Black helicopters hover over Manchester A-bomb bunker inferno

Your thoughts, distilled

Letters This week, a BT exchange in Manchester caught fire, depriving millions (alright, hundreds of thousands) of our Friends in the North of modern telephonic communications, including access to the emergency services.

Now that repairs are underway, the more interesting question of what was in those tunnels can be addressed. Names have been obscured for reasons of national security (and dramatic reporting).

From: Xxxxx Xxxx <xxxx.xxxxx@xxxxxxx.xx.xx>
Subject: BT denies cable fire was in A-bomb exchange

Re your article relating to exchange under Manchester. A good few years ago I went down to this tunnel - I would guess circa 1975 or so (I'm estimating - thinking back to my age then). My relative worked for BT in the exchange and I remember the dilapidated looking anonymous (deliberately) entrance which led to the lift shaft & stairs. The main fear then seemed to be IRA access to the complex.

At the bottom it was surprisingly clean and well kept. The exchanges equipment was 'new' (then) electronic stuff. There were some mechanical exchange equipment but most was electronic 'slot-in' modules - and it was working. There were generating sets; battery rooms; rest/living quarters etc. I was told that guns etc used to be kept there in earlier years. Staff used to play badminton in the main hall (so my relative told me). The tunnels out to Salford/Ardwick were lit (dimly) with large signs warning of the danger of gas(?) at the entrance. Tunnels were lined with racks of cables. My relative's job was maintenance engineer for the equipment - air-conditioning/lifts/exchange/generating etc. I do remember that the generating sets were removed some years later with one being sold to a Somerset farmer (fed up with being disconnected each winter by snow damage) the generator was set up in a barn.

From my memory - the fire was certainly in part of the complex. I would think there is almost certainly some exchange equipment still working down there. It would be inconceivable not to use such large space as a 'cable conduit' only - especially as all the air-conditioning plant/lifts etc would need to be maintained just to be able to access the cables!

Fascinating stuff, we’re sure you’ll agree. And there is MORE!

From: XXXXXX XXXXXX <mailto>

Subject: BT exchange

Re article and BT denial

Exchange was not decommissioned in 1970's as was still active - I know I worked down there in 1980/81 for a short period. Switchboard was decommissioned in late seventies. It may be because the site is "sensitive"

Tunnels are part of tunnels that link the exchange under Manchester and could be considered as part of the exchange suggest you look at this link.

Crikey. Who would’ve thought it?

Also grabbing your attention this week was the news that conspicuous iPod wearers are being mugged (mugged! I tell you) for their shiny white music boxes. Not that many of you had much sympathy for the victims. Shame on you:

Dear Drew

iPod: this season's must-have for muggers By Lester Haines

Re. the above story: any iPod owner using the supplied white headphones deserves to be mugged. They are cheap and nasty, and limit the sound quality enormously. Try plugging in a decent pair of hi-fi cans and feel the difference.


Matthew Henry

Hi Lester,

Apart from dodging muggings and leaving the cool-crowd, there is a much more fundamental and long-standing reason to swap the iPod's earbuds for something a bit less distinctive: they're, um, not very good.

Still, I suppose it's a bit much to expect the late-coming fashionistas to be deterred by poor bass response, lots of leakage and poor fit and comfort.

And yes, I am a smug, un-mugged iPod owner of 2 years' standing.



Apart from attracting muggers, the white iPod headphones are rubbish. As every "in the box" pair seems to be.

Owners should buy something a) better and b) less discreet. Then they could enjoy their iPods (even more) and in safety too! :)

Kind regards...


Perhaps the most succinct, and yet the most brutal response to this trend:

[Quoting] Roland Baskerville, 22, of Birmingham, who was recently robbed of his £300 ipod, said: ‘I was walking down the road near my home when a man who was walking the other way pointed at my headphones. 'The student removed one earbud to hear what the man was saying and was asked if he was wearing an iPod. 'As soon as I told him yes, he pulled a knife out and started waving it at me saying "well hand it over then", he added 'I gave it to him and he ran off. He must have known I was wearing an iPod because of the white headphones.'

Not because you just told him then...?


Still, at least iPod wearers, or would-be wearers, don’t have to worry about being killed by nano-sized particles. Unlike some fish we mentioned.

Buckyballs are nanoscale objects, but that doesn't make them "nanotech" any more than the word "electricity" is freely interchangable with "electronics". The title of your story is roughly akin to running a story about lightning strike under the title "Man Killed by Electronics".

This is an even more apt comparison than you may realize, since Buckyballs do occur naturally (you can make lots of them just by burning wood).

This also means the "Related story" you linked to isn't really related at all


Fair point, Jon, but we’ve mentioned how we write headlines to grab attention before, haven’t we?

Fortunately, it is not just us poor hacks (cue violin music) that come in for a bit of criticism on this one:

Good morning Lucy,

I am glad to see that you mentioned in the second paragraph that the research hasn't been reviewed, let alone confirmed, but one must ask why the researchers are publising their results in the public arena before it has been peer reviewed. This is poor science, and they don't even have the excuse that buckyballs are a clear and present danger.

I'm not overly surprised if it did turn out that they were moderately toxic. Buckyballs are found in common soot and smoke, together with thousands of other compounds. Soot is one of the nastier things you can get in your lungs and even on your skin, so it is arguable that buckyballs could be one of the reasons why soot is dangerous. But then soot has existed in nature for millions of years, ever since the first time a lightning bolt hit a tree, and life has adapted to cope.

Yours sincerely,

Steven D'Aprano

The moral of the story? err… ®

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