Rules & Reg’s.

Historically, pretty much everything in Norway (and the rest of Scandinavia) is, in comparison to most of Europe, outrageously expensive – alcohol especially – the government applies punitive taxes to alcohol in a bid to stem a national drink problem.

But there’s also a sort of finger-wagging undertone which manifests itself in various inconveniences, the first of which I encountered last Saturday when I popped into the supermarket to get a well-deserved beer at the end of my 12-hour shift – 8.00pm. ‘Sorry Sir, we can’t sell alcohol after 6 o’clock on Saturdays’. I went back to the hotel and had not much more than a half pint glass of cold frothy stuff – £7.80.

I thought I’d beat the system the following Saturday by buying a couple of bottles on the way to work. ‘Sorry Sir, no alcohol sales before 8 o’clock’ (and you’ll be out of luck tomorrow – Sunday – as well chum). On Sunday evening, the hotel bar was closed and I asked the hotel receptionist why. ‘Don’t worry’, she said and with that, she disappeared behind a curtain (?) and came back with a small glass of lager (an eye-watering £8.00).

I’m no great drinker as my friends will attest but, when you’re deprived of a simple pleasure, it suddenly becomes a mission to get what you think you deserve at (almost) any price – which could be the start of a problem?

I’d taken a couple of panoramas of the dock when it suddenly occurred to me to take a vertical panorama – I nearly fell over backwards but it would be a useful technique when trying to capture a fabulous ceiling in an Italian church – I must remember that when I’m next in Naples.

During a break, when the cable we were magnetising was being tested on board the Flintstone, I ambled over to the car park to give a hand getting this Ford going. I’d noticed that it had been a more or less a static fixture over the last couple of weeks and was wondering if it actually ran.

Anyway, chap had the bonnet up but didn’t have any tools to check if he had sparks and fuel. By the time I’d got back with a screwdriver and spanners, the ambulance was hitched to a Transit and was being towed around the yard. That did the trick.

1943 apparently and in very usable condition – it sounded fine and no smoke from the exhaust as it sped away from the dock.

In idle moments, there were other activities to watch – these Leviathans trundled up and down the dock throughout the day and I remember them from my first trip to Drammen when we loaded the Olympic Commander. And, other than the cranes, I don’t, from that first trip, remember much at all except being huddled in a container on deck for a week of very cold and wet night shifts.

And when you’ve read enough books, watched enough films and twiddled your thumbs to a stop, there’s always the rain to photograph – that’s art, that is.

At the end of our stint in Drammen, we got the train back to the airport. Scandinavian trains are on time – to the second – and this one, the Airport Express, very comfortable.

There was some thought-provoking public art at the airport; perhaps a warning to those who circumvent the rules and reg’s?





That’s A Good Idea….

I bought a jar of instant coffee from the supermarket across the road from the hotel and later, unscrewing the lid, saw that there was a small red tab to assist in the removal of the airtight inner seal. Progress! No more bits-of-silver-paper-in-your-coffee woes.

I thought it was too good to be true.

The water pump on the Hillman started to play up just before I left for Norway and, as I can remove it practically blindfold, I thought I’d whip it off and replace it with my previously re-engineered spare – which I did. A 147 mile round trip went off without any problems but, the next morning I was greeted with a large puddle of water on the workshop floor.

The first pump had quite a lot of play in the bronze bush so that had to be renewed and whilst I was at it, I replaced both lip seals, both sealed bearings and, added an extra lip seal in place of the worse-than-useless felt washer which sits on the pulley end of the shaft. I don’t know why I hadn’t done that before.

The other weak point in the design is the drain hole underneath the pump which I assume gives notice of water ingress into the void between the inner and outer bearings indicating a failing seal. I bung this up with Araldite – not best practice but, buys me a few more miles as the water is held by the outer sealed bearing and the extra lip seal. I’m always looking in the radiator and constantly monitoring the gauges so I’m unlikely to be caught out…. in theory.

I didn’t have time to fully investigate the second pump which, I vaguely recall, had caused a bit of trouble before and I’d packed it up with lithium grease as a get-you-home spare to take to Lelystad.

There were a few more paintings in the Oslo National Gallery that caught my eye but didn’t get round to mentioning….

Vilhelm Hammershoi’s, ‘The Coin Collector’; always a bonus to see a Hammershoi and, this charming scene, ‘Braiding Her Hair’, by Christian Krohg.

Picasso was well represented and it was interesting to see three of his works, spanning nearly 25 years, altogether and on one wall. The first, ‘Man and Woman in a Café’, 1903 (towards the end of his ‘Blue Period’)…..

… ‘Guitar and Glass’, 1911….

…and ‘Still Life’, 1927.

Although not a favourite of mine, Picasso was certainly a highly skilled colourist. When I worked in Florida, I occasionally had a game of poker with a chap who was valet to either Mrs Proctor or Mrs Gamble – I can’t remember which but, in his grace and favour flat in Palm Beach, just along from ‘The Banana Boat’ – a bar we’d patronise before Martin would relieve me of what little money I had – was an early Picasso charcoal sketch of a young girl. It was the first time I’d ever seen a work of art by a household name in a private residence. I’ve never forgotten it….

…unlike this entirely forgettable nonsense I tripped over in the gallery; must have seemed a good idea at the time.


Getting It Right.

In comparison to some of our usual work places, this tent is rather splendid – light and airy but not too draughty – and there’s plenty of space for everything. It takes a couple of days to get the systems streamlined – kettles, heaters, lights and general supplies, but once you’re settled in and everything’s to hand, if the weather’s half-way decent, there’s nothing to complain about.

What’s more, the kind folk at Prysmian, Drammen, had thoughtfully provided a Portaloo for the benefit of us Magnetisers and the chaps controlling the cable tensioner. One morning, with all my safety equipment on, I got in a muddle adjusting my dress and my glasses fell into the oggin – it was my only pair. Need I tell you …… no, so I won’t.

In an idle moment, I was standing on the dock side talking to one of the ship’s officers from the Flintstone, when his phone rang. He switched to his native language (he was from Cameroon) and launched into a very animated conversation with someone who was equally excited about whatever it was they were talking about. I later learnt that this chap’s mother had gone on holiday and left a man looking after the family cow. Well, the cowman had gone walkabout and so had his charge so my companion was having to find another cow before his mother came back to the village. He was, in this enterprise, relying on his I gather, rather less than reliable brother, though he was at least on the spot – so to speak. And we think we’ve got problems!

Amongst the visitors to the tent I’m working in, was this mouse. He was a persistent little chap, scuttling round my feet and trying to run up the table leg and he didn’t clear off until the end of the day – I haven’t seen him since. He reminded me of the time, many years ago now, when, at the end of harvest, I was sweeping out the buck of a lorry that we used to cart the grain from the fields to the drier. My landlord (the farmer) was with me and he spotted a tiny field mouse in the corner of the buck. He went over to investigate and the mouse shot straight up his trouser leg. That woke them both up!

In Oslo’s National Gallery, I spotted this painting which reminded me of one I’d done some years ago. Looking at the composition of this work, ‘Au Miroir’, by Ludvig Karsten, it was uncanny to see that both he and I had taken almost the same viewpoint and included details like the reflection of a painting on the opposite wall.

Of course, it takes a professional to get it right and there’s something in my effort which I got wrong. Answers on a post card to the usual address.



When Your Ship Doesn’t Come In….

….and you find yourself in Drammen, Norway, the prospect of several days inactivity is less than inspiring – or so I thought until I and my fellow magneteer walked across the bridge to investigate the commotion audible from our hotel.

It was festival weekend and the streets were awash with stalls selling everything you could comfortably live without and more, plus, there were power boats racing up and down the river – something that warranted a closer look.

There were a few vintage boats of which this was the prettiest. We wandered up and down the river bank whilst more modern racers, some with fully enclosed cockpits and daft amounts of horsepower, flew past at full chat.

The festival went on for the whole weekend but I elected to slip off to Oslo on the train on Sunday and visit a couple of galleries before our ship arrived and the magnetising work began on Monday morning.

I caught a glimpse of part of Oslo as we sped through on the train from the airport on our way to Drammen on Friday evening – it looked promising. Norway’s tiny population – 2.5 million less than London’s – has produced its fair share of world-class artists though many are not particularly well-known outside Scandinavia. Look out for Harriet Backer for instance.

There’s clearly much ado about Munch, Norway’s most famous artist, because this was part of the hour-long wait to get in to the National Gallery. A queue, though inconvenient, is usually a good sign.

Munch’s ‘The Scream’ was rather muffled in real life, but his other work was more vibrant.

‘Girls on a Bridge’, had the intensity that I had expected of ‘The Scream’ and for me was the better painting but, given the choice, Munch’s ….

…..’The Day After’, was the most fun. My ticket for the National Gallery allowed me entry to the Museum of Contemporary Art and, after a quick look-in on the Museum of Architecture – lots of very nice models and also part of the ticket offer – I made my way into a building that I imagined could once have been an asylum and, the contents on the ground floor did nothing to dispel this notion.

These exhibits were the offerings of various up and coming artists exploring relationships between this and that; creating tensions with both constructed and discovered dialogues; demonstrating essential insights into the unreality of meaning; dialectic temptations – blah blah fishcakes, Top Banana!

A documentary photography gallery on the first floor which welcomed you with work by Dorothea Lange immediately made more sense. The theme of the exhibition was ‘Street Photography’, essentially documenting life on the street in various counties and times. It seems morbidly fascinating to look at black and white photos of people we sometimes mistakenly consider to be less well-off or more ridiculous than ourselves but, there’s no mistaking the skill of the photographers.

And such is the efficiency of the Norwegian railway system, I didn’t have long to wait before my train came in.


.. no sooner was I home from Finland than I was on the way back. I just managed to fit in a breakfast run to Southwold with Awkward in his Avon Special before catching the 10:30 to Helsinki on Monday morning.

I got the night shift this trip and the mozzies were out in force. On the first night I rather stupidly left my insect repellent in the hotel and managed to collect a bite that looked like it was going to swell up to the size of an avocado – I can still feel a small lump in my forearm a week later. For the rest of the week I sprayed ‘Incognito’ (a Deet free treatment) on myself and wasn’t bothered again.

Dawn is always the best time on the night shift and Pikkala didn’t disappoint. The BoDo Constructor settled itself on the end of the pier and we got on with the business of loading the cable with little drama; we would be here for about a week.

However much you try, sleep in any regular pattern or amount of time, is almost impossible on the night shift. Cleaners come in to the room (I couldn’t find the ‘Do Not Disturb’ door hanger until the last day when it fell out of the hotel’s ‘welcome’ brochure) and my stay happened to coincide with repairs to the Spa Hotel’s swimming pool roof. A large skip was placed under my window and for a couple of hours a day, a mechanical digger filled it up with roofing materials before it was hauled away some hours later with all the necessary clanging, revving and shouting. I tended to get up, go to a supermarket to buy some food for the midnight break or just go for a drive before going back to bed again. I came across this little airstrip with a Cessna tied down. It looks a bit too big for a Texas Taildragger (a tailwheel 152) so I would guess that it’s a 180. I used to fly a Texas Taildragger from Ipswich – it was owned by the Horizon Flying Club, based in the terminal building on the old airport. Alas, that fantastic grass airfield has long gone – sold to developers by the Council.

The Great Collector’s been at it again, this time a very pretty little Peugeot 172M with a pick-up back. The body looks original – it might be described as semi-commercial – and the ‘M’ was a smaller version of the ‘R’ but nevertheless produced greater horsepower so you could throw a couple of pigs in the back and whizz off to your local market with confidence.

And I managed to get a snap of a friend’s recently rebuilt Hispano Suiza engine. Funny to think that under that cam cover is a mechanism identical to that of the Morris Six engine in my Hillman. (Wolseley pinched the idea when they built Hispano’s for the SE5 during the 1st World War).

And, it’s time I got off to Norway!


Especially a large amount of important ones on a big key ring, are, ideally, not introduced to your lawnmower – the result is not pretty. Luckily, the one key that I needed to put the lawnmower back in the workshop, had only been chopped off at the top of the shaft and with a pair of pliers for leverage, was still serviceable. It had been a rough couple of days – going too fast, I’d crashed the lawnmower into the corner of the shed trying to squeeze through a gap. The steering was bent out of shape and the drive mechanism had got itself in a muddle and decided to work backwards. Ride-on lawnmowers are not the easiest of things to maintain and a day was spent on the floor and under the machine trying to get everything straight.

Much more cheering was the picture of Leon’s re-spoked A7 wheels.

And then I was off to Finland again. It was an early morning flight to Helsinki and we boarded a very new A350-900 with TV’s in the seat backs and leg room; bliss! There were also feeds to the cameras mounted on the tail and the belly of the aircraft which was fun at take-off and landing. It was a far cry from my return from Oslo the other week in an old Ryanair cattle truck in which it was impossible not to have my knees against the seat in front of me. Plus the seat backs seemed to be at 90° which was torturous.

Back in Pikkala, we were loading the Atalanti, a Greek registered cable-laying ship with a very friendly crew and an excellent galley. The moussaka was perfect! It was a short trip and as a bonus, the weather in Finland was better than the UK- warm and sunny with a bit of rain overnight.

Staying on the ship was still something to get used to – the same problem with no windows in the cabin and not being able to tell what time of day it was.

To keep me company in the hut where I was working was this wasps nest. The wasps were quite busy whizzing in and out and one or two did briefly penetrate my no-fly zone but were otherwise not interested. Perhaps Finland has a less aggressive breed of wasp though I wasn’t about to poke a stick in there to find out.

On my last shift the moon made an appearance and although phone cameras aren’t the best in low light, I took a couple of snaps anyway. What I didn’t realise until I was told later, was that there was a partial lunar eclipse in progress. If you zoom in on the picture, you can just see the Earth’s shadow clipping the disc at the 5 o’clock position.

Helsinki airport is massive. Some of the gates are a 20 minute walk and then a bus ride to the aircraft. Finnair boast that they fly to more destinations than any other airline – an impressive claim and, I have to say, they’re at the top of my list; leg room – that’s the key.

There’s Always Someone….

… to spoil your day. Well, not mine fortunately, but the owner of this boat whom I presume, as it was 8.00 o’clock on a Sunday morning, was catching a bit of extra shut-eye before church parade. The yellow tag was a parking ticket issued by a rather casually dressed lady who wasn’t even wearing so much as an official hat.

We were rostered to mess on the ship for our stay in Halden, Norway, which meant that we would be in for some excellent food and the chef on the Nexans Skaggerak didn’t disappoint. I think I had the best piece of beef fillet that I’ve had in my life; so good that I had to ask how it was done. Obviously you’ve got to start with a decent piece of meat in the first place and let it come to room temperature over a 12 hour period. Add the marinade of choice – leave for another 24 hours  – and stick a temperature gauge into the centre of the fillet. Set and heat the oven to 58°C, put the meat in and wait for the gauge to come to 58°. Remove the fillet and allow it to cool to 50°; slice it up and then put it back in the oven until it again reaches 58°C. Then its ready to serve. Cracking!

It was quite a busy little fjord and one evening another cable laying ship came and parked next to us to load up. There were numerous small craft going up and down during the day; cabin-cruisers, sailing boats and I think I spotted a Riva type speed boat. It was a bit too far away to be certain but it looked and sounded right.

We worked a midday to midnight shift which fell in with the meal times on board but it was a strange sensation to wake up and have not a clue what the weather (or sense of the time of day, there being no porthole in the cabin) was until you climbed the stairs and got out on deck. Sleep is always fitful on board a working ship as the cable loading is a 24-hour operation. You tend to wake up if everything stops and there’s suddenly silence!

At the end of our stint, as no hire-cars were available, we took the train. Very clean and comfortable, reclining seats, quiet and equipped with charging sockets for all your electrical paraphernalia, the three-hour journey back to Oslo Gardermoen airport, including a change at Oslo, was a good way to see some of the countryside. Naturally, their harvest was quite a few weeks behind ours being that much further north but patches of barley and oats looked fit. The potatoes were still in bloom so they had a bit to go as well. An evening flight back to Stansted gave us time for a glass of beer and a sandwich each – £46.00! Norway is not cheap.


My first job when I got home was to find a car to replace the Mercedes (fault-finding will continue) and I found a very nice Peugeot 407; red. That should brighten things up a bit!