Friday, 30 April 2010

Iveco't a New Truck!

I knew that taking in a box of Jaffa Cakes everyday for the gaffer at work was a good move – today he presented me with my new toy, this Scania R114 wagon-and-drag six-vehicle transporter.  His presentation speech wasn’t quite as tearful as Gwyneth Paltrow, but emotional nonetheless. “Anyone who’s put up with that bag of shit Iveco for 2 years deserves something decent.” 


The truck is quite something, being conceived as a drag-and-draw for a much larger four-car twin-deck trailer, but the order was cancelled half way through.  Consequently it was completed as a five-car rigid, with the trailer being added later.  This itself has three axles and is suitable for vans and large four-by-fours as well as the new god-awful Renault Scenic and Espace ranges that are the size of a small county – although still powered by an AA battery to keep costs down.

Being designed as a larger vehicle, the Scania has a whopping 380 bhp (compared to my current 180 bhp in the Iveco, which breaks into a sweat at the thought of negotiating a speedhump).  It has a six-speed manual 3 / 3 gearbox with splitter to give it 12 gears – an arrangement I’ve not come across before.  The decks go up, down, extend forwards, backwards and probably sideways and can transport just about anything anywhere.  I’m looking forward to playing with driving it, but as luck would typically have it, I’m now off for a week long holiday!  And I’ll be more than a tad annoyed if I spy someone else driving it while I’m travelling up and down the A1 next week on several trips I’m making to Sunderland for various reasons.  I’ve noted the mileage, lads …

The new arrival does spell the end of my trusty Iveco that I’ve been driving for the last 2 ½ years.  Although I got my class 1 last year, my primary role has always been deliveries with this lorry and I use the class 1 to fill in or cover other drivers from time to time.  A new rigid was essential given that we deliver cars to places that don’t have artic access, as well to an increasing number of customers (those who pretend to be car dealers but actually trade on Ebay) who live in places accessible only to skateboards, usually located in between a 13 foot bridge and a 3 ton weight limit on double yellows outside a school opposite a Police Station.  Although as the latter are only open Mondays and Wednesdays 10 – 3, at least they don’t cause us too much trouble while we unload in the Bus Lane.  I reckon I’ve taken part in more impromptu photoshoots that Naomi Campbell, except that she gets paid for hers ….

Anyway, I’ve been to some rare old places in the Iveco from Gateshead to Peterborough and Mablethorpe over to Wrexham.  The engine blew up; I’ve lost all the air with a burst pipe which stranded me on a busy road in Peterborough for six hours; the turbocharger packed up which meant the underpowered engine suddenly took on all the zest and agility of a Custard Cream, and a tyre blew out on the A46, fortunately on an empty run back from Leicester - but nevertheless, brought back memories of ‘full-nappy-syndrome’ from my early years.  Despite all this, like many blokes who work with machines day in, day out, I’ve developed an understanding with this truck.  In fact, to the amazement of my fellow drivers, I like it.  Yes, it’s old, has the turning circle of Jupiter; is noisy and rough and has all the torque of a Kenwood mini mixer.  But it’s mine, and I know its follibles inside and out.  Changing gear is all about luck and not skill; getting any gear is a bonus whilst getting the right gear is a moment of great triumph in the cab – bit like getting the ball through the windmill on a crazy golf course.  You know it’s technically possible, but you’ve seen anyone actually do it.  I know that it is next to impossible ever to get done for speeding in it, no matter how hard I try.  I know that the brakes are a tad spongy, and slowing down is something to be considered the previous day, never at the last minute.  I can load it blindfold and know exactly where every car needs to be and where to stop it during loading.  All of this comes from working with it, coaxing it into life and keeping the bugger going for ‘just one more day.’  Naturally, you develop an affinity with such a machine, so in a way, I’m sorry to see it go.  But I almost can’t wait to get back in a week’s time and crank up the new Scania.  Best start marking the locations of all those previously ignored speed cameras in my map book while I’m off, I suppose …

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Keep The Home Fires Burning

The photos from my Easter visit to the 1940’s Home Front event at Crich are now uploaded.  Rather than photograph a 1940’s event in the present day, I wanted to assemble an album of images depicting wartime life as if I had actually been there at the time – which, contrary to appearances, I was not.  At least, I don’t think I was.

Photographing early in the day was quite straightforward as the majority of people at opening time were in period dress, but as the morning wore on the number of present-day people steadily increased, and crept into view with maddening frequency.  This naturally made taking authentic shots more tricky, particularly as the people who did make it into view tended to be the – ah – less photogenic members of society.  In most cases some judicious cropping or minor editing got rid of the problem, and a large number of pictures had to be dumped altogether.  What remains is a reflection of life in the UK in a typical town and surrounding countryside.

The album clearly shows the amount of hard work and dedication that goes into creating these events.  Many pictures were un-posed, fly-on-the-wall type shots to capture people simply going about their business, chatting, working or troops in training.  The trams and buildings helped create the illusion and set the scene for most photos.  I edited the whole set in black and white to give it a period feel, which also disguised some contemporary items that couldn’t be removed from otherwise pleasing images.  The album may be seen here.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

A Bit of a Do!

A family wedding is always a special occasion, but when the bride is your Mum at the grand age of 74¾ there is an air of even greater festivity - not to mention urgency (!) in the proceedings.

The ceremony was held at St Nicholas Church in Sunderland, followed by a reception at The Rosedene just down the road who did a superb job of looking after us all.  There was a good mix of people, with ages ranging from two-year old Eliana up to people of more senior years.  Even so, there were no tantrums or nappy wetting – and the kids behaved themselves too.

Once again I was reprising my father-of-the-bride role and giving Mam away in church.  The service was conducted by the close family friend Malcolm Peach, who in his time has married Mam twice; officiated at the funeral of my stepfather; confirmed myself and little bruv, Brian – and various family members have sung in the St Nicholas choir, acted as crucifer and server and played the trumpet at Remembrance Day Services - so we’re well acquainted.  The weather for the occasion was bright sunny skies with balmy temperatures in the 70’s – so clearly, having a family friend on the inside has its advantages.

Champagne toast outside St Nicholas

Long established friends on my Mam’s side met new friends and family of Michael’s side, and the result was a pleasing and informal mix.  Many of Michael’s side came from Ireland, so there was always going to be good atmosphere at the reception. 

I’m delighted to say that several people were kind enough to stay awake during my speech, which was written entirely in my usual Grumpy Git style that regular readers will be accustomed to.  Fate lent a hand here, because when I researched the wedding date (10 April) that Mam and Michael had chosen to start their journey in life on together, I discovered that on the same day in 1912, another journey had begun on board the RMS Titanic.  I advised Michael to avoid answering questions such as ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ should he wish to avoid an iceberg of his own.  And so it continued, with references and tributes to Ryanair, the Cheeky Girls, Countdown, Cupid, Homepride flour, Anya the stripper at The Rampant Rhino and football amongst others – with a healthy tip of the hat to the perils of romance amongst the elderly.  The crowd took it all in the tongue-firmly-in-dentures spirit in which it was intended and got the speeches off to a good start (always a relief).  After that I could relax and start on the G&T’s I had lined up, but barely touched lest it affect my delivery!

Preparing for departure to church

Michael and Keith both gave cracking speeches, again hitting all the right notes, and proving that we’d found the right level – by not raising the bar particularly high, we all managed to clear it successfully.

So, I’ve survived another family wedding, and very enjoyable it was too.  Not that the celebrations stop here, as 2010 has a few more events that family and friends are participating in over the coming months – and I’ll be pleased to report on those too, unless the Gordon’s and tonic gets to me first, of course.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Psst - Wanna Buy Some Nylons?

Like most people across the UK during the Easter break, I hauled my Black & Decker drill out of the pit of Hades beneath the stairs.  Unlike everybody else, however, I took mine for a day out to a tram museum.  No, I haven’t been sniffing anything other than Iveco exhaust fumes lately, and I did have a good reason for this unexpected situation.

Sunday was the 1940’s Gala at Crich Tramway Museum in Derbyshire, and having previously stumbled across such an event last September at The Nene Valley Railway (story here), I particularly wanted to pay a visit.  The Crich event would be different to that held at the Nene Valley where the emphasis was on battles fought between re-enactors.  Here the theme was ‘The Home Front’, a recreation of life in England during the Second World War.

London Transport E1 tram passes troops and civilians outside the Red Lion.  
This scene epitomises 1940's Britain on The Home Front.

I’d noticed at the NV that a large number of people, not just the military re-enactors, came in period costume and got into the spirit of the occasion.  Thus it was that I decided that I too would go along in style; blend in and actually take part in the event.  I only stumbled across the Crich event online during Saturday, which entailed a bit of a rush to get ready.  My chosen guise was a blackmarket spiv character, inspired by Private Joe Walker of Dad’s Army fame.  I required a 40’s style suit with pale pinstripe and wide lapels – not a problem as the frequency with which I update my wardrobe ensured that I had one hanging up already.  A trilby hat was essential; after trawling through nine charity shops in Grantham the PDSA came up trumps with a black one which was too small (or my head was too big – say it, I won’t take umbrage) but it was that or nothing.  I took it.  There wasn’t an old battered suitcase to be found for love, money or even by bribing my MP – but this event was about the years of make do, mend and improvise, so that’s what I did.  By making my electric drill homeless for the day, I had a black plastic case that I disguised a bit by downloading some luggage stickers and labels from the net and plastering them over the case.  It wasn’t much, but better than turning up with my Chinese made backpack – all those years of Blue Peter finally coming up trumps.

An established spiv displays 'gifts for the ladies' to the Officers on leave.

At Crich itself the re-enactors were out in force with plenty of military uniforms in evidence, backed up by a large contingent of civilians from all walks of life and it really brought the street scene alive.  Displays of army camps, military vehicles, an ARP post and a Home Guard Signing-on station were just a few of the attractions that combined with the backdated street scene and the trams (themselves blacked out for wartime regulations) added a feeling of authenticity to the day.  

The set pieces were well researched and recreated with meticulous attention to detail.

I decided not to film as there wasn’t really a theme that would translate to movie format particularly well – and despite the fantastic costumes and scenes, there were far too many 21st Century people getting in shot.  Instead, I went purely for still photographs, aiming to capture, by and large, small cameo scenes of 1940’s life.  Some shots were posed on request (and every single person approached was extremely helpful with this) whilst others were taken fly-on-the-wall style to catch real life unguarded scenes.

I also became aware during the day that people were photographing me – a strange feeling.  After years of doing the photography, I was accustomed to ducking out of the way when people pointed cameras in my direction, as they usually want to get a shot of what I’m standing in front of!  This is the first time I’ve actually been the subject – and like my subjects, the photographers just wanted to capture me being Joe Walker going about my business rather than posing specifically for the shots.  Of course, I duly explained that as a dodgy spiv, if anyone pointed a camera at me then I’d be out of there sharpish, Guv!

You're nicked mate!

This led to the realisation that if people thought I was a spiv, then best get into character and start being a spiv with other re-enactors.  That opened up plenty of doors, I have to say.  First call was to the trade stalls, where I purchased a new trilby of a size which could accommodate my head (note careful phrasing) and a genuine battered suitcase for a mere £12 – to which I transferred my labels from the Black & Decker case.  I now felt much more in character, and immediately went off to sell nylons to the ladies.  This went down extremely well and caused much amusement, which surprised me, because when I ask girls about their lingerie requirements in Asda, I get a slap.  Strange world.

My new case with labels attached - this looked and felt the part.  The owner of the motorbike
allowed me use it as a prop because I gave him some petrol rations, nudge, nudge - say no more.

My first customers.

As the day progressed I got more involved with the atmosphere, and although the event was held at the Tramway Museum I actually only rode one tram.  It was one that I had my eye on, London Transport car 331.  It may have begun life as a soft southerner, but ended its days as hard-as-nails Sunderland bogie car 100.  So why did I feel the need to travel on it?  Well, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ride on another tram that me Mam (as we say up north) had gone to school in.  Obviously.

Riding Sunderland trams has become a family tradition.

Overall it was a fantastic day and the actor in me, which has lain dormant ever since I was cast in the role of ‘The Moon’ for a St Nicholas Youth Club play (please don’t ask) revelled at the chance of playing a character.  I’d recommend visiting a re-enactment event to anyone who has an interest in history, particularly if you fancy get involved along the way.  Just don’t forget your Black & Decker case – but remember to take the drill out first!!

Only another four of me five a day to go...

Preparing for a drill (but not a Black & Decker!)

Related Posts with Thumbnails