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!


The Saga….

…. of my Mercedes’ electrics has gone on since January and might well end with a perfectly good car going to the scrap heap because of an electrical fault that no one seems to be able to pin down. Even the much vaunted Mercedes ‘Star’ diagnostic machine didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know, in fact it told me to replace the crankshaft position sensor despite the fact that it had already been renewed. At this point the engine was running but not so well that you’d trust it on anything but a local journey. So I borrowed a regular code reader and plugged it in to see what it had to offer. 4 faults came up: Crankshaft position sensor, camshaft position sensor, mass airflow sensor (MAF) and exhaust gas re-circulating thingummy (EGR). I replaced (or had replaced as the crankshaft sensor is all but inaccessible) everything – except the EGR which I cleaned out – and started up. The engine ran for about 2 seconds, stopped and hasn’t run since. It turns over readily enough and although fuel is getting to the injectors, it sounds like the injectors aren’t firing and consequently, no fuel is getting to the cylinders. I gave up at this point; electrics (and rulers) are just not my thing. If anyone has any ideas……

I managed to complete a stone trap – there’s a couple on order – before I was whisked off to Halden in Norway. I’d been there before a couple of years ago but hadn’t had the time to have a look round.

On this visit, my room had a slightly more interesting view than the last time (see April 2015) – every little helps.

The marina was a bit busier and, having a car, I was able to nip up to the castle (on the left of the picture) and get a handle on the layout.

The Nexans Skagerrak cable layer wasn’t due to arrive for a couple of days so we had time to kick our heels and get settled in. A bit like the other parts of Scandinavia I’ve visited, trees, granite and lakes are the staple diet and, unless you’re an outdoorsy, running, jumping, pedalling sort of person, finding something to chew on is not easy.

An interesting building in the market square….

… a charming public park,

and it looks like they’re building some sort of gallows up at the castle so I know I’m not the only one who’s finding things a bit slow.

Where Am I?

Oh yes, Karlskrona.

My last stay here was a 21 day marathon; this time it’s just a 4 day stint to finish off the job we didn’t manage to complete a few weeks ago because of the difficulties with some of the cable. I’ve always been a bit unsure about the food at the hotel I’m staying in; there’s nothing wrong with it but, somehow it just doesn’t suit me. There’s a distinct lack of seasoning and, like in America, there’s always some ghastly dressing drizzled all over the salad. I know that working the night-shift may have a bearing on it – everything gets turned upside down – but a splash of oil, a squeeze of lemon and some salt and pepper would lift everything. There are 3 Thai restaurants in the town, one is a buffet where you help yourself; that arrangement and the food, suits me perfectly.

I was home for only three days before setting off again, this time in the company of The Ambassador’s Daughter, to Lelystad for the Nationale Oldtimerdag – cars that is. After getting off the boat at the Hook of Holland, we ambled our way to Delft in time for coffee, Amsterdam for lunch and supper at the marina in Lelystad.

Lelystad is only 50 years old; reclaimed and developed by an engineer for whom the town is named. I’ve never stayed in Holland – I’ve passed through it on the way to somewhere else for nearly 60 years – and I have to say that I was delighted with everything. The people were friendly, generous and relaxed – nothing seemed to be too much trouble – and, being a flattish sort of place, it was ideal for a vintage car!

The reason for the trip was to meet up with Hans and Adrie who had bought ‘Sunita’. I was looking forward to seeing the changes they’d made to the car to make it their own – something I entirely approve of. Everything they’d done had given the little car a bit of extra character, colour and ‘authenticity’. An air pump and pressure gauge had been added, the stainless steel screws on the panel work had been changed for rivets, newly painted wheels, a matt black exhaust complete with fishtail and period headlamps were some of the more obvious changes but, the most noticeable was the addition of a ‘birdcage’ grille on the cowl. It all looked great and, testament to Hans’ and Adrie’s work, Sunita was surrounded by visitors throughout the day.

Amongst the 520 cars that attended the show – I’ve never seen so many fabulous 30’s drophead Mercedes’ – this little Skoda Cabriolet caught my eye; definitely one I’d have taken home with me.

And I’d never seen an Amphicar in action – there were 2 off them having fun, though if you look closely, the occupants are all studying the floor. I hope Blooojgs remembered to put the plug in…

And to round off the weekend, a visit to Lelystad’s Aviodrome where a Catalina was buzzing about and we were treated to an impromptu display by a Mustang.

Best show’s a free show!





Opera Buffa….

… defined as, ‘comic opera with characters drawn from everyday life’. The term originated in Naples where, I happily found myself magneteering for a few days last week.

My fondness for spaghetti Bolognese was indulged and to get into the swing of things, I rattled through Elena Ferrante’s, ‘My Brilliant Friend’ and ‘The Story of a New Name’, both of which determined me to visit the city if the opportunity arose – which it did at the end of our stint.

The centre of Naples is only 25 minutes by train from Arco Felice. You buy a ticket from the paper shop, validate it by sticking it in a time-stamp machine at the station then, off you go. I discovered that it’s best not to consult a timetable or ask anyone what time the next train will be – neither source is reliable; just turn up at the station – you won’t wait long.

There’s always plenty to look at, in fact the whole experience of being in Italy is just like I imagine a trip to the opera might be; drama, shouting, laughter, people rushing about, and all of it completely unintelligible but hugely entertaining.

Naples is stunning – probably for all the wrong reasons; crumbling, defaced, a bit grubby and reputedly dangerous but nevertheless the energy is palpable. Narrow streets fall away from the station at Montesanto and take you into the heart of the old city where street performers, hawkers, and the blare of car horns all vie for your attention.

I slipped into the Chiesa di San Giuseppe della Scalze a Pontecorvo, now host to occasional markets and exhibitions, to see 150 Italian paintings and sculptures dating from the 14th century to the present day – helpfully arranged chronologically. This Caravaggio was billed as the star of the show and it was a cracker but…

.. this view of Amalfi (I’ve stupidly mislaid my note of the artist’s name but the signature is visible when enlarged) was for me, ‘best of show’.

As I’ve remarked before, someone’s making a lot of money out of spray cans in Naples. I was in the city for only a few hours; enough to see the exhibition, have lunch and a refreshing beer (it was 28° and getting very humid) before I got back on the train and later clocked on to the night shift back in Arco Felice.

The bonus of being on the night shift is the daily spectacle of sunrise. Vesuvius and Capri melt in and out of view as the sea mists come and go; fishing boats start to potter about the bay and stray dogs appear on the beach to look for food left by people I never see but sometimes in the small hours, hear under the pier.

On my return home a week later, I had just enough time to complete one of the trolleys for the barrels on the lower shelf of the stillage in the cellar of my local pub – the idea works very well and saves a lot of struggling with a 70kg weight in a very small space.

Two days later I was back in Sweden where passion and deep emotion were less easily detected in the ordinary fare.


…. came from the glass blowers’ mural I found in Sweden the other week.

A quick sketch in my notebook saw the beginnings of a badge for ‘The Special Builder’s Breakfast Club’. I’d always wanted to do something to either paint or stick on the Hillman so, with a few hours to spare (my Mercedes was back in the garage with continuing electrical problems so I couldn’t go anywhere) I pressed ahead with the design.

Et voila!

I’m going to print a couple on clear acetate first to see how they look.

I finished the barrel hoist for my local pub – it just squeezed in with millimetres to spare – and it’s proved very successful. The green bit goes forward and backwards on rails and the hoist traverses left and right. I’ve just got to put the lower stills on runners so they can go in and out individually and I’m done.

I’m quite pleased with my barrel clamps – lifting the barrel locks the hooks under the rims and they’re impossible to remove until the barrel is put down again. In an effort to get as much done as possible before I go magnetising again, I’ve faced up and tackled all the little jobs on the Hillman that have been niggling away at me.

A new handbrake cable – the last one was too short and the lever was always too low to grab. I got in a complete muddle splicing the rope around the thimble; I couldn’t think how to do it – having done it for years on aircraft and so forth, this was a bit alarming. Anyway, I managed it in the end but it wasn’t pretty.

A new battery in the clock….

I reshaped the left-hand bonnet panel so it fitted better – not perfectly but quite acceptable…

… bolted down the fronts of the wooden bits under the bonnet to stop them lifting and rattling all the time….

… neatened up the transition from the bonnet hinge line to the top of the cockpit – I originally got the levels wrong and it didn’t dawn on me until the other day that this would be a good fix….

… and got rid of the step between the bonnet hinge and windscreen frame levels by adding a bit of aluminium bead I had floating about. I’ve also adjusted the steering box, taken a couple of millimetres off the flanges of the rear brake drums to stop them scraping on the backplates going round corners (it’s a ‘bitsa’ axle and there’s always been a slight problem with endfloat) and finally, touched up some rusty bits and given all the aluminium good polish.

Perhaps my next trip abroad will inspire me to design something for the radiator cap.

I Had The Feeling…..

…. that if I kept plugging away, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow would appear and sure enough, it did.

Our final cultural trip was to Kosta, home of the Orrefors glass factory. Acres of glassware in factory outlet shops spread out over the site. We watched a glass blowing demonstration – something I hadn’t seen since a visit to Venice as a child – and tried not to bump into anything as we went up and down the aisles of stuff-you-can-live-without.

We gawped at all the art glass in the gallery; one piece priced at £100,000 – we gave that a wide berth. But the real prize find was a painting, executed in the 60’s by the glass artist and designer, Vicke Lindstrand, probably when the gallery was built. It was a mural about 15′ long and 7′ high, depicting glass blowers at their work.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t take a picture of the whole wall because there was a curtain forming part of the glass exhibition, covering the left side of the artwork. Surprisingly, the gallery were pretty casual about the mural and I thought that covering it up for an exhibition of art glass seemed a bit of an odd approach. If they’d thought to reproduce this as a postcard or poster, it would probably be a major source of income. If you’re an art lover and find yourself in this part of Sweden, don’t miss it.

Staying with an art theme, this bronze bicycle rack was a good spot – at least I think it’s patinated bronze; it’s certainly not painted. Update – It certainly is painted, perfectly obvious when I put my glasses on.

Then some wallpaper in the hotel we’ve since moved to. It had some very grand reception rooms; highly decorated in the Napoleonic style …

…. though it’s a pity this theme had been largely erased from the rest of the building. Interestingly, this hotel had the best water of all the hotels in Karlskrona. With the fashion for water softeners and various treatments that fill the water full of air, it’s very difficult to get a decent shave. The water here is relatively hard so I’ve had the first decent shave in 20 days! I must also get a travelling soap dish so I don’t have to use the slimy gels that are the staple of most hotels.

The temperature had dropped over the last few days of our Swedish sojourn and on our last day, as the sun dropped low in the sky…


… the Maersk Connector sailed away and we packed up and, rather thankfully, headed for home.