To The Finland…

.. cable factory.

Boat House Cafe

On the way, my fellow Magneteer and I flew over last Sunday’s breakfast spot – Felixstowe Ferry (it’s down there somewhere) – and headed out over the North Sea to Helsinki. Finnair have a refreshingly civilised approach to air travel; there was bags of leg-room, a moving map to show us where we were and on this two and a half hour flight, a welcome absence of airline food, no inducements to contribute to charitable causes and no Duty Free offers. We were left in peace.


An hour or so’s drive West from Helsinki is Pikkala, home to the Prysmian cable factory. The countryside here is, in comparison with the other parts of Scandinavia I’ve been lucky enough to visit, fairly unremarkable; lots of woodland and rolling hills punctuated by outcrops of rock.

Hotel dining room

A few kilometres to the north of Pikkala was our hotel and, if we’d poled up in the Consul’s Rolls Royce I mentioned a week or two ago, you might have been forgiven for imagining that an episode of ‘Thunderbirds’ was being filmed. The hotel dining room was a work of art – pure retro – though there was nothing dated (so to speak) about the food – delicious salads and perfectly cooked vegetables (magnetising is always an excellent opportunity to detox) and everything you’d expect from a spa hotel devoted to healthy living. There were other little touches in the corridors that continued the retro theme…


One of the stranger features of this part of Finland is the way smoke behaves. My investigations have revealed that the proximity of late orogenic granites in the geology of this coastal region has an influence on airborne particulates (a phenomenon known as ‘Gnikoms On’ after the Nobel Prize Winner, Eemili Gnikoms) which causes the products of combustion to descend rather than what you’d expect. The phrase ‘going up in smoke’ is met with blank looks in this part of the world.

Gnikoms On

Our magnetising equipment was made ready as the sun set…

Cable-laying barge

… and the working lights came on, on board the BoDo Constructor – a cable-laying barge operating in the Baltic sea. It fell to me to take the night-shift so I was able to capture the scene as the sun came up again in the morning.

Cable loading

Word has it that we have been lucky with the weather on this trip; sunshine and temperatures nudging the low 20’s are a rare occurrence at the end of August.

Lotus Europa

Before I left, I looked in on the Lotus Europa – the rear suspension is taking shape and soon the car should be on its wheels again. The apparent delicacy of some of the components is remarkable considering the pounding that a car’s suspension takes in the course of its life. It’s a lovely bit of work.

Lotus Europa

Won’t be long before it’s finished.

Breathing Space….

…. which is really another way of saying there hasn’t been much to do for the last couple of weeks (the installation of Project ‘X’ has been delayed) so there was a window in which to complete the A7 wings.

A7 new wings

I don’t quite know why it’s taken me 7 years to do the job – in the end it amounted to a week’s work at a fairly relaxed pace. Aside from wheeling the wings themselves, there was a bit of welding to do, a couple of stainless steel brackets to form, a splash of paint and that was that.

Square holes

Drilling the holes square for the bumper bolts was a bit tricky but I took ‘Sunita’ down to the Post Office for a trial run; nothing fell off, no irritating rattles and no ducking flying debris! Perfect.

A7 new wings

When I completed the Hillman Special, because I didn’t have time to have laminated glass cut for the windscreens (I did really but just didn’t get round to it in time for the Monaco Dash) I used instead a couple of sheets of Perspex. Almost immediately the Perspex got scratched, it went a bit grey and cloudy and driving in either rain or into a low sun it became almost impossible to see anything and I always had to look over the top of the windscreen in those conditions to avoid disaster.


With the lull in work I resolved to get the glass made up. I remembered that when I went to get the laminated glass screens for the A7, there was much sucking of teeth and reluctance to do the job because it was for a car. I popped home and wrote ‘Port’ and ‘Starboard’ on the templates thereby deflecting any unwanted inquiry from the next glass merchant I visited. That did the trick – as it did this time.


The Great Collector kindly hosted a a Rolls Royce garden party and in amongst the fairly ordinary offerings were a couple of extraordinary monsters. This first, a 1930 7.6l Phantom 1, was as long as a ship and would be excellent for long-distance touring. A tour would require very careful planning – you wouldn’t want to be caught out with hairpin bends and I’m not quite sure where you’d park.

RR 2

A 1973 Rolls-Royce Phantom VI Cabriolet by Frua, built for the His Excellency the Consul of Switzerland and Monaco (according to the Bonhams blurb). There was something about this very unusual body which, although the lines weren’t quite right and the front was terrible, had a certain presence. It wouldn’t have looked out of place on the set of ‘Thunderbirds’. There was a small plaque showing the arms of the Principality of Monaco on the dash of this LHD model and a DK sticker on the back so it’s been about a bit.

I suspect it might have been easier to park in Denmark than Monaco – there’s a lot more space there.



Before setting out to collect friends from the airport, I generally have a quick look at one of the live flight information sites to see if the plane will be on time. I happened to notice that on this occasion, a box on the bottom of the screen told me that there were 5197 (visible) aircraft in the air at that moment. Taking an average of 200 people per aircraft (which I think might allow for freight, general aviation and stuff that takes double that number) and that equates to 1.03 million people in the air as I watched the screen.


In-flight catering must be a pretty good wicket.

A7 crankshaft

I perhaps didn’t mention that Leon and Awkward’s epic trip to the South of France was marred only by the breaking down of the A7 on the way home. Once the car was back in the workshop, a strip down revealed the cause. That’s a very impressive crack across the web. This is a shelled, 3-bearing engine and the shells and journals were none too bright – even so, it seems a strange place for the crank to let go.

New wings

I’ve half done the wings on my A7 – I keep getting interrupted with alterations to Project ‘X’ (some of which have been self-inflicted as measuring stuff is not my strong suit) but I’ve now only 2 brackets to make up and ‘Sunita’ should be ready for a test drive in the next few weeks. There’s also the on-going work with the 1908 Rover (we’ve discovered that the big casting for the gear lever quadrant is probably from a later and possibly larger car so it won’t be able to be used) and a couple of jobs for a chum with a Riley Special – a seat repair and an exhaust bracket.


I turned up at the powder-coating chaps the other day and no-one was there. I don’t know whether the presence of this piece of ordnance was anything to do with the mass evacuation but I didn’t hang about for long either.

Lotus Europa

The Lotus Europa chassis is beginning to come together with the front suspension and hubs in place.

Lotus Europa

Everything seems so spindly and lightweight but nevertheless very business-like – as you would expect from Mr Chapman.


Years ago, when I was teaching myself to paint (something art school failed to do) I copied a painting purely to get to grips with rendering skyscapes. The painting was part of a ‘100 Years of Painting’ exhibition to celebrate the Millennium. I was messing about in a boat on the River Stour when The Ambassador’s Daughter pointed out the reflections in the water.


They put me in mind of the picture. I wouldn’t have noticed them at all – the brain does a lot of filling in and filtering – and it reminded me that looking is only half the story; seeing is the important bit.


I noticed a couple of curiosities during my stay in Arco Felicé. The first was a plant that grew on the less visited parts of the beach.

Flower on the beach

I’m sure its presence was unwelcome but it had something about it; it looked like an inverted bunch of spring onions, the onion bits of which had exploded.

Below the pier

The second curiosity was this view through a hole in the floor of the pier. Although I didn’t see anyone from one end of my night shift to the other, I occasionally heard the odd voice on the sand about 12′ below me. This print struck me as rather dramatic – the tide was about to erase the only clue of some ghastly deed perpetrated in the small hours – and my first idea was that this was the impression of a big cat; until I counted the toes. At the end of a long and solitary night-shift, things don’t always add up right.

Arco Felice

On our way out of the factory, my fellow Magneteer and I were treated to a last look at the local train as it ambled around the curve in front of the factory gates. Despite the scruffiness of it all, the scene didn’t want for charm and with a few of hours to spare before we caught our evening flight, we elected to take a dip in the Med – something which would be a first for me. It was also a first for me to walk into a sea without stopping to gasp and jump about because of the cold!

Gulf of Naples

As the sun set and the moon appeared and we started our journey home, I reflected on my family’s visits to Italy in the ’60’s. Six of us packed into an Austin A55, roof-rack piled high and traversing the Brenner Pass. On one memorable occasion I was put out of the car and left by the side of the road – I had apparently committed some crime or other for which as the youngest of four, I have little doubt that I was set-up.

Rover castings

The bits and pieces I’ve been doing for a chum with a 1906 Rover are nearly finished. I’ve only to create the quadrant now the castings have been replicated. It’s going to be a bit tricky machining the castings as there’s no real symmetry to them so establishing a datum will take a bit of time. I think I’ll set up each of the originals in turn in the mill, find the centre of the big hole and then swap them over – well, I say I’ll do it but I think I’ll be watching Chumley; I’ll have my hands full holding a big bag of Norfolk sausages.

Morris 6 exhaust gasket patterns

Manifold to exhaust pipe gaskets don’t seem to last very long on the Hillman so I’ve had a couple of patterns laser cut in order to sandwich a thin copper sheet between them and tap out some shapes. I know a chap with some Nomex fabric which I can put in the middle and see how I get on.

Let’s hope the result isn’t too amusing.




… is more than hot enough for me so, I was pleased to see that I was down for the night-shift and my unfortunate fellow Magneteer would, working in a plastic tent, have to suffer the full effect of the Italian sun. A balmy 20 -26° would see me through the night quite comfortably.

Load out

We were just round the corner from Naples in what seemed to be a slightly less salubrious suburb of Pozzuoli. This did nothing to detract from the fun of being in Italy again – my last trip was to Rome on one of Cook’s Tours – the scooters, the horns, the battered cars and general mayhem had changed only with the addition of mobile phones with which it seemed obligatory to engage whilst in charge of a vehicle.

Paint job

The local trains were a colourful sight – obviously a lot of money is spent on paint – and I was glad to be able to take pictures of railways, unencumbered by fences and threats of prosecution.


In my hotel room, with shutters continually closed to keep out both the heat and light during the day, I was obliged to shuffle around in the half-light. This Hughesian existence was relieved only at supper time when, on my way to start the night shift, I would stop at a local restaurant for something to see me through the next 12 hours.


And then on to work as the sun set and the bitey things came out to play.

Arco Felice

There’s a particularly vicious type of mosquito, black in colour, which on the first night made a mess of my arms and legs. I’m not usually attacked by insects but I’d had the foresight to pack some cream to take away the temptation to scratch and make an even bigger mess.


The beach below the pier was probably the source of my persecutors as it was strewn with litter, stray dogs and the rotting remains of picnics. Nevertheless, every morning at about 7.00am, half a dozen or so elderly couples would drift down, carefully pick a spot to put their towels and breakfast and wade into the calm and clear waters of the bay as the rising sun turned Pozzuoli a pinky orange.


Quickly the dawn would turn into day; the view into the water below the pier would reveal hundreds of fish in shoals, darting here and there, the mozzies would disappear and I would be looking forward to my relief arriving.

Penne all'arrabbiata

The last time I ordered Penne all’Arrabbiata was in Amsterdam. It was disappointing (Mr Vadar and Mr Stevens would have had words) so I decided to try it out at source – so to speak. My order was prelude to a lot of shouting and arm-waving – I wondered if I’d upset someone – and then it went quiet (by Italian standards at least; there’s always someone shouting and arm-waving about something). A second uproar heralded the arrival of my food, carried from somewhere up the road by a hapless youngster who seemed to get it in the neck for some crime or other.

The Penne was superb but the lad didn’t deserve the 3rd degree.

A Rare Picture….

…. because it was usually my father with the camera.


Father would have been in his late twenties when this picture was taken by my mother. She must have been standing on something or hanging over a balcony to get the angle; it was quite difficult to replicate. Counsel popped by (he’s been to photography classes and knows what’s what) to do the honours and the farm provided the cherry picker.

Like Father

Just about got it. We didn’t have a lot of time (I thought about dragging out my ‘country’ jacket and tie but it would have looked a bit contrived) and it was nice to get the two images together at last. It’s funny to think that I’m probably twice my father’s age here. I’ve still got the hare (and some hair I see) and a folder of correspondence that my father had with the Alvis works at the time. Unfortunately, I can’t fully read the number plate so I don’t know if the car survives.

Old picture

And to continue the theme – I stopped to buy ice creams on the way to Leon and Awkward’s workshop – and noticed that everything seemed to look ‘right’ for a picture which was some consolation for paying the same price as a gallon of petrol for four choc ices!

Hurtu brake levers

I took a couple of days off from Project ‘X’ to complete the brake levers for a chum’s Hurtu. I’d previously drawn up and had laser cut the various parts for fabrication. The originals were cast and would have been too expensive to replicate for this one-off job.

Old and new

There were taper pins to drill for and fit and various bits of shaping to make the levers look right. Also, blending the welding (I used multiple runs of TIG as I’m less confident with the stick welder through lack of practice) to make sure all the anticipated loads flow through the parts as they should. That took a bit of time – practically all day in fact.

Finished Hurtu parts

But I’m very pleased with the result. It’s all too easy to get the levers the wrong way round if you’re too eager to get the job done – in fact that’s my usual trick and I’m delighted that I got to the end of the job without having to do anything twice! The middle bracket attaches to the differential case and secures a rod which acts as a torque tube might; there’s one either side.

In France

You’ll recall that Leon and Awkward changed the engine in Leon’s Special – removing the troublesome Coventry Climax and putting the original Austin engine back in – well, they were working to a deadline as they’d set themselves the task of going to the South of France in the Standard Avon and the A7. Ils sont arrivés.

A picture with Awkward in it is a rare thing.






Days Out.

I’ve lived on the farm for 32 years and in that time have got to know my landlords very well – as they have me. Almost from the outset of my tenancy, I became involved with school runs for their children, airport runs for their holidays and generally helping out when they were short-handed. So the other day I was asked if I might take them up to London to see some tennis at the Queen’s Club, kick my heels for a few hours and later drive them home. I was happy to oblige.


Having deposited my charges and found a place to park, I headed for the South Bank where the new wing of Tate Modern had just been opened. I don’t go to London often and I’m always impressed with the standard of busking. I remember when I was at St Martin’s Art School in the Charing Cross Road, I would take time out with a chum to go and busk in Bond Street Tube to raise money for lunch. It was always a bit of a cat and mouse game with the Transport Police who were decent enough to enter into the spirit of the game and not take their responsibilities too seriously.

New Tate Modern

So, on to the New Tate Modern. The turbine hall was always an awe-inspiring space and the gigantic ironwork girders contribute to its sense of power. The new extension sports an impressive open lattice-work facade built of thousands of blocks – essentially the civil engineering equivalent of a string vest.

New Tate Modern

The view from inside out….

New Tate Modern

… was 1000 times more interesting than anything in the free-to-look-at permanent collection.


I got back on the tube, took myself to the V&A Museum in South Kensington and headed for the jewellery and precious metalwork sections where I was able to restore my faith in the skill and endeavour of the true artist and artisan. We like to think we’re clever and, of course, we are; we’re of our time and we have the technology to create and do the most extraordinary things but, to see the exquisite work of a late 16th Century watchmaker can never be anything other than a humbling experience.


Having dropped the ball on the application of the front wings to my Austin, I’m also humbled by the extraordinary speed with which Leon and Awkward get things done. I thought I would call in to the workshop around 10-ish and maybe give a hand lifting or holding something, passing a spanner and whatnot but I was way too late – the job was done – they’d started at 5.30am and by about 3.00pm had the Climax out and the Austin engine in and running.


I had a quick cup of tea with them and carried on to a small fly-in on a Norfolk farm where I spotted an old friend from Felthorpe, a little airfield north-west of Norwich that my brother and, occasionally, I flew from. The Chipmunk was always nice to fly though I never really liked swinging the prop. It was a lot less hazardous than the Avro where you had to step over the skid on the follow through, but the Warner radial seemed to get going more softly than the Gypsy – probably low compression spread over seven cylinders helped.

Those were the days.