Hope rains eternal

“It’s a bit black over Bill’s mother’s” is a phrase from my childhood that I had not heard in a long while. It came to mind a week ago and then, coincidentally, was mentioned on the radio a few days later, only they gave a slightly different version that was not right: the one you remember is always the correct one. By all accounts the phrase was common in the North and the Midlands and there are a number of variants: “It’s getting black over the back of Bill’s mother’s”; “It looks pretty black over Will’s mother’s”. On the radio, it was quoted as part of a conversation about weather phrases, instigated by “Ne’r cast a clout till May be out”. Even with this more common phrase there was discussion. Is it May the month? Or May as in the flower of the Hawthorn tree? The meteorologist supported the latter. All I know is that the weather is quite chilly, despite the sunshine, and being wrapped up is the rig of the day.

Before the radio programme, it had been a bit black over Bill’s mother’s while I was out for my weekend constitutional. The clouds towards the horizon threatened rain. It is a skyscape familiar to those in North West England. It brought to mind a painting bought many years ago. The scene was of the Manchester Ship Canal and the motorway bridge that spans it. However, these were minor support acts at the bottom of the picture, underneath a large expanse of sky, showing a mixture of dark rain clouds, pierced and tinted with rays of sunlight: an image intrinsically linked to home. The dark clouds always give a sense of foreboding about a possible imminent downpour. This is counterbalanced by the bright portions of sky and the light that pierces the gloom, giving hope of a good final 

Back in 2014, I wrote in this column, and subsequently gave a presentation at the BINDT annual conference, on the bright future that was facing non-destructive testing (NDT). The basis for this statement was the Knowledge Transfer Network report, titled: “A landscape for the future of NDT in the UK economy,” which gave a positive view for the future of NDT. In addition, there were a number of proposed infrastructure projects within the UK, technological developments in techniques reaching fruition and a growing interest in the challenges presented by structural health monitoring (SHM) and online monitoring. There was every basis for optimism. Since then, there have been a few instances of it looking a bit black over BINDT’s mother’s! Two nuclear new-build projects have been cancelled and the squeeze on the oil & gas industry has had an 

But, as with the North-West skyscape, there are bright rays and signs that hold out hope for a positive future for the NDT profession. Probably one of the brightest has been the development of the NDT apprenticeship scheme, which encompasses different levels of qualification for entrants, funelling appropriately trained and qualified personnel into the profession. On the technology axis, companies are continually updating and launching new models incorporating new developments, while universities, and the UK Research Centre in Non-Destructive Evaluation (RCNDE) in particular, continue with the basic research into new techniques and 

As with my article back in 2014, I have a ‘but’ to add. Unlike in 2014, this does not sprout from disquiet and frustration, but rather from lifelong learning to be prepared, just in case that bit of black over Bill’s mother’s develops into a lot of black immediately overhead and deposits its contents on top of you! While we can be confident that technology and qualifications are being addressed, we need to be predicting what other areas of the profession will need to be investigated to find out how to build resilience and achieve 

We have two potential sources immediately to hand and I offer suggestions for consideration. Firstly, the research by RCNDE is rightly focused on science and engineering, but how about some university research being conducted on the business side of NDT, to provide suggestions on future improvements to business models, technology uptake and personnel supply and retention? Secondly, what about the personnel engaged in NDT at all levels? At the annual conference there are technical papers and in the past there have been practitioner workshops. Could there be a session where NDT personnel suggest initiatives that could aid future improvements to business models, technology uptake and personnel supply and 

My faith in the future of NDT is somewhat stronger than my expectation of responses to the content of this article. But I live in 

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within NDT News. They do not represent the views of Wood or BINDT.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX.
Fax: +44 (0)1604 438300; Email: ndtnews@bindt.org or email Bernard McGrath direct at bernard.mcgrath@woodplc.com

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