Monday, 28 February 2011

Another five minute job. Yeah, right...

Thanks to the peculiarities of my shift rota, I had a day off work last Thursday and as the weather was so spring-like. I decided that I really couldn't get away with spending all day dossing in the house.
"I know what I'll do", I thought. "I'll have a look at the pressure washer and see if I can sort out that leak that Blight-of-my-life mentioned last week.

The pressure washer spends most of its time at the farm where it has a tough life cleaning up after the horses, so after a leisurely breakfast, I nipped up to the yard to fetch it. Once I'd got it back home, it soon became clear what the problem was. Where the hose pipe that supplies water to the machine is attached, there is a plastic threaded coupling that screws onto the metal inlet pipe. Over time, this plastic coupling has been repeatedly overtightened and the thread has partially stripped. Given the sort of damage that the poor thing had suffered, I wasn't too confident that it would refit securely, but I thought it was worth a try.
After only a short battle, I'd got it all back together and it seemed as if it might work.
I connected a hose pipe  from the garden tap to the repaired coupling and plugged the electrical power cable into a mains socket in the kitchen. I switched on the power, turned on the water and...
...nothing happened.

There was no water coming out of the garden tap.

Once I'd turned off the water at the rising main, it didn't take too long to determine what was wrong.
With the water supply safely cut off, I removed the tap and discovered a displaced rubber seal in the valve which prevents water from the garden hose siphoning back into the supply pipe. It must have been damaged during the ridiculously cold weather we had in December.
I decided that it would be easier to replace the tap, rather than to try and bodge the valve.

While I was picking up a replacement tap at Wickes I decided to also get a replacement for the leaky, in-line stop valve for the pipe that feeds the garden tap, as this may have contributed to the frost failure of the garden tap.

I've never looked up the dictionary definition, but it won't be complete if it doesn't mention hours of frustration, swearing, seeping compression fittings, cursing, skinned knuckles and that insidious feeling that even though you've checked your work for leaks a dozen times, as soon as you turn your back it's going to explode and leave you ankle-deep in misery.

In the end, I think I only had to refit the new garden tap twice and in-line stop valve three times before I was happy that there weren't any leaks from any of the joints. Even so, by the time I'd finished, I'd used up all the available daylight, most of my patience and several dozen metres of PTFE tape.

Having fixed the garden tap, the only task that remained was to test the repair on the pressure washer.
So I plugged the pressure washer in and turned on the power, connected the hose pipe to the garden tap, turned on the tap and switched on the washer.
"It works!", I exclaimed, as water blasted out of the spray nozzle.
"Bollocks!", I cried, as the hose union fell off and water gushed all over my feet.

I guess that this is what artists call "a work in progress"...

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The best car I ever owned

After more than six months of self-imposed exile from the land of "Back-in-the-1970s", I think it's probably safe for me to do another nostalgia post and tell you how I came to buy a luxury saloon car at a far from luxury price and why it changed my life.

By the time my Austin A40 finally became too unroadworthy to struggle through an MOT, I'd been working as a self-employed steelfixer for several months.
Steelfixing is one of the lesser known occupations in the building industry and it involves the assembly and placement of all the steel reinforcing bars that are subsequently covered in concrete, creating the extraordinarily versatile and strong composite material, reinforced concrete.

Most of the building contracts that I was working on were in Stratford upon Avon, some fifteen miles from home, so the demise of my car was a bit of a problem. Getting to work entailed cycling ten miles to my workmate Brian's flat, changing into my working clothes, then travelling to the job in his pickup truck. We'd spend all day grafting away on site and then I'd return home via his flat.
I don't recall how long I managed to keep up this ridiculously energetic regime, but I do know what convinced me that I needed to rethink my travelling arrangements. One morning, the front light on my bicycle unsportingly fell into the front wheel half way to Brian's place. The wheel imploded in a welter of shredded spokes and as the front forks plunged into the tarmac stopping the bike in its tracks, I inevitably continued for a short time until I too plunged into the tarmac.
I went off the idea of cycling to work.
I needed another car.

As often happens, help came from an unexpected quarter.
Brian and I were at work one morning, assembling the column reinforcement for part of what was to become a covered shopping precinct in the centre of Stratford, when we were hailed.
"Oi! Steelfixers! D'you want to buy a car?"
It was one of the labourers. He was a young bloke who had only recently started work at the site, having moved into the area from somewhere in London. As far as I knew, the only car that he owned was an enormous old Rover that he used every day.
"What?... You're not flogging that old Rover are you?"
"Yeah... can't afford to run it. You can have it for fifty quid."
Brian and I both burst out laughing. This was clearly a joke, or possibly some sort of scam. The vehicle he claimed to be selling was about fifteen years old, but when it was brand new it was a top quality luxury saloon. This was the sort of car that the Prime Minister could be seen getting into in Downing Street.
"Fifty quid?" I said, "I don't think so... I'll give you a fiver for it."
He found my offer, shall we say, derisory. I can't remember his exact response, but I know that the second word was "off".
He left us and set off across the site to continue trying to find a buyer.

Brian said, "Y'know, fifty quid's probably a good deal, assuming that it's got an MOT."
"Yeah, but it's a bloody monster. Christ, it's got a three litre engine, it weighs a ton and it must drink petrol like it's going out of fashion. And what's the insurance gonna be for something like that?"
"A nice motor though....", he pondered "Well, it used to be a nice motor."
"For fifty quid there's gotta be something wrong with it. It's probably stolen or something. He's only been here a for week and he's hardly the sort of bloke you'd expect to have a Rover 3 litre."
"Yeah. I s'pose so... Come on, let's finish this and get over to the caff."

We didn't think any more about it. After all, if somebody really did want to risk buying what was bound to be a heap of trouble, they'd be sure to offer more than five pounds. So it was a bit of a surprise when, shortly after lunch, the guy came back and said, "Err, how about six quid?"
"Are you serious?"

He was serious. Which is how I ended up paying six pounds for a two-tone green Rover P5 3 litre

Same make, same model, same colour, but not my Rover, alas.

I gave him the cash. He gave me a receipt, the car keys and all the vehicle documents.
I hadn't even had a proper look at the car, let alone driven it, so the first time I got into the driving seat I was surprised to find that it was an automatic. I'd never driven anything without a manual gearbox before, so my journey home from work that day was something of an education. Just getting to grips with a vehicle that was far larger, heavier and more powerful than anything I'd driven before would have been alarming enough, but the added complication of trying to unlearn all those reflex actions that are a part of driving with a manual gearbox made me wonder whether I'd really made the right decision.
By the time I got home, I was a nervous wreck.

Given this inauspicious introduction to my new vehicle, you may wonder why it became the best car I ever owned.

It was certainly the cheapest car I've ever bought. It was also the most luxurious; well it would have been if it hadn't been fifteen years old and steadily disintegrating. For such a large and apparently unwieldy car, it was beautifully well mannered and even when I made the sort of poor decisions that only a man in his early twenties can think are sensible, it never punished me for my stupidity, steadfastly allowing me to keep control; the stabilty and trustworthiness of its handling saved me from myself several times over. It was the only car that I've ever been able to put into a four-wheel drift without any fear of it going badly wrong. (Yes, that's just the sort of decision I meant)

 I went on some memorable trips in that car with various friends, hurtling up and down the gloriously uncongested motorway network to gigs, to parties, or for weekends away camping. But none of these things are really what made Aunty Rover so important in my life. It's more about the people who I met through owning that particular vehicle.

If I hadn't had such an unfeasibly large car, it's unlikely that I would have been asked by some old school friends to help them collect some musical equipment from London. If I hadn't taken that particular road-trip I doubt whether I would have got to know those friends quite so well and it's even less likely that they would have invited me to share a house with them and join them in their musical enterprise as road manager.
When it was time to move on again, friends I'd made through the band, who lived near Bristol offered me a place to live, sharing their house while I worked as a van driver for a mail order catalogue company.
Six months later, when the company opened a new depot in Devon, I transferred and lived in another shared house, near Newton Abbott. When we had a party, one weekend, various far-flung friends turned up, including a girl who had been to college with one of my housemates.

And that's how I met Blight-of-my-life...

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Another way to hear new music

 Although I'm in the middle of writing one post, I've simply got to write a quick one about yet another way to hear music via the web.

If you haven't already come across it, have a look at "Last FM"

You don't have to register or log in, you can simply decide which band or artist you'd like to hear, enter their name and then sit back and listen to a selection of tracks by that artist and others that are of a similar style, presented as a sort of customised radio station. This can be a great way to discover the sort of stuff that you might enjoy but wouldn't normally get a chance to hear.

This week, I have been mostly listening to "Frost* Radio"

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Support your local band

Being in a band is great.

It ensures that you carry on playing an instrument and learning new pieces of music, it forces you out of the house to rehearsals when you might just be tempted to blob in front of the television and it gives you an excuse to go into music shops and try out ridiculously expensive instruments and amplifiers that you have no intention of buying whatsoever.
Whether these were ever the reasons that anybody first decided to join a group I have no idea, but certainly, once you have got past the expectation of chucking in the day job and setting off on a world tour with all the attendant joys of fame, fortune, fornication and freely available recreational pharmaceuticals, it's the small joys of the hopeful, amateur rocker that make it all worthwhile.

My band, "Nightflight", rarely gets to play to huge crowds, typically playing pub gigs, the occasional function or local fetes or festivals.  With the varied mix of solid rock covers, power ballads and original material in our repertoire, we can cater for quite a varied audience and even add customer requested songs to the set if we've had reasonable advanced warning. So far (touch wood) we've never got it hopelessly wrong, so the response is somewhere between favourable and very enthusiastic. this is particularly gratifying when you've played an original song that folks may never have heard before.

One downside to being in a band is that it's often not so easy to get to see other bands play. As I work a rather complicated pattern of shifts for my "day job", it's quite unusual for me to be at a loose end on a Friday or Saturday evening. If I'm not actually at work, my band will probably have a gig shoe-horned into the date that is available. Yesterday evening, however, was one of the rare occasions when Blight-of-my-life and I were able to go out and see some of our friends play for a change, so it was off to "The Navigation Inn" in Macclesfield to see "Amandla".

Three quarters of "Amandla". Sarah must be at the bar...

"Amandla" are a local four-piece band and they have been delivering quality blues and rock to the good folk of East Cheshire for ages. When Blight had what is known as a significant birthday, a couple of years ago,  they played at her party. I've been lucky enough to play alongside two of the guys. Corin has depped for us several times when we've carelessly lost our drummer for one reason or another, and it was Ross (the one with the hat) who invited me to join him when he was putting together a band a few years ago and lured me back into performing.

I'd forgotten just how good they are. They opened the first set with a Pink Floyd medley which began with the introduction from "Shine on you Crazy Diamond". Ross has absolutely nailed the guitar tone for this and when the Corin and Al (bass) joined, nobody in the pub was left with any doubt that they were in for something special.
Since Sarah joined them, "Amandla" have been able to broaden their repertoire to include material which would not otherwise be such a comfortable option. Alanis Morissette's "Ironic", "Call Me" from Blondie and a cracking version of Alannah Myles' "Black Velvet" have all found their places in the set, allowing Ross to concentrate on the bluesier stuff from Buddy Guy and Dr Feelgood.
To top it all off, they finished the night with their Rock Classics medley; fifteen minutes of pure and unadulterated joy. 

So altogether a splendid night out.

If you get the chance to see them, do yourself a favour and grab it with both hands.