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Thursday, May 05, 2016


In an earlier post I compared cycling through the lanes over Romney Marsh to being at sea in a small boat with the distant escarpment being my landfall.

If one pursues that analogy then the Bilsington Monument would qualify as a "seamark". Standing 52 feet (16m) proud on that escarpment it is visible from wherever you are on the Marsh and I think its story is worth the telling.

It was erected in 1835 in memory of Sir William Cosway, one-time secretary to Vice Admiral Lord Collingwood and highly respected in Bilsington as its excellent squire and main landlord. Being very interested in the Reform Bill, he was much concerned about the plight of local farm labourers, giving financial support to them and built the village school for the benefit of their children.

In 1834 at the age of 51 he fell from his coach in London and died soon after. The Reformers of East Kent, with the support of the people of Bilsington had the monument erected in his memory.

It has had a chequered history, being struck by lightning in 1967 and half destroyed. But a trust was formed and, with Heritage Lottery funding, it was repaired in 1999, ready for the Millenium.

As one gets nearer to the escarpment it accompanies you on the skyline
After leaving the Marsh, a ride up the steep lane beside it (easy by ebike!) and crossing the local cricket field one is able to approach it
and sit in the sun beneath it on the bench provided, drinking coffee (in my case) and admiring the panorama over all of Romney Marsh.

Thursday, March 31, 2016


Well, my daughter and Vita had asked about this piece of kit, which has been gracing my garages since about 1962. At that time I was the proud owner of an Ariel Square Four motorcycle with a large family sidecar. Indeed, I owned two in quick succession.

As usual, I enjoyed "fettling" and had occasion to delve into the engine. The reason it was known as a "Square Four" was because of the unique and clever cylinder layout, which enabled four cylinders to be inserted compactly into the frame.

These cylinders were connected by a couple of interlocking pinions and I needed to get these off.

You can see the pinions at "A" and "C" in the drawing above. I used the aforementioned tool to successfully remove these. When the engine was reassembled I put the puller carefully away "for next time" and never used it again. It is till awaiting reuse after over 60 years! Incidentally, over the years, as I have lifted cylinder heads off motorcycles, I have always preserved the old gaskets as memories - I found the old Square Four ones.

I loved those Square Fours. At that time (apart from the too expensive Vincents) they were the only 1000cc motorcycles and were ideal for dragging a large family "chair". They managed, easily, a wife and 3 small children and were only eventually replaced by a Morris Traveller car for family comfort.

My daughter remembered my affection for them and once, as a "thank you" present she bought me a painting of one, which still graces the bedroom wall.

Monday, March 28, 2016


I had spent the morning "de-winterising" a motorcycle (cleaning off the protective spray applied in November and generally tarting up prior to selling). The sun was warm on my back and the day delightfully calm and spring-like.

After a light lunch the ebike and the lanes called. The usual alcohol infused coffee flask was prepared, along with a couple of cheese scones. (The inner man needs to be refuelled at the halfway stage, even though the bike has electrical assistance).

My aim, as is often the case, was Romney Marsh, but I decided to take a different route today, following Robert Frost's musings:

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, "

I had not seen my most coveted house for a long while and wanted to check how it was getting on

Still there, it seems, still surrounded at the rear by absolutely delightful gardens, green, close-mown lawns, a stream and daffodils in abundance. I would love to see inside it as the rooms seem to be all on different levels and I can imagine the musty smell of ancient, cured oak of which it is built. I could never afford it and I guess my modern, estate house with all its mod cons is more comfortable, warm and draught free but my illusion continues, unpricked.

Then it was a descent to Romney Marsh. An artist's paradise with its vast skyscapes

When cycling through these winding, deserted lanes (even on a Bank Holiday, they are traffic free and undiscovered - long may that continue) I have the feeling of being at sea in a small sailing boat, the distant escarpment being my eventual landfall.

The coffee and scones were enjoyed on a bench in a windless little Marsh churchyard, the sun being so hot that I needed to take off my cycling jacket and the underlying sweater. A glorious afternoon, well stolen as the rest of the subsequent Easter weekend dissolved into torrential rain and gale force winds.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016


I had occasion to fit a side stand on a small motorcycle I have recently purchased (of which more in a later blog post). There is a lug built in to take one, but our dreaded European "Health and Safety" rules, to which we have to comply, has meant that motor cycle manufacturers can only fit such now if they include an electronic cut off switch to immobilise the engine unless it is retracted. (It seems that some forgetful wights forgot and rode off with the stands down - they soon remembered when leaning over to take a left hand bend!). This particular model had dispensed with them since the  European diktat was promulgated in about 2000.

Such stands are still available via Ebay as  most more enlightened countries outside the European "state" still allow them to be fitted. So I obtained one and looked forward to a pleasant half an hour fitting it. (Motorcyclists love "tinkering").

It came complete with fixing bolt and retracting spring. The actual stand fitted quickly and easily in about 5 minutes to the lug provided. However, the retracting spring is, of necessity, very powerful and when offered up it was approximately one cm. short of its locating stud.
Its end was totally inaccessible and the spring too strong to be able to stretch it, but a known dodge by anyone purporting to have some engineering knowledge is to extend the spring by fitting spacers into the coils. This can be effected by putting the spring in a vice and bending it to left and right to open the coils. Coins are useful spacers. The trouble is that as one bends the coils one way the tension on the previous spacers is released and they drop out. Calm thought was called for and insulation tape came to the rescue.

As each set of spacers was fitted a winding of tape kept them in place and the end result was a spring sufficiently extended

There was a problem however, on coming to fit it I found the space too congested to loop the end over the stud because the width of the spacers was impinging on the stand

It pays to keep calm in such circumstances. The only solution was to remove all the coins and cut them in half (sorry your majesty!)


Once the stand was put into the "down" position the spacers could easily be removed with a pair of thin nosed pliers as the spring extended.

and what I thought would be a half-hour job took the whole of Saturday morning. But I did, in a strange way, enjoy working out the problem. (It's not just riding motorcycles that gives pleasure - fettling increases it).

My wife gets her pleasure from solving crosswords - mine is of a more practical nature.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

GROUNDWORK (or owner trained by dog)

It is nearly 20 years since I had a female dog and had forgotten how bitches can ruin a lawn. It does not apply to the male of the species. Dog urine contains large concentrations of nitrates. In small doses these are, in fact, very good for the grass, but, as the Delphic inscription had it, "medan agan" (nothing in excess). A male dog tends to cock a leg and spray, thus dispersing the result. But a bitch likes to squat in one place and puts everything in a few square inches. Result, as can be seen below, large, dead yellow patches on the grass. (I hope you are not eating whilst reading this)

For my previous dogs I had a area of paving slabs where they could amble around. This was easy to keep clean and tidy. The current fastidious little lady does not like squatting on cold concrete and refuses to pee on same. As soon as she was let loose on the lawn she would perform (it may be that she enjoyed the sensation of grass tickling her fanny). This I needed to address.

Physical work which I used to do in about two days I now need about two weeks to complete. I have found since the stroke that I can work for about an hour, then need a sit down with a cup of coffee and a book for half an hour or so. This is rather pleasant in fact and lends grace and elegance to the day . Why did I never do this before - the work ethic dominated, now I have an excuse!

So, over the course of the last two weeks I have lifted ten 60cm square concrete slabs.
The compressed soil  beneath them (Kentish clay of the consistency of cheese) then needed to be dug over (the hardest part of the project). Then a drive to the local garden centre for three large bags of topsoil to mix with and "dilute" the clay.

I rang the local turf supplier and said I needed some. "We deliver free on orders over £50", he said, "how much do you want?" I only needed 6 rolls for the job so I collected them myself  (went into the back of the "Popemobile" very nicely, thank you).

Then a visit to a builders outlet for a quantity of 180 cm. lengths of timber (again the Popemobile swallowed the lot, no probs.).

The result is a fenced area half slabs and half grass. Little madam is confined therein and is happy to perform on her personal bit of lawn. Usually I am able to follow her with a watering can to dilute her deposit.

So, job done. But it does occur to me, just who is training whom?

Thursday, February 25, 2016


At last the three months of winter draw to a close and I begin to emerge from SAD hibernation. It has been a particularly doleful winter this time, almost ceaseless rain, with dreary "nothing" grey days. But the sun's red orb now sits exactly on the far house rooflines when I rise in the mornings (07.00) and the frost sparkles everywhere. Muddy paths on the dog walk have solidified to ice and many more birds are in evidence.

At least the warmer winter has meant that primroses are now blooming early and even the first spikes of unfurled bluebells are evident. Unusual, but welcome.

It may be just a little early, but March is the first month of the spring cycle, so I now change my blog head image accordingly.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


House trained and eager to be part of the family, she has settled in well and made this her home almost at once. She sleeps on her bed most of the day and this is placed on the upstairs landing at night, where she stays quiet until we get up in the morning. (I am not a fan of dogs in bedrooms)

When she arrived she was so excited at being set free from the rescue centre that she pulled a good deal on the lead. But using a special lead  I overcame this within 5 minutes of her wearing it. It is an incredible piece of kit which I would recommend to all dog owners. Now she is quiet and well behaved on walks but dislikes the wet and steps daintily around puddles (she is a lady, after all).

The vet reckons she is probably a cross between a terrier and a lurcher so, when I have fully trained her to return on call, I expect her to be pretty fast off the lead. The local squirrels better watch out!

She may be totally different from my previous and much loved German Shepherds, but she is a great addition to my life.