Shropshire Star

Peter Rhodes on banned bayonets, crumbling concrete and industrialisation on the moon

Wonderful stuff, concrete. The Romans perfected it and some of the stuff they made is actually stronger today than when it was laid 2,000 years ago.

Zombie knife – too beastly for the battlefield

But when modern man starts mucking around with concrete, things go wrong.

The current scandal over RAAC (reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete) failing in some schools and public buildings is nothing new. It's 30 years since it was first noticed and, as New Civil Engineer magazine told us in 2021: “Similarities are emerging between today’s RAAC crisis and the high alumina cement (HAC) debacle of the 1970s.”

I remember HAC well. When I was a young hack 40-odd years ago, high-alumina cement was a national scandal, a huge and growing nightmare with buildings either collapsing or having to be shored up at vast expense.

What HAC and RAAC seem to have in common is the belief that with a little clever tweaking, borin' old concrete can be turned into some magical substance which is stronger, lighter, cheaper or more insulated than before. And all goes well – for about 30 years or so . . .

I seem to recall back in the 1970s there was a frantic scramble for builders, architects, officials and politicians to dodge any blame for the HAC cock-ups. Some things never change, do they?


Still on technical breakthroughs, I was alarmed to hear a pundit on the radio explaining that the multi-national hunt for water on the moon is a step towards building and powering industrial units on the lunar surface.

Do you remember voting for this? Me neither. I guess we all assumed the moon is the property of all mankind and a source of wonder for generations yet unborn, not the building site for the new Mao Tse Tung Memorial Blast Furnace. ***

As machetes and zombie knives are brandished in streets all over Britain, it's worth recalling the military equivalent.

The fearsome saw-edged bayonet is forbidden under the Geneva Conventions on the grounds it can cause “unnecessary suffering”.

So a weapon banned from the battlefields is freely available to civilians. I dare say someone in authority is working on it. Possibly working from home, or on a beach.