February 2010 Part 1

Doesn’t it drive you absolutely bonkers when people say or do things without engaging their brain first? When they just blindly accept what’s presented without wondering whether there’s a better way or fail to challenge stuff that’s clearly nonsense.

Way back in the eighties some university boffins decided that what would fire the imagination of us young, engineering neophytes was a lecture by someone who’d walked our path already. The first performer had been contracted by Kangol to invent a self-putting-on seatbelt arrangement for the American market so drivers didn’t drop their Big Mac Meal whilst buckling in. He was dull as drizzle. The second performer had worked for Rolls-Royce on an early incarnation of the RB211 and ought to have been more exciting but his tales of working stress calc’s on the screws holding the cowlings together in the event of a blade-off incident thrilled like mowing grass in the rain.

For that reason I fled such an awful prospect fast as I could and joined a couple of sports-car-driving associates who’d set up in business arranging mortgages for wealthy footballists and local gangsters. I was young, it was fun and it lead me, ultimately, to a training course at Abbey Life’s headquarters in Bournemouth where I met an amazing character called Clive Fletcher.

Clive was most notable in that he had only one hand, the other having never grown, he explained, because whilst in the womb with his twin sister he’d had his wrist pressed into her back. And no, she didn’t have a spare hand where it wasn’t needed – I asked that one.

He was president of the Society of One-Armed Golfists (I think) and could knot both his tie and shoelaces with the one hand he possessed but, best of all, Clive was a brilliant observer of humankind.

Abbey’s headquarters was a tall building, three or four floors, with the canteen on the top and a pair of lifts up the middle, which meant that come lunchtime, unless you were on the ground floor or fancied the stairs, you had to wait for the floor below to empty before there was room in the lift. This meant bloody long queues by the time you arrived in the canteen especially if you were on the third floor when the dinner bell rang.

“Watch this,” Clive said one lunchtime as stuffed lift after stuffed lift stopped to briefly display its passengers before sweeping them lunch-wards.

“Excuse me…” he held the lift doors and called the next batch of gluttons to attention. “Would you all mind stepping out for a moment.” He sounded very official and looked the part too in his sharp suit. Some exchanged glances before filing meekly into the hallway where they huddled, awaiting further orders until, at the crucial moment, Clive released the doors and, as they glided elegantly shut, slipped nimbly between them and grinning mischievously at the herd made a sound they ought to have recognised, “Baaaaahh,” he said. (Clive – if you read this, look me up)

Absolute genius… and the best part was that everyone involved took the point in good humour and learned an important lesson that day; one that came back to me when seeking out a snack last thing before bed recently.

As an officially adopted museologist in my middle age I take a new-found professional interest in anything with a label and often practice on my fridge contents as though they’re objects to be interpreted. I therefore became curious about a packet of Marks & Spencer breaded chicken breast that, as well as being specially selected (you’d expect someone to flick the green, whiffy ones off the conveyor) and British (fair enough, we have space enough over here to breed a few hens for local consumption) also boasted of being ‘hand trimmed’.

Come on, what exactly does that mean? What must be trimmed that a machine can’t handle? And how poisonous or unsightly is the bit that has to come off supposing one of the vast number of chicken breasts assumedly sold by M&S on a daily basis should slip by their army of hand-trimmers?

Further down the track you’ll find other specialists where the successfully hand-trimmed lumps of dead hen having been ‘cured’ (of what it doesn’t say) then ‘cooked’ are next, ‘hand coated in breadcrumbs’. You can see it can’t you... miles of hand-trimmed chicken streaming by as the ‘crumb-chuckers’ hurl confetti-like handfuls. Is there any need for a human to fling breadcrumbs? I think not so M&S should buy a crumb-chucking machine, rest their crumb-flingers, and pass the resulting production cost-down to the consumer.

Of course it’s all sales bullshit that, though probably possessed of a grain of truth in the interests of advertising standards, serves only to convince the masses that really they’re not paying good money for processed mush steam-cleaned from the miserable carcases of played-out battery hens.

But Waitrose completely stole the misdirection of the week award in my fridge this time with a simple label that read,

‘Discovered by Columbus


How brilliant is that? Are they hand trimmed? Hand picked or hand anything else? Who cares? They could have flourished around the back of a Venezuelan cesspit and been picked and packed by a leper but you’d not think to wonder because they were discovered by Columbus.

Most folk believe any bloody thing they’re told. Baaaaahh…

And that’s a big problem for the Bluebird Project now and again.

For example, wherever did the notion that Bluebird was allowed one run at 100mph originate? We never said any such thing and nor did anyone else so far as I know yet it was faithfully reported in the media, which meant it had to be true, so now I’m forever being asked whether it could be a bit dangerous to try and go straight to 100mph without a few extra runs to warm up. Uh-huh, we know this…

Then the press started calling to ask if they could come and interview the team prior to us making our one run at 100mph on January 27th. The origin of that is a proper mystery. We have absolutely no idea who chose the date but The Times had it in their diary, which made it law, so now we have people calling to angrily protest that it wasn’t adequately publicised and have they missed it.

Hello! Spend ten minutes on the net researching things and spare yourself the embarrassment of asking stupid questions.

These things do get better over time though. I’m off teaching the black-art of ‘conserveering’ to museum professionals soon. I had a go last year and was invited back so it must’ve gone OK; and I’m speaking at a big museum-type bash sometime in March too where I was asked to, ‘be controversial’. I can do that methinks, so all that nonsense about us being amateur, museological heretics bent on the destruction of a national treasure seems to have gone to bed at last. It’s also pretty much universally accepted that the HLF cocked up and let a flagship project slip their grasp but then it’s equally accepted that Stevie Wonder will pass his driving test before that useless shower get anything right.

But try telling people that we’re not going out to try and break a record or that I have no intention whatsoever of trying to drive it and, nope, they’ve read the opposite in the paper so it must be gospel. Baaaaahh…

One thing that was reported, strangely, and which also happened to be true is that we found K7’s throttle pedal. It turned up 36m south of where the boat hit the water and the only thing I can think of is that sometime later a char fisherman snagged it, got it off the bottom then lost it again having drifted south. There was some fishing line around it confirming the possibility. It came up rolled in a ball with various bulkheads and a chunk of the frame from F-19 but in isolation it was easily recognisable.

Here it is complete with the linkage that once attached it to its control run and ultimately to the fuel control unit beneath the engine. The tubular, and rather bent, link rod is actually heading off in the wrong direction in this shot but it made everything stand up for the photo. The assemblage was fixed into the boat at F-19 with a couple of dodgy brackets and some self-aligning bearings. We got one of the brackets back…

…the other remains in the lake and it’s a miracle the pedal stayed attached without it as there was nothing to keep it from simply popping out of the bearing and landing in a tree somewhere to the north. We gave it a few coats of TLC then gently placed it, complete with replacement bracket, back from whence it came.

The cruddy, old bracket is hidden away behind the bulkhead on the right and held by those four, blue pins. The new bracket is the one you can see almost amidships. Archive photographs also revealed that the pedal had a large footplate attached and screw holes testified to this so that went on too. Had we not recovered the pedal there’s little likelihood we’d have designed its replacement so ugly and agricultural. Got the job done though, didn’t it.

At some stage the cockpit floor was raised too, doubtless in the interests of driver comfort. Donald didn’t have very big feet so he’d almost have to hold his leg in mid air to properly press the pedal. An easy fix… a raised section was fixed between F-18 and F-19. It was a strange thing to build in that it absolutely had to be right because there was nowhere to go wrong in squeezing a slab of tin between the bulkheads according to a photo but it just doesn’t look like we expected it to when willed into solid reality.

We’ve been into some crazy conserveering again too. Take a peep below.

See the right-hand section of scrap? You’re looking at the underside of the right-hand cockpit rail and back when we did our dry build it was considered beyond our abilities as they were then. Not so now. It was recently extracted from the carnage and pushed about with a hammer. First we got it flat, straight and ready to accept that patch you see lying along its upper edge in the pic below, which is actually its lower edge, if you follow. (The flat bar lying on top is to clamp it flat during the welding process)

We knocked together a small fixture to position the ends of the inner rails based on data extracted from the rebuilt air intake mouths.

Then put the shape back into both rails with a spot of wheeling…

There you go – good as new. Now what was all the fuss about?

Bet you didn’t know the inner rails were curved like that… neither did we until we decided that was the only way to bring them parallel at the top then a good study of the archive pic’s revealed that this was how they did it in the olden days. The crash rolled the right-hand rail into a snarled mess and pushed most of the shape out of the left so it took a bit of working out.

Not as much as this though.

Remember how we let the right-hand half of the cockpit opening back into the new panels? First we built this.

We spent a long time getting the opening perfect in every detail around a wooden tool that became known as ‘Rob’s Coffee Table’. It’s a tight squeeze between those rails with a gap only a smidge over twenty-one inches wide to clamber through. Then, once we had it perfect, we chopped it up and welded in this ragged piece of scrap where once it was a thing of beauty.