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!


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!