern living.

Stolen reputation

I WAS depressed to discover that in an epidemic of luxury car thefts in Hong Kong, Mercedes, BMWs, Lexuses and even Mazdas were disappearing by the containerful, and resurfacing on the streets of China. But Jaguars stayed stubbornly parked outside their owners' homes. It would be nice to think this was because Jags had such terrific anti-theft devices, but my sources in Asia tell me this is not so. The Chinese simply don't want them, even for free.

I suggest a mission statement for the folks in Coventry: "We aim to have at least as many of our cars stolen in Hong Kong as BMW and Mercedes together." This surely is the route to achieving total quality.

THE Bunhill organisation temporarily decamped to Scotland last week, where I was delighted to hear that management cliches are alive and well, even in the glens. There is, I am told, a butcher near Elgin who has a sign proclaiming boldly that he is a manufacturer of world-class haggis. I just hope he is empowered, too.