Tuesday, July 11, 2017


It is mid-winter. More-or-less. Many would disagree, depending on the hemisphere. Midwinter brings the Nelson Book Fair where the Lions Club - or it might be the Rotarians or the Freemasons - same diff. - charge you an exorbitant two dollars to wander about a freezing hall and examine millions of old books, and then charge you a far from exorbitant fifty dollars for a sackful of them.

This year I struck gold, viz., a List of Wedding Gifts at the marriage on 20th November 1947 of HRH The Princess Elizabeth and Lt Philip Mountbatten, which publication I have been looking for for, oh, approx. no years no months no weeks and no days whatever. But I bought it instantly. And better than gold, the previous owner had gone through it and diligently marked every person/persons who gave the royal couple a pair of nylon stockings. Mrs. L. R. Talbot started it off with two pairs of nylon stockings, followed by Mrs. H. Fielding who only gave them one pair. Miss Doris D. Crockett gave them a pair, Mr. Philip Ponder gave them two pairs, Miss Elizabeth Byerly two pairs, Mrs. Davis and Miss Sara Davis likewise, Mrs. Ella Wehage Pair (it doesn't specify the number), Mrs. H. Walters and Mrs. D Chamberlain two pairs, and Miss Elizabeth Cameron McCahill an extravagant six pairs.

Well, not all that diligently. He gave up by page 52, when with Mrs. T. J. Hume's stockings he'd reached a hundred, and that was only item 580. The book goes on to enumerate gifts all the way to 2,582 (Eight lengths of woven material, from the People of Blackburn), and since that was page 234 we can calculate that between them, they accumulated 450 pairs of nylon stockings.

Actually I rather feel this shows remarkable good sense. 1947 still saw rationing, and the more thoughtful of folk must've thought that Her Royal Highness was going to need quite a few stockings what with laddering, and they didn't want the future Queen appearing in careworn leg attire. I can imagine the Princess thinking "Yup, pop those in the suitcase when the Royal Train goes up to Edinburgh" whereas I can't imagine her getting so enthusiastic about A black basalt urn-shaped vase and cover on a pedestal bearing a medallion portrait of Louis XVI, carved with cupids in relief and mounted with ormolu with which they were encumbered by The Hon. Sir Jasper and Lady Ridley. Nor can I imagine Lt. Mountbatten settling down to an evening's reading of seven volumes of the Pocket Poets even if they were bound in morocco. I can rather imagine him looking at the donor's surname  and wondering if he could come up with an anagram (it was The Rev. Walter Fancutt).

Page 55 of 234pp

I, alas, cannot boast any nylon stockings, nor a Gold-mounted glass snuff-box with pheasant decoration on the mother-of-pearl lid (Viscount and Viscountess Portal of Hungerford) which must've got the royal couple pretty excited. I don't even have an Old lace handkerchief (Dear Mrs. Glass, the thank-you letter started). Not that nylon stockings or old lace handkerchiefs or a Paris porcelain Cabaret decorated with panels of figures in 18th century costume on turquoise blue ground overlaid with foliage in burnished gold (The Lady Duff) would keep me terribly warm in a New Zealand mid-winter.

All I can boast is my old sleeping bag and not-quite-matching Berghaus duvet coat, the latter a little frayed in places but, I'm proud to say, still keeping me as warm as when I was first given it.

Self-portrait in winter. Unf. I was the photographer (obv.) and therefore up a ladder, rather obviating the portrait bit.

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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Trailer reversing

I submit a list of all the people in my family who can reverse a car with a trailer behind it:

It is not, as perhaps you can see, a very long list. It occurs to me, as a result of an experience I just had which I shall not now discuss, that a particularly interesting motor sport would be this: to set up a row of cars each with a trailer attached, and have them race, in reverse gear, around a track. Curborough might be suitable. I would even come to watch.

In other and wholly unrelated matters, I have finally added a seat to the penny trike. Equipped with bits of wood to sit on, it proved popular among teenage visitors, but only one could ride it.

 Bits of wood as seat

 More bits of wood as seat

Sort of mobile park bench

It can now be ridden by one person, or by two side-by-side provided each co-operates using one pedal and one side of the handlebar, and it can accommodate two further passengers facing backwards provided they don't all mind their bums touching. It is not the fastest vehicle I have ever built, but it has occasioned some merriment from those using it.

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Monday, April 3, 2017

One year on

It is now zackly a year since I was cut for the stone, and since nobody who ever reads this blog registers the wit and vivacity of my literary references (see, there goes another one) I shall mention that the quote comes from Mr. Pepys and if you don't know what being cut for the stone means, here's (warning: pdf) a particularly graphic and horrifying account of it. Everyone thinks that Mr. Pepys was just the chap who wrote the Diary, but actually he was slightly importanter in the history of England than that - he was the chap who really founded the Civil Service. Which statement can rest unreferenced because either no-one cares or if they do care they're better informed than I am and likely to be disputatious.

I wasn't cut for the stone actually. I was cut for the nailing together of some of my trochanters. And the current posish is that apart from minor nagging aches, and the fact that I'm five minutes slower in the hour on a bicycle and not nearly as fast walking, I'm pretty well recovered, ta v.m. for asking.

However since we are not interested in my state of health, I shall now display a photograph of the foam chaincase which allows me to ride my delightfully slow two-speed bike through the rain without having to trouble myself about the chain going rusty.

And here is how I glued it together:

It just sits there, vaguely attached by the flimsy hole round the bike's frame, and being of light-weight, soft material, it makes no noise even if the chain or crank rubs on it.

One day I shall have to think about how to remove parts for maintenance, but I expect a sharp knife, followed by contact adhesive, will have to do the trick. For the moment, lubrication, if I can be bothered, can be by squidging the oilcan in somewhere. Being protected from road dust the chain can manage by being oiled though this I normally eschew, it being a very inferior form of lubrication compared to chain waxing. Which topick we need not go into since the unconverted will never believe it and the converted need no encouragement.

The highly observant, by which I mean Mr. Knight, will note that the rear wheel, formerly a four-cross, has been rebuilt as a three-cross owing to frequent pringling. The or'nery observant will note the common-or-garden pedals, and that's because I wear knackered old trainers when riding this bike cos it only ever gets used when it's raining. Which it happens to be today. Which is why this topick cross'd my mind.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Marahau Hill

Right, here's a test for you. You're on a bike at the top of Marahau Hill. A minibus towing a trailer comes up behind you. The minibus driver, well aware that even a car with no trailer will have to slow down a lot for all the corners,
a) swerves onto the wrong side of the road and hoots for you to get out his way, or

(Clue: a is the correct answer.)

Here's another test for you. You're on a bike coming out of Kaiteri. A woman in a huge 4WD overtakes you going up a hill, stops at the side of the road, gets out and opens her boot. You go past, and she smiles in a cheerful friendly way and says "Hot work!" and gets back in, overtakes you, goes halfway down the next but one hill, stops, and waits till you're hammering down the hill. She then:
a) drives straight out onto the road in front of you so you have to veer onto the wrong side of the road to avoid a crash, or

(Clue: a is again the correct answer.)


Sunday, November 13, 2016


Just drifting off to sleep and someone nudged the bed which woke me back up, and then they picked up one corner and jiggled it a bit so as make sure I was paying attention. Whoever it was went outside and got hold of the house and started shoving it about, a sort of rocking motion with quite a few jolts thrown in for a bit of a lark. After that there was a gentle swaying for a couple of seconds and I thought "Oh good, that's finished then" so they got a large sheet of stout cloth to which they'd attached a number of moderate-sized river boulders, and dragged it underneath the foundations so that everything hopped around in a fairly bouncy manner. There followed a decent bit of mild rollicking, much as you'd get if you sat the bedroom in a wooden farm cart and pulled it along an un-made farm track -  (oh - ! - another aftershock - everything just creaked and my chair just suffered a tiny burst of sideways-gravity)  - not that I'm an expert in farm wagon suspension - and then the wagon went onto smoother grass and finally stopped altogether. In all, it lasted three minutes. (You always glance at a clock when these things start so you can check the Geonet website afterwards and discuss it with Mr. Knight in Christchurch.) I got up to check all personnel had survived unscathed - they had - and wandered out to crank over the Internet handle and see if there was to be a tsunami, and the Internet said it was way down in Hanmer Springs which is a hundred miles to the south-east if you draw a straight line underground. So we all went back to bed, closing the cupboard doors in the kitchen en passant. About ten minutes later the bed jiggled mildly again, and then another ten minutes and another jiggle, and so it proceeded for an hour. Woke and -  (- ! - another one) - the radio news was full of it. Most of the damage seems to be on the other side of the dividing range of mountains that runs up and down the country. Here's an interactive map to fiddle about with. Apparently two people are dead in collapsed houses somewhere-or-other, but there are no further details other than neither of them were me. I've wandered around the house and can't see any permanent damage. No books off the shelves and no jamjars on the floor and the walls don't appear cracked. The benefits of flimsy housing. Chicken-wire smeared with a thin layer of concrete seems pretty flexible in a feeble and frankly rather unpleasant-looking bungalow.

I'm going to nip out now since the rather breathless radio presenters just about managed to cram in the weather forecast, and while it's dry a ce moment, it's due to rain at lunchtime when I normally do my exercise. (Avoids the traffic.) Good job I mowed the lawns yesterday. It's warm with lots and lots of rain so the grass grows a couple of metres each day and life mostly comprises hanging onto a juddering lawnmower. The reason there's Global Warming isn't because we've filled the air with car exhaust fumes - it's because the grass from our lawn is so long it's caused aerodynamic resistance in Space and New Zealand is falling closer to the Sun, dragging the rest of the world behind it. I bet when the Space Station flew past last night (wh. it did at 9.18 pm - I keep an eye on these things) its bottom got a mild car wash as it passed 250 miles above our garden.

Nothing to do with the earthquake; just a rather pretty moth that I found the other day outside the back door, its feelers entangled in cobwebs. Took me ten minutes to untangle them, evidently successfully since it had flown off by the next morning.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Banana Barrow

Don't you just hate it when you're struck in the spokes by a newspaper. In the Olden Days this didn't happen: thirteen-year-old oboists from the Saturday Morning Orchestra went about early in the morning with warm fur mittens and a blue bicycle with a white basket on the front and delivered newspapers into letterboxes faithfully by hand. Ye Newe Thingge called Ye Internette has however slain everyone who used to buy a newspaper. The few remaining subscribers are all in their nineties and in any case blue bicycles with wire baskets have been replaced by worried mothers in four-wheel-drives and the thirteen-year-old, where there is one, is seen flitting in and out of the car door at half-past three of an afternoon. But for the most part it's the couriers who deliver the papers, they having precious little else to deliver now that letters have been replaced by the ubiquity of email. And the couriers waste neither time nor courtesy, which is how it comes to pass that sometimes, usually opposite Birdhursts, I'm assailed by aerial newspapers. The editor of the Nelson Mail daily seals individual copies in plastic bags to be flung out of a car window vaguely at the pavement near - presumably - the house of a subscriber. A bagged, rolled newspaper makes a substantial missile. The clonk as it hits your front wheel is almost as unsettling as when that cat sprinted across the road imagining its speed sufficient to go through the spokes of your GN400.

Last Monday I was bowling merrily along and there was a splat in the road, followed by another splat. It wasn't newspapers. It was fruit. I had just found myself in the middle of an apple storm.
"Oh! - sorry" came a disembodied voice, and I saw that the farmer was throwing apples across the road to his sheep.

When your cycle rides are enlivened by an atmosphere variously containing fruit and publications rather than mere air molecules, you devote the weekend to building an altogether more staid vehicle. Another wheelbarrow.

I like wheelbarrows. Especially Chinese ones, where most of the load sits over the axle. A single wheel is easier to manoeuvre in the garden than two wheels, one of which is all too apt to traverse a row of carrots making the carrot-owner equally apt to pass adverse comment. A disadvantage of my weeding barrow is that the standard New Zealand paint bucket is made of a plastic that eventually goes brittle in the sunshine.  Edith uses the more sustainable Banana Box, and when it is too crumbly throws it on the compost heap. Another disadvantage of my weeding barrow is that two buckets astride a wheel are too wide. Even sideways banana boxes will go through a doorway easily. They are a standard size - 20" x 16", x 10" deep and lidded and strong. Popular among second-hand book dealers and butchers and quite a lot of other folk, the supermarket puts them out for the locals to collect. We try to get the organic ones now we know how United Fruit behave in central America, but it isn't always possible and we often have to settle for the evil Dole.

I took two, upended them, and fumbled around for pieces of otherwise useless bicycle frame to weld round the outside.

Rear triangles one has aplenty: dozens of the wretched things and nobody can ever suggest what to do with them. Snipping off the redundant excrescences of a dropout means you can bend the joints to fit, so there's no need to do any measuring at all.

Hold all four corners and you don't need much support from the sides.

No triangulation: that merely adds weight, and steel will gamely bend to reveal if it's needed in the future.

Originally I used a 20" BMX wheel, the ideal size for garden use, but I found the boxes a bit high and with any weight the barrow became unruly.

Welding spare drop-outs to the fork to fit a 16" wheel drops the body height four inches and leaving the original dropouts allows the option of changing my mind later.

Plenty of paint to hide the welds from Mr. English to stop "Hmm, MIG welds are never very pretty" remarks.

To be parked in an obscure outhouse unknown to Mr. Knight to avoid "Hmm, your usual standard of paintwork" remarks. Vehicle to be registered well before children return from university so they're too distracted by other domestic alterations to make "Oh. Another handsome garden artefact" remarks.

And this posting on Ye Newe Thingge called Ye Internette to see if my correspondent from Abroad makes pleasant Cardboard Box remarks. My correspondent from Lazzer Towers is unlikely to sing because he's on holiday.

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Wednesday, August 3, 2016


Now, given the difficulties of keeping up with the vast proportion of the world's population who read this blog, I'd just like first to thank both of you for your kind enquiries during my recent bout of legbrokenness, and offer here a small update. The dashing young chirurgeon told me how long it would be till I'd be fine, and since 'tis zackly that time to the very day I thought I'd take him at his word and complete the ride I set off for on 3rd April.

I can therefore say that the quickest I have ridden Marahau Hill, door-to-door and via Kaiteri, is one hour and twelve minutes, and the slowest is four months. - Yes you're quite right, it is spelt Kaiteriteri but I don't know anyone who pronounces it that way other than hitch-hikers, and as often as not they struggle with it too but not half as much as they struggle with Marahau.

For the record then, it was trikes at first, then the Rain Bike at two months, and from a fortnight ago, a racing bike. And my daily walks to the sea and back - 2.4 miles total - improved from an hour and a half to the current forty minutes, gradually shedding crutches as we went.

Three days ago Sam popped in, armed with a bent trike kingpin for me to repair, and yesterday a retired soldier dropped in to see if a recumbent trike would better answer his cycling needs than his upright trike. These experiences have set me a-thinking, mostly reinforcing a long-cherished idea of spelling out what the best human-powered vehicle in the Whole Whorld might be. And I have to conclude that the Rain Bike is probably It.

The Rain Bike. 

The Rain Bike is a heavy Dutch lady's bicycle made of common steel (the bicycle, not the Dutch lady), having drum brakes, a fully enclosed chain, three hub gears, a side-stand, a dynamo and lights, and very good 700c tyres with rather thin sidewalls. The step-through frame is ideal for an imperfect leg, and really rather good for mounting when the back is laden with panniers. If three gears are inadequate you get off and push. A chaincase makes for liberal oiling and not having to worry unduly about road dust or - obv. -rain. A side-stand allows for propping up at the wayside to gather litter and a dynamo saves having to think about batteries on those rare occasions when night travel is called for. Good tyres make the biggest difference to any bicycle: rolling resistance is more important than we generally credit. Being Dutch in origin, it even has an integral lock, and since nobody else shares my values this is adequate unto the day.

The only thing the Rain Bike lacks is a decent saddle. Unf. decent saddles, esp. on an upright where so much of your weight goes through it, are hard to find since they must tailor themselves to the individual's behind.

Therefore I do solemnly declare that you don't need to spend a great deal of money to own a serviceable bicycle.

I make no such declaration, however, concerning the high school's microscopes, which have once more turned up for maintenance. It's a funny thing that the old, expensive instruments never need anything doing to them. Anything new, glimmery and grey can be guaranteed to be a piece of shit.

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