Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Entertaining the Neighbours

Here we are now, entertain us
While I was effecting repairs earlier this spring there were a few workers below who were building my garage. Several times I noticed them looking up towards me. During breaks they'd sit there having a smoke and again gaze upward. They seemed especially interested when I manually twirled the stack of yagis back and forth through their full rotation to test the coax rotation loops.

The crew lead had a smile on his face when I was back on the ground and commented on how much fun I seemed to be having. Curiosity is natural and I'm used to this kind of attention when I climb towers. In turn I often found myself watching them go about their jobs, also out of curiosity, and with a eye to learning how they do what they do.

Even without any nearby neighbours in this remote rural area a few times while on the tower I noticed passing cars slow down to watch me for a few seconds before continuing on their way.

I was reminded of this behaviour once more when I recently took down a small TV tower that a fellow ham had his eye on. He wanted it and the owners wanted to be rid of it. For me it was the pleasure of helping others and distracting myself from the ongoing delay in resuming my own tower work. The rain is pouring down as I type these words.

This last case was a picturesque neighbourhood on a lake shore with a mix of permanent and part-time residents. As we got to work a small crowd gathered. Several of the owners' neighbours came by to chat and watch me work. What was for me a routine task was for them a novelty. Over the 45 years of being a ham I've become used to this sort of thing.

I first noticed this phenomenon back in 1974 when I put up my first tower. Nearly every time I climbed the tower I noticed a few people come out on their decks, sit with their chairs in my directions and quietly watch. Occasionally I would catch a glimpse of a face peering out at me through a window. This suburban area of bungalows in Winnipeg (VE4) was newly built so there were no trees to impede the view.

As I did an increasing amount of tower work for others, back in Winnipeg, then Ottawa and elsewhere, the same thing would occur. Inevitably there were watchers in the neighbourhood. A few would come over to chat with the tower owner though most were content to sit and watch from their own yards.

In the early days I admit that I was annoyed by the attention. I couldn't help wondering if they were hoping I'd fall, damage houses through carelessness or had other unworthy reasons. Perhaps they were busybodies looking for a reason to call the authorities and make trouble for me. Those were the days when TV RFI was a commonplace phenomenon and I was always a bit on edge when meeting the neighbours. Being young and unsure of myself didn't help.

Over time I learned to relax. In conversations with some of the watchers I learned that to most people towers are quite intimidating. A few told me of their concerns of an accident occurring and couldn't help paying attention in case their assistance was needed. Others told me of their fascination with an activity that, to them, appeared both dangerous and intriguing. No one was against me.

At worst I provided a mild form of entertainment and at best it was an ice breaker.

I will now preach. But just a little bit. While entertaining the neighbours is harmless it also serves as an opportunity to demonstrate that amateur radio operators are considerate, dependable and knowledgable neighbours. Over the years I have taken to improving my safety practices and those I work with, especially so when working on others' towers, and even more so if the tower owner is not a ham. I have discovered a sense of duty for our hobby.

It inspires confidence when we show up with and use safety equipment. This is not limited to climbing harnesses. Hard hats are incredibly cheap and I make sure I have enough on hand to pass around to the ground crew. I insist on their use. I explain to everyone, including spectators, what I am doing and why I am doing it. This includes the deployment of safety lines and other precautions to prevent property damage.

There will always be those without an interest in the details, though most appreciate that explanations are given. They may only be interested in understanding that the job is being done competently despite being performed by amateurs. In this most recent job I went so far as to explain why some of the equipment I use would never be used by professionals due to increasingly strict workplace practices regulation.

Well, that's enough preaching. Be safe out there and be sure to use tower work as a form of community outreach. We want hams to be seen in a good light. So don't mind the attention we attract, or the entertainment we provide.

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