Friday, 29 May 2009

Another thrilling instalment... ("'Thrilling'? I think not")'

After a bit of an effort, and in spite of the 'wrong kind of weather', the fence is now up. I finished it this morning, and Blight-of-my-life completed the painting shortly afterwards.

We've hung onto half of the old privet hedge, so the sparrows will still have somewhere to congregate within easy reach of the bird feeders and baths.

(If you want to know how it looked before, see this earlier post. ) 

I'm very pleased with how it's turned out, as the sight of wibbly-wobbly fences upsets me. I'm afraid that I'm one of those people who when visiting friends, can't stop themselves from levelling up the pictures on their walls if they're even slightly skew-wiff, so building a fence where the posts aren't plumb vertical and all in line with each other would probably bring me out in a rash.

You'll see that the base for the new greenhouse is also ready, so I've run out of excuses to get on with that now. 


Wednesday, 27 May 2009

This is not a shameless plug for our CD

There's a certain amount satisfaction washing around in my band at present, as the CD we've been working on for several months is finally finished.

It's been recorded, mixed, re-mixed, pressed, printed and delivered.

We've got several cartons of lovely, shiny CDs, all resplendent in their jewel cases with their beautifully printed covers.

I've never really thought myself as a recording artist before. The discipline of recording a definitive version of a song requires the sort of dedication and attention to detail that I find hard to muster; I would much rather do a gig than subject myself to the rigours of studio recording.
If you make a mistake when you're playing live, you have to carry on as if nothing has gone wrong; often you'll be the only one who knows you've dropped a clanger and even if you do something utterly hideous, hopefully only the rest of the band will notice.

Unfortunately, when you are recording, any and every mistake needs to be fixed. Admittedly, with the digital recording tools that are available these days, it is ridiculously easy to repair some mistakes; Played a bum note on the bass in verse two? Just cut and paste the correct note in from verse one. But other problems still require a lot of time and effort.
You can't easily 'patch' a lead guitar solo, and any vocal error will at the very least need a second take to replace it. Even if you only have to re-record a single phrase, it still takes time to set up and get it 'punched in'.
Recording is an enormously time consuming process. To record a three minute song properly will almost certainly take hours, and possibly months.

So, you'll see why we're particularly chuffed to have finished.

If you want hear how it turned out, you can find a couple of tracks HERE, or you might even hear us on one of our local radio stations, "Canalside Community Radio-FM".

Monday, 18 May 2009

"So you see, Inspector, the culprit is..."

This, friends and neighbours, is a starter motor for a Land Rover TD5 engine.
This is what makes that whirring noise as you turn the ignition key, shortly before the engine of your vehicle roars to life.

Strangely enough, in the case of my vehicle, it has been the thing that made an entirely normal whirring noise as I turned the ignition key, whilst perversely preventing the engine from roaring to life.

Regular readers (heaven help you) will know that over a month ago, my Land Rover Defender, went completely mad and refused to start. The diagnosis of the "failure to start problem" was hampered by an obviously malfunctioning diesel pump which was replaced along with the injector seals that are the normal cause of such pump shenanigans, and the local Land Rover wizards were surprised when normal service wasn't restored after they'd sorted out the fuel system.
After quite a lot of fruitless effort, with commendable honesty, they admitted that they were out of ideas, so they downloaded the engine management data and sent it off to the Land Rover Technical people for analysis.

Time passed...

Last Thursday the chap from the garage rang to say that they'd sorted out the problem.
"You'll never guess what it was", he said.
I resisted the temptation to say something pithy like, "Neither could you, apparently.", and opted for, "Go on then, surprise me."
"Well, you know how the starter was turning over the engine perfectly..."
"...what d'you think would be the least likely thing to be faulty?"
"Starter motor?", I ventured
"Yup. Faulty starter motor. There was an internal fault in the motor, and it was generating electrical interference that was picked up by the crank-shaft position sensor. Whenever you tried to start up, the engine management unit couldn't tell where the crank-shaft was, so it couldn't operate the injectors at the right time. That's why if you got lucky and the engine actually managed to fire, it would then run normally because the starter motor stops once the engine's running, so no interference. "
"We've tried a spare starter motor on it and it's fine. We've ordered a new one and we'll fit that tomorrow morning. You can come and pick 'er up tomorrow afternoon."
"Excellent. You sound pretty relieved."
"Yeah, it's pretty rare to have something quite this tricky.", he replied.
"I bet you won't forget this one in a hurry then."
"No... neither will you I expect."

I certainly won't forget the bill

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Hello Swindon!!

I'd sort of forgotten about Swindon.
I've only ever been there a few times and unless I'm very much mistaken it's probably more than thirty years since my last visit, so when I noticed that someone in Swindon has been visiting this blog, a memory surfaced from the deep and I started thinking...

[Insert arty dissolve and descending harp music]

It is the nineteen-seventies, I've got lots of hair and I'm driving a white, twin-wheel Ford Transit van for Home Delivery Services. It's the first proper job I've had for quite a while.
In the few years between leaving school and this point in my life, I've spent a year at Salford University discovering that I'm not suited to becoming a civil engineer, I've dropped out and taken labouring jobs on building sites, been a self-employed steel-fixer and shuttering carpenter, and I've abandoned my dream of being a road-manager with a progressive rock super-group.

I've shared a flat with friends, been evicted, moved back home to my parents, left home again to live with a band of friends in a cottage in the middle of an orchard. Now, I am sharing another house with another couple of friends on the outskirts of Bristol.
It is a relatively calm point in an otherwise turbulent part of my life.

The job is not ideal, but it is a driving job. More importantly, it is a reasonably well-paid driving job. HDS is the Littlewoods organisation's own company, set up to distribute their vast quantity of mail-order goods to their catalogue agents across the UK. This is an idea that will be copied by many other firms over the years, breaking the virtual monopoly of the Post Office and spawning a new archetypal road user; "White Van Man".

I have lucked into this job a couple of weeks after a mate of mine has been taken on. A fellow roadie and refugee from the implosion of the prog-rock band, he had seen the advert at the local Job Centre and had already completed his on the job training and been allocated his own van and delivery area. From his description, it sounded pretty good; OK, it was multi-drop, house to house deliveries, but the basic pay was better than average, and with the thinly disguised bonus scheme, it was possible to earn quite a bit more than basic. When he told me they were looking for more drivers, I was swiftly down to the Job Centre and after a quick interview and a driving test, I was in!!

The first few weeks at HDS have been an eye-opener. There are a couple of dozen drivers, including the usual old lags, the boy racers, several women and an airline pilot. Most of the drivers seem OK, although the women are pretty scary; equal pay for women is not yet a universally accepted concept, and having landed a job in one of the few companies that doesn't discriminate, these women seem to be tougher than the blokes. Ellen Ripley from 'Alien' would have blended in perfectly.
I am trained by one of the women. Raddy is a hard-core delivery driver; she's been with the firm long enough to have worked out most of the angles, and over the course of two days she explains how the job is supposed to be done, whilst demonstrating how this differs from the actuality of driving a hundred miles and making over a hundred deliveries in about five hours.
"We're supposed to get a signature for every delivery, but they know it's impossible. If you can get half of them signed you'll be OK. Learn which neighbours are in and where to stick parcels if there's nobody at home."
"Don't forge signatures "
"What, not even to make up the numbers?"
"No. If stuff goes missing when you left it in the shed or somewhere, they'll get pissed off, but if you've faked a signature, they'll say you've nicked it. It's not bloody worth it. They'll still moan about 'too many Not Signed For', but sod 'em."
As she explains all this, Raddy hurtles across the suburbs. We barrel down every single road in Fishponds, screeching to a halt and bundling out of the van with armfuls of anonymous brown parcels. Her knowledge of the area is astonishing; not just where every road, lane and cul-de-sac is, but where the individual houses are on those streets.
We only stop the engine once, while we have a quick snack for lunch and she explains about the 'Safe Driving Bonus'
"We get a bonus each month if we don't have an accident, and there's another bonus if you can do a whole year without crashing."
"Do you usually get the bonus?"
"Yes... usually. So when I let you drive, don't bloody hit anything."
"Er, OK"
"This is worth having though,", she pauses, and reaches into her handbag. She takes out a can of White Duplicolour aerosol touch-up paint and laughs "Oh yeah, I usually get the bonus..."

So, the weeks roll by, and while waiting for a regular delivery area to become available, I spend my days covering routes for the drivers who are off sick or on holiday. One morning as I head into Swindon, I see an extraordinary road sign. At first glance it looks like a normal roundabout, but as I get closer it looks more like a pentagon with five dots in it,
"What the...?"
Before I have enough time to work out what it might mean, I'm driving into a maelstrom of vehicles. There is an expanse of nearly featureless tarmac, with cars and trucks and buses driving in all directions. I drive tentatively into this mayhem, aim in the general direction of where I think my exit is, and give way to any vehicle that approaches from my right, looks bigger than my van or else seems determined to collide with me.
Miraculously, I emerge on the other side of this extraordinary piece of traffic engineering with my van unscathed and my underwear unsoiled.

I am delighted to report that this masterpiece is still there, and is now officially named "The Magic Roundabout", in homage to the childrens TV show of the same name. It looks as if the original free-for-all aspect of it has been slightly moderated by adding more road markings and raised areas of tarmac, but it's still totally bonkers.

If you want see how it looks from the air, the satellite view is here.

Thank you Swindon.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Australian motoring assistance, via Cornwall

My eldest brother sent me this today. He suggested that it might be worth getting some for The Tractor.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

"Oi! D'you like hospital food?"

I had a look at this as a distraction from the ongoing vehicular misery. (Well , I suppose that should really be "on-not-going" vehicular misery...) . is dedicated to hospital food from around the world, and it was brought to my attention by Heather Lyon, on her blog 'Puicini' .

I don't know about you, but I would rather avoid contact with hospitals if I possibly can, but unless you are very fortunate, sooner or later they'll get you.
Most of the time, however, going to hospital isn't a matter of choice. (Good luck next week Osteogenesis)

Based on the evidence provided by the photographs on this site, if you must be hospitalized, try to do it in France rather than in Poland.

French Hospital Meal

Polish Hospital Meal

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Reasons to be cheerful

The continued non-repair of The Tractor has , not surprisingly, left me pretty fed up at the moment. 
The latest news from the chaps at the garage is not too great; they've had to download all the engine management data from its electronic brain, and send it off to Land Rover for analysis. Bearing in mind that "Jaguar Land Rover" have got their own particular global-recession-in-motor-industry related problems to cope with, I'm starting to wonder how and when this is going to get sorted. 

Fortunately, the garage has lent me a car, so I'm not totally scuppered for getting to work, but it isn't really suitable for transporting all the concrete posts, fence panels, sand and cement that are required for the latest outbreak of 'gardening', so the new greenhouse project has slipped badly behind schedule.

So, let's think about something less depressing then.

I haven't got 'Swine Flu'...