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February 2010 Part 2

Have you noticed how difficult it’s becoming to buy proper light bulbs these days?

All you’re allowed, it seems, is those eco-do-good anaemic jobs that take a week to warm up then give out less light than my Hallowe’en lantern used to when I was a kid. Even the lanterns themselves have gone all disabled-access since pumpkins were invented. I’ll have you know that once a year the sheep of Northumberland went without their dinner because the farmer sold all his frozen turnips to us excited kids so we could inflict lasting tendon damage on ourselves mining the interior from what may as well have been a granite cannonball. Its contorted face, eventually backlit by a meagre candle, usually reflected the agony we’d put ourselves through to create it.

Not any more… this year my kids had a fantastic likeness of Capt. Jack Sparrow glowing through the skin of a supermarket pumpkin carved by my completely non-arty sister using only a plastic spoon and a stencil downloaded from the Interweb. On the other hand, whenever I go to my folks’ house the appalling light oozing from the eco-pansy bulbs they’ve been forced to adopt makes me feel like I’m looking at the world with semolina pudding in my eyes while they wonder whether they’re developing cataracts. And to what end? Oh yes, I almost forgot, we’re saving the planet.

One of the more ludicrous manifestations of human conceit is that we’re not allowed to die – ever. Even with all dignity and continence gone and a pressing desire to sample the afterlife some idiot will keep spooning gruel into you until you finally ooze through the mattress. Too many foxes… shoot them, snare them, gas them down the hole while they feed their babies; just don’t ever give them a sporting chance by chasing them with a dog. Too many of any species and nature will organise a thorough cull to balance things but too many humans and you get Sir Bob Bloody Geldof…

Naturally the best way to be sure no human ever dies is to make sure they never get ill in the first place so we’re told in no uncertain terms to cook meat thoroughly or we’ll get to munch on botulism and porcine tapeworms. How many semolina lightbulbs do you reckon you could run with the power it takes to cook your Sunday roast? About a hundred euro-do-good-bulbs for a couple of hours every Sunday as it happens and that’s without upscaling your carbon footprint to collect your migraine prescription.

But this pales into insignificance alongside what our idiotic local authority get up to every Wednesday night. Why Wednesdays (and sometimes Thursdays too) I have no idea but having invariably worked late on the tin boat my route home takes me first past this…

…then this…

…and finally.

Notice a pattern emerging? How about the pattern of towers each hung with four, 2kW metal-halide lamps? There are forty-eight of them in the pic above so that’s 96,000Watts to light a rectangle of grass in the name of grown men emulating my collies – only they’re not.

There’s no one there! I go home anywhere between 8.30 and 9.30 week-in, week-out and there’s never anyone there yet the lights suck on the National Grid like a newborn needs milk. There’s another two ball-chasing fields en-route with more of the same if I give Mike a lift home so that’s five within a couple of miles; (and I’ve since found another between writing and editing this piece).

I assume the ball-chasists were out earlier and that their lack of imagination will at least reap them some fitness benefits but once they’ve had enough falling down in the mud in the middle of winter why can’t they switch the bloody lights off?

I’d guess there’s bureaucracy at the back of it. I mean, there’s not a chance of the caretaker showing Bert the ball-chaser where the switch is… oh no. It’ll take a man in a high-vis’ jacket and a hard-hat (in case a tumbling communications satellite or re-entering lump of space junk gets him) to actually throw the switch and in the meantime they’re squandering more energy than a small sun. Let’s do some silly numbers. Take forty-eight lamps at 2kW, less the ones with popped bulbs that it takes eight do-gooders to change by the time they’ve written the risk assessments, and you have maybe 90,000Watts of lighting. The ball-chasists do their collie thing for a couple of hours then another hour seems to go by before Mr hi-vis-hard-hat arrives to switch everything off again, so say three hours per field per session and there’s a half dozen fields within a mile or two of our workshop so that’s over half a million Watts now …enough to light some 27,000 Euro-limpwrist bulbs, (when they eventually warm up, that is). That’s around 3000 average family homes with every single light on for a few hours every Wednesday and Thursday evening. Or you could cook Christmas dinner with all the trimmings twice a week for the crews of four Nimitz class aircraft carriers. Better still – if the local authority has that much spare electricity to throw away why not share it amongst the old folks during this especially cold winter instead?

But don’t you forget to recycle your milk cartons in case the planet gets poorly…

And while we’re on the subject of recycling here’s a snippet. Way back in the early days when the museologists were telling us we couldn’t fart near K7 in case methane reacted with blue paint and originality was lost I had a pivotal argument with them when wanting to shift something to get at a trapped pocket of mud. Here and there pieces were added to the boat by the simple expedient of welding them on, which means you can’t get at what’s underneath without shifting the weld. Now then, as a lifelong apprentice to the art of hot-metal-gluing, I know it’s simple to cut through a weld with a fine disc or a die-grinder, mend what you have to mend, then pop a new weld on top – simple – but that meant losing originality, apparently.

What’s the difference, I asked, between nuts, bolts, screws, rivets or a weld? They’re all just a means of fastening one piece of material to another yet we’re allowed to shift all the others but cutting through a weld then replacing it is a no no… You have to cut through a rivet to shift it too but that’s OK.

I was told and, get this, that ‘nuts, bolts, screws and rivets have no historical significance’.

Eh? You can’t grind out a few toenail-sized bits of weld but you can sling a big bag of bolts... I think not. I asked whether a bolt might take on some historical significance if it was last put there by Donald or Leo…

“Erm…” was all the answer I got.

Every fastener on the machine has been carefully bagged and labelled so we can put them back. Each will have its threads cleaned and checked before being slapped with a spoonful of assembly paste and wound back in. Apart from anything else most of them are sizes and threads that are a pain in the backside to obtain these days. Each is being carefully shot blasted then brightened in some of Chemetall-Trevor’s clever wizardry before making its way to ‘Hel’s Kitchen’ where a fine zinc-plate is applied in the interests of attention to detail and longevity.

Notice all the wires with freshly plated nuts and bolts hanging from everywhere while they dry… recycling, you see, and it doesn’t use a mega-squilliwatt of electricity either.

We’re very definitely an equal-opportunities employer. We have old and young (though technically the young oughtn’t to be interested).

There’s the great, Doddy, of course. Well into his seventies and the only bloke we know of to work on K7 both before and after she was wrecked, Bluetooth headset firmly affixed in case his mobile goes off while he’s tin-bashing.

Then there’s this young lad who turns up from time to time, though why any young bloke would take an interest in a two-ton fire-breathing, jet-powered blend of sex and exquisite engineering remains a mystery.

His name is already lost to us as he answers to ‘Youth’ and has hair and testosterone levels that us more mature gentlemen can only feel nostalgia for.

Couples are welcome too. This is the wreckage of Donald’s original seat pan. It was suspended in the water column by the scrap that carried it to the bottom and so missed the benefit of a cloak of anaerobic mud.

Good news is, though, that it doesn’t do much once the foam and wood seat plops down on top because the formers beneath are bombproof – they even survived the crash virtually undamaged – so it’s getting enough of a mend to rivet it back in then it’ll get a coat of paint and some doublers where it’s threadbare.

Jordan here is very handy on the tools…

…and the lovely Lucy can make patches with the best of ’em.

They’ll not be long having that seat pan back to useable condition.

The cockpit is coming together at an exciting pace. Mike and I collaborated on another important chunk the original of which vanished into the lake never to return and so had to be recreated from grainy, old photos. K7’s steering gear runs down the left-hand side of the hull and to keep Donald’s trousers out of the workings the footwell is partitioned off with yet another piece of tinware.

There it is down on the left; that cover running from F-17 to F-19. It was a tricky thing to get spot-on because it tapers in so many directions but we got it right after a few goes having cut it in half and welded it back together only once. There’s nothing underneath it at present but we have all the bits to build the steering so that’s on the list.

We’re cracking on with K7’s systems too and that’s lots of fun – spannering the parts that’ll make her live and breathe. This is the oil tank from her original Orpheus, not bad for three and a half decades on the bottom of a lake.

Even more astonishing is that we recovered almost enough useable oil from it to run the new engine.

It started dribbling from the oil pipes so we popped a cup under it, then another, and another…

I’ve been for a looky-see at the engine test facility and most impressive it was too. This is a small Rolls-Royce Viper installation instrumented and ready to go.

Pretty, isn’t it. The Avon next door isn’t so aesthetically pleasing but it’s a big bruiser of a thing that was found in a field, I’m told, and is only run occasionally for demonstration purposes.

There’s an ocean of buttons and pretty lights to make it all work too…

…but never mind that, it’s all so much old hat, because the boffins are busy writing an algorithm to run the start sequence and engine monitoring (and, presumably, the shutdown too) remotely over the Internet. We’ll be testing our engines in one of these cells later in the year to be sure they’re performing perfectly and that our start procedure is optimised. It’s very important to have it right to avoid engine damage, apparently. I daresay K7’s never was and that we’d get away with it considering the limited running we envisage but if the best brains in the business agree to work with you then you damn-well do it their way.

Speaking of the best brains in the business, our fuel control system is coming along nicely too. Three of the engineers who are working on it came to visit recently to dig out some spares from our comprehensive stash. Many parts are being re-made by the original manufacturer before the various rebuilt modules go into their test-hall but even they bought in some of the parts back in the day and a set of evacuated bellows would have been a show-stopper if replacements couldn’t be found. The ones from the lake had all perforated and filled with water but this presented no problem – I had a full set on the shelf. We sorted those then had fish and chips for lunch on the banks of the river Tyne. These good people will have their praises sung from the rooftops one day, by the way. Just as soon as their corporate PR people decide how they want to play it. Until then I’ll not be stealing their thunder.

And whenever there’s five spare minutes – something that doesn’t happen often – we get back to more mundane matters and smooth out a few more lumps and bumps in that left-hand cockpit wall.

It’s there or thereabouts now. It needs a guide-coat next – basically a thin coat of paint so you can rub it over with a sanding block to pick out the highs and lows. Having done that you raise the low spots to meet the highs then uniformly shrink the area back to give a smooth surface. It’s straightforward – honest – and excellent training for mending the upper fairings once we’ve patched the crumbly patches.

The upper fairings are still a bit of a way off, however, and we’ll not get to them if we don’t make some extra pennies so now for an appeal.

Finances are a little perilous over here because we’ve not done any fundraising in a while, the economy is in ruin generally and our media profile has been low due to our having nothing really newsworthy to report in so long so please, please, please take a look in our shop and treat yourself – go on, you know you want to.

One thing we’ve always promised, and we’ve stuck to it, is that all funds raised go directly into the rebuild so we have no paid staff to look after things like fundraising, which then looks after itself because we’re cheap to run; except things are getting expensive nowadays.

We’ll be releasing some new must-have items soon plus the third in our series of DVDs so hopefully we’ll return to an even keel shortly. Good pun, or what? The filming session was the usual masterpiece of subtle yet effective lighting, a professional cameraman and a skilled presenter…

And I leave you with a piece of art. It’s self explanatory.

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