Chemicals Coffee Time, 30th December 2022

Dear Friend,

Happy Friday!

Just a quick email to say hello to any readers who’re working, and to keep us all cheerful while everyone else is on holiday.

We’re still in the 12 days of Christmas, actually on Day 6 (Six Geese a Laying), and Paul Thomas of Kreatis writes

Couldn’t resist coming back to you with an alternative explanation to the 12 days of Christmas song that I found on the web (i.e. that it’s not a 16th century song for hiding information away to avoid oppression of Catholics during the time of Henry VIII):

“The Twelve Days of Christmas” is an English Christmas carol that lists a group of increasingly superb gifts given on each of the 12 days of Christmas (the 12 days that make up the Christmas season, starting with Christmas Day). The song, published in England in 1780 without music as a chant or rhyme, is thought to be French in origin…

most scholars of the Catholic Church deem it a very important surviving example of a time when that denomination used codes to disguise their teachings.

The 12 Days of Christmas – Lyrics Meaning and History of Tradition (

In fact, so there’s still strong suggestion that it is Catholic in origin and designed to disguise its true meaning but the date and context appears to be false on the American site. it’s quite intriguing because there’s nothing I could spot in the song that could be interpreted by Protestants as Catholic related as opposed to just pure Christian so that set me looking. So I wonder why Catholics would want to hide that away in an allegorical rhyme? I do love hunting for the history of songs and rhymes!

The best laid plans….

Usually at this time of year I will be sorting out the accounts for Year End, planning for 2023 and other classic year end business activities, but this year I’ve found myself dealing with a massive gas bill for the house we own in the village, for nearly £5,000! And it’s only a small 2-bedroom mid-terraced cottage. I’m just relieved that we haven’t had a tenant in, because otherwise they would have been overcharged by the supplier and we wouldn’t have known about it.

To be fair to the supplier, this is a corrected bill covering 9 months or so between a new gas meter being installed and me remembering to take a meter reading. But to be fair to us, the amount of gas they are claiming has been used is physically beyond the capacity of the central heating boiler to draw off a maximum capacity, especially as we’ve been doing the house up and it’s been unoccupied, with the boiler only on low during winter to keep the house free from damp (and yes I did run the boiler on that setting for 24 hours to see what the meter reading was). We suspect that the new meter is not reading correctly, but are awaiting confirmation.

The supplier said on the phone a few days ago “don’t worry it’ll all be sorted out on the next bill”, which I took to mean that they wouldn’t bill us for the full amount until the investigation has finished, yet this morning we have had the full amount taken from my personal account! Going over my overdraft limit and requiring much juggling of money between accounts to correct.  I am not happy.  And of course as it’s the holiday season, the team dealing with disputed bills and technical difficulties will probably not be in the office, so it may take weeks to resolve properly.

This issue has made me wonder how people can cope with issues like this if they are relying on the supplier to provide accurate meter readings. At least we can get our heating engineer to check the fan rpm when he services the boiler (hopefully next week), and estimate the actual kWh usage which has taken place (some lovely calibration curves in the boiler instructions), then produce our own calculations to demonstrate what we think has occurred.

If you are arguing with your gas supplier, a “quick and dirty” check is to find the kW rating of your boiler. This is the amount it should use in an hour, at maximum capacity, so a 30 kW boiler over 1 hour should consume 30kWh. kWh is what you are billed on, at a pence per kWh rate, but there is a calculation you need to do to convert between meter reading and kWh, which you can find here (you should also find the exact calorific value of the gas on your bill, as our supplier uses a slightly different figure to the one on this website):… .

Once you’ve converted your maximum kWh to meter reading volume, that will tell you if the metered consumption is beyond your boiler’s capacity (assuming you don’t use other gas appliances). If you need a hand with this, please email me, I’m happy to pass on the steps of what I’ve done in detail – also please let me know if my logic above is incorrect, as it’s been pulled together via Google.

And don’t forget to check if the supplier intends to take the very large bill from your account first before refunding you any difference, as it can play havoc with your cashflow.​  I am lucky to have enough money in various accounts to be able to pay this bill upfront and in full, but many people will not necessarily be able to cope, and the bank charges on top of the excess bill could easily be enough to tip people over the edge into bankruptcy.

If you do get a massive bill like this, Citizens Advice may be able to support you through this, although like an idiot, I’ve been dealing with it myself:​ .

By the way, I know that many people think that landlords are horrible people, and we deserve what we get, but increasing fuel bills are affecting many people renting or owning a gas-fuelled property, so I hope that this information may help anyone who suspects that they may have gas meter problems.

Meter reading problems in industry

Inaccurate meter readings are not confined to the domestic sphere, as many readers will be aware.  We recently came across a gas storage tank with significantly different readings between the automatic sensor and the visual gauge which the delivery driver reads.  It turns out that the visual gauge was out of calibration, but it could easily have been the other way round.  And this tank is important for determining whether the site is within COMAH scope or not, so an accurate reading is essential!

Do you keep track of the levels in your bulk tanks by more than one method? and how often do you compare the results?

Jobs update (UK stats from LinkedIn)

Regulatory affairs 5,400 jobs (although this includes non-chemical regulatory affairs jobs) and Health and safety 47,160 jobs.  An increase on regulatory affairs since last week, even though it’s the Christmas holidays.

This is the perfect time to work on your CV, follow people on LinkedIn who work at companies you’d like to work for etc, so best of luck if you are job-hunting at the moment.

Process Safety Corner

Even though it’s the holiday season, safety incidents continue:

As Robert Keft of Safety Australia Group writes: “Sadly we have been asked to conduct Investigations on a number of very serious incidents just before the Christmas break. One involves a workplace fatality. It is a reminder to all, to please take care when going on leave breaks and returning to work after the holiday period. Unfortunately we have seen this trend over quite a number of years. Please take care out there“.

The Weekend Watch

​In case you missed it, there was a lovely carol service from St Pauls, in memory of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II attended by the Royal Family:…​ .  And a more traditional carol service from Kings College Chapel:…

The Weekend Recipe

As it’s nearly New Year, it’s time for a classic Scottish New Year recipe, and today I’ve chosen Black Bun. Other culinary traditions include shortbread, see two recipes and a taste test here:… , and eating steak pie on New Years day, see… (although it’s perfectly acceptable to eat a steak pie from the butcher on New Year, you don’t have to make it yourself).

F Marian McNeil, who compiled “The Scots Kitchen” in 1929, notes: “Black Bun is the old Scottish Twelfth Cake, which was transferred to Hogmanay after the banning of Christmas and its subsidiary festival Uphalieday or Twelfth Night by the Reformers.” (starting in the 1580s). This alteration similar to how Christmas Pudding in England took over the charms which had previously been in the English Twelfth Cake, although Twelfth Night was still celebrated in England until the early years of Queen Victoria’s reign, when she ended the celebration, see….

Miss McNeil’s fascinating book is still in print and available from Amazon and other booksellers. The 1974 edition I have is here:… and there is a 2015 edition here:… . Amazon can be very expensive for second hand books, Abe Books can be significantly cheaper:

More details on the Christmas ban here:…, which dates back to 1583, long before Oliver Cromwell’s country-wide ban (in fact a lot of Christmas traditions simply moved to New Year in Scotland around this time).

I was reminded of Black Bun back at Hallowe’en, when we had a very fruit Hallowe’en Tea Brack recipe, as Black Bun is the only cake I know which has even more fruit than that Tea Brack! The black colour comes from using currants and raisins – sultanas and other dried fruit are definitely not allowed. There are a couple of online versions of Black Bun, here and here, but I thought that F Marian McNeil’s recipe, which she notes is “an old family recipe”, would be the most appropriate. It’s basically the maximum amount of dried fruit mixed with a spicy slightly sweetened dough, encased in a thin layer of pastry.

Ingredients for one 7 inch cake tin or a 2lb loaf tin:

Pastry (just an ordinary butter shortcrust pastry, really):

  • 12 oz plain flour
  • 6 oz butter
  • water to mix


  • 1 lb currants
  • 1 lb raisins
  • 1/4 lb sweet (ie not bitter) almonds, chopped – I used flaked almonds then chopped with a knife, or you could use ground almonds
  • 1/4lb mixed peel, chopped to currant size
  • 8 oz plain flour
  • 2 oz demerara sugar (any sugar will do if you haven’t got demerara)
  • 1/4 oz of either ground cloves or ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 oz ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice (“Jamaica pepper”)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 a small teaspoonful baking soda
  • buttermilk or beaten egg, or use ordinary milk – sufficient to mix
  • 1/2 tablespoon brandy


Set your oven to 350 F, 175 C, Gas Mark 4. Line your tin with paper and grease with butter. Make the shortcrust pastry as usual and put on one side until ready to assemble (eg wrapped in foil or cling film in the fridge). Next, weigh the dried fruit, chopped almonds and mixed peel in a bowl. Some people add the brandy and stir around until its absorbed, others will leave this mixture overnight to mature. In a separate, larger bowl, place the flour and sugar, then add all of the spices and the baking soda and stir until well mixed (a fork, or a balloon whisk). Beat a couple of large eggs, or have buttermilk or milk on hand in a jug. When the spices are evenly distributed, which is easy to tell because of the colour, tip in the dried fruit mixture, and add sufficient beaten egg and /or buttermilk or milk to moisten the mixture.

Now assemble the black bun. Roll the pastry out thinly, and line the base of the tin and the edges of the tin. You may have too much pastry, but better that than too little – the excess can be frozen in a bag for later use (don’t forget to label it, and ideally date it, otherwise your freezer ends up with various Unidentified Frozen Objects).

Place the filling inside the tin, and pack it down to make an even layer of fruit surrounded with a little filling. Put a pastry lid on top (moisten the edges with water to get it to stick). At this point, Miss McNeil says “with a skewer make 4 holes right down to the bottom of the cake”. Then prick the top of the pastry as well, and brush with beaten egg (you may have some left over if you’ve mixed the filling using egg). Bake for 3 hours or longer. (nb the original recipe is for double quantities than those I’ve given you, so test after 2 hours)


I made this with half quantities of those described above, it was about halfway up the cake tin, but it is a deep 7 inch cake tin. Did you know that you can convert parts of an ounce to teaspoons? just multiply by 6, eg 1/8th of an ounce becomes 3/4 of a teaspoon. Details here:… The filling mix should be very solid with fruit. When you add the fruit to the flour, stir well with your hands before adding any eggs or milk, so it’s all well distributed round the fruit. You should end up with pieces of dried fruit with a sticky dough coating it. Assembly can be tricky because the thin pastry may not stand up on the walls of the tin, but do your best. Do not make the pastry thick, it’s incorrect. And don’t forget the sugar! I did, and I think it would help the spice flavour to have that little bit of sweetness. The overall cooking time for my half version was 2 hours.

Notes on the online recipes:

  • Both online recipes have more sugar than Miss McNeil’s recipe, pro rata twice as much. But with so much dried fruit, you don’t really need so much (but do remember to use a little!).
  • Both online recipes use significantly less spice than Miss McNeil.
  • The Scots Magazine recipe photograph shows pastry which is far too thick. You want it to be about less than the thickness of pound coin – making as stiff a pastry as possible will help with the structure of the casing. The “baking with granny recipe” has a better pastry thickness.
  • However, the “baking with granny” recipe uses half the dried fruit, and even suggests sultanas, but this is not really Black Bun, but a cheaper variation called Scots Currant Loaf, which uses much less fruit and a bit more sugar, and is also described in The Scots Kitchen. You can see that there is a lot less fruit in this photograph compared to the Scots Magazine one.

Reasons to be Cheerful

A Christmassy funny video – Not another partridge in a Pear Tree, narrated by the incomparable Penelope Keith

(thanks to Phil Rowley for the suggestion).

Many thanks for reading this newsletter, and many thanks to everyone who has contributed to it this week. As usual, if you have anything you’d like to share, please email me and I’ll do my best to include it in the next newsletter.

I hope you have a good day today, and a lovely weekend with your family and friends. Take care, stay safe and I hope to be able to write to you next week, in the New Year.

Kind regards,


Janet Greenwood