Wednesday, 19 February 2014

"Twenty tons of Horse Sh*t and the actor Malcolm Tierney.....".

It's an old joke, set as it is anywhere between the years of The Great Depression to sometime after the Hitler War, but one of the few I know that features both cargo-carrying on the canals and those of a thespic persuasion, old love........

I offer it here in tribute to my dear old chum, Malcolm, who took his last bow and curtain-call last night.

An impecunious theatre actor cannot afford the train or bus between the towns to which the show he is in is touring, despite it not being far.......

Showing the resource and improvisational ability for which the acting profession is so well known, he disdains Shanks's pony and decides to hitch a lift on a canal boat instead.

He has all of Sunday to accomplish the trip, so, having found a likely boat, he adjusts his fedora jauntily over one eye, clasps his cape about him against the chill of the dawn, and settles in at the bows.

As the mist breaks over the morning waters, in his mind's eye he could be aboard Cleopatra's Royal Barge, cruising the sacred Nile, rather than the rather more industrial variety upon which he finds himself.......... somewhere in the West Midlands.............

Just as he is sinking deeper into this pleasing reverie, he is rudely awoken by the shouted conversation between bargee and lock keeper:

"What cargo, there, bargee?", cries the lock keeper.

"Why, sir, 'tis but twenty ton o' horse shit and the actor Malcolm Tierney!"yells the bargee.

This ruffles the calm of the journey somewhat, but thanks to the smooth progress, gliding through the calm water, our actor hero manages to compose himself anew and returns to pleasant reverie.

Only to be once more jarred from his daydream by the boat's arrival at the next lock:

"What cargo, there, bargee?"

"Twenty ton o' horse shit and the actor Malcolm Tierney".

This time, the actor struggles to recapture his floating dream, but is on the very cusp of success when the boat arrives at the bottom of a very long flight of locks.............

"What cargo, there, bargee?"

Before he has a chance to reply, the actor turns and ennunciates in the rich, full tones of The Academy of Dramatic Art...

"Could I have a word about the billing, love?"

Goodnight, sweet prince.

You were a wonderful actor and a true and kind friend. You will be much missed.

May flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Engine work and gratuitous cute cat shot.

One of the reasons for the lengthy pause in blogging activities in January was the continuing work on the Alvis engine.

When I left off, Roger and I had just started the tedious job of honing the bores out by 10 thou to accept the new pistons.

This accomplished (finally.................! Checking and re-checking the clearances were spot on at 2 thou took ages), we gave each bore a finishing whizz with fine stones in the honing tool, then spent a day adjusting the conrods so that the gaps at the gudgeon pins were central and even. You won't be surprised to hear this involved bending them very gently in a vice. The pinch bolt that fastens the conrod to the gudgeon pin can cause bending of the rod as it is tightened. It was this we were seeking to eliminate. It was another lengthy and not terribly interesting procedure, but one which was essential if the engine is to run smoothly. (Stand up at the back whoever said "or indeed, at all........."!!!!)

It's worth mentioning that I had taken most of January as annual leave, so I was able to press on with the job.

I cleaned absolutely every component until it shone.

The inside of the sump was pressure washed, hardened deposits were removed with a wire brush in an electric drill, then the washing process was repeated to remove any loosened dirt or swarf.

Repeat for every last nut, bolt and washer.........

No wonder I was quiet during January!

(Actually, not quite every bolt and washer: the special bolts which fasten the conrods to the big ends were replaced with new, in case the originals had stretched. Yes, we've been very "Old Skool" in our approach to this rebuild, re-using much which others would probably have turned their noses up at, but I wasn't prepared to risk a bolt letting go and wrecking the engine.

I gasped a bit when the total for all eight of them came to an eye-watering £102.00, though.........)

We were also working against the clock: Andy and Terry from The Body Shop in Wisbech (who have wrought miracles with FU2's coachwork) needed the car back on the last Saturday of January so they could put the front end on and do the final finishing.

We did it.


Here's some pictures:

(Oh, by the way, if you have absolutely no interest at all in matters mechanical, please feel free to scroll down to the cute cat shot at the end of this post. Well, I do try to keep you all happy......... )

This is the engine shortly after I wheeled it over to Roger's place. The sump is off and under the Workmate. The pistons and conrods have already been removed. We then stripped out the crank, main bearings, timing chain, tensioner, cam shaft and cam followers, oil pump and distributor drive. Mucky, isn't it?......

Once stripped, we threw it in the back of the little Volks and took it back to my friend Jane's workshop. Here, I removed all the old paint and surface rust from the exterior of the block with a wire brush in an angle grinder. The engine was then treated to a good coat of black engine enamel.

Et voila. (I left the paraffin heater going all night in the workshop to prevent the paint from 'blooming' in the cold. It worked a treat!)
This is the block after a thorough wash-out. This involved scrubbing with 'Gunk', rinsing, scrubbing again, power washing, then blowing through with a compressed air line, before finishing off with a fetchingly pink vintage 1960's hair-dryer. Teasy-Weasy would be proud!
Most of the components were cleaned with little variation to this theme, though I did evolve a rather cunning way of cleaning the insides of the cam followers:tape over half the holes in the follower with gaffer tape, add a handful of small ball bearings and a squirt of gunk, then tape over the rest of the holes. Proceed to shake, cocktail style, remove some of the tape, pour out the ball bearings and gunk (now resembling oxtail soup) onto kitchen roll, rinse cam follower, repeat...... It worked rather well!

And here they are, awaiting attention. It's worth noting that everything was labelled carefully so each component went back exactly where it came from. This is really important.
The cam shaft comes out last when you're stripping down, so goes back in first:

Locking tabs on

With the cam in, pistons and conrods are next........
Then it's the turn of the crankshaft and the main bearings, closely followed by the now very shiny oil pump.
Can you see the oil can bottom centre of the above picture? Lashings of oil as you assemble is as necessary as the almost clinical levels of cleanliness. We used Duckhams Q 20/50, though when the sump is filled up, it will be with Morris of Shrewsbury's Running-In Oil which will be changed after the first 500 miles.

Once the bottom end of the engine was reassembled, care had to be taken to torque the castellated nuts down correctly. This is tricky: you can be pin point perfect as far as torque is concerned, but the castellations in the nut may not line up with the hole in the stud or bolt, preventing the split pin from going in. You just have to be patient, and swop the nuts over until they all line up nicely. (As a last resort, you can file a whisker off the nut itself on the bench grinder, but this is not recommended.......)

Then it's time to fit the sump. The oil strainer has a new gasket hand made in the correct cork by Roger:

On with the flywheel! It is stamped with a three digit number which must be lined up with the one on the end of the crankshaft, or the timing marks will be all over the shop.
Then we fitted the clutch and gearbox and lowered it all into the chassis.

Actually, it wasn't quite as simple as that.

These things never are...........

I took photos, but forgot to put the camera into black and white mode, so can't show this without disclosing the car's colour. I'm saving that for The Big Reveal, so suffice to say, we got it in in the end. (If you're reading this because you are about to attempt the same, the selector mechanism/gearbox top plate has to come off for installation as the gear stick won't clear the bulkhead.....)

Anyway, that's about it for now.

Oh, and here's the cute cat shot I promised:

Tomorrow, I journey to Royston to pick up the completed chrome work.

That's going to be a biggish bill...........


Tuesday, 11 February 2014


And I mean the water level, not my now half-century-old hairline!

I looked up from the computer after posting yesterday's blog to see the lock gates open and the red board reverted to green.

How long will it last, though? Some very heavy weather systems are apparently tracking across the Atlantic. It's windy and rainy again today. No doubt we are in for more of the same high water behaviour.

At least up here, the drainage system seems to be mostly coping, though nearby Waterbeach made the national news with reports of raw sewage backing up through manhole covers and into gardens.

There seems to be quite a debate as to whether dredging would have been the answer. Establishing up-stream wetland areas to hold the excess like a sponge is one of the alternatives propounded by pundits like George Monbiot.

There is merit in the suggestion: it is more sustainable an option than repeated dredging and the establishment and maintenance of ever more costly flood defences.

There are problems, though. The land needed probably belongs to someone. That someone may well have been farming it for generations. They will likely be extremely unwilling to see it used in this way.

Further, it's not something that can be established overnight. Those up to their armpits in water on the Somerset Levels or the Thames Valley need something done to fix the problem NOW! I doubt even Mr Monbiot would disagree if he was wading through his living room rather than sitting in a nice warm office at The Guardian..........

The problem seems to be that a system was established that would have worked, or at least worked better, had it been properly maintained by dredging. The Environment Agency are now saying this wasn't done because of Whitehall cost-cutting. The reasons why it wasn't done are of entirely secondary importance. The debate surrounding it smacks more of Government place-men seeking to justify their inaction (and thus preserve their jobs and pensions), than a serious attempt to establish what went wrong.

More rain is forecast: another inch at least in the affected areas.

And now the flooding is affecting the densely populated Thames Valley, not just what The Men in Suits see as a few hapless hayseeds out of sight and out of mind in far away Somerset. (If you think that a trifle harsh, remember it took a visit from the Prince of Wales to highlight the problems they were facing. Lord Smith and Cameron trailed in his, er, wake......)

They'd better change from Suits to Wetsuits, and fast..........

Monday, 10 February 2014

A belated start to 2014.....

And an unconscionably long time since the last time I wrote anything.

Christmas has come and gone, I had a fabulous fiftieth birthday party in January, much work had been done on the Alvis engine and it has been raining continuously for what seems like forever.

(Only the first three items above will be news to you if you are on the Somerset levels, or latterly, the Thames valley, where Datchet is submerging as I write....)

Down here at The Parish, things have been fairly quiet. We had a bit of a scare on Christmas Eve when the whole field flooded up to the floodbank. Calls were made to the Enviroment Agency who assured us there was 'no problem: the sensors at the lock detect no abnormal water levels'. So we rescued three of our landlords sheep from a patch of grass surrounded by a foot of water and called them again. This time an incident number was given, an engineer despatched, the faulty level sensor repaired, the sluice gates opened and normality was restored.

We were due in Bournemouth for Christmas, so our orderly packing of the car with cases, cats and other belongings could easily have been construed as an evacuation. It wasn't. We'd put flood poles in, slackened our lines, helped Rhoda do the same to nb Malus, then did poles and lines for a couple of other boats here whose owners were away. With no more to be done, of we duly popped, returning a few days later to find everything as we left it.

Since then, the rain has continued unabated. Somerset has vanished beneath the waves. If only The Environment Agency could channel some of the hot air spouted by Lord Smith in a south westerly direction, the drying effect would probably solve the problem overnight.

(Actually, what really got my goat about this particular individual is that he said, during his less than timely visit to the affected area, that he wouldn't resign as there was 'much work to be done'. Too right, chum! That's because it wasn't done before, on your watch, which is why you should resign.........)

James and Amy on nb Willow have blogged about conditions in Cambridge.

Here's some pictures of conditions out here at The Parish and the nearby lock and weir yesterday.

The black line is on to Pippin's stern. The combined weight of Malus and Pippin being blown by a wind right on the beam pulled the mooring post clean out of the sodden ground yesterday lunchtime. I had to dash back from a luncheon at Cote restaurant Cambridge to help secure them both. Luckily, I hadn't ordered.......

An impromptu lake forms by the lock

Getting on and off requires wellies. Jackie kindly fetched mine from the car......

Though the level has dropped considerably overnight, we are still on red boards and the lock remains reversed.
That's quite a flow of water.
There is normally a drop down from the trees to a concrete jetty with mooring points for boats waiting for the lock............


The sun has just come out!

The rain has stopped for at least ten minutes.

If this carries on, what's the odds of a hose pipe ban by tea-time?