There I Was…

… upside down, nothing on the clock…. well, not exactly. A trundle round the houses in a Cessna 152, demonstrated to me and my instructor that I still knew which way was up. My only ‘moment’ was when, as the main wheels (defying all probability) ‘kissed’ the grass on landing, I instinctively pulled the column back that extra inch to keep the tailwheel on the ground. It must be 25 years since I last flew a nose-wheel aircraft so I think I’m excused.

The Mazda-engined racing car project is underway; the MX-5 has been stripped and the Locost chassis has appeared. It’ll need a couple of tweaks to the front end before we can shoe-horn the engine in but everything else will remain the same. As far as the body goes, I’ll have to pay another visit to the fibre-glass guys as I’ve forgotten most of what they told me.

I’ve made a bit of progress with the idea for a disc brake conversion for the Hillman. Learned Counsel pointed me towards Wilwood four piston calipers as a starting point and I roughed out a dummy disc to see if there was room for everything. It’s tight, but achievable (the red pot and the washers are to support the caliper to check I’ve enough clearance). There’s a brass grease cap on the bottom kingpin bracket that may need some redesign to give me a little bit of extra leeway with the disc mounting bell. I’ve either got to weld the disc and the bell together or bolt them. If I weld, they’d have to be machined true afterwards. Bolting would save a lot of trouble but, if the assembly wasn’t true then I’d have to machine anyway. The jury’s out on that at the moment.

At least I’ll have time to think about it all as I’ve been sent back to Norway, though to a different place.

Haugesund is on the West side of Norway. Its City Hall features in the Norwegian edition of Monopoly and a statue of Marilyn Monroe stands in the harbour (according to her birth certificate, her father came from a nearby village). There are other attractions – an art gallery for instance – which I’ll try to squeeze in between visits to the electronic gear I’m looking after. A power cable runs under the sea between two of the many local islands and, as the cable-laying ship buries it all in a trench on the seabed, its integrity has to be monitored. Part of my journey to and fro, involves a very steep descent into the Karmøy tunnel; over 5 miles long and nearly 500ft deep. This takes me under the island of Fosen and, in the middle of it all, there’s a roundabout bringing in traffic from a different direction. It’s an extraordinary feat of engineering.

Working here in the summer – around August, September time – must be glorious, though at this time of year it’s a different story. It looks tranquil enough but, I was there on this spot when the hail came down. I usually curse my hard hat; not this time.




Purely Academic Of Course…

… just something to keep the old synapses snapping away. I thought I’d investigate the possibility of converting the Hillman’s front drum brakes to discs – that should help. The brakes as they stand, with a bit of hydraulic assistance to the old pushrod system, are quite good – almost as good as my first car’s brakes (a 1962 Mini) but it would be nice to have a bit of extra stopping power for the inevitable emergency.

I popped along to The Great Collector’s spares department and hauled out a front hub, drum and backplate to test out a few ideas on the bench. Measuring up took an age – as you can imagine – but at last I got some idea of how much room I had to play with; not much. The disc part of the brake I’m not really concerned about because I can always fabricate that to suit the position of the caliper. It was the mounting of the caliper and getting one as slim as possible that would stop a vehicle that, fully loaded, weighed in at 1100kg and could be discreetly tucked away and covered up with a racy, ribbed aluminium faux brake drum (I would put them on all four wheels in the interests of balance – both aesthetically and to preserve the corner weights as much as possible).

I know my sketch isn’t terribly clear and I certainly wouldn’t scale from the drawing, but this is where I got to at close of play. I’ve drawn the caliper mounted horizontally on top of the disc – it would be on one of the sides – but that’s so I can see what’s meant to be going on. The radial mount caliper I’ve selected is one of the Wilwood range; their website has a convenient set of dimensional drawings to study, but I think I’ll run this by Learned Counsel before I get too far down the road – he’s bound to set me straight.

Talking of whom; he slipped off with Counsel early one morning and bought this Healey 100/6. I haven’t seen it in the flesh as yet, though by all accounts, it’s a jolly nice one.

That explained why he roped me in the other day to get his Austin 10 going; he must be making room for his new toy.

Many years ago I got the urge to do have a go at carving. I managed to get hold of a very nice piece of lime and set to work. I thoroughly enjoyed the exercise and the result has been sitting on a bookcase looking at me for the last 20 years. I glanced at it the other day and was reminded that my PPL hadn’t got long to go before it would be at the point of no return and I’d have to take all the exams if I ever wanted to go flying again. The thought was also prompted by a visit from an old flying chum who was putting his Pitts Special back together.

The local flying club’s only over the hedge from me, so I popped in on the way back from town; just to get the lay of the land you’ll understand, purely research of course….





My Butter…

… has become more difficult to spread so winter is fast approaching. A couple of domestic jobs turned into the usual nightmare. Changing the kitchen mixer tap took 5 hours; I had to make up a special tool to get at the brass assembly retaining nut carefully located in the least accessible position and of course to get at that, I had to disturb all the plastic under-sink pipework which, now brittle with age, leaked on reassembly – another trip into town to get a twin-sink manifold kit.

Which, due to a manufacturing error, also leaked. I hate plumbing….

…except this sort. I spent a peaceful Saturday morning welding up a stainless steel manifold for a pig feed unit.

An excellent piece of Hake with steamed cabbage and boiled new potatoes at Andrew Edmunds in Soho to celebrate a family gathering was a welcome indulgence after my exertions in Norway and then it was back to the grindstone.

The engine and gearbox from this MX-5 is destined for a racing car project based around a Locost chassis – the project being instigated by Learned Counsel and The Racing Driver. I’ve done a preliminary sketch for a proposed body..

.. the bulge in the nose is to accommodate the MX-5 camshaft covers. I think it’s going to fall to me to make up the prototype, so I’ll be learning about fibreglass; something I’ve only messed about with in a very small way for alterations to my old Jodel cowling.

We had fun finding the ECU and then stripping out and removing as much of the wiring loom as we could whilst still being able to start the engine. In comparison with my Mercedes, where everything you touch (electrically) appears to be connected to everything else and will stop the engine if you so much as think about interfering with it, the MX-5 is a joy to work with. The saga of my Merc has (hopefully) concluded. I got a secondhand engine wiring loom from Poland and took it along to Ed who, coincidentally looks after a racing MX-5, and asked him to fit the loom and give the Merc the once over as it hadn’t shown any sign of wanting to start since July. On the phone, a couple of hours later, Ed mentioned that ECU testing firms were not necessarily all they’re cracked up to be. The loom hadn’t made any difference but, in taking the ECU apart, Ed had discovered some very corroded connections which he’d cleaned up and re-soldered. The engine then started and ran perfectly.

The throttle body motor was probably also faulty, so I got a complete assembly from eBay and fitted it the following evening. Result? The engine ran for about 2 seconds, died and I was back to square one!! I don’t know what he did but Ed soon had it going again. I’m hoping that the Merc is going to be back on song because the Peugeot 407 I bought in the interim is driving me nuts. I use cruise control all the time and the Peugeot system is not intuitive, neither are the rest of the ancillary controls, so I’m looking forward returning to the simplicity of the Merc.

Because I’ve been away so much, I’ve not been able to keep an eye on The Great Collector’s activities. A dawn raid on Sunday morning caught him at breakfast where he confessed to having tripped over a very nice 2.5 litre Riley RMB – irresistible, he explained, with a look as though butter wouldn’t melt….



It Looked Like Snow…

…. but fortunately the job finished in time for us to scuttle back home before it got to us.

For one reason and another, we had to change hotels for one night and the only place left within spitting distance of the cable factory was a motel. The last time I stayed in a motel was in America, just outside New Orleans and it was grim. A thick, metal clad door with multiple locks spoke volumes for the neighbourhood and I don’t think I got a lot of sleep.

Less threatening (we’re in Norway after all) but nevertheless equally bleak, chalet N0.8 had an uncared-for air of decay. A cursory inspection revealed the washroom shelf about to fall off the wall and some wag had given the artwork a whole new meaning. When you go into a hotel room, the last thing you want to see, smell or sense is evidence of the previous occupants. On the upside, no air-conditioning meant that I got a good night’s sleep.

I normally left the (regular) hotel at 7.00 every morning to walk about half a mile down to the 7/11 supermarket to get a few snacks to see me through the day. It dawned on me only a few days ago why it was that the town, though busy at that time, was so uncannily quiet. Electric and hybrid cars. Every taxi is a Toyota Prius; I’ve never see so many Tesla’s in one place and I’m pretty sure that every other manufacturer of hybrids is represented. As you know, American cars are a great favourite and a regular sight in Norway and in the semi-silence, you can hear them coming from the other side of town – but a bit later on in the day.

News of Leon’s continued tweaking of his A7 Special arrived to break the monotony of life in a tent on a dockside on the Drammens Elva; the last week has seen him rebuild the Austin 4-speed synchromesh gearbox.

He reports that it took a couple of attempts to get the box back together – like the Morris box which looks very similar – it was a bit of a squeeze.

With new bearings and seals, the box should more readily withstand the rigours of being attached to the Climax engine.

During the reassembly Leon and Awkward noticed that No.1 inlet valve was fully closed on TDC so by advancing the cam 10 degrees, they’ve now got 0.045 lift just before the start of the inlet stroke. I thought about that and wondered if this adjustment would, by effectively pushing exhaust gas down the inlet tract for a split second, have a detrimental effect on the incoming charge but, it doesn’t happen like that. According to Learned Counsel, there’s a partial vacuum in the cylinder created by the high-speed exhaust gases flowing out past the exhaust valve which is taken advantage of by a slightly open intake valve allowing new mixture to be pulled into the chamber ahead of the piston’s inlet stroke.

It looks like a winning tweak to me.

It Came To Mind.

‘Art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed’.

Because I was standing in front of Odd Nerdrum’s, ‘The Murder of Andreas Baader’, at the moment when Banksy’s pearl of wisdom popped into my head, I couldn’t at first get round the second clause. My initial thought was, ‘why would anyone encourage this sort of thing?’ – the act that is, not the art.

Even a cursory glance at Banksy’s work will confirm that’s not what he meant. Banksy has consistently used his art to get the attention of those he feels are responsible for the injustices of the world; that’s the ‘disturb the comfortable’ bit. ‘Comfort the disturbed’; art as a therapy is the more likely explanation and that was when things took a surprising turn.

‘ Kite’. Courtesy of the Adamson Collection / Wellcome Library

We’ve most of us heard of the therapeutic value of art in the treatment of the difficult and the disturbed but, like me, I would guess that for many of us, that’s as far as our awareness goes. Imagine then, coming across a body of work that wasn’t created, promoted, bought, sold and exhibited by a select few, though was otherwise indistinguishable except in one crucial respect; the narratives of the works seemed perfectly lucid.

‘The Demonstration’. Courtesy of the Adamson Collection / Wellcome Library

Was this intelligibility inherent in the works a consequence of their creators focusing completely on the task of communicating through their art because the need to communicate was paramount? If I was even partially correct in saying that ‘art is our way of informing ourselves of our view of the world’, then in that task, this body of work was entirely successful. I know that the authors of the pieces I was looking at were mostly compelled to be incarcerated for their failings, so already there was a context, an understanding – I could make a reasonable assumption about what was going on based on my own capacity for conjuring up disturbing thoughts – we’re all of us perfectly equipped (in sound mind or not) to create all kinds of mayhem and we can certainly recognise it in others too.

‘Drowning’. Courtesy of the Adamson Collection / Wellcome Library

Why then do the narratives of the exhibits that I grumble about, those created by the – so to speak – undisturbed, who are at liberty to explore, experiment with, journey to and investigate the relationships between anything and everything – in the telling, so disastrously lose us? Context is my guess. Typically, ‘various expressions of dissension and countercultural forces that result in ambiguous thematisations of the dilemmas of transgression’, does not provide context. Instead, it fabricates, abdicates and obfuscates, and in so doing relinquishes any claim to the piece being art, confirms the creator’s status as clown and the gallery’s role as the Big Top.

I was interested to continue my researches and they led me firstly to Adrian Hill, then Edward Adamson. Hill instigated the employment of art as a therapeutic tool when he was in a sanatorium recovering from tuberculosis in the early 1940’s. Adamson, an artist, later working with Hill, then took the ideas to the Netherne Hospital, an asylum for the long-term mentally ill in Surrey – one of several such institutions in Britain. I won’t go any further because the Adamson Collection Trust tells it better than me.

The brief history of art therapy is compelling, inspiring and happily, comforting.




‘Modern Art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn’t’. (Legend on a ‘Modern Art Pouch’ for sale at the Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo).

I wanted to say something about this because I think it’s a sort of, ‘yeah-you-got-that-right-mate’, lazy acceptance of the novelty trap in which ‘modern’ art has got itself entangled. For a start, the quip infers that modern art’s audience is patently uninformed – a risky strategy for an art gallery – and thus seeks to validate the contents of any exhibition space because the uninformed are in no position to argue. So, before I stumped up NOK 349 (roughly £35) for a paintbrush bag and swanked about feeling modish and clever, perhaps it was worth a moment’s consideration?

Eilif Peterssen. From the Beach at Sele. 1889

‘Modern’ art is generally accepted to occupy the period between the 1860’s and the 1970’s. That bit’s easy enough and straightaway there’s some pretty tough acts to follow – Eilif Peterssen for starters. But let’s not split hairs, we’ll include the post-moderns, conceptual art and minimalisism because they’re probably the focus of the legend’s and our attention.

Fredrik Vaerslev. Untitled. 2014

‘Fredrik Varslev’s paintings can be said to belong to opposite poles….gestures reminiscent of Pollock….they can be said to almost represent the perfect illusion painting….our eyes are directed downwards towards….surfaces we rarely notice in everyday life’. (Gallery notes).

Then, ‘what’s art?’ At 3:37 the other morning, I thought I had an answer, at least it was somewhere in the ballpark for me: ‘Art is what we produce to inform ourselves of our view of the world’; simple enough but it took me a while to get there.

Robert Ryman. Accompany. 2001

‘… this constitutes an effort to investigate the values embedded in the fundamental constituents of painting….once all decorative and illustrative features have been removed’. (Gallery notes).

Where ‘Modern Art’ went wrong for the man on the Clapham Omnibus was when the artist’s view became so deeply personal and impenetrable that the lines of communication between the artist and the audience were broken. Incoherent artworks spawned disengagement with a large section of the viewing public – an inevitable consequence of the decline of a recognisable narrative and the proliferation of abstraction in mainstream art in the early 20thC.

David Smith. Untitled (Nude) 1964

‘….splashes and lines of enamel paint are spread out across a grey canvas. In contrast to Jackson Pollock’s approach, the paint has been applied sparingly to the canvas with a steady hand….but the execution is so free that one cannot be sure that the picture actually represents a nude, as the title claims’. (Gallery notes).

So Bill says, ‘I could do that’. Well, he probably could but it would be a meaningless gesture. Bill’s been unable to understand the work – he doesn’t know what the artist is trying to convey. It appears as a (for instance) mass of paint thrown haphazardly onto a canvass and Bill has based his critique solely on his assertion that he could easily imitate the physical action of the artist. You can’t blame Bill entirely for this standpoint; he’s read the accompanying notes and they’ve only added to his incomprehension.

Ellesworthy Kelly. White Triangle with Black. 1976

‘….Kelly began to work with irregularly shaped canvases….two or more of these canvases are combined to create a new, potent form. Kelly’s ‘White Triangle with Black is an example of such a ‘relief’. (Gallery notes).

Ben retorts, ‘Yeah, but you didn’t’. Ben (probably unconsciously but correctly) implies that the work is not Bill’s view of the world and for that reason Bill would have been unlikely to have produced it or anything like it in any case. Ben also hints, in his mocking tone, at the art market and he’s telling Bill that if he had produced something (like this) had got to know the right people, convinced them of his authority and had an artwork displayed in a fancy gallery, it would not only have become an object inviting scrutiny (thus acquiring intellectual worth) but, more importantly, it would have acquired a monetary value that in the ordinary view, would far out-strip its artistic merit.

Cy Twombly. Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus. 1962

‘…two gory flowers of pain are connected by a slender umbilical cord of blood. Achilles cannot let go of Patroclus; their bond is mightier than death. The ghostly rose that was Patroclus is tied forever to the pulsing heart of Achilles’. (Jonathan Jones in The Guardian).

The exchange is incomplete. Ben doesn’t venture his opinion of the artwork so there’s no debate. What remains is dissatisfaction with the nature of the artwork, disbelief in the artist’s purpose and disaffection with the system that put it on public display. This helps nobody and is the worst of all outcomes.

If the goal of artists is to elicit a considered response to their reflections on the world, they have only themselves to blame for the general public’s dismissal of their work – especially if its abstraction is so complete as to be unfathomable – because if we could make head or tail of it, we wouldn’t be chewing on this old chestnut and we’d be spared galleries’ and critics’ patronising claptrap that frankly, serves only to reinforce our disdain.

I didn’t need a paintbrush bag anyway.


I See.

It was a grey, wet day when I took the train from Drammen to the Nationaltheatret station in Oslo, then walked to the waterfront to see the Astrup Fearnley Museet, Oslo’s privately owned Museum of Modern Art.

The first thing that caught my eye was in the museum’s shop. Described as a, ‘modern art pouch’, it was a bit like a clutch bag – the sort of thing you might carry your paintbrushes about in. It bore the legend, ‘Modern Art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn’t’. There’s quite a lot of ideas bouncing around in that exchange and whilst it appears to be a piece of clever-dickery, there’s something essentially misleading about it. I might come back to that. Meanwhile, if you’ll come this way……

‘Tile Sculpture #2’, part of an exhibition by Matias Faldbakken entitled, ‘Effects of Good Government in the Pit’. ‘One of Norway’s most prominent visual artists’, trumpets the exhibition guide. Hmmm.

Faldbakken’s ‘Flat Box Lithography #3’, ‘confronting the viewer with the framework and conditions that lie behind today’s circulation and distribution of goods’. Hmmm.

Faldbakken’s ‘…..installations that demonstrate the artist’s multi-faceted exploration and experimentation within various media’. Hmmm. And, ‘….various expressions of dissension and countercultural forces that result in ambiguous thematisations of the dilemmas of transgression’. Well, that’s enough of Faldbaaken and the catalogue (who writes this stuff?).

‘The Murder of Andreas Baader’, by Odd Nerdrum. He certainly was the odd one out in this gallery – a phenomenally good figurative artist and his depiction of the alleged murder of Baader (of Baader-Meinhof notoriety) in Germany’s Stammheim Prison, with a nod to Carravagio’s, ‘Crucifixion of St Peter’, and its overtones of martyrdom, ruffled a few feathers in Germany especially (Baader’s death has never been satisfactorily explained). Banksy was right in saying that, ‘art should disturb the comfortable’ (as here possibly) but added that it should also, ‘comfort the disturbed’. Like the clutch bag, it invites some consideration.

I enjoyed this work in pencil – I didn’t note the artist’s name but it reminded me of some of the wonderful B&W photographs by Jack Delano of the American railways.

There was a bunch of stuff from the usual suspects, Bacon, Hirst (the heffer and the calf in formaldehyde were just as repellent as the medical specimens in the Teknisk Museum).

David Hockney; ‘Two Men in a Shower’. Hockney’s one-time muse, Celia Birtwell, was, in the early eighties, an occasional visitor to our print works in Barlby Road, just off Ladbroke Grove. I seem to remember we were going to do a furnishing fabric collection for her – whether it came off or not, I can’t recall but, she was quite a character. We hand-printed for a lot of couture fashion houses back then: Jean Muir, Caroline Charles, Betty Jackson, Benny Ong, Yuki and so on. My brother had a Moto-Guzzi California with a semi-automatic gearbox at the time and we would go for lunch to ‘The Everest’ greasy spoon on Portobello Road. We had only one crash-helmet so, in a gesture of compliance with the law, the luckless passenger would have to wrap a sheet of wallpaper round his head with cut-out eye-holes. We came back after lunch on at least two occasions to find the Fire Brigade rushing up to the fourth floor to put out the fire in the fabric baking oven. Pete, who we would leave in charge of this operation (he sensibly brought his own sandwiches) was so busy reading his newspaper, he wouldn’t notice the conflagration developing. It was invariably someone in the old Talbot works across the road who would spot the smoke and call the Brigade.

And then in the evening we might catch Jethro Tull at the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park.

Still going strong I see.