Saturday, 31 October 2009

Mirror - Signal - Panic!

It’s not often that I find myself at the wheel of a truck on a Saturday, as the company I work for has a very enlightened policy towards weekend working – the gates shut on Friday night and re-open Monday morning (except when a fly lands on the perimeter fence and sets off the whole alarm system, but I live too far away for that to concern me).

Today, however, was different – I was taking my HGV Class 1 driving test in Nottingham, using a drag-and-drawbar Scania D94. I actually took the test back on Monday, but nerves kicked in, and I drove so badly that I fitted in with everyone else in Nottingham perfectly. That, apparently, is not what they’re looking for. Things began reasonably with a passable if not perfect reverse manoeuvre, followed by a good brake test (formerly known as the emergency stop) that I wouldn’t dare attempt in the Iveco - I usually regard this procedure as 'the optional stop' in everyday life. Then out into Nottingham, where my normally competent driving skills deserted me, and without going into too much detail because it’s plain embarrassing, I proceeded to fail the test. Oh well, learn from it and move on.

So, back again today for another go. The reverse was absolutely textbook and the braking exercise spot on. Out once again into Nottingham; this time I was driving well and knew it; consequently I relaxed and that helps a great deal when approaching a tricky manoeuvre as your brain starts to think and plan, instead of shutting down and turning into blancmange. As a result, I threaded my way through the obstacles that Councils insist on dumping onto all urban roads, and had plenty of time to react to oncoming traffic. Back to the yard, and the uncouple / re-couple manoeuvre. I’ve never had an issue with this before, even on my last test I was offered the opportunity to try it despite having already failed – naturally I took it, as it’s all good practise. Today the uncoupling went fine, but when I recoupled, I didn’t hit the trailer hard enough to lock the pin in. No problem, a second attempt is permitted. But, although I re-did all my checks, I forgot the most important one – don’t forget to re-set the locking pin! So just as I prepared to reverse back down again, the examiner had to call a halt - otherwise a lot of damage would be caused to the drawbar, and probably my head when my instructor found out what I'd done to his truck.

Well, I felt like a right proper Charlie, now that I’ve had time to think up some suitable words for publication. It just goes to show how the silliest little thing, right at the end of the test, can bring you crashing down. So what’s that they say about the third time …? Watch this space.

The lads at work reckon I need a bit more practise, and have sourced me a training vehicle for next week:

First one to the Truckstop buys breakfast!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Back on the Road

This past week has been rather hectic at work, hence the lack of writing. However, two vehicles close to my heart, and in one case wallet, have been returned to service. Firstly my car, which went down with a failed gearbox. A quick quote from a garage confirmed that it might be possible, but would cost much the same as launching a space shuttle mission, but not as much as putting a wheelie bin out on a Thursday at 06:59 hours. Time to take matters into my own hands. I put the bin out at 07:01, and went online. After looking around for a bit, I didn’t find a gearbox but did come across Series 4 of Secret Army on DVD that I’ve been after for a while. So I narrowed down the search criteria slightly, and after a couple of camera reviews found what I was looking for – a useful ‘search for strange bits of cars’ facility, that scours the lists of breaker’s yards and car bits specialists to give some quotes. To avoid any misunderstandings, you type in the registration number of your car, and this allows an exact search for your particular model so that any ordered parts have a reasonable chance of actually fitting your vehicle. This is essential, as car manufacturers deem it necessary to ensure that everytime a new model is introduced, every single component on it will be entirely unique. With new models introduced every other week or so, getting spares can be a tad tricky. You could almost be forgiven for thinking that all these manufacturers that spout their green credentials would prefer you to discard a perfectly good vehicle and buy a new one! But that would be hypocritical, and they wouldn’t do that, now would they?

Anyway, I got a gearbox after some searching around, and using the Old Boys network at work, got it fitted along with a new clutch at the same time. The car is now back on the road, but as MOT time is looming, I’m certain that it will be gracing these pages again shortly.

"In your own time, dear."
It's at moments like this that I'm a proud supporter of equality.

The second vehicle to be brought back to life is my Iveco car transporter. Having smoked itself half to death a few weeks ago, it went up to Doncaster for some open gasket surgery. The mechanics found a litany of faults with it, all of which had been blamed on my imagination by our regular so called mechanic. It now has new pistons, new injectors, air pipes and received new filters for the first time in three years – and this lorry is used for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week – so no wonder it was under performing.

"Oh it's you again; always moaning about something. I've told you before, a puff of smoke is nothing to worry about. It's all in your head, go away and let me count my money in peace."

Today was it’s first outing with a load to Peterborough. The changes are mind blowing; no more red-lining to get up hills, simply drop one or two cogs and it was running smoothly and purposefully ahead. On the return run, when empty, it even overtook one of our Actros artics, which didn’t manage to catch up for the remainder of the trip. Just goes to show the difference that a real mechanic can make – so no, I didn’t get him to do the work on my car!

Friday, 9 October 2009

More Motoring Musings

Following on from yesterday’s car trouble, all has not been so well on the lorry front at work either. While I was away for my recent week off work, the not-so-trusty Iveco Cargo was sent off to a specialist to see why it has become more and more sluggish in recent months and chucks out more smoke than a steam locomotive. Our nominated service provider, who put a new (allegedly) engine in it back in March has always claimed that there is nothing wrong with it. Hmmm. None of our drivers agree with that – crawling up to the Little House on the Prairie on the M62 at 22mph with the temperature dial off the gauge and red warning lights appearing on the dash does not indicate that everything is tickety-boo to me, although I’m no mechanic.

So, as I went off on holiday, the Iveco went off to see a real mechanic, who, two weeks later, is still at the head shaking stage and probably on valium as well. The engine needs a complete rebuild and God-knows-what else. So for the moment, the truck is parked up in a yard doing nothing, a task for which it is admirably suited.

The benefit for me is that I’ve been out all week in the Atego 1823, which is a great vehicle to spend your day in. With features such as electric windows, cruise control with various useful settings and even a functioning exhaust brake, I’m in danger of getting accustomed to a life of luxury. It handles beautifully, more like driving a van than a truck – and with 230 bhp, power when you need it – when empty, it rockets all the way up to limiter setting of 54. As this is the week for mechanical contrivances to let me down, however, even the Atego managed to cock up. I flashed a truck that was overtaking me to allow it to pull in. And the headlights jammed on full beam. Fantastic. Luckily it was broad daylight so I wasn’t in any immediate danger of dazzling anyone, and only half an hour away from base. Nevertheless, it rather draws attention to yourself (and VOSA) so I’d sooner it didn’t happen. We’ve had this issue before; two of the Actros units developed this problem and on my old Volvo FL6 when the indicator stalk was pulled to signal left or right, the headlights would flash instead due to a short circuit! That was an interesting trip I can tell you.

The answer was to disconnect the relay until a new stalk was purchased; normally a fairly quick layby job although, of course, all my tools are tucked up having a decent kip in the Iveco! So back to base with the headlights on full beam all the way and everyone thinking I was an Audi A8 driver who’d got out of the wrong side of the drive.

Highlight of the week was the chance to drive a Scania D94. What a lovely piece of kit. I want one, and I want one now. The gears took a bit of getting used to – mind you, after the saga with my car, actually having gears was a novelty. The Scania is an eight speed four-over-four arrangement; whereas all my previous trucks have been straight six (or the Iveco a straight nine, which is more of a hindrance than a help). The gearstick is lightly sprung, and changing up or down is more like a car than a lorry. Mastering the four-over-four is interesting, and inevitably I ended up in the wrong gear at crucial moments like roundabouts, but once you’re au-fait with the arrangement it really does work well. I could get used to this vehicle, but unfortunately I had to hand it back. How cruel is that? I felt like Elton John at a Ukrainian orphange. Go on, give me a Scania and I'll look after it as if it were my own. If you don't, I'll start singing Goodbye Yellow Brick Road while going down the A1.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Motoring Mayhem

This has not been a good year for my car, as regular readers will know. Today, however, in a bid to draw further attention to itself, behaviour went beyond the pale. Even as I left Grantham for work this morning, there were some ominous whirring and scraping noises coming from the front end. I usually fix this by turning up the radio, but today that wasn’t happening. I also noticed that gear changes through Grantham’s stop-start traffic (mostly stop-stop thanks to Grantham Council’s inept highways policies) were stiff and clunky. Out on the A1 things improved, until I turned off and headed for Winthorpe. The car kept jumping out of gear, and it wasn’t a case of putting it back into gear – bang the stick around until it went somewhere; anywhere!

I lurched onto Winthorpe roundabout with the grace and elegance of a tortoise that had trodden in Superglue and now had hiccups. Fortunately all the other commuters waiting to enter the roundabout sat back in a calm and patient manner, whilst sympathising with my predicament by tooting horns, sticking up two fingers and shouting obscene messages out of their windows. As I was crawling round at the speed it takes Gordon Brown to make a decision, I was able to thank them all individually for their kindness and tolerance - whilst reminding them that I’d be coming the other way in around half an hour with an 18 ton truck that wasn’t mine…..

The car – I won’t name and shame it as being a 51-plate Toyota Avensis – dragged itself off the roundabout, and I finally found something that resembled a gear and got moving a bit. Hang a right into work – is anybody going to give way and flash me in? Of course not. Great. Stop car; wait for gap. Gap appears, crunch through where the gears used to be – aha! Forward motion. Oh. Not quite. With a shuddering grind, the car stopped on the opposing carriageway. Oh dear. Merc 350 SEL coming the other way doesn’t see me, because it’s broad daylight, I’d put my lights on as a warning and the car is bright red. Surprise, he’s on his mobile phone, of course. It’s a bit of blur, but he found time to drop the phone, hit the horn and flash his headlights before it finally occurred to him to take evasive action and go sliding past me in a move worthy of Top Gear – Rich Prick in an Over Priced Car. Why waste time with all that tooting and flashing? Isn’t it painfully obvious, even to a Merc driver, that I haven’t straddled the wrong lane of a busy road so that I can have a spot of breakfast? Did he think I’d parked up to do the crossword? Idiot.

Using the Gordon Ramsey school of driving techniques, I swore, cursed and banged the gear lever through every conceivable position, finally ending up with something where 5th used to be. Like a kangeroo that’s spent the previous night on gin and paintstripper, I got the car off the road and into work, where it was pronounced dead at the scene.

Once stopped, the gearbox froze completely, and it’s game over. Whether or not it can be fixed for anything less than a banker’s bonus is debateable. It won’t be quick either; as always, I need a special part that has lots of numbers and initials after the name and is in short supply. These VVTI Toyotas are apparently well known for this problem (why are problems always well known after they’ve happened to you?) and so replacements are scarce and incur a premium price tag. Oh, goody. I can hardly wait. It might end up being more cost-effective to scrap and replace it; fortunately I work in a place where purchasing another vehicle shouldn’t present too many problems!

At least I still have wheels; the company keeps an old runabout or two for trips to the shops and emergencies, and the boss has let me borrow the old M-reg Subaru Impreza for the time being, which is a huge relief.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Had a Bad Day at Work?

Here's something to help you out for when you're having one of those 'I Hate My Job day.'

Try this out:

On your way home from work, stop at your pharmacy and go to the thermometer section and purchase a rectal thermometer made by Johnson & Johnson

Be very sure you get this brand. When you get home, lock your doors, draw the curtains and disconnect the phone so you will not be disturbed.

Change into very comfortable clothing and sit in your favourite chair. Open the package and remove the thermometer. Now, carefully place it on a table or a surface so that it will not become chipped or broken.

Now the fun part begins.

Take out the literature from the box and read it carefully. You will notice that in small print there is a statement:

'Every Rectal Thermometer made by Johnson & Johnson is personally tested and then sanitized. '

Now, close your eyes and repeat out loud five times, "I am so glad I do not work in the thermometer quality control department at Johnson & Johnson."

So, remember - there is always somebody else with a job that's more of a pain in the arse than yours!

I wondered about how to tastefully illustrate a pain in the arse without getting overly graphic...

Have a nice day!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

A Bridge Too Far

When I’ve been making films in the past, I’ve always had a vision about how the story would work, and accordingly I set out with a clear idea as to the sort of scenes I need to capture. With this war film, things were very different. I had no idea as to what to expect, or what would work … or not. I simply went to the Nene Valley to enjoy the day, and film as many activities as possible, then sort the footage out later on. So what did I end up with?

Well, the day itself was great with plenty to see and do. The battle re-enactments were superb to watch and a great visual spectacle. But, of course, what the eye sees and the camera sees are two very different things indeed. The eye takes in the costumes, the posters, signage and vehicles - and in the battle scenes, the fast moving action during combat. The camera, however, goes beyond that – and finds a man in a tracksuit pushing a baby buggy past a group of soldiers, diesel locomotives at one end of the yard during the battle and a crowd of spectators at the other end!

The footage was sorted out, and the worst clips were discarded. This left me with quite a bit of material to work with, but no real idea as to how to create some sort of story. However, the one theme running throughout the day was the railway, so eventually I came up with a short four-part storyboard:

Introduction – a clip from a Winston Churchill speech, followed by opening scene setting with various clips depicting the atmosphere of the 1940’s at home. Quite upbeat, using the well-known Dad’s Army theme to set the tone.

Off to War – Rousing marching music from A Bridge Too Far accompanies the idea of the soldiers leaving home as the train arrives to take them off to battle.

The Battles – The sombre theme from Where Eagles Dare was used for the fighting scenes, overlaid onto the original audio sequence of the battles. Very little Wansford Yard footage was suitable for use here, but there are some nice close ups of the action. The fight on the bridge is more effective; this was filmed as a long continuous segment some 20 minutes long and I used the opening sequences of the train arriving and the attack.

Conclusion – The film is rounded off with Fiona Harrison performing an ENSA concert, while troops and civilians mingle on the station prior to the final cut of the train steaming away. The song needs no introduction, and Vera Lynn sings it here. I’d have liked to use the audio track from the day as performed by Fiona Harrison, but the quality of the audio was poor due to all the background noise being included. I don’t mind bombs, bullets and hissing boilers, but mobile phones just don’t cut it.

From a technical point of view, this film doesn’t match Big River or The Jarrow Song. I was filming from a fly-on-the-wall perspective, and shooting scenes as they happened. If things went wrong, no chance of a several re-takes to get it right. I edited in black and white, partly for atmosphere and partly to hide some 21st Century distractions that couldn’t be edited out! However, it’s a nice memory of an interesting day, and if any of the participants view it, I hope they feel that they have been done justice. The film certainly shows the effort put into the costumes and props by those who attended, and who helped, albeit unknowingly for the most part, create this project.

Here are some of the more quaint outtakes from the day:

This image might not actually be incorrect – there’s every chance that a letter
posted in 1943 was delivered in 2003 by the Royal Mail TPO set in the background.

Fiona Harrison performing ‘There’ll Always be a Deltic in England’.

Dancing the Large Logo Lindy Hop in ’37. Did you see what I did there? This was a great bit of spontaneous dancing, and no matter where I filmed from, something went wrong. In the end, I used the best bit of footage I had, but the 37 still crept in.

Battle of Wansford, German end. The assembled crowd
rather detract from the overall effect of a fierce gun battle.

My favourite outtake: Aside from the parked up diesel locos, the highlight
is the happy smiling brakevan watching proceedings – I swear it winked at me.

More information about the 39-45 Living History Society and Fiona Harrison may be gleaned from their respective websites.

Some nicely filmed footage of the Battle of Wansford Yard may be seen here, which has some excellent close-ups from the combat scenes.

The Battle of The Bridge may also be seen from a different perspective here, as this good quality film was shot from the signalbox. It is interesting to watch this piece, as the whole story can now be seen from both sides. If you look closely at (1 min 07 ) on this film, you can see Grumpy Git in person! I’m to the right of the bridge, in the field next to the trees – always a good place to be when bullets start flying.

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