Friday, 29 November 2013

Digging deeper.....

....and, for once, not deeper into the poo.........

I've spent today fossicking around the Alvis engine with Roger.

I also squeezed in a short break to nip round to Jane's to have a brief but loud nervous breakdown..

(She's used to this and coped admirably, force-feeding me tea and biscuits until the sense of being utterly overwhelmed receded.......)

It isn't that bad, actually.

(I suppose it never is, really, but if you are anything like me, you will know that one's sense of proportion is the first thing to go......)

It's just that I've been feeling stressed because I'm working to a deadline (the TR4 being finished), and I have to spend tomorrow and possibly Sunday too trying to resuscitate the Suzuki.

Thank goodness Mark The Engineer has agreed to help, or my toys and my pram would be in separate counties by now.....


Roger and I have extracted the camshaft.

(Chorus, off: "OOOOH Matron!")

The Alvis Club Oracle has been consulted.

Apparently, the factory laid-on about 20 thou of case hardening.

'Hmmmm' we thought,'it's got to be worth trying to polish out the corrosion with a whet stone........'

This Roger did while I drifted out the cam followers and cleaned them up.


Careful application of the micrometer showed that the fettled lobes are between one and two thou of the undamaged ones. So we still have at least 18 thou of case hardening to go......

What does this mean?

Cue drum roll...............

It means this cam will shaft again!



Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Digging in.........

Well, today, Roger and I did a bit of exactly that.

We got properly stuck into the spare engine.

But first, we had a quick troll over to Mildenhall for to relieve fellow Alvis Owner Club member David Little of his engine hoist.

We are going to need this to get the rebuilt spare out of Roger's garage and into a car to take it to Cottenham.

(I am NOT, under any circumstances, whatsoever, even if sponsored for charity fundraising, going to even attempt to push the bloody thing there, okay?)

The hoist will be needed to lift the engine out of the car and into Jane's workshop. It will be needed again to drop the rebuilt engine and the gearbox into the Alvis.

But all this is still very much in the planning stage.

Firstly, we cleaned up as much as we could of the bits we'd taken off.

(If you want to make a killing on the stock market, buy shares in the manufacturers of 'Gunk' engine de-greaser and the firm who make Tesco Value kitchen roll.........)

Then we dismantled the timing chain tensioner and removed the timing chain, tensioner wheel, oil pump, and crankshaft.

We haven't got the cam off yet. It looks forked. Moisture has been sitting between the cam followers and the cam lobes during the engine's fifty odd years under a bench, and it has eaten through the case-hardening.

It's a shame, but there you go.

We are now in hot pursuit of the fabled bag of unicorn manure that is otherwise known as a brand new TA14 cam.

We know they're out there.......


Tuesday, 26 November 2013

"The Big Push" or "It will all be over by Christmas"......

Will it 'eck as like.........

The Alvis restoration, that is...........

Do any of you remember the 1970's television series "Last of the Summer Wine"?

I warn you.

If you do, you are going to have flashbacks............


My good friend and fellow Alvis owner, Roger, (who has been my guiding light throughout the strip-down of FFU 297's engine), joined me round at Jane's (whose garage and workshop I have annexed for the duration of her Triumph TR4's resto') on Saturday to have a look at the cam shaft.

We hadn't actually planned a Prayer Meeting, but, sadly, so it turned out........

And these were no prayers of supplication, I assure you.

It was the administration of The Last Rites.

One of the cam lobes was worn beyond re-use. This means a new cam and new cam bearings, white-metalled and line-bored.

This pushes the original engine beyond the point of no return as far as I am concerned.

Mark, The Royal Engineer, will be happy to tell you tales of items long thought beyond redemption that I have succeeded, against advice, received wisdom, and even common sense, in resuscitating.

But you've got to call it somewhere.

Yes, the original engine could be reconditioned.

With the bores re-sleeved and bored to standard, the crank big end and main bearings white-metalled and line bored, ditto the cam shaft bearings, and every moving part within the engine (with the possible exception of the con-rods) replaced, and likewise all the moving parts in the cylinder head, we'd have, as Grandad Eric used to say, 'a good motor to go, boy'.

The cost would be in the region of £5,000-£6,000.

"Blow that for a game of soldiers, boy" (Grandad Eric again.......)

For that blows the budget out of the water.



And 'Tsk tsk tsk...............'

Cue sound effect of chins being scratched.......

"Well," says Roger, "time to have a look at the spare engine that has lurked in the back of your shed since you bought it off ebay some time ago, two weeks before a significant birthday of Jackies, not that that caused any commotion".

(Actually, in fairness, that's not exactly what Roger said. I'm just giving you some back-story.......)

I dropped Roger back at his house, saying "I'll pop round to the shed and just get the clutch and flywheel off: it'll make it easier to move."

This I did with surprising ease, as I'd already practiced this manouvre on the original engine ( n.b. Alvis TA14 restorers: Buy a very large crow bar of the type that features in gangster movies.... the most reluctant fly wheel will fall off in fright in the face of it...)

Then, t'was but a quick sprint to Emmaus in the car for to scrounge a sack barrow for the afternoon.

Yes folks, it was time for "The Big Push".

I managed to load the engine onto the sack barrow, drag it out of the shed, though the gravel, up the drive, through the fisherman's car park and onto the Drove Road.

Have any of you any idea how much an Alvis TA14 engine block, (albeit sans cylinder head, ancilliaries, clutch and flywheel), weighs?

Well, the answer is "A lot"......

and the bastard gets heavier the further you push it......

I paused at the railway line.

(Didn't mention that before, did I? Well, it's two tracks, express, London to King's Lynn......)

I did not merely pause to catch my breath, however, (though by this stage that was a sorely needed requirement.)

No, I paused to ring Roger to tell him I was at the level crossing and would he be a brick and pop over on his bike with some plywood to assist me across (and, though unsaid, help me drag the bloody thing off the tracks if the worst happened and it fell off the trolley......)

His response was to question my sanity.

I am, of course, well used to people doing this.

Also, my Cleverly Applied Psychology had worked: I was at the level crossing; one third of the way to his house; he wasn't about to tell me to turn around and push it back home again, now was he?

By the time Roger arrived, I'd got my breath back.

With no further fanfare, I wheeled the engine over the level crossing without incident.

I'm jolly glad Roger was there, though.........

The next two-thirds of a mile were mightily strenuous, let me tell you.

Roger wanted to take over, as he didn't want me in A&E......

Roger is some way north of seventy years old.

I explained to him that if he did take over, and his wife found out, then I would be visiting A&E anyway.........

And so it was that I completed "The Big Push" solo, depositing the spare engine in Roger's garage before collapsing in a grateful, if steaming, heap.

I came round to find the engine swinging from a block and tackle, about to be deposited on a very butch looking Workmate.

There was just time to remove the sump before I had to sprint back to The Parish to wash and brush up for the Madeleine Peyroux concert at The Cambridge Corn Exchange that Jackie and Rhoda had booked.

Roger gamely agreed to remove the pistons and have a look at a sample big end for me.

The results were:

Madeleine Peyroux Concert: Disappointing in the extreme verging on the absolutely rubbish......

Engine: Unbelievably good! Pistons: factory standard Specialloid. Crank big end: needs a gentle regrind but still at original spec. Cylinder bores: okay to go again with a light hone/glazebust and new piston rings on the original pistons.

Will it "all be over by Christmas"?

Engine: 'no chance'.

Madeleine Peyroux tour: 'we can only hope'..........


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

In a perfect world......

....... I would be reclining in a deck chair on the camomile lawn of my rose garden contemplating the buzzing of insects and delightful bird-song.

 A large gin and tonic, or other revivifying beverage, would be at my elbow.

"Et," (as the French would say, if they spoke as I do, 'comme un Russe'), "tout dans le jardin etait beau........"

Cue sound effect of idyllic birdsong soundtrack scratching as needle and tone arm are swiped across record.

In the real world, we have just journeyed to Ely and had our boiler and central heating system purged of the black scunge that has knackered the bearings of the last two central heating pumps.

We have also pumped out the septic tank and gave fixing the Vacuflush 5000 the Old College Try.

(We failed, but are not downhearted: the pump has seized on.

This means any flushing activities are controlled by galloping up and down the boat 'twixt loo and circuit breaker board.

It's only really a problem if you try it with your trousers round your ankles............)

Also, on our way back home, we noticed the navigation lights aren't working.

And China has just bought in and released a fully operational mouse, which has now scarpered into the distant recesses behind the sofa.

I spent today doing wood, water and diesel chores, then sloped off for a bit of Alvis engine fettling.

I managed to remove the crankshaft, but failed to get the camshaft.

(Yes, I have tried to eschew the seemingly limitless possibilities of hilarious blogpost waggery that devolves around titles like "The Cam's Shafted."

-Or anything similar to do with "Cranks", for that matter-.

But look, try finding a vacant Visitor Mooring in Cambridge at the moment.......... thanks to The Continuous Moorer Fraternity, you'll laugh until you stop .....

And neither Cambridge Council nor The Cam Conservancy seem bothered.........

But I digress...........)

Yes, A Perfect World may be filled with birdsong and rose gardens.

The Real World is full.

Full of full poo tanks, broken toilets, knackered engines and flippin' idiots.

Oh, and the soul-soothing compensation that is a very real Large Gin and Tonic........

Thank goodness for that.



Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Old Wheels.........

James and Amy, of nb Willow, have a set of New Wheels.

It is called Jasper the Fford.......


(When I'm feeling particularly clever, I shall add a link............ :-)

Out here at The Parish, however, far away, as we are, from the bright, cosmopolitan lights of Cambridge, we are contemplating "Old Wheels".

Two sets, in fact.

A set of "Old Wheels", (new when James and Amy where in kindergarten: one Suzuki Vitara.......)

And a set of "Very Old Wheels Indeed": new when my sainted father joined the Royal Navy...... (he missed World War Two by a whisker, but had to make up for it in both The Malay Emergency and The Korean War aboard convoy escort sloop, HMS Alacrity. This was no-one's idea of a pleasure cruise.......... but I digress.....)


The Vitara.........

Well, I went to pick it up today, it's thermostat having, reportedly, been sorted, and met with our mechanic, Amato.

He wore a look that I can only describe as 'rueful'......

He'd done all the work that seemed needed, taken it on a shake-down run, and all seemed tickety-boo.

He'd then rung us to say it was ready and could we please pick it up.

For divers reasons too boring to relate, I was unable to do so until this afternoon.

By which time he'd taken it for another little run, and it had started to gurgle and overheat.

And also issue forth copious quantities of white smoke........

(Catholic readers please note, this latter symptom does not mean a new Pope. It does mean a new head gasket........)

Amato wouldn't take the money for the work he'd done, asking only £20 to cover the cost of the parts, and advised me to scrap the car.

(This, I think, was jolly decent of him......)......

But, as I write, the Suzuki's fate hangs in the balance.

Do we threaten Engineer Mark with the negatives and so get him to help us try to sort the car out over at Jane's place?

Or do we do the decent thing and put it out of it's misery?

(The car, that is, not The Engineer...)

Watch this space..........


Very Old Wheels Indeed.............

Despite various alarums and excursions, (not least my involvement in a spot of Guerilla Gardening...... which took place in the vegetable patch of a venerable member of the local clergy. It is, perhaps, something over which a veil should decently be drawn.....), work on stripping down the Alvis engine has progressed in a slow but steady manner.

Lots of photos and notes have been taken.

Every component removed has been meticulously cleaned, tagged and bagged.

(Pop into Halfords and ask them for a Haynes Manual for a 1948 Alvis TA14!

If you are lucky, the response won't include any coarse allusions to sex and travel.

You may, however, get told to "make your own".

Which is what I'm doing.....)

So, what's the condition of the engine looking like, now it's more or less stripped?

Well, it ain't good........

and it ain't bad.....

It is a gnat's nadger away from being completely and utterly and irredemably forked.

The cylinder bores are scored.

The pistons are plus 60 thou.

The rings fell off the pistons in myriad broken pieces.

The big ends are shot away.

The crank journals look mullahed.

The entire bottom end of the engine is caked in a Jurassic Tar so thick it needs an archeologist, not an engineer, to penetrate.

That said, I have been wielding the Gunk and the wire brushes.

Things are looking cleaner.....

It remains to remove the timing gear (a gauge has been made, photos taken, and notes made....), the journal bearings and the crankshaft.

The block will need re-sleeving back to standard.

The crank will need a re-grind, if, it is not outside tolerance....

(You can sleeve a block...... An undersize crank is a mud-weight in waiting.........)

Pretty well all the moving parts within the engine will need to be replaced.

It is all so completely shagged that I can but marvel at the skill of the designers and the engineers who put it all together.

It not only managed to run at all, but ran quietly and well, (if rather smokily).

Thus, in memory of these servants of St Alvis of Holyhead Road,

"We Shall Rebuild It".........


Friday, 8 November 2013

"The Day Today".........

.......had a very inauspicious beginning.......

The Suzuki is poorly again: once more, over-heating......

We've been here before, and I rather thought that the heater hose that didn't blow the last time this happened had gone to join the one that did......

Anyway, Suzuki was booked in to Amato's in Chesterton this morning to see what was up.

Now, call me old-fashioned, but I don't reckon much to the idea of driving an over-heating car through the Cambridge A10/A14 Milton interchange and attendant rush-hour gridlock.

So I didn't leave until 09:30.

This gave me ample time to fossick about aboard Pippin, during which I succeeded in snapping the frames of my glasses.

'Bother', I said, "and for good measure, "tsk"........

What do do?

Well, rather than fly off the handle, get all stressed and generally behave like a four-year old, (my default setting in circumstances such as these), I rootled around in the back of the medicine cupboard and found some disposable contact lenses from the days when I used to wear such things and which had been kept by for just such an emergency.

So far, so calm......

Vision thus corrected, I drove the Suzuki to Chesterton without incident, met Amato, handed him the keys, then met our friend who had kindly agreed to meet me there to give me a lift home.

All still pretty calm..........

Despite the fact that sorting out the busted glasses was going to take most of the day and completely sod-up any chances I might have had of getting in some useful tinkerage time on the Alvis engine......

On a very precious day off..........

I held it together pretty well during the search for the letter from my optician telling me I was due a sight test..........

My grip barely loosened when I rang them to make an appointment.

Even when my call was answered by a Bright Young Thing who had clearly just passed the "Smiling-Down-The-Telephone" course...........

She gushingly imparted that ":-)" the earliest I could be seen was next Thursday, ":-)", yes they did repairs, ":-)", but would have to send my glasses away ":-)" ........ ":-)"

I fear that, at this point, I grew somewhat terse.

I needed my glasses fixing NOW!

THIS DAY!!!!!!

I am a Hole-Maker for Heaven's sake!

And one CANNOT attempt hole-making if one is not sure where the bleedin' target is!

Good Grief !!!!


You will be surprised to hear that frustration did not get the better of me.

I did but smile back down the phone, nodded, and booked the only available eye-test appointment, while declining the postal glasses-mending service, and wishing the "Smiling-Happy-Down-The-Phone" one a good day.

And all this, while thinking how nice it would be to give her multiple paper-cuts then toss her into a pool full of ravenous Piranha fish..........

Clearly, I'm getting old.

Anyway, Vision Express's Customer Service Course alumni notwithstanding, my glasses were still broken, I had to work on Tuesday, and I couldn't do it wearing contacts. (They're okay for distance vision, but no good for my recently acquired long-sightedness.......yes, it's me age....)

 A solution had to be sought.

I rang Alleyes in the nearby village of Over.

(There's another town not too far off called Ware. Let's not pursue this...... For this way, surely, madness lies....).

Alleyes are brilliant. They are a factory outlet shop operating from an industrial unit in Over. I got the frames that I broke this morning from them two years ago. Could they fix them? Well, they'd have a look....

Actually, they couldn't.

Apparently, you can't solder titanium.

(Serve me right for getting the state-of-the-art-mega-poncey-lightweight-frames then...........)

But they could sell me identical frames for £125, pop my existing lenses in, and promise to install any new lenses that might be required as a result of my forthcoming eye test in the same frames at no charge.

Well, when it comes down to it, any problem you can solve by throwing money at it is not a tough one.

I need to be able to see clearly and well, not just 'okay', to do what I do.

And I needed to be able to do so immediately.

The new frames were replete with my old lenses in under two minutes.

I'm calling that a result.

And the best bit is, all this glasses-mending behaviour was over by 13:00hrs!

An afternoon and evening of blissful Alvis tinkerage has seen the cylinder head off the engine, all the cylinder head studs removed, carefully cleaned, bagged and labelled, the head gasket teased off and hung intact on a nail, and the water pump housing removed, after one Hell of a knock-down-drag-out, thanks to copious quantities of Ambersil freeing-off agent, a piece of wood, and a club hammer.......

What do you mean, "You want photos?"

Wait until "The Day Tomorrow"...........

Saturday, 2 November 2013


We love France, and Paris in particular.

It is an unalloyed joy to go there and just revel in the uniquely French 'otherness'.

We do this by wandering around on foot. Not for us Le Metro or l'autobus.

This year's visit was primarily to see our favourite band "Pink Martini" in concert. Neither of us had ever been to a gig abroad before, so it was a first.

Our friend Rhoda, of nb Malus, also moored at The Parish, had never seen Pink Martini.

Or ever been to France, never mind the capital........

Nor, indeed, does she speak any French, having opted for Spanish while at school........

So it made perfect sense that she should come along with us!

Here are some photos:
Parisienne rooftops, 2nd Arrondisement, seen from our room at the top of L'Hotel Tiquetonne.
If you squint, you can just see the Eiffel Tower..........

Slightly clearer with the zoom to max............
(And no we weren't actually in flippin' Blackpool!)

We caught the Eurostar on Saturday morning, arriving at Gare du Nord about 15:00, local time.
We then walked to the hotel down La Rue de St Denis.
Rhoda was quite disconcerted by the number of heavily made-up, and, (though one hesitates to criticise the world-renowned Parisian 'chic'), rather over-dressed ladies standing idly in the numerous doorways of that famous thoroughfare.

I explained that they were probably waiting for their mothers to take them to church...........

Having dropped off our luggage, (Jackie and I travel so light that this amounted to little more than the contents of a spotted handkerchief on a stick), the three of us then went on the first of many a pleasant stroll.

(Actually, for 'stroll', read 'route march': we averaged about 20-25kms a day.......)

This took us first to Sainte Chapelle in the 1st Arrondisement, there to have 8.5euros worth of the world famous medieval stained glass. Jackie took some pictures on her phone......

 T'was stunning.

 Then onward to The Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame.
They rang the bells for us, which was very thoughtful, I felt.......

Our patrol then took us to the tip of the island and the Square Du Vert Galant. There were some jolly nice looking Dutch barges moored up close at hand. One wonders what the mooring fees are like.......

Trop cher pour nous, j'ai pense.........

These wonderful sculpted faces look down from the retaining wall between the upper and lower walkway on the Ile.
View from the steps

Bridge onto Ile de la Cite

At the top of Rue Montorgeuil, pigeons bathe in the water used to give this market street it's morning wash.

 At the junction of Rue des Petits Carreaux and Rue Reaumer is this wonderful vertical garden.

Some of the information about its creator, Patrick Blanc.

We ate at  "Restaurant a la grille Montorgeuil" on our first night. It's very interesting to have a look at Trip Advisor!

Some loved it....... some hated it.......

We, however, had a perfectly good meal and had no complaints at all! My lamb was sublime, Jackie enjoyed some veal, while Rhoda investigated snails. (She finished the lot!)

On the day of the concert, we went on a very long walk.

This entailed walking up to Monmartre and Sacre Coeur, enjoying a real French Farmer's Market, then walking east toward the canal and a place Jackie had been recommended to visit for lunch.

By the time we arrived, I was done-up. But Jackie decided the place looked a bit expensive so we would continue our search for luncheon on foot.

Cue a bit of a melt-down from yours truly, who had navigated us across Paris on foot with no more aid than Michael Middleditch's "Essential Guide" and now needed to sit down and be fed and watered.....

Well, the girls managed to stuff the toys back in my pram long enough for us to walk another 100m to an inviting looking bistro by the canal.
Here we enjoyed a most lovely brunch. If you need to find the place, it's on Quai de Jemmapes just up from the rather expensive looking Hotel du Nord.

This overlooks the Canal St Martin. Not far from the Bistro 'Bang' is the lock where the canal and its traffic disappear into the earth............
Parisienne trip boat, going.....




You will be relieved to hear that, according to the map, the canal re-emerges from The Underworld at Place de la Bastille, where Boulevard Richard Lenoir turns into Bassin de l' Arsenal.

I would quite like to take Pippin on this little trip.......

Anyone want to come?


Anyway, to get to the concert venue, we had but to follow the subterranean course of the canal along Boulevard Richard Lenoir to the theatre called Bataclan.

We queued up and got in. Apparently my face fell further than the level of the watercourse when we realised it was a standing only venue.... (remember we had walked about 25 kilometres by this time...!)

Beer was bought. A leaning place was found. And the concert began......

Pink Martini are a fabulous band. Their singer, China Forbes, is brilliant. She hasn't been too well of late, so the amazing Storm Large was taking her place. But we were delighted when Thomas Lauderdale (band leader extraordinaire) announced that China was appearing.

Cue rapturous applause............

(When I've grown up and understand how these things work, I'll add some links to Pink Martini. For now, if you want some great sounds, Google them and have a look.....)

Some concert photos:

And how better to end our lovely holiday than with an iconic image!