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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?