Saturday, 24 February 2018

It's Been a Little Quiet of Late

Another month has gone by and no blog updates - I'm falling into bad habits again!

Actually, I have a few excuses. The prepared artwork for the Standard & Triumph Pictorial History book came back for checking and a final edit. It's the first book I've done for Veloce and have to say I'm pleased with the results. You can pre-order from Amazon, or if you'd like a signed copy, you can purchase directly from me.

I've also been seriously hard at work on the next book - the master work on the bus and coaches built by Guy Motors. This has turned into something of an "Opus Magna". I've been chasing down a large number of images, sorting out which I want to use, writing captions and seeking copyright clearance where they aren't my own images, or those of friends that I've been given to use. In a previous "life", I'm sure I could recite sections of the Bail Act in my sleep and now I'm beginning to thing that the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act is bedtime reading. But nearly there, so this one should be ready to go off to the publisher in early summer ahead of schedule.

As part of this last little mission, I took a trip to the wilds of the West Midlands a week or so ago. First stop, the Aston Manor Road Transport Museum, now in Aldridge in Staffordshire where they have a selection of Guy vehicles and a comprehensive archive. Really helpful people too, I have to say. This was followed b a trip to the City Archive in Wolverhampton who hold a huge photo and drawing archive of material from the Guy factory. It's surprising how exciting it can be looking at a 1926 blueprint for a Guy BTX trolleybus chassis!
One of the Guy buses in the museum at Aldridge

Again exceptionally helpful people for whom nothing was too much trouble. I've found three council archives to be exceptionally helpful - Newcastle City, Leicestershire and Wolverhampton. 

I've also found one, quite local to home who has been less than helpful... Not quite obstructive, but a little like the Neil Innes song "Jobsworth": 

Jobsworth, Jobsworth. More than me Jobs Worth
Rain or Snow, don't want to know
Whatever you want, the answer's no!!

But back on the transport and photography theme. Having been a "good boy", I was permitted a day out on the Swanage Railway as part of a photography charter group. I've put the pictures on Facebook, but here's a few of them repeated here for those who don't "do" Facebook:

If you have enjoyed looking at these pictures and others in this blog, they are available in higher quality and resolution at my gallery where you can purchase prints, artwork and gift items.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Quick Trip to Gaydon

Interesting Prototypes

With the new book on the Triumph Dolomite range getting close to being ready to send to the publisher, I realised that I was missing decent pictures of two designs that had been considered as replacements for the late 70s and early 80s. I knew that the prototypes existed in the reserve collection at the British Motor Museum at Gaydon, so after a quick enquiry, arrangements were made to visit and photograph for the book. Because books are considered commercial ventures and many people think that authors make a lot of money from books (you can be assured that we don't!), you can't just turn up, take some pictures and slope off with the pictures you need. Well, I suppose you could but only once. And the fact that I turn up with a rather large professional camera, a selection of lenses, a large tripod and a flash that will light half the country is a bit of a giveaway.

You'll need to wait and buy the book to see the planned replacements for the Dolomite, but while I was there, a few others caught my eye. First was this design study for a new Alvis, builder of posh coupes for the rich and discerning as well as small tanks and armoured vehicles. Rover bought Alvis and pretty quickly shut down the car production, but not after first creating this possible new model with heavy influence from the Rover P6 below the glass line and earlier Alvis cars above:

Elsewhere in the museum and currently in the main display area, there is a "concept" design by Harris Mann that was built to showcase the capabilities of Pressed Steel who became part of the BMC empire during the 1960s. As part of the concept, there was an idea floating about to build a new mid engined MG sports car that would be based on one of the new BMC engines (E series) and a Maxi gearbox - but hopefully not with the cable operated gear change and hydrolastic suspension. Nothing came of the design for many years, but when the MG-F did eventually come to market, it was mid engined and used sub-assemblies derived from the Metro with a variation on Dr Moulton's hydraulic suspension systems. Some of the thoughts from this prototype went into the competitive project that ran alongside the design that produced the TR7, also designed by Harris Mann:

Then we move onto replacements for the Triumph Snag. Sorry. I mean "Triumph Stag". A brilliant concept of a car that really could have stolen some of the market from Mercedes' SL range had it not been for the well known early build quality and engine reliability problems.
Design number 1 took an extended TR8 and combined some design features from the Rover SD1 to come up with the Triumph Lynx as a 2+2 fastback. If you look past the huge bumpers and the poorly designed tailgate that probably would have been re-engineered to open to bumper level for production, This is one that I think might have been a success, but it fell apart when Michael Edwardes was appointed Chairman and his first action was to close the plant at Speke where industrial relations were to say the least "poor" and where all the TR7s and TR8s were being built. TR production eventually moved to Coventry, but by then there was no money left to finish the design and no space to build it anyway:

A final last gasp effort to replace the Stag came with "project Broadside", another hybrid TR8 / SD1 with even more Mercedes SL influence. This one really does look like an early development exercise as nothing really lines up. There was also a plan to create a coupe version of this as well. I've only seen pictures of the coupe and all I will say is thank goodness they never built one!

Moving downstairs, the Jaguar Heritage Collection can be found. This looked like an interesting development - a coupe version of the S-type retro design from the late 90s / early 2000s. Now, this could have been quite tempting had it made it to market. It has the look of an XK150 to me. The grey car alongside is a similar experiment, which didn't appeal to me at all, having the rear appearance of a Renault Megane. You remember -  the one with the big bum?

A Few Interesting Models

Jaguar Heritage contains a number of interesting pre-war cars from when the business was known as SS-Cars. Obviously, after 1945 they needed a new name when production resumed and the name Jaguar was chosen. SS-Cars had a long history - Originally the Swallow Sidecar Company, expansion brought new ventures in fitting more sporting bodies to mundane cars like Austin 7s and eventually building their own rather exotic cars. the mechanical bits were supplied by the Standard Motor Company (hence my interest) and it is reputed that SS was derived from Swallow Standard. 

In the background to the lower 1932 SS1, you can see a Swallow body fitted to what I think is an Austin 7.

The collection has a selection of "firsts" and "lasts" off the production line, including the final car to carry a Triumph badge. OK so, we know it is really a Honda, which is why I said the final car to carry a Triumph BADGE. But then the Acclaim did sell in huge numbers and was one of very few models that made any money for Leyland (or whatever they called themselves at the time).

And finally, we end with another Rover. This time a P6B dating from the early 1970s. This is one of two cars. It is either the last one off the line, and if so is owned by HM The Queen, or it is a former Government Car Service Ministerial car. both are in the collection and I forgot to check the registration! And before someone comments that royal cars don't have registrations, if they are owned personally by the Royal Family, they do - it is just the "official" cars that don't.

If it is the Ministerial car, it is still interesting because it will be the Prime Minister's car. Originally supplied for Harold Wilson when he was PM, it was then used by James "Sunny Jim" Callaghan and finally by Margaret Thatcher who declined a new car and continued with the Rover. It was probably more reliable than an XJ-6, but the smell of pipe smoke may have lingered.

On odd occasions, Ann would come home from work in one of these when she was working in Whitehall (I can't say exactly where or what she did of course unless you have signed the Official Secrets Act and probably not even then, even though it was now more than 30 years ago). The deal was that she was required to work late one night a week and her team didn't leave until all the work was completed. If it was passed a specified time, transport home would be provided. If spare Ministerial cars were available, it was cheaper to provide one of these than to pay for a mini-cab. It got the neighbours' curtains twitching when she pulled up complete with liveried chauffeur...

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

I told you I was ill!

Eventually, these words appeared on Spike Milligan's memorial.

This morning, I have been to see the Doctor to receive the diagnosis of something that has been bothering me for a while. It's one of those things that has been creeping up for a long time and slowly the symptoms have been getting more serious.  Being a proper man, I have of course, been in complete denial.

Back in April, I was hauled in for the usual health check that happens every time your age ends in a zero. Lots of blood taken for testing, height, weight, lung function, heart function, blood pressure. Usual advice to loose some weight (OK, lets be honest, lots of weight!) and improve diet. Since I already eat a healthy diet with plenty of  fish, fruit and fresh fruit and veggies and don't really like red meat other than game, improving the diet is difficult.

The blood tests came back with some concerns and was called back for further testing. The nurse explained that my white cell count was high and needed to be "monitored". Was I feeling unwell in any other respects? As it happened, I've had this niggling ache in my major joints (shoulders, elbows, hips, knees) and what can only be described as "sore bones" for a while and could it be related? At which point everything got a little more intense. A third test just before we went on holiday to the US and a further test when we returned.

Then a phone consultation where I was told that it was still high, but it specifically was not any of the "dread" diseases - high white cell count, sore bones and painful joints if you check it out on Google hinted it could be Leukaemia, which will explain why I was wandering around all summer looking worried!

Eventually, I give in to the inevitable and visit the Doctor, who based on the symptoms, suggests something called "Polymyalgia Rheumatica". Or PMR for short. More blood tests.

The blood tests were inconclusive, so the next test is a week's treatment with a massive dose of steroids to see if it makes a difference. Which it did! Followed by a week off the treatment to see if the symptoms returned. And they did...

So that's it. Proof conclusive, resulting now on a long term course of treatment with steroids for about 18 months, plus additional drugs to deal with the side effects.

So what is it? It's one of those auto-immune "syndromes" where the immune system decides to set about destroying the large muscle groups that control the shoulders, arms, hips and legs. It also causes extreme tiredness and insomnia at the same time, mood changes (what, me?) along with a general feeling of being "unwell" and loss of strength in the muscles.

The steroids have some seriously unpleasant side effects as well, but I can put up with those to sort the main problem. Obviously, I can no longer partake in competitive sport as I will fail any doping test. So just as well I've never taken part in any organised sports, isn't it? There's a risk of increasing weight, although I shall deal with that, and (quite frightening) severe mood changes and the risk of suicidal thoughts.

And probably the most significant, suppression of the immune system so I need to keep clear of anyone with colds, flu, sniffles and other minor ailments. So if you should sneeze and I run a mile, you will know why!

Friday, 3 November 2017

Not Quite so SMART Meters

We had an offer from our energy supplier to install new smart meters at our house. The only real advantage it offers us is that I no longer need to wander outside every month to take the meter readings.

We had arranged a date for a couple of weeks ago, but the work couldn't be done as both meters are outside and it was raining on the day arranged. So, rearranged for this afternoon.

The fitter called earlier in the morning and said he could start immediately if it was convenient. As he was in Eastleigh at the time, "immediately" was about 20 minutes later. When he arrived, he explained fully what needed to be done and the approximate time that it would take and got to work first on the electric meter. While he was at it, he updated all the cabling and tidied up the cable routing. That was easy.

Gas meters are a bit more involved, but it took less than 20 minutes, including the Gas Safe tests and purging the air from the system. Now all he needed to do was commission the system by getting the meters to talk to each other and to the meter network. And this was where the problems started. The meters didn't want to talk to each other. It might have been because the meters were on opposite sides of the house, but he thought this very unlikely, more likely a defective communications module on the gas meter as the electric meter had connected to the network. So, having conferred with the Grid Company, they requested that he install another gas meter.

So out with the meter he'd just installed and in with another from the van stock. Repeat the Gas Safe tests and purge the system.

More communications problems, it seems.

Another phone call and he reports that, with regret, he has been told to remove both new meters and reinstall the old meters. Electric off again for 20 minutes and re-run the Gas Safe tests and purging of the system.

He was a little(?) unimpressed with the people at the Grid. It turns out that their network is weak in this area and that a signal booster is required for Smart meters to work! The people at the Grid control centre are well aware of the problem, but don't think it important to communicate this to the companies that they contract to do the installations.  So we are back where we started.

At least the fitter would get an early finish on a Friday with his other three jobs for the day being rescheduled. Well, it turns out not to be that simple as he is the area supervisor and is needed to help another fitter with a problem installation. Quite how he managed to remains smiling all day is a miracle!

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Price Comparison - Buyer Beware!

A quick change from the usual classic transport and travel themes of this blog to look at "U Go Confuse a Meerkat Supermarket" websites.

Although I was born in Hampshire and have lived here for all but about 12 years, the only great grandparent I ever knew came originally from Yorkshire and I think the gene for being a bit canny with the money must be dominant. I don't mind spending money, but I do like to get best value and really dislike being ripped off.

When we moved into the current house, we were put onto the standard variable tariff with the existing energy supplier for as long as it took me to find a better deal. Our energy supplier for the past 3 years has been one of the small start up businesses that undercuts all the major suppliers. The downside is that their customer service is rubbish, but they are getting better. We have an annual fixed price deal which we renew about this time of the year.

This year, I thought it was about time to Confuse myself by Going and Comparing the Market. As I have accurate consumption data for the previous years, this should be easy.

So, entering the usual stuff; name, address, postcode, electrical consumption, gas consumption, type of property, current tariff, inside leg measurement, etc, it quickly came back with a long list of alternative suppliers, all of which were estimated to be around £200 cheaper than our current supplier. Even the "Big Six" energy companies were cheaper with their fixed price contracts.

I was, to say the least, a little sceptical, so investigated further. What they are doing is a little naughty. Actually, it is nothing short of outrageous! 

As my current fixed rate tariff is coming to an end, they assume that I am going to transfer to the existing supplier's standard variable tariff and used that to make the comparisons. And they do not include any rates from my current supplier as they are not on comparison sites, presumably because they won't pay the commission. Even taking the cheapest of the suppliers proposed and comparing against the estimate from the current supplier, changing to a "cheaper" supplier would not save us the £200 suggested; it would cost us around £50 more!

I am sure that they cover themselves in the small print, but the bottom line is that comparison websites, even the ones with loud spoken consumer spokesmen who get themselves on the TV and radio are not helping you make an informed choice; they are making themselves a nice little commission from getting you to switch. 

Although to give some balance, if you are still on a standard variable tariff or paying quarterly bills, they will undoubtedly help you save money (lots of money in most cases), but if you are already on a fixed rate with a small supplier, be very careful about what is presented as a "saving", especially as you need to look further than the headline "you will save this much" headline figure to find out how much you will actually be paying. And if you are interested, our supplier is "Extra Energy" and they are based in Birmingham

We'll get back to the usual topics next time!

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Holiday Planning - the Fred Pontin way!

Back in the 60s and 70s, holiday planning didn't start until after Christmas. Usually on Boxing Day, the holiday adverts would start, with the prime TV slot being about 2 pm. Frequently, the "winner" in the battle to get this slot was the holiday camp business of Pontins, rival to Butlins, Warners and Maplins (who were fictitious, but  summed up everything about those Hi-di-Hi holidays). Pontins adverts were famous because the boss, none other than Fred Pontin himself, reputedly the inspiration for Joe Maplin would encourage you to "book early".

Fred Pontin in his usual pose, encouraging you to "Book Early!"

Booking early is something that I like as well. When we were burning to a frazzle in the Arizona desert in the middle of a heatwave earlier this year, Ann said "can we go somewhere a little cooler next year? Like Finland?" 

We spent a while living in Finland between August and November 1981 - and celebrated our first wedding anniversary there - while I was working for Nokia.  At the time, no-one outside of Finland had heard of Nokia as it was before the mobile phone revolution, but they had a computer business and that was the bit I worked for. 

One of the new products was an electronic point of sale terminal, with some software that would deal with stock control and inventory levels as well as calculating the value of a sale and cashing up each evening. For the early 1980s, this was pretty revolutionary. My task was to create the documentation and manuals to widen the product to the more general market. As it turned out, it really was too revolutionary for the rest of the world who were stuck with old fashioned cash tills and manual stock checking, but it got us a few weeks living in the Helsinki suburbs.

So next year, we are going back to Finland and the last 24 hours has been a mad booking frenzy. Two rental properties, three hotels, a rental car and flights. We got a cracking deal on the flights: London to Helsinki by British Airways Business Class (regular readers will recall that Ann has been thoroughly spoilt over the years and doesn't travel at the back of the plane) with change from £400 for both of us, return, plus a wodge of "Avios" miles that I am still using from when i was travelling for work.

It is much too far to drive now that you can't get direct ferries to Denmark or Sweden and the only option is to drive all through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, then a ferry to Copenhagen, across the big bridge to Sweden to drive to Stockholm and then a further ferry to Finland. 

We'll stay local to the airport on the first night having picked up a rental car and have rented a cottage in the middle of the Finnish lakes about 20 miles north of Kuopio (Google maps is your friend). On the way, we are planning to revisit the home of probably the most famous Finn - Sibelius.

home for a week

View from the terrace
The cottage is quite small, but has a little covered patio for the barbecue and its own sauna in the small wooden building that can be seen from the terrace. And a pier and private beach on the lake. And a boat with a little outboard motor. I'll need fishing lessons.

So after a week here, we'll head off to Savonlinna, closer to the border with Russia. It's a festival town with regular musical events and a renowned Opera Festival. We've booked a hotel overlooking the harbour on the lake.  

A couple of pictures of Savonlinna

Following that, a couple of days on the outskirts of Helsinki to give easy access to a few places to visit and then a rented apartment right in the City of Helsinki for 4 days to do the sights.

And the timing - the first half of June, so it will be light until about 11 pm and dawn will come again at about 1 am.

One of the places on the visit list is Hvittrask, formerly home of three world famous Finnish architects and designers in the same sort of style as Charles Rennie Macintosh and William Morris. There's a museum and restaurant; its about 20 miles west of Helsinki

Seurasaari - an island open air museum of buildings from all over Finland. Everything from turf huts to palatial farmhouses.
The Orthodox cathedral on the harbour front. Taken in 1981 during our long stay

A very young Ann aged 24 at the base of the Cathedral
You'll notice a lot of blue sky in the pictures. Although it is a long way north, the weather in early summer is often very good with bright sunny days and quite reasonable temperatures in the mid 20s Celsius. winter, though, is a different matter. The worst I experienced when visiting was -40 Celsius. That is the sort of weather when you are very pleased not to be a brass monkey...

And to "finish", a couple of tourist board images of Helsinki.

Off his Trolley!

Regular readers (assuming of course that I actually have any) will know that there is a book on the subject of the buses and coaches produced by Guy Motors in the works at the moment. Progress is good with the first draft of the text almost finished.

A coupe of weeks ago, we headed up to Carlton Colville on the outskirts of Lowestoft to the home of the East Anglia transport Museum. Lowestoft has two claims to fame: first it is the most easterly point of the British Isles and second, it was the home of Eastern Coach Works who built the bodies for thousands of buses, mostly on chassis produced by Bristol Commercial Vehicles.

The museum is quite special because it has an operational trolleybus circuit and a fleet of buses to run under the wires. Being just about old enough to remember trolleys running in Portsmouth, I have always found these electric vehicles to have a fascination all of their own. With all the current hysteria on low emission vehicles and the impracticalities of running public transport on batteries, I don't understand why we don't look again at the trolleybus. Although I am writing this at the same time as the former Great Western Railway line is closed for the weekend so Network Rail can check they have got their wiring right on the latest electrification scheme. Let's hope someone has a shilling for the meter.

But getting back to our topic... Lowestoft is quite a trek from Fareham and so it took us just about four hours to get there. As this included a half way round trip on the London Orbital Car Park Motorway and the Dartford Crossing, that probably wasn't too bad. The plan was to arrive in the early afternoon for a spot of photography and the highlight of the weekend - twilight running.

So here are a few pictures from the event:

The only remaining operational Portsmouth trolleybus is 313, which did actually run on route 5 and 6 along Copnor Road and was one of the routes that I went on as a child. We look after the prototype Portsmouth trolleybus on behalf of Portsmouth Museums in our "collection", but there is little or no hope of it ever running under its own power again and it's hidden away in a corner, so can't even be seen easily. It would be so much better if it were here, even if not running.

A yellow trolleybus with doors at the front - so it must be Bournemouth and this one is from a batch that was right at the end of production. Bournemouth Transport actually took the very last trolleybus that was built for the home market

This one was new to Reading Corporation, but when their system closed, it found its way to Teeside who kept their system running a little longer. It has recently been thoroughly restored and repainted for its first public appearance at this event.

Upstairs on the Portsmouth bus trying to hide behind one of the poles is a familiar figure! This one was restored some years ago at Carlton Colville and is still in spotless condition. At one time, Portsmouth had a degree of civic pride and this was reflected in the Corporation transport fleet that was always turned out clean, although the seats became rather grubby over the years

Now for some twilight running. South East London didn't have the tube, but it did have an extensive trolleybus network, so after a good night out, we'll take this one to Woolwich. Many of the LT fleet found second lives after that system closed with some going to Spain or Portugal.
And after a night out at the seafront, we need to get home, so the trolley from South Parade Pier to "The Tivoli" will do nicely and we can walk along Chichester Rd a little way. "The Tivoli", which was a cinema in Copnor Road close to where the Co-Op dairy used to be, had long gone when I was a child, but was what one asked for when paying the fare.  New conductors must have been very confused with passengers asking for fares to places that no longer existed!

I don't suppose you'll have seen one of these before. This is a "half decker", an early attempt at getting a large number of people into a low vehicle. You can see from the window positions how the seating is arranged in groups of four. The upper deck passengers leg space was between the seat backs of the lower deck and steps were needed to climb up or down into each compartment. The design was not a success and this is believed to be the only surviving example of about twenty to have been built. My interest in this is that the prototype was built on a Guy chassis

Apart from a general interest in trolleybuses, the Bournemouth and Reading / Teeside vehicles, plus a few others running on the day, were built by Sunbeam who were the largest builder of electric vehicles in the UK. In 1948, Guy Motors who had previously also built large numbers of trolleys bought Sunbeam and Karrier (both businesses having been previously sold by the Rootes Brothers) and decided to sell everything under the Sunbeam brand.