Monday, 1 February 2016

The end of January.

I don't know about you, but I am absolutely exhausted.

We have lost so much wonderful talent this fatal January.



And now, Terry Wogan.

During the spring of 2009, I emailed his Breakfast show with a silly skit about cars backfiring. This had been prompted by a story line in "Eastenders": one of the characters had been shot, another was heard to remark they thought it was 'just a car backfiring'. This caused much ribaldry on the show along the lines of 'when was the last time you heard a car backfire?'

I emailed the show roughly thus (I didn't save the original: I'm not that sad, though I wish I had, now.......)

RE: Cars Backfiring

I'll have you know I had a spot of bother getting the car started the other day. The old starter motor was whirring away but to no avail. So I opened the bonnet, cleaned the plugs, checked the points and rotor arm, charged the battery up a bit, and finally swung the thing into life with the starting handle.


My ears are still ringing........

The car in question is a 1948 Alvis TA14.

It was customary to use a pseudonym when emailing the show, so I entered it under the name Rusty O'Heap...........

Best I could do...... :-)

I wasn't half surprised and, needless to say, delighted, when those familiar tones read it out verbatim!

This started a bit of a run of emails to the show.

It was great fun.

Rusty wrote in complaining about 'our esteemed chancellor' conning the togs into scrapping perfectly good cars (a measly £2000 quid to scrap the old Alvis? Over my dead body!) while the 'current Mrs O'Heap' got confused over which old crock she was getting rid of under the deal (turns out she thought she could keep the Alvis and replace me!).

By a happy accident, I emailed this in on his wedding anniversary. It closed the show.

Everyone knows Sir Terry was virtually synonymous with Children in Need.

At the 2009 Alvis Owner Club End of Season Meeting in the Coach and Horses in Mayfair, I got everyone who wanted to participate to buy a Wogan style pseudonym for a fiver, all proceeds to the Charity. Thus, we had such club notables as Lorelei Kandling, Truly Warne-Mainbaring, and Lou Stappets ( you get the idea from these few examples.....) signing a card which we enclosed with a cheque for about £100, I think.

I posted this off to the show with a framed replica white Five Pound note.

One of the threads on the show was that of the old Shakespearian actor, Chuffer Dandridge, who was still looking for the old white fiver he'd lost while on tour in the 1950's. Rusty had previously emailed the show in high excitement to say he'd found it down the back of the rear seats of the Alvis while looking for some change to purchase a packet of 10 Players Weights........( I know it's Chuffer's, it's signed on the back C. Dandridge Esq, Mrs MaCavity's Hygienic Digs for Thespians, Catford).

All this warm-hearted whimsy was great fun and it was lovely to hear it acknowledged on the show.

And now the broadcasting phenomenon that was Sir Terry Wogan is no more.

If you were a listener, you felt like he was speaking only to you, and he was your friend.

Goodbye my friend, and thanks for the warmth, the laughter, and all the good fun in your company.

Friday, 22 January 2016

And another left........

That's the title of a chapter from Dornford Yates' "The Courts of Idleness", a bitter-sweet and elegaic volume of short stories about the era that ended in the cataclysm of The Great War.......

Worth a read if you can find a copy. I have a feeling it's long out of print. But Yates writes beautifully, even if he's dismissed now as a purveyor of sub-Bulldog Drummond spy stories or sub-Wodehousian yarns with his 'Berry' series.

Ian 'Lemmy' Kilmister might have approved: perhaps surprisingly, he was, by all accounts, a great fan of Wodehouse..........

For this fell January continues to cut a swathe through the talent that delighted and amazed us though the seventies, eighties and nineties.

Dale Griffin, drummer with Mott the Hoople and Glenn Frey of the Eagles will, in Yates' words, 'haunt the Courts no more'.........

You might find my pre-occupation with these sad passings a rather morbid topic to choose after so long an absence from blogging.

Perhaps it is.

Those of us in our fifties and sixties, who were around when the music of Bowie, Mott the Hoople, The Eagles, and Motorhead was brand spanking new, are having to face up to the fact that with the death of these musicians, our youth, though long fled, has truly become history.

And that in little more than the blink of an eye, we shall be history too.......

It takes some facing up to........

In the meantime, I'd like to share the following clips. It's the usual left-field mix of oddness, but is my little tribute to those who have left the stage this January and will haunt the Courts of Idleness no more. (You'll have to cut and paste into your browser as I'm too thick to make a link work.......)

Some cheesy Swedish vibe is goin' down in Groovetown, but I think it's important to say "Thankyou" all the same.

Now who can deny the central premise of this? David, Glenn, Ian, and Dale......... We didn't know what we had until now......

This one's really out there: I think he came third in the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest with this.

You're about to see why....... though I still think Cliff was robbed!

Yes....... The music WILL never end......

Power to you all, you boys who played rock and roll, and made our lives so sweet, and power to you, though we never met, my lovely, lovely friends.


Tuesday, 12 January 2016

The Time of Endings

I suppose any time is a Time of Endings......

It just depends on where you are standing in relation to the beginnings.......

So, callow youth of this day, hearken ye unto the musings of this old codger, nay, indulge him with a hearing.......

For soon, so soon, time's fleet foot will have marched the seemingly impossible distance between your "now", at your Absolute Beginning, and will have taken you right to the very threshold of your "then", that far-off, nebulous, theoretical-seeming door marked 'Exit'............

I speak as one who knows only too well he is standing if not in the doorway itself, then much closer to the approach to it than is in all conscience comfortable.

And I wish to clap, whoop, cheer and applaud those who pass through it before me.

David Bowie is dead.

No-one born after a certain date will have any idea of how influential he really was.

No, really.......


I watched him on TV as Ziggy Stardust in the early Seventies. My parents were watching with me. They had lived through World War Two. Of my grandparents, then living, two were Edwardians and one was a Victorian..............

Imagine then, their reaction to Ziggy.

"Slack-jawed disbelief" doesn't even get close.........

Ian Kilmister is dead.

If ever there was a life lived at full throttle, all the way to eleven, maximum overdrive, then his was that life.

Ed Stewart is dead.

As far from being a pop/art/acting/style-icon or fully flipped-out sex and drugs and rock and roller as it is to imagine, yet dear in the memories still of those of us who were Children of the Seventies.

And I will cheer and whoop and holler to the skies for them all.

As one ages, time appears to accelerate. The years go by much faster, it seems.

I have considered why this is so: when we are twenty, a year is one twentieth of our lives. At sixty, one twentieth of our lives is three years. So what took a year when you're twenty lasts only four months when you're sixty.......

Thus, do we and our little lights accelerate ever the more quickly toward the heart of the BlackStar?

And vanish into a naked singularity?

If so, let us be kind, and comfort each other while we may.

And be not afraid of The Dark.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

I would always rather laugh than weep........

.....for were I to weep, my tears would be of an all too impotent rage.

There has no doubt been a veritable snowstorm (sp?....Ah, the Auntie Mary Filter is still up and running, despite the lack of use due to low blog traffic these last few months.....) of commentary on blogs, forums, Facebook, Twitter and all other forms of Soshul Meedja concerning the killing of a majestic lion in Zimbabwe by a bow and arrow wielding tourist by the name of Walter Palmer.

I cannot bring myself to add to it.

What do you say about someone so entirely deficient in every respect that killing animals for fun is, for them, not a sign of deep dysfunction that should get them straight into therapy, but a perfectly respectable hobby?

Where is his moral compass?

What sort of magnetic field has warped it so badly that this sort of behaviour is not only considered acceptable, it is also not merely excused, but is actually condoned by his peers?

The answer lies in his profession:

It's good to know that he's in the right job, at least.........

Thursday, 2 July 2015

It's been a bad couple of weeks for 'Easy Listening'............


First, a couple of weeks ago, James Last........

Today, Val Doonican.........

As trouble invariably comes in threes, if I was Roger Whittaker, I'd worry..........

I don't suppose I really liked their music, but it is as redolent of the 1970's in all it's Bri-nylon glory as Watneys Red Barrel, power cuts, industrial disputes, entirely rubbish fashion, Cossack Hairspray  and Hai Karate aftershave.

Boy oh boy, did the Seventies suck...........

But good old Val rocked!

Backwards and forwards.

In a rocking chair.



R.I.P. Val.

A nation mourns.

And with some cause, as it remembers it's childhood, lost and gone these many years.......

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The Alvis has to go.........

That got your attention, didn't it?

Roger has fixed the water leak.

Having dismantled the cooling system and removed the front engine mounting as described in the previous post, the water pump itself was removed for inspection.

A straight edge showed the block was fine, but the manifold casting bowed out of true.

This lent it all the water retention potential of the proverbial sieve........

While I was busy earning an honest crust at The Hole Making Shop, Roger got on with the business of removing 10 thou from the offending flange with a file. He finished it off with progressively finer grades of wet and dry on a flat steel plate. Proper job!

On my next day off, I re-fitted the water pump and gasket using a judicious dab of "Heldite".

(Great gear, this, by the way, but only use it on one side of the gasket. If you get carried away and do both, you may rue the day you ever heard of the stuff. When you next try to remove the component, it could be a real struggle.)

Again, none of that takes long to say, but it is fiddly in the extreme and consequently very time consuming.

T'was ever thus.

For with the water pump assembled, you have to fiddle the plain and locking washers between the  spokes of the water pump pulley and onto the studs on the front of the engine. Then you have to fit the nuts........ the right way round....... and without dropping the whole lot on the floor. It sort of has to be tickled into place.

(Incidentally, I'm with Sinyavsky on the matter of swearing at things when they are being made: in "A Voice from the Chorus", he describes a stove being built which gets offended so badly by all the swearing that it falls apart. I find the murmering of soft imprecations and the singing of calming tunes, however, has a most beneficial effect.)


It must have worked, because once all was reassembled, and the radiator was fully topped up, the engine wept not a solitary tear from gasket, gland or hose.

While I was doing this, Roger was busying himself at the lathe making up a bit to solve a problem with the choke cable.

The cable that came with the car is a 1960's replacement. It never worked terribly well, but the worn-out original engine ran so rich it wasn't really needed.

The problem was that it came from a car with a metal dashboard. The threaded section of the mounting was far too short for the much thicker wooden dash of the TA14.

Now, it is no great secret that Roger is the brains of the outfit, while I but heave, grunt and, occasionally, learn something.

But I do have the odd savant moment.

This, folks, was one of those moments.........

"What we need here is a piece of tube, threaded internally to fit the existing too-short thread, cut to the correct length to go through the dash and threaded externally to take a nut so it can be tightened up from the back"

Roger muttered something complimentary about me 'coming along nicely' and went off to find a bit of tube.

An hour and a half of deft lathe work and some studied application of the tap-wrench and die-nut set later, and the choke cable was firmly in the dash.

(Another option would have been to thin the dash board a bit by chiselling out a piece of wood. My Error Warning Indicator Light came on at the thought, though: It would weaken the dashboard considerably just where you need it to be strong so you can pull the choke out against it. It could very well have pulled right through. Also, one miss-hit with the chisel, and the dashboard would have been mullahed.....)

Another bit of Roger's finest lathe-work went onto the other end of the choke cable: the little nadger that attaches the cable to the carb had long ago vanished. Nothing daunted, he calmly ran up a new one on the lathe, then cross drilled it on the pillar drill to take a split pin.......

(I suppose I could have blogged about this under the title "Properly Choked" or similar, but the moment passed me by....)

With everything asssembled, we thought it high time to wind some fuel up from the new stainleess steel fuel tank, through the new copper fuel lines, using the spiffy new ethanol-proof pump from Burlen Fuel Systems.

With all that new-ness, you'd think it would have worked, wouldn't you...........?

Well, the pump rattled away like a good 'un, in true S.U. style.......

But no petrol........

We decided to try priming the pump by taking off the glass filter bowl and filling it.

This did a great job of getting fuel to the carb, but for the fact that the lovely looking braided fuel line supplying it (that Roger had kindly donated to the cause) had perished internally and was spitting fuel all over the gaffe.

We switched off smartly and mopped up........

It was then time to stop for the day, as I had to see my accountant and then give blood (There is a certain, barely ironic, synchronicity about having dealings with HMRC and the National Blood Service in the same afternoon..........).

I always advise taking it very easy after donating blood, so took the rest of the afternoon off.

I didn't return to the workshop until my next day off from work a couple of days later. (This part-time malarkey is the only way to go, believe me.)

I returned to find Roger had painstakingly filled the fuel line to the tank from the bulkhead end with several 100ml syringes full of fuel, and replaced the U/S fuel line with some clear plastic petrol hose attached to the banjo union salvaged from the braided job as a temporary solution to the problem.

So, surely, all we needed was to switch on and the pump would start to pull fuel as it's designers intended.........?


After some headscratching (and the rigging of a very Heath-Robinson looking test rig involving another S.U. pump, sundry bits of pipe, a small jug of petrol and a bucket), the fault was traced to the change-over valve.

This switches the supply from the 'main' (short fuel intake pipe) to 'Reserve' (long fuel intake pipe) in the tank by means of a solenoid moving a ball bearing which blocks one pipe while opening the other.

It had gone all "House of Commons" on us, by which I mean it was making all the right noises, (the solenoid was clicking away beautifully in the way that solenoids should), but it wasn't actually doing anything constructive.

The current theory is that the spring against which the ball sits is not seated correctly, but only another strip-down will prove this.

We wanted to press on, and as we are also pursuing the scent of another, much less moth-eaten, changeover valve, we elected to get around the problem by filling the tank to a level which allows the 'Main' pipe to come into play. Put simply, three trips to the local BP station with a gallon can, and we were there.

The pump began to pull fuel, but also a lot of air.

(But there was no evidence of further leakage anywhere, which suggests this is just the system purging itself)

It was still enough to keep the carb full though.......

Yes, the TA14 has to go.

And here it is.


Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
Falleroo! Leroo! Loo!

Thus we end today's post much as we began it, in a synthesis of nonsense, (this time Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll), but chortling joyfully none-the-less!


Monday, 2 March 2015

Time March-es on....

Well, here we are in March..........

The March of Time?

Where did the last two months go?

Well, the last five weeks have been spent fettling the Alvis.

It is now round at my friend Roger's place and has been since  the last week of January.

I've been using up some annual leave and also been working on the thing in almost every other unsequestered moment.

So far, (with Roger directing operations and generally providing the brains while I heave on heavy things and grunt....), we have built up the engine with cylinder head in place, torqued down to 35 lb/ft, and got the push rods and rocker gear all on and working nicely.

We have cleaned, checked and fitted the distributor, renewed the plug leads, polished painted and repaired the entire ignition side of things (including the manual advance and retard).

We have filled the sump with Morris of Shrewsbury's best SAE30 Running-In Oil, fitted the starter motor and battery, and had the engine turning over like a good-un.

We have removed the chassis irons onto which the rear bumper fixes.

(This involved a broken Riley Nine half shaft, copious quantities of WD40 and some proper straining of the nadgers, but we got them out in the end.)

The inside of the rear of the chassis was then purged of rust flakes and grot by careful application of a Patent Witts Device. This piece of lateral thinking comprised of a large bottle brush shoved in the end of about six feet of rubber hose. It pushed all the crud down the inside of the chassis box sections and out through the holes in the chassis where the wiring loom enters and exits. The cleaning job was finished off with by blowing through with compressed air. The inside of the chassis was then Waxoyled to within an inch of it's life.

This particular job left me filthy and aching all over.........

Myriad broken parts have been repaired (switches, senders, change-over valves..... Roger spent four hours alone on tinkering up a working ignition switch from a bagful of woebegone bits....... the list goes on...).

Some parts which have sadly gone adrift as the car has scudded between Bournemouth, Wisbech, Cottenham and The Parish have been replaced. This involved a trip up to north Norfolk to spend a thoroughly enjoyable day in the company of Alvis TA14 expert and spares man, John Wheeley. Losing those bits was a blasted nuisance, but the pleasure of finding their replacements and in  making Mr Wheeley's acquaintance more than made up for it: this visit deserves a blog post all of it's own....

We have stripped the replacement stainless steel fuel tank out, cleaned and painted a bit of the chassis that I had missed in 2006,  got the fuel changeover valve working, repaired the fuel sender unit and re-installed the tank with spiffy new rubbers on the newly cleaned and painted tank-straps.

Oh and installed a complete new wiring loom from Autosparks.

None of this takes long to say, but bu@*er me, it takes some doing.......

The new dashboard is in, as are the instruments. It's not bolted up 'proper job' yet, as there is still more loom work to do, but it's hanging in place with all switches doing what the manufacturer intended.

We have fitted the fuel filter (a lovely thing with a glass bowl filled with a stack of cleverly fashioned brass washers through which the petrol flows....), the new Burlen Fuel Systems ethanol-proof S.U. fuel pump, and we've replaced the corroded steel fuel lines and random bits of horrible plastic pipe on the bulkhead with copper.

I fitted the manifolds and carb. Roger machined up parts to take up the slack where we've removed the now redundant  anti-run-on device that formed part of the ignition switch set-up.

Victorious after last night's success getting the fuel change-over valve to work, today we topped up the cooling system with water preparatory to nipping out for a gallon of go-juice to see if the thing would actually fire-up.

Of course, water pissed all over the floor.

This is not supposed to happen.

A major leak from the blocked-off hoses I'd made to close the cooling system where there should have been take-offs for the heater was soon fixed.

And with remarkably little in the way of profanity........ (all that was required was to lean harder on the winding-irons when tightening up the Jubilee clips....)

The steady drip from the bottom of the timing chain case was not.

Water is absolutely NOT supposed to exist in any quantity within (or indeed, issue forth from) this component. (One might reasonably expect a tiny little, almost post-nasal, drip of oil, but no more.)

The world went very dark as I considered the possibility that we might just have spent the last year and hundreds of pounds reconditioning a fatally flawed engine block.

At times like these, the temptation to wash your hands, close the garage doors, and walk away is very strong.

However, such temptations were overcome. The engine was supported on a trolley jack, and, with the radiator removed, was jacked up enough to facilitate the removal of the front engine mounting bracket.

This allowed us a proper look at the front of the engine from the timing chain cover up to the water pump.

Even though the radiator and block had been drained, a driddle of water was still leaking out of the bottom of the water pump to cylinder block joint. Even better, it tracked perfectly down the front of the timing chain cover and IN through the hole for the crankshaft pulley and starter dog (these were removed to give a clear view.....), whence it then leaked out through the nut and bolt at the lowest point of the chaincase cover........

So we have a bastard of an incontinent water pump joint, but at least the block isn't terminally forked......

I hope......

Watch this space.