Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Satan, and I know you've been wondering this, doesn't live in Hades any more. He's moved. He now lives in Richmond and goes about under the name of Duncan McDonald and he's just emailed to tell me that there is an old Colchester for sale on Trademe and bless my soul the vendor is now happy to take three hundred dollars for it. That's about a hundred and fifty quid. Get thee behind me.

Here's the offending lathe. Now you as an engineer are going to fall over chuckling not only at the rust and general decay and tin shed (all sheds in New Zealand are tin. It is a Law of Nature) but also because after gazing upwards to the left and half closing one eye for a moment, you've recognised this as almost certainly not a Colchester but rather a Britannia probably dating from about 1899. And you'll at once have gone zipping off to Tony's website where we all spend far too much time of an evening dribbling enthusiastically down our cardigans, and have located this pickchure:

and thought to yourself, Yes, hey! that's the little chappie. Trouble is I possess this lathe

which is its baby brother. Get thee behind me, Duncan. It's in Invercargill. Invercargill is to Motueka as Inverness is to Marble Arch, with the addition of the Southern Alps to negotiate. And a Britannia 17 lathe weighs two-thirds of a ton. 13.5 cwt, in fact. (Why did we stop measuring things in cwts? 20 cwts in a ton, 8 stone to a hundredweight, 14 lbs in a stone, 16 oz to the pound and four-hundred-and-thirty-seven-and-a-half rather delightful grains in an ounce. A marvellous divine system. Whatever possessed the Frogs to invent kilograms? Philistines. Barbarians. Savages. Foreigners. Etc etc etc)

'D'you think I should buy a lathe?'

'You've got a lathe.'

'I know but d'you think I should buy this one? It's like mine only bigg - '


'But - '

'What would you use it for?'

'Well nothing. But - '

'Could you fix the cutlery drawer with it?'

'Hush.' Sore point. The front of the cutlery drawer fell off this week, and inspection revealed two diecast rivets (can you have diecast rivets?) had sheared, which rivets I carefully drilled out and tapped 4mm and replaced and it still fell off and slightly closer inspection revealed that a diecast lug had also sheared and so I went to see Bryce who built it and Bryce had closed-down-or-gone-bankrupt so I got mad and fixed a *ucking great bolt through it. It was a completely *ucking stupid unnecessary bit of engineering Bryce'd used, an absurdly complicated device for fixing the front of a drawer onto the remainder of a drawer, and Bryce'd used it even though it was expensive because I'd asked for something that was so good I wouldn't ever have to spend some distant Wednesday evening fixing it back on. And they'd made it out of cast zinc or something equally pathetically feeble. Here it is, a crappy out-of-focus photograph but since it was a crappy machine it deserves crappy photography. I hate it.

There's an eccentric lug to save the woodworker having to measure where to put the screws in accurately, and a twisty-sort-of-spring-loaded-quick-release-thingy to get the lugs out of the way of the slots as you fit it to the steel drawer, and yet they'd made it out of utterly feeble zinc only 2mm thick and thought it would be adequate in a kitchen, for God's sake, where children do not carefully close cutlery drawers nor ever have in the whole history of washing up. I hate them. They are stupid stupid stupid baaaaarstards and probably foreign to boot and when I take over the world I'll make them measure the zinc for their bloody castings in drachms and pennyweights. - And while we're about it, how do you stop Shimano cleats twisting in your soles? Eh? Eh?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


My tandem wheels have all appeared and much work has taken place to weld holes onto the frame in the right places to fit disc brake callipers or whatever they're called. You *can* weld holes onto something. It isn't an argument about semantics. Actually *I* can weld holes into something and often do, and then I weld nails and all sorts of other junk into the holes to conceal the fact from an otherwise admiring audience. If you're a spider you'll find it a pretty alarming sight when you creep up a tube and encounter one of my welded joints. Looks like a torture chamber. You expect to see Rowan Atkinson wedged in the middle in a Blackadder costume.

Anyway arrival of wheels and fitting of brakes and whatnot necessitated an e-exchange with my tame Arbiter-of-Tandems, who, as has been established, lives in Rangiora in the County of Quite a long way away. - (If he lived round the corner I'd have merely popped in and asked, and this web-log would have been deprived of the correspondence. And what a loss to the world's literature that would have been.) - Because when I went on the back of their tandem, I found that Mrs Bob Knight's handlebar had an unexpected bar-end gear change lever which, duly fiddled with, I discovered worked the rear wheel's disc brake. Accordingly I enquired:

Right my good man, on a wish-to-know-what-the-answer-is-basis,what is the advantage of having the back rider operate a gear-change-lever to the rear disc brake of your tandem?
and following on from that question,how does your tandem also have a back brake operated by the front rider? Cos I've peered at the photos of it and can't see how it works at all.

Arbiter-of-Tandems replied thus:

The rear break (sic.; I see this all the time) is a cable operated disk as was poplier in the old fashioned days. The brake cable attaches to an arm in exactly the same fashion as on a drum brake. In the case of the rear break on our tandum (sic., again) it has two cables attached to the same pinch bolt. One goes to the front and is for me to operate and one goes to the gear change lever on the back. When either one is operated the cable for the other one goes slack. The purpose of the rear one is twofold.
1) It gives a warm fuzzy feeling to the stoker; she feels she has an important job to do.
2) It is used as a speed regulator on long descents where keeping the break on by hand becomes tiring. The stoker *may* occasionally need to be reminded to take the break off again when the flats are reached. Being a gear change lever, you can set it on by degrees. We hardly ever use it for that purpose but we have done in the Pyrenees, before we had kids.
The third reason is one that you have alluded to in your blog.
3) use it as a parking break to prevent the bike rolling over when badly parked and breaking another Mirrycle.

[And, incidentally, it is true. Mr Knight is my sole source of Mirrycles. My spies inform me that his father is visiting New Zealand for Christmas, and I anticipate a large sack of Mirrycles will fall in my lap, for which I shall gladly supply a mince pie and a glass of sherry. - This is a very, very, gentle subtle hint the results of which will decide whether I write a letter to The Honours Secretary to see if we can't bag Mr Knight Snr an MBE to go with his wife's. (I think I can afford the bribe for an MBE. I'll ask Mr Brown how much they cost these days, and report back.)]

I have also fitted a flag to the tandem. This isn't for visibility. It's for psychological warfare. I surmise that motorists will see the flag and it will make them think
'Oh, there's a flag. Maybe there's a person on that bike, or even a proper reason for me giving that cycle some road room.'
Otherwise it's dangerous putting a flag on a bike. Crying wolf. If they pass by and perceive nothing unusual, they think
'Well *uck that for a game of soldiers, why's the *ucker got a flag up? what's so special about him? Why should he have a flag up? He's not even disabled. Is he trying to tell me I shouldn't cream him with a fender? I'll go right close to him next time and teach the little *ucker a lesson.' - Believe me, this is what motorists think. I knew a motorist once. He told me.

On the other hand, if they pass the flag and see that we're a tandem, they immediately feel pleased and generous and strangely happy. This is one thing we've noticed. Everyone smiles at you when you're on a tandem. Everyone. No, really. Everyone. Even roadies smile at you when you're on a tandem.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Evil Things

Right, I'm going to tell you a series of things that you're going to find hard to believe. First, Mr Knight, a previously respected member of the Colonial Diaspora, has this week done an Evil Thing. Specifically, he failed to buy this item: which very definitely caused Mrs Knight consternation because I'm certain she really wants him to own a British racing trike so he can wear those diamond-pattern socks For weeks now Mrs Knight has been waking up fretting about Mr Knight not having a British racing trike. She rings me up to say so.
'Richard I'm worried about Bob. He doesn't have a British racing trike (red) to hang on his garage wall.'
Why even Mr Larrington of the parish of London, who incidentally has dismally failed to move to New Zealand, has a British racing trike. And that's two Evil Things that Mr Knight has done recently, the other one being that he failed to move in next door where I can pop round and borrow his Campagnolo one-inch 24TPI die. There is a distinct and worrying lack of consideration on the part of members of the Colonial Diaspora. What earthly use is it to me if he lives six hours' drive away?

Second, this of course forced me, also a prev. r. m. of the C.D., to do an Evil Thing, which was to haul myself along to see Josh who works at the local bike shop and borrow a tool off him. Now you know my views on lending tools. But it's become a constitutional duty. Under the new Government we're all to grab as much as we can for ourselves, the Finance Minister recently having been caught helping himself to a generous grant of public funding for his family home, and as of yesterday they want to extend this to seats in parliament. (They've proposed a couple of referenda to see if they can do away with Proportional Representation, under which unfortunate system they have to listen to what other people say. Bush and Mugabe and Dame Shirley Porter and Hitler were also keen on meddling with electoral law, as I recall.)

The tool I borrowed was his one-inch 24TPI die to convert a Raleigh fork into a Peugeot fork and make a hack bike out of my latest new old light-weight frame just in case the shorter crossbar will permit me to use drop handlebars for a few more years. I am busy painting this bike which is a process I abhor; yesterday it got a cursory rub with a bit of sandpaper and I sprayed it with primer before dinner and a bit of gloss afterwards and this morning I noticed certain runs and blotches and whatnot and fell to thinking about Mr Knight's Claud Butler which has taken him (consults recent emails) two months to paint but then Mr Knight is a dangerous obsessive who abrades his frames with a single grain of sand glued to the tip of a toothpick.

The third thing you won't believe is that the people of Motueka all drive rubber cars and they can make them go narrower by reducing speed alone. The Motueka river is spanned by a long bridge and whenever two cars approach from opposite sides they go slower and slower until they meet, whereupon each car becomes dead narrow and they can just squeeze past each other. I know it sounds improbable but I've seen it happen lots and it's always the same. It only applies to bridges, though. This morning a lorry passed us when another lorry was coming the other way, and as we were none of us on the Motueka bridge, neither lorry needed to become narrower so we had exactly three inches of space outside our handlebars as they roared past.

And the last thing that will tax your credulity is that because I am clever - you know, immensely, hugely clever - I have cured my wife of pedalling the synch chain off at junctions. Moreover I did it without recourse to beating. - Wives and dogs and walnut trees, like it says in the rhyme, except I expect Mr Blair managed to make it illegal to say anything as scurrilous as wives and dogs and walnut trees but since when did I ever care? I committed political correcticide years ago. - Anyway I seldom beat my wife and anywayer envisioned that it would be unproductive, given the advantageous retaliatory position she occupies on said tandem. - No, what I did was provide a second front mech. I reasoned - but I expect you can guess what I reasoned and you'd be right. It worked.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A week of woe

She's rubbish at corners is my wife. She practises being rubbish at corners and is now quite good at it. It has taken her a little while but now she has a special skill and whenever we're coming up to a corner and I command her to stop pedalling she ignores me with a bewildering comprehensiveness and the synch chain comes flying off. Yesterday the chain came off four times in 18 miles.

Being rubbish at corners is a heritable condition. Last week Jane found herself outside a blackberry bush wondering why she couldn't push her bike and why she was holding a broken Mirrycle in her hand. A Park ranger drove up and together they established that her last memory was that of riding gaily along, no hands, towards a corner. She was knocked out. The hospital did the usual head injury stuff and her bike suffered a crinkled downtube and may now be regarded as a useful ensemble of spare parts. What makes repair difficult is the intervening 12,000 miles because Jane happens to be living in England and her faithful bike mechanic, viz., moi, doesn't.

Which raises another heritable condition. In the process of mapping the humane genome they've discovered that my wife and daughter have a special gene that forces them to prop their bikes up somewhere inappropriate so that any small gust of sideways gravity will tug the bike over and smash its Mirrycle on the pavement below. I like Mirrycles enormously and fit them to every bike I can which is harder than it sounds because nobody in New Zealand imports Mirrycles and you can't get them here at all. (I shall scour this entry later in the hope that a) a New Zealand bike shop owner is reading this, or indeed anyone at all for that matter, and b) they will add a Comment telling me where to get them. ) I fit a Mirrycle, and immediately a wife-or-daughter breaks it. Then they sneak off and buy one of those flimsy Cateye mirrors which, however you try to position it, you can't see because light only travels in straight lines and elbows, such as connect shoulders to handlebars, are generally opaque. I have a bag of Cateye mirrors with which my female relatives have tried to assuage their Mirrycle guilt, and I no longer even bother trying to fit them.

Turning to other matters one of the doctors popped in, he erroneously thinking that I might be able to give him recumbent-buying advice, and over dinner he told me that pip fruit workers are 9 times as likely to get one sort of cancer and 4 times as likely to get another sort of cancer, though which sorts of cancer I'm not sure because I wasn't paying attention. Anyway this slightly worried me because a) the chap who lived here for the last 22 years recently had a kidney removed and b) the chap next door who has lived here for even longer had a neck tumour removed and c) yesterday the tractor driver in the commercial orchard immediately behind us cleared out the sprayer fans right next to the gate, and the shed, garden and house were engulfed in a cloud of swirling mist. The orchard owners aren't supposed to do this. I had an interesting talk with Tony Frost a little while ago and he told me that when he founded the national Horticultural Research Station, of which he was Director, they used any number of sprays, being sequentially assured by the makers that all were safe. Over the years, and following some alarming deaths, the sprays were equally sequentially removed from distribution. It all bespeaks what we happen to know about the agrochemicals industry, which is that it doesn't get terribly flustered about spraying people until they start dying. Mapua is ten miles down the coast.

To add to the week's woe I have a cold. Because I happen to know that Mrs Bob Knight is outstandingly sympathetic to men with colds I have emailed her thus:

I have a Cold, and it is a Man Cold, and I am Very Ill, Close Unto Death, and to show how deeply you treasure my existence I graciously permit you to cut off one of your fingers (without anaesthetics) and send it to me in the post like the Triads do.

Mrs Bob Knight omitted to send me the required finger, and referred me elsewhere:

In which case you must view this video at once. Have the sound up so you can hear the instructions.

Luckily my Man Cold failed to prevent my brazing a single short lateral tube onto a very old, very battered but very light-weight (3 lbs) Peugeot frame someone had given me, which had been less than useful because it had no seat-post clamp, Mr Bob Knight having told me (he knows everything. Everything.) that it was designed for a quill seat post and that they weren't very successful.

This is such a rubbish picture I only include it to leaven the dullness of my text. Mrs Bob Knight who saw the original usefully commented that I might need to cut a slot in it. She will be dealt with next time I see her.

Friday, October 9, 2009


And another thing, don't tell me an iron's an iron and it's worked well for hundreds of years. Think how impoverished our lifestyle would be if the box just said 'Iron' or at a pinch 'Steam Iron'. How very, very much more satisfying is the retail experience if it says

Innovation in ironing. The Australian Design Award winning Ultura range delivers exceptional steam performance in a lightweight, ergonomic design.

My wife came rushing over to me in Farmers, which is a shop. Actually it's a department store for poor people. Or at least those who are rich enough not to go to the Warehouse which only sells crap, but aren't rich enough to fly to John Lewis Nottingham where there is an entire department at the bottom of the escalator devoted to tasteless lamps disguised as statues of nymphs and shepherds. - My wife came rushing over with great excitement and exclaimed

'Why Richard! Darling! I have found the very thing! The Sunbeam Ultura 90 has Safety auto-off! A 2400W element for fast heat up! And it has a Scratch-resistant Resilium ® Soleplate!'

'Oh, a scratch-resistant Resilium ® Soleplate?' I said, surprised.

'Yes! You know how I longed for a scratch-resistant Resilium ® Soleplate. And it will give me a Super shot of steam at 80g/min and 35g/min continuous steam!'

I exclaimed, knowingly,

'Ah! But does it give a vertical shot of steam? And has it a Drip-stop steam system?'

But she was too quick for me.

'Why yes! It has both functions! Both! Moreover it has a Fine mist spray, a 280mL water tank, a Soft grip handle and an Extra long 3 metre cord!'

I was defeated, of course.

'Oh well we must buy it at once. An Extra long 3 metre cord is not to be sneezed at. If it were an ordinary 3 metre cord I would hesitate, but an Extra long 3 metre cord means it's a good consumer decision. But one last thing. Does Sunbeam have a strong history in design and innovation, and is it dedicated to delivering a variety of high quality irons and ironing accessories to help you achieve perfect results every time?'

She consulted the box.

'Why yes!'

'Well then,' I said, greatly relieved, 'We'd best make what is clearly going to be a wise investment. I believe Sunbeam are also proud inventors of the revolutionary safety auto-off feature - first introduced on the Sunbeam Selectronic iron in 1984, and are committed to making ironing easier.'

And then to celebrate our purchasing skills we went off and had a KitKat because Nestlé believes that proper nutrition and physical activity are important in maintaining good health, whereas Another Confectionery Manufacturer only believes in selling chocolate because big fat people like eating it.

Now is there any Human Powered Vehicle relevance in all that? Er - no.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Human sacrifice

The Aztec gods are still alive and well and this is an actual fact. It is a fact because completion of any job in a workshop cannot be effected without a human sacrifice. You know how it is when the router suddenly lunges sideways through the wood and 17,000 revs per minute of honed tungsten carbide gouges a chunk out of a thumb and a teacup-full of blood splashes all over the workshop floor? Human sacrifice. Yesterday I stuck a chisel in my hand and today I dropped the angle grinder and caught it, both being mistakes. Sticking a chisel in my hand was the revenge of the Aztec god of domestic fowls, because I was walking past my wife's chickens and therefore made a jabbing action at them so that they would know I hate them. They only lay eggs in batches so you either have thousands and join a crowd of chicken-owners wandering up and down the road trying to give eggs to people who already have too many, or else you and everybody else has none at all. And all the time they generate stuff you can't eat, especially early in the morning. 90% of what comes out of a chicken is inedible; 99% if you count the clucking. When you walk past the chickens they rush up squawking hopefully and you have to make jabbing motions at them, and now it turns out there's still this unpleasant git of some ancient Aztec immortal who's a protector of chickens and makes your other hand get in the way. Ever so sharp, are my chisels.

It is school hols. It is school hols so John thought he'd ride up the valley with me to test my saddle, freshly mounted on his Peugeot 531 because all his saddles are uncomfortable. Mine was too. We tried all the saddles in the bike shop and found them wanting so to take his mind off matters I took him into the shoe shop to effect the purchase of trainers. John is 14 and my experience is that among fourteen-year-olds, shoe replacement is a race between total destruction and growing out of them. Buying shoes for a child is a trauma I shall be glad to relinquish; indeed my wife has already relinquished it. The trauma is enhanced by the fact that trainers being relatively practical footwear the evil marketing gits include titchy sections of pink or yellow and a note on the box announcing 'Ladies'. This does not encourage your teenage son to try them on. If all marketing men died tomorrow, the world would be a happier place. Marketers are totally useless. All they do is make retail choice a minefield full of junk you didn't want and don't need. They don't even lay an intermittent egg. What baffles me about shoes is the sizes, which come in UK US and EUR sizes and they are wildly differing numbers and there isn't a size 41 EUR. People who live in EUR don't have size 41 feet. Here is a short list of shoe sizes, faithfully copied onto a bit of paper I begged from them, without actually mentioning why. (Not that it would have made any difference. The shoe shop lady is like that bloke who blew a tamping iron through his head but didn't die - what's his name - quick Google - Phineas Gage, that's the chap. Whenever I go there I try to peer at her scalp to see if there's a gruesome scar where her brain fell out.) Anyway, here's the List:
UK 5 US 7 EUR 37 1/2
UK 5 1/2 US 7 1/2 EUR 38
UK 6 US 8 EUR 39
UK 6 1/2 US 8 1/2 EUR 40
UK 7 US 9 EUR 40 1/2
UK 9 1/2 US 10 EUR 44
Notice anything? There are certain feet dimensions that are banned in Italy and France and they don't even have the excuse of metric.

It's a bit like bike saddles, except they only come in three sizes, 155, 130 and somewhat oddly 143, and given that a bicycle seat like a shoe has a weight-bearing and therefore a critical function, we need attention giving to the matter. - Atsh'lly I should ask Mr Knight, because he knows everything. He once explained to me what a 700c was, and there are only five people in the whole universe who know that.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Reaming Tapping and Cutting Fluid

Statement 1. Eugen is my mate, and he is working with Andy on the house.

Statement 2. Nothing in Statement 1 implies that Rocol Reaming Tapping and Cutting Fluid pinched briefly from where I keep it next to the lathe is an appropriate stuff to squirt on Andy's ladder to stop it squeaking. Does he have any idea at all how much RTC fluid costs?

Statement 3. No.

Statement 4. When Mike says of your new tandem wheel 'I'll have it ready next Friday' he doesn't actually mean next Friday, nor Saturday the week after that either. They are figures-of-speech.

Statement 5. This Tuesday was a figure-of-speech too.

Statement 6. When the tandem pilot says 'Stop pedalling' it should not be taken to mean 'Carry on chatting and also carry on pedalling.' Stop Pedalling isn't a figure-of-speech. It's a now speech.

Statement 7. Because the synch chain immediately comes off, you cretin.

Statement 8. B****cks. Never mind, we can both get off and I'll fiddle with it if you hold the damned thing up. See that derailleur mech there? Ad hoc tensioning device. On the bottom half of the chain because it's slack when I'm pedalling, but it suddenly goes into t'rrific tension if I've bloody well stopped and you're still going you great brain-free clotworthy, and then the top goes slack and cascades all over the damned shop. Are you stupid or something? Did Andy drop a mortising chisel off the roof into your skull and scrape the contents out with a tea-spoon?

Statement 9. Yes I know I didn't sort the washing. What's that got to do with it? Anyway I was in a frantic rush trying to get it inside before they sprayed the orchard (they spray the commercial orchards here, several times a week, and they don't tell us beforehand like they're supposed to) and then I was hoovering the lawn for an hour because of all that insulation stuff. (Polystyrene. The little balls go everywhere. It was windy.)

Statement 10. Ow! For *uck's-sake!

Staement 11. Yes I know we agreed I'd start off with the left foot clipped in but if you gaily whizz your pedals backwards when I'm standing here then mine whizz round too and whack the inside of my knee-bone - ow! *uck! Like that!

Statement 12. We like our tandem. It doesn't necessarily mean we're going to stay married.