Sunday, 13 September 2009

You Can't Keep a Good Girl Down

I mentioned my enthusiasm for the Avro Vulcan before. Another member of Britain's Cold War 'V' force was the once futuristic looking Handley Page Victor bomber.

When an iconic aircraft is retired, there's not a lot you can do with it. At best, it is lovingly maintained by enthusiasts, so that it can occasionally be rolled out and taxied up the runway for the entertainment of the crowds.

Video footage has only just emerged of one such run in May this year. Through an accident of inappropriate throttle applied by an engineer, a Victor at Bruntingthorpe seized its chance to return to its natural element. The aircraft hadn't left the ground for two decades and was not airworthy in any technical or regulatory sense. As it veered towards a nearby housing estate in a strong cross-wind the driver, a surprised 70 year old former squadron commander named Bob Prothero, had to gain control whilst making a very rapid choice between attempting a go-round in an unmaintained aircraft, or attempt to put it down on the grass overrun at the end of the runway. He chose the latter and successfully landed it without damage, describing the incident as 'the worst nine seconds of my life'. Perhaps in recognition of his skill and quick-thinking, the Civil Aviation Authority has investigated and decided against any charges.

Friday, 11 September 2009


I stopped playing when I was ten;
A part of me was taken then.

I sold the bike when I grew soft;
Another bit of me was lost.

I quit smoking when my lungs grew tired;
A little more of me expired.

I gave up lust when I grew old;
Another part of me was sold.

I forsook drink when the doctor said;
One more piece of me had fled.

When anger goes, expelled by pain,
Then I'll be like a child again.

Come the day that I don't wake
There'll be nothing left for death to take

So if there's a God, pray God he's nice,
And leaves a little bit of vice.

(Or if the Devil takes my soul,
Pray he leaves me Rock and Roll.)


(Don't worry - I haven't even achieved line one yet)

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Done and Dusted

We've finished. We got reverse working today, which was the last problem, and we've all been tearing round the garden at 5 mph like Jenson Button. It sounds like a monster truck but starts first time and goes up a 1 in 2 slope. It's going to be wicked in snow with chains on. Bob says he wishes he'd had it when he was younger; me too.

I'm particularly proud of our home-made steering pinion. The original on the right only had three teeth left. The cog on the one on the left was made from a piece of scrap bronze using nothing but a hacksaw and files. We ground down a bit of iron bar, tapped a thread into it, and drilled three shear pins to stop it rotating.

Who needs engineers?

Friday, 4 September 2009

Seven Quirky Personality Traits About Myself

I've been tagged with this meme by the poetic Gadjo Dilo. Brought up in a house with lead pipes I'm told I have eccentricities, but some of these I've admitted before, and others...well, I don't have Gadjo's courage. But their side-effects show up around the house and garden, so I'm going to cheat and use those.

The Flyer

Some years ago I was throwing out an old ladder and the children's pram, when I had a silly idea. This was the result. It steers by a small handle between the driver's knees, and there is a rudimentary handbrake. It was intended for the children but was invariably appropriated by the grown ups. For a year or two, after a certain stage of inebriation, most of our barbecues migrated to the grassy hill behind the house, where we careered down the Downs in the gathering dark at terrifying speed, not always succeeding in making the necessary handbrake turn at the bottom. It's the best toy I've ever had.

Later my father-in-law gave me a windsurfer sail he'd picked up at a marine boot fair. This only works well in a full gale, which is hairy. We need to try it on a beach.

The Cannon

This is my version of a garden gnome. It needs a coat of paint. We had some timber left over from building work, and I was working in Chatham Historic Dockyard at the time. The barrel was moulded of papier mache around a stack of plastic flowerpots, together with chicken wire, a drainpipe, some washing machine hose, the tubes from two kitchen rolls and half a football. After drying the mould was covered with fibreglass. The cannon balls are ground-down boules. For a year or two, after a certain stage of inebriation at barbecues, we used it to launch fireworks towards the village below...

The Dog Window

Not very exciting this, but it brings the dog pleasure. It used to be a cat flap in the kitchen, but we didn't have a cat, so I double-glazed the hole and put a shutter on it. The pheasants have learned they are safe on the other side, and tease the dog mercilessly inches from her nose.

The Bookcase

I'd always wanted one of these. The catch is operated by a false book (I wanted it to be 'Tales from the House Behind' by Anne Frank, but that wasn't wide enough), via parts of a bicycle cable brake and bits of a Reliant three-wheeler door mechanism. It was intended to have a security function, but also provides useful extra book space. The Social Secretary once carried a tray of tea through it to some decorators who hadn't been warned, and they dropped a tin of paint.

The Graveyard

One of our predecessors was a landscape gardener who'd worked on churchyards, and I kept unearthing old gravestones in the garden. I set them up in a disused corner when the children were going through their goth phase. They used to hang out down there with their goth friends and think gothic thoughts. They're all real except the Adam Boddy one ('a damn body' geddit?), which I made from an old paving stone.

The Intercom

Bits of this house are hard to reach from other bits, so we use this rather retro communication system involving three wartime Fuller Phones. There is something satisfying in winding the handles to make the bells ring - one ring for this one, two rings for that, etc.


Being remote, we are slightly paranoid, and there are a number of quirky security measures, some of which I can't mention (or I'd have to kill you). This catch on a shed actually just raises a magnet past a magnetic switch, tripping the alarm. It's the obvious thing to try a door, and I care for the idea of a would-be thief setting the alarm off themselves, before they've even gained entry. I know it to have worked on at least one occasion. In the picture below, the green door is one we seldom use, because there is access from inside. If you look closely you'll see the handle and lock are on the hinge side. My theory was that someone working in the dark might try and jemmy the wrong side.

Another measure I enjoy is our prominently placed switch marked 'Burglar Alarm, On/Off'. It stays permanently at 'on', but is reverse-wired and if switched 'off', triggers the alarm.

Scarily there are a lot more quirkinesses, but that's quite enough. I maybe should see a doctor. Gadjo?

I'm not going to specifically tag anyone, but invite you to take this meme on, in either its original or modified form.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Festival Sanitation

I'm afraid this post isn't going to be in the best of taste. But to be true to themselves, bloggers sometimes have to go where others fear to tread.

Bob spent three days at Reading festival last weekend. He was particularly keen to go, not so much for the bands as to get away from the pervasive smell of muck-spreading in our neighbouring fields.

The day before he left I noticed he was eating abnormal amounts, even for him. In between meals he seemed to be forever stirring snackpots and rice or pasta ready meals. The microwave was pinging like a wind chime in a gale, delivering cheeseburgers and steam puddings. Eventually, noticing I was giving him funny looks, he explained that he had a cunning plan. Given the primitive and unsavoury nature of festival sanitation, he aimed to put away a vast amount of food the day before, thereby guaranteeing a tremendously successful final sitting in the comfort of his own bathroom before setting off, and avoiding the need to eat much and use the very basic facilities at Reading.

I got up at 5 am the next morning to drive him to the station, and found him standing in the darkness outside the back door with his backpack and handfuls of tent, sleeping-bag, gas cooker etc (the backpack was full of beer), looking slightly bloated. He seemed disconsolate; "My plan didn't work," he confided.

Ironically, we'd all had a disturbed night because his mother and the dog had eaten something which had violently disagreed with them (not necessarily the same thing), and had been suffering the opposite problem. There were scented candles burning in several rooms when we came down and, as the cowsh-fragrant wind wafted over from the Downs, Bob remarked "I can't decide whether it's worse indoors or out".

(Postscript: Bob has drawn my attention to the phenomenon of 'Poo Girl'. At Reading's simultaneous sister festival at Leeds, this poor girl dropped her handbag down the long-drop loo. She tried to reach down through the hole to retrieve it, and became stuck, head first and legs in the air. She had to be rescued by firemen, and has since become a facebook hit.)

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

In Bad Odour

I'm keeping a low profile, after finding myself unpopular in Havering, as reported in the Romford Recorder (with the passage of time, the link doesn't work any more). I suppose if someone is going to take out a fatwah on me, I'd rather it was Humanists.

But we have been busy. Faced with the long summer vacation, Bob was on the lookout for projects, and a kind friend donated a 36 year old ride-on mower which had been abandoned in a field for several years. We have spent many oily and abortive hours on it, me rather more than him (I'd like to think this showcases my qualities of patience and dogged determination, but really it is because he had better things to do).

Yesterday we were finally rewarded when the 8 hp rear-mounted engine burst into life, drowning out the sound of a passing muck-spreader and filling the garage with exhaust. We high-fived, after which he had to go and swarfega his hand.

Today we will test the gears and drive. There is no steering wheel as yet, and it has a steering problem which I don't want to go into because it's embarrassing. We don't know if the clutch will engage, or once engaged, disengage. The test is therefore fraught with danger. My idea is to set the thing up crossways on the garage forecourt, facing a hedge, and delegate Bob to sit on board and work the gear lever and pedals. I shall stand well to one side, possibly wearing a helmet. On the scale of domestic accidents, it has the potential to be an unusual one, although more predictable than most.

Speaking of domestic accidents, the neighbours recently took off for a relaxing few days in their delightful moulin in the Limousin. On arrival, unlocking the front door, they disturbed a nest of particularly vicious, French-speaking bees. Under intense attack, she took off across an expanse of uncut meadow and leapt into the river. Landing on a submerged rock she damaged her leg, whilst her arm flew up and the car keys shot out of her hand into the drink.

Spurred by her cries he gallantly galumphed down, flailing his arms against the swarm, and plunged in after her, losing his glasses in the process. Her leg was not fully functional, so after crawling around the river bed and retrieving both specs and keys, he braved the still angry bees to try and bring the four-track down to the river to rescue her. Unfortunately everything was a bit overgrown and he reversed the back end into the medieval millrace.

Still under attack he managed to get her into the relative safety of the car and, with a coat over his head, began trying to lever it out with a baulk of timber as she revved. After several attempts, with smoke now pouring from the wheels, she opened the driver's window a crack and asked, 'Should I take the handbrake off?'