Monday, 29 June 2020

Calls for Abstracts: Physical Separation '21 and Integration, Optimisation & Design of Mineral Processing Circuits '21

This is now postponed to June 2022

Beautiful Falmouth

We look forward to welcoming you to beautiful Falmouth next June, for two conferences running back to back, one a popular established event, the other a brand new exciting conference. Both will be held at Falmouth's National Maritime Museum.
The National Maritime Museum by Falmouth harbour

Physical Separation '19 was the first event to be held in the Maritime Museum, and was so successful that Physical Separation '21 has been assigned three days, June 7-9, to include a conference dinner at the Greenbank Hotel, with its stunning views over the Penryn River and Falmouth harbour. I also look forward to showing delegates some of the historic mining sites of Cornwall on the final afternoon.

The Greenbank Hotel on the bank of the Penryn River
Camborne mining district, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Physical Separation '21 will be MEI's 7th physical separation conference and abstracts are invited from those with interests in 
  • Gravity concentration methods - single and multi-G separators and dense medium separation
  • Classification techniques - hydrocyclones, air classifiers etc.
  • Solid-Liquid Separation - thickeners, clarifiers etc.
  • Electronic Sorting
  • Magnetic and electrostatic separation
  • Microwave technology. There are many aspects of mineral processing where the use of microwaves has potential and papers dealing with the enhancement of physical processes by microwaves are encouraged.

We are please to announce our early sponsor, Bunting, media partners International Mining and Imformed, and industry associates the Coalition for Eco-Efficient Comminution (CEEC) and the Cornwall Mining Alliance.
International Mining and Cornwall Mining Alliance are also media partner and industry associate respectively for our new conference, IntegratedMinPro '21, and we welcome as our first sponsor Promet 101.
As the demand for resources continues to increase, and amidst growing challenges of processing complex ores while minimising energy and environmental impact, we are entering an exciting time for innovation in mineral processing. Innovation in individual unit operations is complemented by innovative approaches to the entire mineral processing flowsheet, from rearrangement of an existing circuit to a new approach for a greenfield development.
This two-day conference (June 10-11) invites papers on new approaches to mineral processing circuits, whether through design, modelling, optimisation or operation. This includes optimisation and integration of unit operations (e.g. comminution and flotation), novel flowsheets that incorporate new equipment and new approaches to optimising circuit design.
As with all MEI Conferences, the first day at both events will end with a chance to unwind with a guided walk along the coast path via Henry VIII's 16th century Tudor Castle, for refreshments in Falmouth's 16th century Chain Locker pub.
Physical Separation '17 delegates on the Falmouth coastal path
The famous Chain Locker pub
If you would like to present papers at either, or both, of these events, please submit your short abstracts by the end of December (full details on the conference websites). If accepted, draft papers will be required. These will form the unrefereed Proceedings, which will be available to delegates at the conference. Copyright on these papers belongs to the individual authors, and not to MEI.
Authors will be invited to submit final papers as soon as possible after the conference. These will be refereed, and, if accepted, published immediately in the first available regular issue of Minerals Engineering, and included in the Virtual Special Issue of the conference on ScienceDirect. This is an ideal opportunity to present your work to an international audience and have your paper published in a refereed journal of high repute.
Updates on each conference can be found at #PhysicalSeparation21 and #IntegratedMinPro21.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Recent Comments

There have been comments on the following postings since the last update:

Memories of Malaysia: Penang and the Kinta Valley
Return to Chingola
Why good technical English is essential for journal papers
2019 MEI Young Person's Award to Nikhil Dhawan
Memories of our first journey to Cape Town in 1969
Comminution: developments and thoughts over the past decade
AusIMM Honorary Fellowships to Tim Napier-Munn and John Ralston
Is the reopening of mines creating boundless joy?
Is mining facing its second existential crisis?
We'll meet again....
40 years of Mineral Processing Technology
In search of Dolcoath, Cornwall's greatest mine
Should we be reducing our alcohol consumption?
St. Ives to Zennor: one of the classic Cornish coastal path walks

We welcome and encourage your comments on blog postings (see also the posting of 2nd April 2019). If you do not have a Google account, the simplest way to add a comment is by selecting 'anonymous' as your profile, but please leave your name and affiliation in the comment. Alternatively, email your comment directly to

Last month there were over 19,000 page views, so interacting with the blog enhances your international presence by providing you, and your company or Institute, with valuable exposure.

If you are in Web View (mobile users can access this by scrolling down to the bottom of the screen) you can also check various things in the right hand column:
  • The latest MEI tweets from @barrywills
  • The most viewed posts in the last 7 days, month and year
  • Dates of blog posts (click on the black arrows to open up individual months and postings)
  • Labels, or categories
You can also subscribe to blog alerts by email, and access MEI's Facebook page and MEI Online via links in this column.

Monday, 22 June 2020

St. Ives to Zennor: one of the classic Cornish coastal path walks

Hiking the rugged North Cornwall coastal path is not too easy at the moment. The paths are very narrow, and social distancing means that meeting other walkers may lead to a rather rapid descent down the shear 200 foot cliffs.
So, as a diversion from the gloom of Coronavirus, I would like to share our experiences of what is regarded as one of the most rugged, beautiful and remote stretches of the whole of the South West Way, the 6 and a half mile hike between the often crowded holiday town of St. Ives, through an ancient bronze-age landscape to the small village of Zennor. This stretch is graded as severe, but if you are an experienced hiker, and have time for only one walk in West Cornwall, this might be the one.
Barbara and I have done this strenuous walk twice, in 2005 and then two years later with my sister, Pat, and her husband Bill. Although a relatively short walk, it is awkward underfoot, extremely undulating, and boggy at times, so I would recommend that you allow 4 hours, and use the bus service between St. Ives and Zennor rather than make what would be a very tiring return journey on foot.
About to leave St. Ives
St. Ives is one of the most popular tourist towns in Cornwall, and leaving Porthmeor beach the coastal path is initially a gentle stroll on bouncy turf, deceptive as soon those out for a gentle walk are left behind and we enter the rugged cliff-top scenery for which Cornwall is famous.
Leaving St. Ives with Porthmeor beach in the background
The very rugged cliff-top scenery
The unpredictable weather
Seals can often be seen on The Carracks reef
At the beautiful Zennor Head, there are views of the distinctive rocky spine of Gurnard's Head, the promontory whose profile looks remarkably like the fish after which it is named.
Taking a breather at Zennor Head
Distant Gurnard's Head from Zennor Head
From Zennor Head, the little village of Zennor is a short distance away, with its very welcoming Tinners Arms, the end of a memorable but demanding few hours.
Welcome refreshments in Zennor

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Should we be reducing our alcohol consumption?

It's the 3rd Thursday of the month again, the day on which we should be at Falmouth's Chain Locker pub enjoying a few drinks with mining friends from Cornwall and visitors from around the world. But not to be of course, and I, like many others, will be partaking in a glass or two of wine at home until the pandemic is over.
As pubs and restaurants have shut, there has been an increase in alcohol purchases in shops; sales have risen by more than 30% in off-licenses and one-in-five people are believed to be drinking more often, which is not too surprising. And it would appear that those in the mining industry drink more than most, which is also not that surprising.
Source @CruxInvestor
If lockdown has not been bad enough, the prophets of gloom have been reminding us of the pitfalls of the demon drink and the report of a couple of years ago that there is no safe limit to alcohol consumption. The current UK guidelines advise limiting alcohol intake to 14 units per week, equivalent to drinking no more than 7 medium-sized glasses of wine, but I have never been able to find any scientific evidence for this, believing maybe that these are just figures plucked from the air. 
Should we frown on those who enjoy an occasional glass of wine?
However, an article in The Lancet in August 2018, in which the Global Burden of Disease study looked at levels of alcohol use and its health effects in 195 countries between 1990 and 2016, was the first major, and massive, study on the effect of alcohol on premature death, cancer, and cardiovascular problems. The huge team of collaborators compared people who did not drink at all with those who had one or more alcoholic drinks per day.
The media, including the BBC National News, immediately reported the findings with the scary headline that drinking half a bottle of wine a day increases your risk of contracting an alcohol related illness, or injury, by up to 40%, worrying to say the least as this was my (roughly) daily alcohol consumption, which might have increased slightly over the past few months.
As The Lancet is a reputable Elsevier journal, and the article had obviously been rigorously peer-reviewed, I had no doubts about the research, but maybe the media were exaggerating the statistics, so I had a good look at the manuscript.
A massive population was surveyed and the researchers found that out of 100,000 non-drinkers, 914 would develop an alcohol-related health problem such as cancer, heart disease, or suffer an injury. But an extra four people would be affected if they drank one alcoholic drink a day. For people who had two alcoholic drinks a day, 63 more developed a condition within a year and for those who consumed five drinks every day, there was an increase of 338 people who developed a health problem. One alcoholic drink was defined as the equivalent of a 100ml glass of red wine.
One of the study authors, Prof Sonia Saxena, a researcher at Imperial College London and a practising GP, said: "One drink a day does represent a small increased risk, but adjust that to the UK population as a whole and it represents a far bigger number, and most people are not drinking just one drink a day." "The health risks associated with alcohol are massive," said Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington and the senior author of the study. "Our findings are consistent with other recent research, which found clear and convincing correlations between drinking and health, and that zero alcohol consumption minimizes the overall risk of health loss."
These figures are obviously of great significance to a national health service, but how worried should you be as an individual? Everything we do in life involves a risk and enjoying a few glasses of wine or beer is just another risk.  The research shows that if I did not drink at all, I would statistically have a 0.9 chance in a 100 of cancer, cardiovascular problems etc, which would increase to 1.3 in 100 by drinking just over a half bottle of wine per day, an increase in around 40%, as reported in the media.
These odds would seem an acceptable risk for many but what do you think? Do we have a moral obligation to reduce our alcohol intake? Do you feel that alcohol enhances our overall quality of life, or would we be better without it? Should we at MEI conferences curb our policy of letting the wine flow freely at sundowners and dinners, where delegates relax at the end of a long day?
A controversial topic, I know what my views are, but what are yours?

Monday, 15 June 2020

Memories of Nchanga's High-Grade Leach Plant

During my 4 years at Nchanga in the early 1970s my first two years were spent on the concentrator, before being transferred to the commisioning team for Stage I of what would eventually be the giant tailings leach-solvent extraction-electrowinning plant, the brainchild of the legendary Jack Holmes (MEI Blog 5th September 2018). Stage I was an interim plant designed to treat stockpiled low grade oxide copper concentrates by leaching and cementation in Kennecott Cones.
Stage I Tailings Leach Plant 1972. Kennecott Cones and Leach Pachucas
The cementation plant did not operate for very long as it was soon absorbed by Stage II and I did not see the final enormous tailings leach plant, which began operation in 1974, until my visit to Nchanga in 2012.
A section of the Tailings Leach Plant in 2012 with the smelter in the background
Copper is characterised by having a whole suite of economic ore minerals, and many are present in the Nchanga ore body. Underground ore contains mainly suphide minerals, chalcocite, chalcopyrite, covellite, bornite, while the shallower open-pit ore contains oxidised minerals, mainly the bright green malachite, blue azurite, as well as cuprite and chrysocolla. All these minerals responded to processing in various ways.
When I left Nchanga in 1973 these minerals were concentrated by flotation in two stages, first a relatively straightforward sulphide flotation circuit, and then treatment of the sulphide tailings by sulphidisation using sodium hydrosulphide, before floating the oxidised minerals. Not too successfully, however, as the final tailings contained substantial amounts of refractory minerals, notably chrysocolla and cuprite, and to a lesser extent malachite and azurite. The tailings leach plant was initially conceived to treat these tailings, but so successful was piloting that the 'oxide' flotation circuit was dispensed with and the giant plant treated the tailings from sulphide flotation as well as tailings impounded in tailings dams.
So when commisioning of Stage I had been completed I did not realise that my transfer, for my few remaining months in Zambia, would be to a plant which would also soon become obsolete, the high-grade leach plant. This section tank-leached the oxide flotation concentrates in dilute sulphuric acid, the resultant copper sulphate solution being transferred to the tank house to produce electrowon copper.
With fellow metallurgist Peter Glass, 1973
Electrowinning tankhouse
Copper cathode stockpile with Sandy Lambert
I found things had changed enormously when I returned to Nchanga 8 years ago. In the early 70s sulphide concentrates were shipped by rail to the smelter at Kitwe around 30 miles away. Now a giant flash smelter treats these concentrates at the rate of 12,000 tonnes of anode copper per month, and sits on the site of the old high-grade leach plant.
Although my few months on the leach plant provided a catalyst for our move from Zambia, I have fond memories of those few months, particularly of the people that I met, many of whom I still keep in touch with.
Leach plant personnel 1973, BW, Eric Plumridge, Phil Cudby, Ian Noble, Corrie Koen, Peter Glass and Paul Smithson
Times change but memories linger on.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

We'll meet again....

Without the pandemic, today would have been the last of 4 days of conferences in Falmouth, beginning with Biomining '20 on Monday, and ending today with Sustainable Minerals '20.
But not to be of course, and we greatly miss getting together with like-minded people from around the world, for formal technical presentations and mingling socially to have a few drinks together and basically getting to know each other.
On-line conferencing is no substitute for this
Networking! The importance of which is now more and more appreciated. Although on-line conferencing is fine, it can never replace face to face meetings, especially for young professionals who need to build up their lists of contacts, and where serendipity is often at work producing life-changing experiences. As Fathi Habashi, Emeritus Professor of Laval University, once said to a group of young people "do not stay in what is called an “ivory tower”. Travelling and attending conferences have enormous, sometimes unexpected benefits.” There is perhaps no better example than this, 25 years ago, at Minerals Engineering '95 in St. Ives, Cornwall from a young engineer from Liner-Design Services in UK:
"Having completed my PhD, I had been travelling for a year and was located in a somewhat penniless state in London. I determined to write up my work for Minerals Engineering and attend your conference to present it. I took on a menial job and Frances and I scraped together every last pound we had to attend the conference. While there I got the first serious airing of my PhD work, and made some crucial contacts. I met Walter Valery, of the JKMRC, Australia, and through him I was offered the JKTech agency for when I got back to South Africa. I also met Prof Cyril O'Connor of the University of Cape Town, the institute through which I had studied for my PhD. He encouraged me to come and start a comminution research group at UCT, to supplement the growing flotation group. These two contacts lead directly to the position I have held for the past 7 years [2002], as Southern African Agent for JKTech, and leader of the comminution research group at UCT. Both facets of my work have developed into a wonderful career."
The young researcher was Prof. Malcolm Powell, now one of the world's most well known comminution specialists, and founder of the Global Comminution Collaborative (GCC). He developed the comminution group at UCT into a world renowned leader in the field, now headed by Prof. Aubrey Mainza, and he is now Chair in Sustainable Comminution, JKMRC, University of Queensland, Australia.
Malcolm Powell (left) with members of the GCC
A great testimony to the value of attending conferences- you never know who you will meet or what will transpire! And yes, we will meet again, hopefully in 2021, and a complete list of MEI Conferences sceduled for next year can be found on MEI Online.

Monday, 8 June 2020

Recent biomining highlights

Biomining '20 was scheduled to begin today in Falmouth, but not to be of course. So as a poor substitute, I have put together a short, but by no means comprehensive, review of some of the highlights in the development of Biomining reported at MEI's Biohydrometallurgy conferences during the last decade. I hope that you biotech specialists might fill in the gaps.
Although there is evidence that bioleaching was used in the Rio Tinto area in Spain prior to Roman occupation, for the recovery of copper, as well as in China some 2000 years ago, it is only over the past 40 years that biohydrometallurgy has been recognised increasingly as an emerging technology for extraction of metal values from recalcitrant minerals, low grade ores or mineral resources carrying penalty metals.  This has led to the development of commercial tank and heap leaching processes, processing concentrates and crushed ores to liberate metals of interest through bioleaching of base metals and biooxidation to enable subsequent recovery of gold and PGMs.  
At Biohydromet '18, Sue Harrison, of University of Cape Town, said in her keynote lecture that biotechnology is set to have an increasingly important role,  not only in the treatment of primary ores and concentrates, but in the quest for the circular economy, and is likely to have a major role in remediation, treatment of tailings, electronic and other wastes, and as a potential aid to processes such as flotation. Processes based on biohydrometallurgy have potential to deliver environmental benefits over competing extraction approaches and to enhance the degree of extraction from the overall resource.
Currently, said Prof. Harrison, the recognition of the relevance of biohydrometallurgy in a broader context is growing.  Key aspects include the need to account for unintentional bioleaching reactions on the disposal of waste rock and tailings and the need for the long term prevention of such reactions to enable appropriate handling of waste rock and restoration and rehabilitation of prior mine sites with associated protection of water resources.  Further, limited global resources of key metals highlight both the need to process mineral resources of decreasing grade, smaller size of deposit and increasing complexity and the ability to extract metals from secondary sources for re-use.  In the former, biohydrometallurgy has potential to expand technological approaches.  In the latter, with an increasing focus on the circular economy, the sources of metals or modern-day ‘ores’ are changing to include secondary resources such as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) and municipal solid waste (MSW). These present new challenges for biohydrometallurgists.
The metal constituents of Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) primarily include copper, lead, aluminium, tin and iron alongside other heavy metals such as nickel, zinc and cadmium.  The ongoing generation of electronic waste (eWaste), driven by rapid electronic and technological innovation, has provided a metal-rich waste stream with potential to form a key resource from which metals may be recovered and recycled in line with the desire for an increasingly circular economy.  Bioleaching has demonstrated promise as a processing option for the recovery of valuable base metals from eWaste and pretreatment of the PCB for further recovery of precious metals. The microbes generate the leach agent (ferric iron) that facilitates solubilisation of the metals embedded within PCBs. 
At Biohydromet '14 Corale Brierley, of Brierley Consultancy, USA,  highlighted some interesting facts, such as that 50% of all copper mined in the world at that time was in the last 25 years, and that 18-20% of global copper production was by bioleaching. She stressed that the growth in renewable energy was set to dramatically increase copper use (see also Is Zero Carbon by 2050 attainable?)
Heap bioleaching of primary copper ores has great potential for low grade ores not amenable to processing by other means, but there are also limited applications for heap bioleaching of refractory gold ores, low grade nickel sulphide deposits and low grade sulphidic uranium ores. The time frame required for recovery of the metal inventory in heap bioleaching of sulphidic minerals has significant impact on the economic analysis of the process. One factor influencing this time frame is the time required from construction of the heap to achievement of an active bioleaching system. This is affected to a large extent by the microbial colonisation of the low grade sulphide ores.
Factors impacting this colonisation were considered by Sue Harrison in her keynote lecture at Biohydromet ’12. These factors include initial microbial attachment to the ore, the development of firmly attached biofilms, the location of the microbial community with respect to the ore, the kinetics of microbial growth on the ore surface and its subsequent impact on microbial ecology.
At the Biohydromet '14 panel discussion (MEI Blog 28 July 2014) Pieter van Aswegen, of PMet Consulting, South Africa, highlighted some of the challenges for biooxidation and some of the aspects which could make it a very serious competitor to pressure oxidation, which is the preferred technique in North America for the treatment of refractory gold ores.
Solids content has always been one of the major limitations for biooxidation, and in the past if more than 2000 tpd of concentrate were treated, pressure oxidation was the most economic method. Initially 10% solids was used, but in 1989 Fairview gold mine in South Africa increased to 20% solids, making biooxidation a viable alternative. Pieter said that the largest plant was in Uzbekistan with 1000m3 tanks treating 2000 tpd of concentrates, and developments in new agitators and impellers have allowed the start up of recent plants in Tanzania using 40% solids for high gas dispersion applied in cyanide destruction operations.
A major constraint on solids content is the bacteria, and how robust they are at 30% solids and above. Pieter felt that very little work has been done on this, but it is important to aim for 20-30% solids, as this reduces capital costs due to smaller tanks and lower retention times. Lower retention times can be achieved by using thermophiles, but these are not as robust as mesophiles, which limits solids content to around 15% in most cases.
Pieter also highlighted another challenge for biooxidation of gold ores, the reduction of cyanide consumption, which is much higher than with pressure oxidation, due to the generation of elemental sulphur which consumes cyanide. Typically 10-40 kg/t of cyanide is consumed in biooxidation, compared with around 2 kg/t in pressure oxidation. Some work is being done using thermophiles in the final tanks to oxidise the elemental sulphur in order to reduce overall cyanide consumption. Barrie Johnson of Bangor University pointed out that the high cyanide consumption in biooxidation could restrict the implementation of this technology in some countries, as cyanide usage is banned, and a major target for bio and hydrometallurgists should be to continue to look for alternatives to cyanide, as if this could be removed from the circuit biooxidation would have more widespread use.
Biomining '21 sponsor Newmont Mining Corporation pioneered the investigation, development, and commercial-scale implementation of refractory gold whole-ore heap biooxidation, during a period spanning 1988-2009 at Carlin, Nevada. Basic and applied research and development from 1988-1999 included laboratory test work and increasingly larger pilot test heaps culminating in the full-scale implementation of a process that was estimated to contribute 120,000-180,000 oz/year to Carlin’s production between 2000-2005. Key parameters that influenced performance of the on-off heap biooxidation process, and factors that led to the discontinuation of the operation were described by Frank Roberto, in his keynote lecture at Biohydromet '16.
Outotec's BIOX® process was developed for the pre-treatment of refractory concentrates ahead of conventional cyanide leaching for gold recovery. As the gold is encapsulated in sulfide minerals such as pyrite and arsenopyrite, the gold is prevented from being leached by cyanide. The BIOX process destroys sulfide minerals and exposes the gold for subsequent cyanidation, thereby increasing the achievable gold recovery. Traditionally, cyanide consumption represents a significant operating cost in most gold leach circuits with BIOX® plants included. 
At Biohydromet '18 Craig van Buuren, of Outotec Biomin, South Africa, discussed how, with an ever increasing environmental and commercial emphasis on cyanide utilisation, expanding its BIOX® technology to meet this challenge saw Outotec continue to develop its MesoTherm technology.  This is a hybrid two-stage process using mesophiles to realise the initial primary stage oxidation and thereafter, using a thermophilic culture to complete the sulphide oxidation.
Mesophile (40-45°C) bioleaching is exploited in the BIOX® process, and for the recovery of nickel from pyrrhotite/pentlandite. While such plants perform well, the process is unable to leach copper from recalcitrant copper sulfides. Thermophile (70-80°C) bioleaching of copper from chalcopyrite concentrates has been developed to commercial pilot scale. While a technical success, the economics of thermophile bioleaching for copper recovery are borderline at best, driven largely by the requirement of pure oxygen and the restricted operating pulp density (~15 %). At Biohydromet '18 Chris Bryan, of BRGM, France, detailed the development of a two-stage continuous system for the recovery of nickel and copper from a polymetallic sulfide concentrate. The concentrate is partially leached by a mesophile consortium, solubilising the majority of the nickel, before a thermophile consortium solubilises the copper and remaining nickel.
The potential of in-situ leaching of mineral reserves has been under consideration with biohydrometallurgy of key interest owing to the potential for ongoing regeneration of leach agents. At Biohydromet '14 Jim Brierley, of Brierley Consultancy, USA felt that future mines might utilise some form of a process similar to the hydrofracturing technology ('fracking') to release shale gas, thus opening up a buried resource. Benefits could include reducing the footprint of mining and development of new technologies for extraction of critical earth resources. Biohydrometallurgists would play an important role in advancing new technologies, but obviously not working alone in developing such in situ technology- it would need the involvement of metallurgists, geologists, rock engineers and others.
To prepare for this Jim said that we should be researching how microorganisms behave under high hydrostatic pressures, anaerobic and other conditions yet to be defined. This would be a complex technology only applicable for use with highly specific amenable ore bodies and would need to meet all economic, environmental, safety and societal concerns.
Biohydrometallurgy has had a poor reputation in certain circles, as a technology that is too unpredictable, but at Biohydromet '12, Chris Bryan highlighted that it is often used as an avenue of last resort on ores that are untreatable with other methods. It is a complex technology and there is a need for an all-encompassing approach, with fundamental understanding of microbiology, engineering, mineralogy, hydrometallurgy etc.
Now we look forward to Biomining '21. Updates are at #Biomining21, and there is a current call for abstracts.
Current Biomining '21 sponsors

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Memories of our first journey to Cape Town in 1969

Travel is unfortunately on hold at the moment, and our next long-haul journey is likely to be to Cape Town next April for Comminution '21 and the XXX IMPC.
So I thought I might reminisce about our first ever journey to Cape Town, which might stir a few memories for blog readers who also experienced the leisurely manner of slowly eating up the 9700 km of ocean between Europe and South Africa's Mother City.
On a grey September afternoon in September 1969, Barbara and I slowly sailed from the port of Southampton; ahead of us two weeks on the RMS Windsor Castle, the flagship of the Union Castle Line.
RMS Windsor Castle
Launched in 1959, she was then, at 38,000 tons, the largest liner built in England. She was a very fine vessel, and we quickly settled in and made friends with a South African couple, Cath and Nels Jackson, who were returning to their home in Luanshya, Zambia after a long European holiday.
Compared with our usual 12 hours by Boeing 747, this was indeed a leisurely journey, with one stop at Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, days spent swimming and playing deck quoits, evening discos and games and, of course the ‘crossing the line ceremony’ as we entered the southern hemisphere for the first time in our lives.
The Windsor Castle's Commodore Hort welcomes us on board
Youngsters at dinner
Crossing the line: the 'Greasy Pole' competition
Hippy night
The highlight of the journey was to be the approach to Cape Town, our stately entrance to South Africa, with the magnificent Table Mountain dominating the Table Bay skyline. We dragged ourselves on deck as day broke on that final day, only to be met by weather typical of that we had just left behind in Southampton, cold, grey and wet, and no sign of Table Mountain even as we approached our berthing. We did eventually see the mountain in all its glory, but that was 13 years later!
South Africa was in its most intense phase of Apartheid in 1969, and we spent a couple of days with Cath and Nels in a very uninviting Cape Town waiting for our cars to be unloaded, before heading off up the Great North Road (the N1) to an even more uninviting Johannesburg (MEI Blog 25 November 2010). Here Nels persuaded me to purchase short shorts and long socks, essential items in the Southern African uniform. I felt that they looked ridiculous then, and even more so now- at least Barbara was well suited to the fashions of the day!
Johannesburg: 1969 Southern African fashions, VERY short skirts and shorts and VERY long socks
After two days in Johannesburg, we said our goodbyes and headed north again, relieved to leave South Africa and drive through Rhodesia's Matabeleland and on to Victoria Falls, a journey which we did by luxury train only 6 months ago (MEI Blog 9 December 2019). And then across the Zambezi and on to our new life in Zambia.
Wonderful memories of what is now a long-gone era. It would be great to hear from you if you experienced this before the Union Castle line ceased operations in 1977.

Monday, 1 June 2020

May: the first easing of the lockdown

Living through a plague is something very few people experience, so I am hoping to summarise our progress at the end of each month:
At the beginning of the month Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that the UK was “past the peak” of the coronavirus outbreak and “we are on a downward slope," acknowledging that every mountaineer knows that this is often the most dangerous part of the climb!
As Amanda said in the MEI Online newsletter of May 7th, we at MEI would like to thank you for all your support during this tough time. With over 38,000 Covid-19 deaths in the UK our privations are miniscule compared with the sufferings of many people and businesses, but MEI is a small family business, and the decisions we've had to make in the last few weeks will impact on us for some time to come.  Knowing that we are part of a larger, wonderful community, made up of people from all over the world, helps us to remain positive, and the many messages we've received have made us feel a little less isolated, so thank you.
We are fortunate, however, to live in one of the most beautiful areas of the world and our spirits have been uplifted by long walks on the Falmouth coastal path, all the time observing social distancing. 
There was certainly no social distancing on May 8th 1945, when crowds poured out onto the streets of Britain to celebrate Victory in Europe (VE) day. It was a much more muted celebration 75 years on, and in her second televised address to the nation during the pandemic the Queen praised the nation's lockdown spirit and urged Britain to "never give up, never despair" and to draw inspiration from how those dark days of WW2 were overcome.
Two days after the Queen's broadcast, Boris Johnson addressed the nation and set out his "conditional plan"for a gradual exit from the lockdown, encouraging those who cannot work from home to return to workplaces in order to kick-start the economy of the UK, which is now heading towards its worst recession since 1706 in the reign of Queen Anne. The gradual exit allowed us to spend unlimited time out of doors, and within days the Falmouth beaches began to take on their pre-virus look, as we "held our breaths" hoping that there would not be a consequential increase in infection rate (or the R number, which must be maintained below a value of 1).

Falmouth beaches 25th May
Relaxing the rules regarding distances that can be travelled to beauty spots has led to worries that the virus will be brought into remote and attractive areas such as Cornwall and the "normal" beach scenes have contributed to a feeling among many that the crisis is over and that social distancing can be relaxed. The Government's messages have unfortunately not been particularly clear, highlighted by the PM's ludicrous equation for the virus threat, which he proudly revealed in his address to the nation:
Even a 10-year old would see that this is nonsense, as C is between 1 and 5, R should be below 1, and N is hundreds of thousands!
In truth the Government has shown remarkable ineptitude in dealing with all aspects of the pandemic, culminating last week with many Conservative MPs calling for the resignation of the PM's chief advisor, Dominic Cummings, after it emerged that he had travelled to Durham from London with his family during the lockdown when his wife had coronavirus symptoms. As Cummings was a major force behind the "stay at home" message, his actions were met with almost universal condemnation, an insult to many people, including those who have not been allowed to leave home to be with dying loved-ones or to attend their funerals. However, not surprisingly, many cabinet ministers flocked to his defence and in a dismal press conference that totally failed to allay concerns the PM insisted that Cummings had acted "reasonably, legally and with integrity." The following day's hour long grilling of Cummings from an angry press did little to calm the general feeling, but it did lead to senior ministers digging enough holes to fill the Albert Hall while pathetically attempting to justify his actions. At the time of writing Cummings remains in his post, and for once Boris has unfortunately not performed one of his famous U-turns.
(Peter Brookes The Times, 22nd May)
MEI's major decision this month was the cancellation of our October conferences in Cape Town.  Most international events for this year are now either postponed or cancelled, including the International Mineral Processing Congress (IMPC) scheduled for October in Cape Town, the first time in the 68 year history of IMPC that a congress has had to be rescheduled. The XXX IMPC will now be held in Cape Town in April next year, an unfortunate and surprising clash with MEI's Comminution conference, which was postponed eight weeks earlier. However, we are working with the IMPC to bring these two events together successfully over a single week in Cape Town, knowing that when air travel becomes viable again it is likely to be more expensive than in pre-Coronavirus days.
Cape Town and South Africa in general had a very severe lockdown imposed, with even a ban on the sale of tobacco and alcohol. Now the lockdown is being eased, and concerned about the possibility of multiple mine closures, and inactive mines becoming potential safety risks, the South African government had already permitted all mines to operate at 50% capacity as of April 16, and by 1 May open cast mines were able to operate at 100% capacity, while underground mines remained at 50%. The decision was not easy, however, as work on a mine poses inherent challenges to social distancing, especially underground where it is near impossible, and towards the end of the month some operations were forced to close again due to an increase in infection rate.
And finally some good news. Captain Tom Moore, the war veteran who raised more than £32m for NHS charities by walking 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday this month, was "overawed" to find that he was being awarded a knighthood for his fundraising efforts. He will be formally known as Captain Sir Thomas Moore, and PM Boris Johnson said the veteran had provided the country with "a beacon of light through the fog of coronavirus".
Let's hope that easing of lockdown, which will be relaxed further from today, has not been premature and that there will be more good news in June to light up our lives.