Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A new benchmark

Well, a new bench, at any rate.

Yes, a man must have his shed, and within his shed, he should have a stout, sturdy, proper-job bench on which to tinker.

My shed has been sadly lacking in the bench department.

Up, that is, until today...

I had a day off from the Hole Making Shop today,(just as well: after a fortnight's annual leave, I was properly snookered after two late shifts), so after dropping off the re-cycling I took in Emmaus.....

I came away with £35's worth of someone's attempt at bench-making. It featured lots of nails and wobbled horribly.

So why buy it then?

Well, it came attached to a rather decent woodworking vice, and the bench itself, while ill-conceived and poorly executed, was made of some decent lengths of wood.

I demolished the bench at Emmaus to get it into the car and spent some of the afternoon and most of the evening rebuilding it to John standard (lots of screws, careful alignment, no wobble.)

All I need now is a bench top, as all the wood that was forming this part was re-used in other guises (i.e. removing the wobble factor.)

A trip to Mackays in Cambridge is due: they were selling large off-cuts of chipboard for £4.00 when I was up there last weekend........

Photos to follow!

Thursday, 22 July 2010

New cars, old cars, and cars so old it's really rather silly

Today, Jackie bought us a new (to us....) car.

It is a Volkswagen Polo, 2004/5 model, mileage, 17,775. It comes through a friend of Jackie's mum's, is totally straight and honest, and is frankly a bit of a bargain.

Well done Jackie!

I cannot help but wonder what the poor old Suzuki will feel about it, though.

I mean, I just did my best to trash the poor thing, then made it up by repairing all the damage done, plus making it a fab new battery tray. It must be VERY confused.....

So now, on to the So-Old-It's-Silly car............

This is my Alvis TA14 dhc.

It's called "Car".

(Well, you are reading the blog of a couple who named their cat 'Thomas'......)

"Car" is old, leaks various fluids, and smells funny.

What to say, then, about me, it's owner?


Well, only this:

"Love is a strange, strange, and wonderful thing".......

Is it not, Jackie, darling?.... xx

Monday, 19 July 2010

Recycled Breadbins.....

The Suzuki now has a new battery tray!

My earlier attempts to replace the rotten-to-non-existence original (I actually pulled the remains of it out of the engine bay with my fingers...) resulted in last week's disasterous trip to Bottisham Scrapyard.

This resulted in a broken windscreen, a buckled-beyond-repair bonnet, (I forgot to latch the bonnet properly. On the way back, the inevitable happened....) and £4.00's worth of old Honda bits which might be persuaded to fit.

All very expensive: Secondhand bonnet, £45. New windscreen, fitted today, £98.80.

So, silly me.

But nothing daunted, I reckoned I should have a go at repairing the battery tray area properly.

I soon abandoned the Honda parts. They could be shaped to fit, but it wouldn't be as tidy as a custom made bit of bend and mend.

This is why I bought the stainless steel breadbin at Emmaus.

"Breadbin?" I hear you say. "A BREADBIN????!!!!!"

Well look, learn and admire.

I say this not out of any want of modesty, but in the hope that I'll convince you that I'm not a complete twit.

An incomplete one, perhaps, but that's for you to decide.

Here it is, an Ikea stainless steel breadbin, made in Taiwan, bought from Emmaus in Saturday's Sale for 50p, and about to be transmogrified.......

It's still a breadbin, but some small modifications are clearly underway........

At this point, Paul and Sabrina wandered up to see what I was tinkering with. Paul is restoring a Ford Capri, so shares my interest in mendology. His help in getting to the stage shown in the next picture was invaluable.

Can you see what it is yet?

Much, much later, it's a breadbin, but not as we know it, Captain......

(Hand model, the elegant Sabrina)

(Hand, the filthy dirty, swarf-cut mitt of the author....)

In situ, battery ready to go in...Ah, we haven't got one yet....
Paul! Got a minute?....

We also made a stainless steel strap to go under the tray to which the hooks and bracket from the Honda could be attached.

TA DAH!!!!

A massive "thank you" is due to Paul for taking an interest, being the perfect helpmeet, and running me to Halfords in the evening to buy a new battery!

Nice one Paul!

The Definition of "A Bargain"

According to my cousin Caroline, is:-

"Something you don't need at a price you can't afford to miss....."

So true, oh, so true.....

We had failed to go into Ely on Saturday as planned due to my being in a filthy temper, for no good reason, and the gearbox filler not wanting to undo.

(The two may have been related: remember, our trusty Newage PRM box has taken an absolute hammering what with being slung into reverse from Cruising RPM (Ahead) to Emergency Full Astern to prevent the deaths of idiot rowers on occasions sadly too numerous to mention, and has , as a result, started leaking oil. A lot of oil.......).

Anyway, we eventually topped-up the gear oil. But by then had lost interest in a cruise to Ely to pump out.

Jackie was by now thoroughly bored with me doing my Grizzly Bear With A Hangover impression, so I was packed off to Emmaus to consider my behaviour....

Emmaus had a 50% off sale on!!!!!

Below, some of "The Bargains" bought:-

Possibly Caithness Glass: No problem if not, as it will do jolly nicely for Jackie's favourite Gerbera stems. Cost: 25p

This was sold as a 50p candle holder. It is actually a 1920's/30's Swan Vestas match holder: you put the matches in the middle then strike them down the side of the globe on the glass serrations. Lovely!

Two nice bits of Royal Worcester Evesham pattern oven-to-table ware, bought on behalf of my Mum, who loves this china.

This is a present from us to Mum and Dad for being fab..... Dad has a lot of this pattern of Thomas Webb cut glass.

On a much more utilitarian note, I bought this brand new never-filled diesel can for Pippin for £1.00.....

I also bought this. It's a stainless steel bread-bin. Cost: 50p.

Much, much, much more about this particular purchase in a later post.................

But 'La Piece de Resistance' must be this:

It's a treadle operated wood-turning lathe.

I have, so far, no need for it , or indeed any real interest in turning wood.

But £15.00?

By definition, it's got to be a bargain!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

"Southfork Barbecue" or "Texas comes to Cambridge"

Do you remember the 1970's TV soap "Dallas"?

The Ewing family used to breakfast daily on the porch of their Texas mansion in what can only be described as a good gale of wind....

The Butler can be seen in some episodes actually leaning into the breeze to pour the orange juice...

Tonight was the night of Andy Rankin's Midsummer Energy barbecue on the Common in Cambridge.

Having cycled into the aforementioned gale (our wind turbine has been showing a steady 4-6 amps all day...)to get there, I was fully expecting a proper Southfork style barbecue.

Luckily, the wind dropped, the food was excellent, and the company even better.

I have just cycled home, full of sausages and lager, with the wind at my back.


Mobile Mayhem, and the Suzuki starts to come back together

I needed to phone a chap about a replacement windscreen today, but needless to say, the phone's battery was flat and I couldn't find the charger.

Minutes after emailing Jackie, I found it, plugged the phone in, and rang the windscreen man.

He said he'd ring me back with a quote for a new screen as he thought Grunty Fen were grunting a bit loudly asking £35 for a secondhand one.

I left the phone charging on the ledge by the open shutters so I would still have a signal and hear the call when it came. Needless to say, on returning from the bathroom, the mobile was in the water, still plugged in to the charger, it's electrics totally fried.

Instead of swearing, panicking, giving up and going back to bed, (or a combination of all three), I coolly removed the sim card, dried it off, and put it in Jackie's old phone, which I then plugged in to charge.

It worked!!!!

Big deal, you might say. But this was a major achievement for a man who's understanding of phones stops at nice big heavy bakelite ones attached to the wall by coilly wire.

So I don't think I did too badly, considering.

I checked my voicemail and picked up a message from Windscreen Man, rang him back, and agreed to his quote of £85+vat. He's coming to fit it Monday 9.30-10.00ish. I've cleared it with our landlord, so no problems.

So, down one phone through being stupid, but all in all okay.

I've spent the rest of today fiddling with the battery tray arrangement I'm improvising to replace the one which had completely rotted away beneath the old battery.

The Honda bits I got have been persuaded to fit, but I need some off-cuts of steel to bend to bracket-shapes to secure it.

A trip to Emmaus yielded naught, but nothing daunted, I sloped off to the tip to see what I could find.

Well, not much in the way of sheet steel, but I did come away with a nice vintage felt-lined steel sliding-drawer engineers toolbox and a small roasting dish (which will be ideal for catching the oil dripping fom the leaking gearbox seal).

£3.00? Sorry, Jackie, it just had to be done.....

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Mishaps, Jams, & How To Get Out of Them.........

One of these fine days, I will actually blog about something to do with boating and the beautiful waterway on which we live.

No doubt, hardened boaty bloggers click their tongues in deep disapproval of wb Pippin, her faintly bonkers crew, and our insistence on blogging about life in general, rather than life aboard......

But hey, each to their own.

(If you fall into this category, by the way, caveat! Not much boating in this post either, I'm afraid, so perhaps you needn't read on.....)

Anyway, to business.

Today I drove the old Suzuki out to the scrapyard on the Bottisham Road.

Not, I hasten to add, to leave it there to a slow and lingering death, but rather to replace some parts that had been removed when we fitted a temporary replacement battery a week or two ago. The problem was, Jackie had got a bit over excited down at the recycling centre and had thrown away some left-over bits for which she couldn't possibly see any further need......

Now I'm all for recycling, but, as was pointed out, (gently, I hope), throwing away anything to do with the car, restoration projects, seemingly redundant bits of old tat, or whatever, is a complete and absolute no-no.

Unless, of course, I have been asked first.........

Yes, I know I would now be sitting atop of a man-made mountain of junk visible for miles across The Fens, were it not for Jackie's frequent and timely interventions.

But, this time, she got it wrong.

Some 'important for the MOT test' bits of Vitara were slung, namely a battery tray, the threaded rods that hold the battery securely in place, and various fixings.

No big deal, I thought. I'll just nip down to the scrappy that Andreas has been using and, if I can't get the bits from an actual Vitara, then I'll get something close from another Japanese job that can be adapted to fit.

And this is what I did, parting with the princely sum of £4.00 for some Honda Vetec and Nissan Micra bits. Ten minutes with the angle grinder and a spot of percussion engineering, and Bob's your Uncle, I thought.

Oh no.

Oh dearie me, no.

Oh no, no, no, no, no.......

Nothing so simple........

You see, Clever Clogs had opened the bonnet to check sizes of various bits of knackered car against what was required, (and, in fairness, had done a truly outstanding job: the bits I got will do the job brilliantly with the minimum of fettling).

What I neglected to do was check that I had shut the bonnet properly before I drove off.......

Can you see what's coming?........

Well, I couldn't, when the inevitable happened and the bonnet lifted at 35 mph, snapping both hinges as it flew back to crack the windscreen.........

Fortunately, the 'B' road I was on was very quiet. The one car behind me shot past (bastard!), and I pulled over onto the ample verge to survey the damage and shake quite a lot.

(I have never understood The Adrenaline Junkie's desire for life-threatening excitement. Whenever it happens to me, I always get the trembles something dreadful......)

A quick systems check showed:

- bonnet: bent beyond repair.

- bonnet hinges: split in twain, Master Gunner.

- windscreen: mortally wounded but hanging together.

- driver: on automatic; shocked but functioning......

And so it was that I picked up the bonnet, lumped it into the back of the car, checked steering, brakes, lights, wipers etc (all Condition Beige)and drove home.

The Law of Sod dictates that in this situation, driving a bonnetless car up the A14 the three miles to Milton and then onto the A10 to Waterbeach, I would doubtless be descended upon by the full might of the Cambridgeshire Constabulary's Traffic Division.

Well, they must have all been taking a (doubtless thoroughly well earned....) tea-break, as I made it back to the mooring without any earnest roadside conversations with representatives of the East Anglia Law Enforcement Community.


Eat your heart out, Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues!

As I parked up, our landlord's daughter Bree wandered up.

"Everything okay, John", she said.

At this point I realised I couldn't actually speak.

The brain is a funny thing. It will continue functioning under extremes of stress, allowing the body to successfully achieve highly advanced motor skills, like driving, but then won't allow simple stuff, like talking (something I've been doing a very great deal of since the age of about two....).

It's called 'shock', I suppose.

Anyway, when I had recovered my composure, I explained what had happened.

Bree's Dad, Martin, had, by then, arrived.

He decided what was needed to get me back to normal was a can of Fosters lager.

The first one seemed to be working, so we tried again......

Ah,......... Condition Beige!

With powers fully restored, we set about sorting out the mess. I rang Jackie and explained that I had very foolishly and carelessly broken the car. She was brilliant about it, got straight on to various scrapyard websites asking for new bonnets etc and said she'd ring back with any results.

Martin, meanwhile, suggested I try an Auto-Dismantlers at the gorgeously named Grunty Fen, near Ely.

Jackie's internet guys were by this time quoting £70-140 for the required bits, so nothing ventured, nothing gained.....

Grunty Fen had not one, but two Vitaras of the same vintage as ours!

A new-to-us bonnet would cost £45.


Martin very kindly drove me to the yard to pick up the bonnet. A chat with the chaps in the office lead to the very real possibility of the windscreen being fixed too.

I'm going up there again tomorrow with a shopping list........

Meanwhile, I feel the need to soothe my shattered nerves with lots of nice malt-and- hops style beverages.

Gooodnight, blogworld......

Monday, 12 July 2010

July Update to Ship's Log........

Time sure flies when you're having fun, doesn't it?

We've been having lots of fun aboard Pippin, hence no blog posts and tempus fugit.

My Mum and Dad visited us over the weekend of 3/4th July. They drove up from Bournemouth on Saturday, Andy Murray's exit from Wimbledon having seriously reduced Mum's interest in that afternoon's Men's Final.....

This was a good job really, as we had both been working flat out all week, and Pippin needed a thorough tidying. Jackie tackled the inside while I was detailed off to clean all windows inside and out (soapy water, squeegy, then vinegar and paper) and remove certain crates full of my accrued junk which could be safely deposited in the shed.

By the time they arrived in the afternoon, a newly roomy and sun-lit Pippin shone from stem to stern. It gives us a lot of satisfaction to show the boat off like this: Mum And Dad wouldn't have minded a bit if we'd looked more 'lived in', but we would! Hmmmm....a touch of the Adult-Onset Houseprouders methinks.......

Anyway, after a cup of tea and a gossip, I took them to have a nose round Emmaus in the hour or so before it closed at 5.00. Mum found some china she really liked, so that was a good result. (Jackie, meanwhile, went shopping for the big family lunch on Sunday.)

Mum and Dad then repaired to their hotel, The Crown and Punchbowl at Horningsea, for a wash and brush-up before entertaining us royally to a lovely supper in the restaurant there.

(It is widely acknowledged that the Crown and Punchbowl is proper-job..... They've stayed there before and always had a lovely time.)

Sunday saw much cooking and baking aboard ship. Jackie was up early making a Lemon and Ginger cake for tea, while I prepped the leg of lamb for roasting with garlic, rosemary and capers. (Stab lamb with sharp kitchen knife, push sliced garlic, fresh rosemary and capers down the side of the blade using the handle of a teaspoon: herbs then infuse the meat throughout while cooking.)

Jackie's Mum and brother David arrived for lunch by train, and a jolly nice time was had by all.

We then took Pippin out for a pleasure cruise down to Baits Bight lock where we turned for home. David jumped ship at Clayhithe to walk up to Waterbeach station for the train to London. We took Mum there by car after tea.

All in all, a thoroughly delightful day, with fantastic weather.

I had a day off on Monday, so Mum, Dad and I spent a very pleasant morning and afternoon at Anglesey Abbey. The house and watermill were closed but the gardens were open. They were sublime! If you are ever in the area, it's well worth a visit, if a bit dear if you aren't members of The National Trust.

We were both back to flat-out working from Tuesday onwards, so said cheerio to Mum and Dad on Monday evening as they were off to stay with friends in Fulbourn where a reunion of old school chums had been arranged. They arrived safely back in Bournemouth a couple of day's later.

This weekend just gone has been equally fun-filled and busy.

On Saturday, a call from my chum Roger meant I was back in The Last Alvis, heading to Stretham to have it valeted. The last time we went out in it, the brakes locked on through a combination of dodgy servo and failing master cylinder seals. That one we fixed temporarily at the roadside, and the car was duly properly sorted later.

So a quick blast up the A10, a wash and brush up, and quick blast back in order that I might familiarise myself with the car so I could drive it to The Alvis owner Club Meeting at Ickworth the following day.

No such luck.

On the way back, the now gleaming TF lost all power and coasted gently to the side of the road. The A10 is a rotten and dangerous bit of road to get stuck on the side of, let me tell you! We were in a proper pickle, having no tools, and between us, not enough muscle power to push a very heavy motor car half-on half-off the grass verge to the comparative safety of a lay by 30 yards ahead.

By a stroke of the most amazing good fortune, another Alvis owner happened by in his TA21 drophead and stopped to help. The three of us managed to push the TF out of harms way. The rest of the rescue is a bit hazy as I was actually getting quite dehydrated having elected to stay with the car while Roger, Jackie, Malcolm and others came and went with spares tools, advice and tow-ropes. It was baking hot and by the end of it I was feeling rather unwell.

Anyway, eventually, it was decided that we couldn't fix the knackered AC mechanical fuel pump by the side of the road, or safely tow the TF back to Roger's as it's an automatic. The breakdown truck was called and when Roger returned in his car, Jackie and I went to the supermarket to buy provisions for the following day's picnic.

I drank quite a lot of water on the way......

I have so far neglected to mention that while the Alvis TF is a very special one, the owner is even more so. Blind from birth, he has not only graduated in law from Fitzwilliam College in Cambridge, run a successful property renovation business and become a world authority on player pianos, running a company devoted to their renovation and repair to this day, he has also amassed a collection of fine Alvis cars.

My trip in the TF with Roger was to get me settled in to driving it so I could take the gentleman to Ickworth in his car.

Well, the fuel pump issue meant that wasn't going to happen, so we arranged to take him in our Suzuki, (Oh, the shame) so he could at least attend the event.

We had reckoned without Roger, though.

He got up at silly o'clock on Sunday, fitted the recalcitrant pump with new valves and diaphragm and got it running in time for me to pick up the owner and drive him to Ickworth!

Jackie followed in the Suzuki as a precaution.........

We all had a lovely time, shared our picnic with Roger and Pam and a couple of other hungry looking members (we'd bought far too much as usual, but under-catering is just not The Pippin Way.....), and saw some truly lovely cars. The only thing we forgot was the camera.


When we got home, we had a quick drink of water, packed uneaten picnic items away in the fridge, then drove to Potton to look at a possible replacement for the Suzuki.

It was a blue BMW 2002 2 door automatic. It was in very good restored condition, the boot was big enough to carry a Whippletree-load of seasoned oak off-cuts, and I thought it was well worth the asking price.

Jackie liked it, but didn't love it, though. So no iconic small German saloons came home with us. A shame, but never mind eh, there's always other cars.

This morning is the first day of a bit of annual leave for me.

Probably because of all the above, I didn't stir from my pit until 11:50.............

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Portrait of the Arts Grad as a rubbish scientist.......

Okay everyone, I may have played scientists in the past, (mad and otherwise), during my twenty-odd years of thesping, but, as yesterday's post proves, when I start improvising my own script, it's all going to go horribly wrong........

My post-prandial ideas regarding revolutionising solar heating break so many laws of physics, they would, no doubt, lead to some serious hairline cracks in the di-lithium crystals which power Pippin's warp engine, and might even set in train a chain reaction that could well spell The End of Civilisation As We Know It.

(Pause for dramatic music: Dum-dum-DAAAH!)

Oh well, back to the old drawing board......

Actually, a serious thank you to both Mark C. and Mike P-J for taking the trouble to comment so eruditely. I actually think Mike's idea will work. (See comments to previous post, 'Solar Electric Dreams'), and look forward to having a brainstorming session with him, (even if it's only his brain that's being stormed......), once his thesis-writing/cruise of the canals of England is finished.

Meanwhile, Mike, concentrate on the job in hand!!

(You can follow Mike's progress on Random Writings blog).

I, however, shall retire to my shed to tinker quietly without hazarding further ventures into the realms of hard science.

In the immortal words of Nigel Molesworth:

MATHS = 0 !