Friday, April 30, 2010

A perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle

TransportNZ has decided to maintain State Highway 60, not one lane at a time but the entire section. And to everyone's surprise they have taken it away. The whole highway. For the last month a mile of road between here and Motueka has had no tarmac at all and is a sandy muddy swamp and accordingly Mr Knight, who knows about these things, has instructed me to acquire a perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle. Nobody in their right mind builds such a thing but unf. I have a crippled neck and mountain bicycles suitable for perfectly good gentlemen have the handlebars about a mile too low and make my arm all numb and tingly. (Attentive doctors of medicine will immediately diagnose C7.)

Besides I already had the makings of a perfectly good gentleman's mountain bicycle. I had some Marzocchi forks. These cost but little because a previous owner - a moron, if we're being straightforward - had attended to the stem with a hacksaw. (I offer up to the world Middleton's Second Law, which is this: 'Things are seldom improved with a hacksaw.') Fortunately I am a genius and promptly extended the stem with a one-inch tube which inserts tightly and when plug-welded to another stem lies perfectly straight.

A plug-welded stem extension

Moreover 'arry, who ran the bike shop in Loughborough (no-one pronounced the 'H') once gave me the back of a bent GT LTS. - This is a GT LTS which had a bend in it, not a recumbent form of a GT LTS, which clarification I make because there are all too many philistines who following a very doubtful and frankly rebellious parish in our noble British colonies - America - erroneously fancy that 'bent' is an acceptable abbreviation of 'recumbent.' Which it is not. Bent is a word with negative connotations into which I shall not go. Recumbents on the other hand are a glorious invention of magnificent god-like creatures, viz., us lot.

And having a vast Bike Heap I have decided to weld all this together and I can assure you that this will necessitate my using the *uck word quite a lot because it always does. I will also waste most time on the tiniest little bit, and the smaller and less significant it is, the more time and the more *ucks will be spent on it. In fact I just spent two and a quarter hours attaching one of those plastic cable-guiding thingies to the bottom of the BB shell of the donor frame, because a previous owner - a moron and probably the same one - had removed the original and it wasn't a standard size and to make another one fit I had to use a hammer a screwdriver a hacksaw a punch two rivets the small end of a .223 brass rifle cartridge a 7mm spanner a 13mm spanner the hacksaw again an 8mm tap and some meths to wash the reaming tapping and cutting fluid off my best trousers in which I had rather foolishly entered the workshop. As there may well be a vicar reading this I shan't tell you how many times I said *uck but it was fewer than this morning when I found that my bloody wife had constructed one of her amusing Art Installations with all the crockery on the draining rack. We have this rule - call it My Wife's Second Law - that when she cooks I wash up, and when I cook I wash up. And should I demand my yuman rights and go On Strike of an evening she punishes me by playing that bloody Jenga game with the plates and coffee mugs and glasses and carrot-grater and lemon squeezer and anything else possessed of an outlandish and unstackable shape, and behold! at 7.55 am there on the draining board is a reproduction of Mount Everest in bone china.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Horse apples

With fifty litre bins aboard

A telephone call advising us of the availability of horse apples in a paddock 2.4 miles away. Hah! - an opportunity to test and report on the efficacy of my wagon.

Into the van with wagon and all our plastic dustbins. The van manages 38 mpg and accommodates several common bicycles and the pile of junk essential to hols in Golden Bay; or two recumbents essential to riding round and round Trafalgar Park cycle track; or a wagon and seven dustbins essential to gathering Amber's droppings. (Amber is a chestnut and so, pretty much, are her droppings.)

Gathering horse apples (Squeamish of London does not yet need to know this but soon will, what with Sir David informing the Internet that peak oil has been rescheduled from 2030 to 2014) is best accomplished with rubber gloves. A shovel is all very well for stables I daresay, but paddocks have lots of holes of exactly the same size and shape as a horse's hoof and they also grow all the rough weedy twigs that Amber won't eat and the sweeping action of a shovel is much impaired by this terrain. And horse apples are discrete - I said Squeamish of London wouldn't want to know this - and sufficiently robust to be gathered in handfuls. Your farmer's daughter uses a huge nylon bag designed for builders' gravel but we find that plastic dustbins have the advantage of lids, for lids prevent the van interior from reeking of horse produce. Moreover you cannot pick up a gravel bag containing 400kg of fresh compost. You can pick up a 50 litre plastic dustbin when you have filled it, but you cannot pick up a 50 litre dustbin when your wife has filled it because she shoves as much in as she can and compresses the load.
'But I get more in that way.'
You definitely can't pick up a full 75 litre bin if of middle years and if you want walk upright again.

Three dustbins fit into a four foot wagon though it doesn't need to be 17 inches wide. Ten inch sides are just about high enough to stop dustbins falling out provided the paddock's level, and the wagon definitely needs to have a back. - But it has to be able to drop down. If you've been lazy and lashed a beam across the back with strips of innertube then you're lifting bins over an unnecessary 10 inch hurdle to get them out of the wagon and into the van. - A twenty inch bed height is about right for transfer from wagon to van. Twenty inch wheels manage horse-hoof-holes in paddocks, while 16 inch wheels bounce and jostle quite a bit, though the advantage of full lock is a worthwhile compromise and you're dead glad you fitted the front axle with springs. Small front wheels just mean you have to pull the wagon slowly over a paddock.

Either the rubber gloves have to be large enough to slip off and on easily, or you bind the wagon's handle with a strip of inner tube beforehand. Unless, of course, you're content to accept a subsequent veneer of horse manure. A rubber strip to hold the unsupported handle upright and prevent it falling into what you're about to collect, is a great boon.

So if horse apples are to become more prominent in our garden's life then the new wagon is a vast success. But Juno Watt? Certain obstinate people prefer to drag the dustbins across the paddock. Use of the wagon would constitute tacit praise. - A prophet is not without honour, 'cept in his own house etc.

Monday, April 12, 2010


1. It takes approx eleven shakes of the tree (1 per branch) to down approx 180 grapefruit.
2. 180 grapefruits completely fill a wagon approx 3 foot by 1 foot by piled high.
3. I had to use the children's wagon cos the new one doesn't have a back on it. Yet. A wagon without a back is useless for grapefruits. In fact it isn't a wagon at all. It's a dray.
4. 120 grapefruits take approx 50 minutes to squeeze by hand.
5. 120 grapefruits yield 3 litres of juice and forty litres of compost. (The compost bucket formerly contained 10 litres of paint.)
6. Approx 0 members of the BHPC are in a position to challenge these claims.
7. Approx 0 members of the BHPC want to.
8. I have a sore shoulder.
9. And the kitchen floor's all sticky.
10. And I've still got sixty to do.
11. And the tree's still got hundreds and hundreds on it.
12. Whinge whinge whinge etc. for quite a long time.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Wagons and carts

Here is a picture of a house that didn't quite make it up a tree though it did give us a happy weekend a few years ago when raised aloft in the manner I imagine archaeologists think Stonehenge was probably raised. The treehouse is small; it is made out of an apple crate rescued from the orchard dump where it would otherwise have been burnt. The windows - since children require complication to their treehouses - are of plastic drinks bottles and the frames nail 'em all together.

In front of the treehouse are grapefruits. We have an orange tree too but it's rubbish whereas the grapefruit tree blooms and produces abundantly, more's the damned pity. We also have a quince tree and this afternoon it yielded ten boxes of quinces. If you don't know what to do with ten boxes of quinces you look up Jane Grigson and find that she doesn't either, so you bag them up to give to anyone foolish enough to accept them. Quinces are almost as horrible as grapefruits. They're a sort of combination of a pear and a turnip, and the tree knows you're going to hate them so it is just fantastically prolific though since I've never found a seed in a quince I don't know why it bothers. The only consolation is that a quince has a beautiful smell and may be kept for a few weeks on all your bookshelves, provoking animated discussion among your daughter's schoolfriends about your sanity which discussion you encourage because it affords them a brief respite from talking about sex.

Between treehouse and grapefruit stands the most exquisitely formed wagon and the only thing I ought to have done differently, apart from provide it with brakes, is modify the handle so you can tow it. A spade handle is easily made but insists on being held at ninety degrees to your body, which is not tremendously comfortable when rescuing apple crates from orchard dumps. Heavy thing, an old wet apple crate.

Sometimes it's necessary to rescue trees, not crates, from the orchard dump, for when y'raverage well-dressed Tesco buyer decides we've all lost interest in Braeburns they're all ripped out and Jazz or Fuji are planted in their place. Commercial orcharding is brutal, and vast bonfires smoke the valley out, but we have a wood stove and keep half an eye on next winter. Rescuing applewood is only complicated by possession of a woodworking lathe so there's always a battle between firewood and incipient chessmen. Nice wood to machine and tough too. Applewood gears meshing with cast iron gears in windmills used to last 40 years and were much quieter than iron on iron gears. - I had a millwright for a grandfather. - He didn't tell me this: I looked it up in a textbook.

Rescuing trees is best done with a cart, not a wagon. Carts are 24.5227606% more efficient than wagons on a hard road and I'm not going to tell you where I got that mysterious figure, though the same book a sentence later says that carts are 31.9105691% more efficient on arable land. Hurrah! I want to know how they found out. - Anyway it's true, a cart is easier to pull than a wagon with apple trees on board and since I have a welder and wheels, here is a cart I made for the purpose based (a trifle inaccurately) on the M3A4 because, according to , One of the most popular small US Army 'vehicles' of WW2 is without doubt the M3A4 Hand Cart. Hardly any survived the War. All the French farmers nicked them. My version entirely lacks triangulation and therefore with meaty logs on board bends until the side-members rub on the wheels, when it becomes 31.9105691% less efficient than even a sledge. Must beef it up before Mr G. Bird notices. The new apple-tree-stealing season is almost upon us.