Monday, 26 April 2010

The Last Alvis

Today was a day of from The Hole Making Shop: I was free to tool about as I pleased, as Jackie left early for London and a last-minute editing job in Kentish Town.

I did some more work on the box, then walked to the station to retrieve my bike, which Jackie had borrowed as hers is still not quite right.

On the ride home, I passed my friend Roger's house. He owns a beautiful Alvis Speed Twentyfive dhc......(actually, it's caveat time: if you aren't interested in old cars, look away now)........ and is often to be seen on his drive tinkering away.

Today, however, it wasn't the Speed Twentyfive that was being spannered, but a much more modern job. In fact, the TF concerned couldn't have been any newer. It was the last Alvis car (they carried on making tanks and armoured vehicles until a couple of years ago) ever made.

(And no, I'm not going to tell you its registration number, who owns it or where it lives!)

It was on Roger's drive for a bit of fettling due to having been recently re-commisioned after a long lay-up.

Well, it would have been very rude not to offer to help, now wouldn't it?

The usual overheating problems cause by the build-up of lots of crud in the cylinder block and radiator are probably not going to be solved by the usual stiff dose of Rad-flush, so its been booked in to a specialist for chemical cleaning of both rad and block. But how to get there safely, though, without cooking the cylinder head? Especially difficult as the temperature gauge was u/s...

Well, to cut a long story short, the offending capillary type gauge and sender were eventually extracted from the car, but only after removing an unfeasibly large amount of the dash and surrounding equipment......

We then reassembled the latter and blanked off the sender unit aperture in the cylinder head with another spare unit so the car could be driven back to its home.

Meanwhile, the old unit will be fixed. The recipe for a working temperature gauge is as follows: You will need a box of matches, a bucket of ice, a bucket of boiling water, a small jam jar full of Bradex Easystart and a soldering iron........

If anyone actually wants to know more, leave a comment and I'll post the method as well as the ingredients!

By the way, if you're wondering why, if I'm so clever, I haven't fixed Jackie's bike yet, I offer the following:

Bike with dodgy back wheel versus iconic piece of motoring history.

Go figure!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

What a lovely day!

Today was one of those Lou Reed type of days: nothing especial planned, expectations raised, or large sums of money spent on elusive 'fun'. But it was still a 'Perfect Day'.

Jackie had noticed that Cheffins had a big auction of Agricultural by-gones at Sutton near Ely. She thought it looked quite interesting and did I want to go?

An enormous field full of everything from steam traction engines, vintage tractors, classic cars, classic bikes, ephemera, tools, odds and ends and downright junk?

Would I like to go?......

Does The Pontiff express an interest in Catholicism?

Do ursines seek a comfort break in The Woods?!!!!!!!

God surely smiled upon me the day I met Jackie.

So this a.m. we trundled off to the auction. Should have taken a camera! Some of the old tractors were so pretty!

(Can you envisage a 'pretty' tractor? No? Well, you have no soul then, is all I can say).

The traction engines were superb too, though I think at £75,000- £220,000, Mrs Witts's little boy will have to get more than a paper round to afford one.....

I especially liked a huge generating set dating from the 1920's. It featured an enormous three cylinder Lister engine driving a beautiful and huge alternator. The all-up weight must have been coasting near to the three to four ton mark, but goodness me, what a boat engine that would have made.....!

I wish James Duck had been there to buy it, although for his continuing good health and welfare, (and Amy's sanity), it's probably just as well he wasn't........

We footled around the auction all morning, fortified by bacon and egg butties and good coffee. (Cheffins seem to have this whole thing sussed!)

Despite a very forlorn looking 1930's restoration-project tractor giving me 'please take me home' looks, we emerged from the auction-fields sans purchase. (Good job really: the bank account is still reeling from the double whammy of mooring fee and EA licence.)

However, Jackie wanted to show me a shop she had found in Ely. "Peeks", to be precise. Here I parted with some cash for a pair of Armoured Wellies (steel toe-caps:ideal for working on the wood-pile), a pair of 'Indestructible Socks' (we'll see about that....) and a Proper Job log splitting maul.

My kind of shop......

Then, after a quick stop at the supermarket, we called in at Emmaus on the way home.

Well, it would have been rude not to, really, especially as they had one of their periodic '50% off' sales on.

We bought an oak single drawer filing cabinet for The Spare Room Project (more of which another time) for a very reasonable £15. Result!

Back at the mooring, our landlord had very kindly fixed both of our bikes! Mine needed the rear wheel re-spoking, the brakes adjusting, saddle and controls adjusting, and a thorough lube. Jackie's needed two new tyres, a new inner tube, and a replacement gear. After major thanks were expressed, Jackie pedalled off to Cambridge with Andreas and Lou from nb Rowanberry to visit Majestic Wine for a 2 hour Tasting Session.

I am a wine drinker, not a wine connoiseur, and the idea of spending two hours in the company of trainee Jilly Gooldens all waxing lyrical about 'accents of Turpentine and raspberries with an interesting hint of Tarmac in the finish' fills me with a nameless dread.

So I stayed at home and got on with the job of restoring the mahogany box I bought from Emmaus a week or so ago. I got out the Bosch heat gun, a couple of shave hooks and a cabinet scraper, and whiled away the rest of the afternoon removing the tarry black and red paint. It is a long way from finished, but is already looking good. I made a start on the oak cabinet before Les Vigneronnes wobbled back home, so all is set fair for completion tomorrow.

Such a Perfect Day!

Monday, 19 April 2010

Falling in? No, falling off......

I have (so far) fallen in twice.

The first time, my cat like reflexes (eat your heart out, Dalton, the Bond gig was MINE, you hear???) meant I actually ended up upside down, hanging from the gang plank. Until, that is, I espied the crate of San Miguel I had been carrying aboard about to do the Titanic thing. I made a hopeless, but understandable, lunge for it, and, well, got very wet indeed.....

The second time was at Jesus Green in Cambridge, where, having moored up, I made the error of "just checking the mooring line", my last words before an unscheduled inspection of the bottom of The River Cam......

Today, however, was a first.

Today, I fell off.

Yep. I fell off the boat.

And it hurt.

A lot.

But do not fear. I am finer than I have a right to be. All bones are still in one piece and although I am somewhat scuffed and will have some rainbow bruises, all systems are still Condition Beige.

So how did it happen?

Well, today, Andreas from nb Rowanberry joined Jackie and I in taking Pippin upstream to load up more of the willow wood that has been felled by the Cam Conservancy. We got a Shed Load! We dropped in at The Bridge on the way home for a very well earned pint and then chugged back to our home mooring on Tracey Island (Well, it's secret...... and Pippin does look a lot like Thunderbird 2....)

I was on Pippin's roof unloading wood. It was all going very well until I threw another heavy log from roof to bank. This one had a small branch sticking out of it which inserted itself into the fleece I was wearing.

You don't have to be a Physics Graduate to work out what happened next...

As I flew through the air, I thought 'Hmmmmm, I'm going to break something now', headed as I was toward the soft-ish bank now liberally covered with very hard logs.

According to Jackie, I executed a very creditable commando roll, and then lay quite still while my body ran a Level 5 Diagnostic on all systems. Andreas thought I was dead, or at least mortally pierced by sharp bits of tree.

No such luck, everyone, you're going to have to put up with my ramblings for a bit longer yet!

All is well, though I have a feeling I'm going to be as sore as a sore thing tomorrow.......

Sunday, 4 April 2010

On rain, pubs and wet Bank Holiday Weekends....

Happy Easter everyone!

Don't know what the weather's like where you are, but it is decidedly wet up here at The Edge of The Fens....(World?).

This has put the kybosh on any plans I might have had to saw up more of next winter's logs, or chug down to the 48s at Clayhithe to remove more large stuff from the bank.

So, what to do..........?

Well, as I type, it's still only 10:05 a.m.: a little early even for me to be considering spending the day in the pub......

However, I've just looked at Chertsey's blog, ("Beware the pubs of March"), to see that they have had a pretty awful time of it trying to find a decent pint in convivial surroundings in that town.

So, I've decided, in the spirit of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, to share the findings of my very extensive research into the riverside hostelries of the Cam and a bit of the Ouse.....


"The Cutter Inn" on Riverside is a good pub.
Lunchtime is the best time to go: The beer is good, (Adnams etc) and the food and service fine. (I've never had a duff meal there yet) However, of an evening, it gets louder, younger and more boisterous as the night wears on. This may be exactly what you are looking for, but personally, I find that drunken youth is generally only ever of interest to itself, and tedious in the extreme to anyone who is over the mental age of their shoe-size.

The Cutter's biggest problem is its proximity to Cathedral Marina, home to enviromental vandals, eye-wateringly expensive diesel, and a biblical plague of plastic boats. The owners of the latter will go 'boating' of a weekend, which involves unmooring from their marina jetty and sailing the grand total of 120 feet to the public moorings outside The Cutter, where they sit all weekend, before embarking on the long voyage back to their jetty. This means absolutely no chance of a mooring spot for a narrowboat or widebeam.

So, in fine weather, (none of the plastics would venture out in the rain: they might get their nice shiny boats wet.....) The Cutter's out. If it's raining, though, you are in with a chance.

The Ouse and Old West River.

If you detour off the Ouse and on to the Old West River for half an hour or so, you will get to The Lazy Otter. I've used this pub when helping our friends Neil and Jackie of nb Olive with a major paint-job and blacking in the nearby dry-dock. I've not taken Pippin up there so can't comment on the ease or otherwise of mooring, although there is a GOBA mooring very close to the pub.

Like most modern pubs, The Otter lacks anything in the way of atmosphere, being designed as a very efficient food and drink outlet. This it does well, the beer seems well kept, and if cider is your thing, they do Pickled Pig, a local brew of legendary strength. Not a place to fall in love in, or indeed with, though.

Chug back off The Old West and onto the Cam, hard-a-starboard for Cambridge, and the next pub is "The Five Miles From Anywhere".


Even if you are about to perish through dehydration and inanition.

It is a large, ugly, modern building. It is a very long way to the next pub, but that, of itself, is no recommendation for this dreadful place.

Your next stop is The Bridge at Clayhithe. There is usually ample space to moor, as the local plastic boat club next door has its own, presumably subsidised, club-house. Most steel boats that moor here don't object to budging up a bit if necessary, and if Pippin is in residence, you'd be welcome to come alongside.

The pub itself is a bit of a curate's egg.The interior is cosy in winter with real fires, and cool in the summer, if a bit on the gloomy side. The decor is aging nicely, aquiring a patination that suggests it's a real pub, not a designed confection. The large riverside beer garden is lovely in summer. However, it's owned by the notoriously rapacious pubco Punch Taverns. This means the landlord, Noel, who is a thoroughly nice bloke, is locked into buying beer at inflated prices from Punch. Passing this on to the clientele means a round in The Bridge is pretty steep. The staff are pleasant, willing, overworked and underpaid. They have my sympathy. The food is 'okay', though service when busy can be glacially slow. Again, this is the fault of the pubco, who won't give Noel the budget for enough staff to get things running at the proper speed. A good place to go if you aren't in a hurry.

On then through Bait's Bight lock and to "The Plough" at Fen Ditton. Can't tell you much about this one except that we haven't been back since it took me five minutes to get served the first time we moored up there.

There were two other customers in the place at the time.......


Assuming the river is sufficiently clear of rowers, your next stop will probably be "The Fort St George". I say probably, because having moored up at Jesus Green, you are in Cambridge proper, and have a choice of pubs that is unsurpassed for many miles. The Fort is a good place. Food's good, beer's good, service is pretty good, and it's staggering distance from the visitor mooring. What more could you want? Well, as I say, you are spoilt for choice, so from here on, you are on your own.

That said, if The Lucky Ducks read this and want to add any local knowledge acquired now they are town-dwellers, feel free!

Well, it's now 11.15, so The Bridge will be open.....

Cheers, everyone, and Happy Easter!