Febuary 2011

“Look at our shed…” My mate’s kids gasped in awe at what was, so far as I could tell, ordinary B&Q output complete with patchy woodstain and a sun-wrinkled mantle of roofing felt. Nothing about it suggested majesty or opulence yet they seemed entranced.

“Erm…it’s a shed,” I said eventually, slightly nonplussed.

“But do you know who once owned it?” Their dad intoned slyly.

That got me going. I mean, perhaps Ernest Shackleton lost his historic race with Roald Amundsen through single-handedly lugging this very shed across Antarctica. Or maybe Sir Francis Chichester completed some little-publicised circumnavigation in it with a sail rigged on top.

Nope – it seemed the shed once belonged to (or rather the gardener of) the great Enrico Wankspanner, centre-fly-half-striker-defender for Tottenarse United. I couldn’t believe it. Before me were children brainwashed to worship a garden shed because some imported, ball-chasing numbskull bought somewhere to park his Ferraris and the gardener needed a bigger hut!

It’s one thing to be bedazzled by Enrico himself, but his garden shed?

People often assume I’m a Campbell aficionado then seem mildly put out when I point them at a more learned historian as though I must know everything but discussion is beneath me. Truth is I don’t have a clue about most of it though I do admire some folk. The Marillion chaps are pretty cool, for example, and Will from Virgin is the only bloke I know with his own space ship and ‘Planet Earth’ in his postal address but I’ve no idea where any of them store their lawnmowers!

I was therefore sort of chuffed later when I dropped the kids at home and my two-year-old asked as I turned to leave again,

“Daddy… you go fix Boobird?”

And go fix ‘Boobird’ Daddy did – safe in the knowledge that my kids will never find themselves overawed by a neat stack of tongue and grooved pine boards.

Another cool bloke is our good mate Chris who’s been back for a spot of tin-bashery and hot metal gluing. Regulars will recall that Chris works for a company called Proalloy…

…in a place they call ‘South’. He’s a proper welder so he’s always welcome to pick up the torch.

It’s a hoot in the workshop too whenever he visits North with lots of welding and banter of the most splendidly politically-incorrect variety.

Chris’s mate, ‘Biff’, came up this time too. Biff is a name children are sometimes called in South and he and Novie hit it off immediately and spent the day scrubbing away at chunks of cruddy tin.

One of them went out to get those pink marigolds specially – though we’re not sure which one or, for that matter, why…

Chris, meanwhile, was giving Girl some one to one TIG tuition. Mick the Block has been on for what seems like years doggedly patching the last piece of K7’s floor – the piece that fits under the sloping forward end.

And at last it was all tacked together only awaiting the final welds when Chris turned up and this was especially appropriate because he actually started the work on it in 2008 and was slightly disappointed back then that he’d not get to finish it. Little did he know…

This was like finishing school for Girl who recently received her City & Guilds in aluminium TIG welding and, after a little persuasion, wrote down just what it’s like to become a girlie welder…


On arriving at the Bluebird Project workshop early last year, I was asked by Bill if I knew how to file my nails, to which I answered something like, I’m a Girl, of course I can! I was then handed a small file and asked to file down some welds on what later became known as ‘Lyndsey’s Bit’.

‘Lyndsey’s Bit’ is a piece that the canopy sits in.

[See the piece of angle at the back of the cockpit held with the big black pins ...]

It was not always ‘Lyndsey’s Bit’ though. Other names for it like ‘Lyndsey’s Hole’ [Edit: It was actually ‘Lyndsey’s Whole’, so named on the day we welded it back together. We’d cut it in half earlier in the week having discovered it was marginally too wide whereupon it became, ‘Lyndsey’s Bits’. And it’s not entirely our fault that it cracked.] and ‘Lyndsey’s Crack’ are two of the other names it was known by. I’m not saying another word on the matter but those lads at the workshop found it highly amusing.

[Edit: Oh, did we ever!]

After a couple of months “Lyndsey’s Bit” started looking as it should and I started wondering what I could do next. Looking around the workshop and watching the boys all doing their own thing…Rob ardroxing…Mike and his widgets, then Bill hidden away under his welding screen with an aluminium welding rod shooting in all directions poking peoples eyes out when they walked past. I started to wonder if I could have a try under a welding screen. So I asked Bill for a try to which I think he rolled his eyes in disbelief that me, a girl, would want to have a try at doing a mostly male orientated job. Oh would I shock them all later. I took to it straight away…the weld didn’t look like pigeon s**t, fair enough it wasn’t a perfect weld but hey, it was my first turn. I hadn’t mastered the art of an inclusion, where the tungsten gets stuck in the job or a touchdown where the tungsten touches the weld pool, or you fire a welding rod into the tungsten. It’s now such a part and parcel of welding that if either of these happen we will shout ‘touchdown’ and laugh lots at whoever it was that did it. Just one of the silly things that go on in the workshop. There's always lots of fun and banter, if there wasn’t I think we would all go totally mad. We’re all a little mad but then we have to be to be doing what we’re doing.

I was eventually left to do little pieces on the boat and really enjoyed it so I started thinking about taking it a step further so went ahead and started enquiring about going to college to learn the trade properly. The first few phone calls were a bit of a let down, either being told the course has started already for the year so it would be next year, (I’m not the most patient of souls) then told by a local college I was too old as they only took on school leavers (I’m no school leaver but I wouldn’t say I’m old either). So over the water I went to find myself in a college workshop in South Tyneside which was full of those young school leavers I told you about or a load of hairy arse welders. I think they were very shocked when I walked in with my baby steelies, Bluebird overalls, my own screen and gloves. I meant business and although probably whispered about behind welding bay screens I was quickly accepted and respected. They knew right away I wasn’t going to take any rubbish and that I’d give as good as I got were they to start. It was good fun and an experience in itself meeting people from different walks of life. None more different than my own, after all I’m a girl and a mum and I wanted to weld. What could they say? It was very funny the day I was told by one of them jokingly that the weld I’d done wasn’t going to pass the dye-pen test. For those of you who don’t know, a dye-pen test is it’s a 3 phase process for testing the quality of the weld. A red/pink dye is sprayed along the weld then left to penetrate for approximately half an hour then cleaned off with the cleaning solution and finally sprayed with a white talc based developer which pulls out any pink dye left in the not so good weld. The weld would then have to be ground out and done again, then re-tested which can be a very long process. Imagine how long it’s going to take to test our tin boat? We all put a piece in to see how the test was done. Guess what…I passed! He failed!! Haha who’s laughing now?

I seemed to fit in right away and quickly started putting test pieces together, one after the other. Pipe welds, butt welds and fillet welds.

I was beginning to understand the science in welding and to some people this stuff is boring but I enjoy learning so I was like a sponge, soaking the information up. Christmas came and went and I found myself only having 3 weeks left on the course so I stuck in and kept getting those test pieces in to my lecturer. Eventually I had done all the test paper requirements so started practicing other things like welding up holes (which has come in handy on the project) and welding large pieces of pipe.

The 26th of January arrived and it was paper test day. I was panicking as the lecturer was about to ask me a series of questions about gases, welds, and safety issues, etc. and I didn’t think I had a clue. Then 45 minutes later I was done, I’d passed my City and Guilds Level 2 in T.I.G Aluminium Welding. What an achievement that was, I was so pleased with myself. My kids think it’s brilliant that Mummy is working on Bluebird and she can glue things back together. I’ve not felt such a sense of achievement and delight as when I came home to tell my babies, and they were so excited and pleased for me. I love what I’m doing and I love everyone on the Project for having faith in me and keeping me going. Thank guys, you’re all fantastic.


Didn’t she do well, as Brucie might have said…

Having worked in industry for many years and seen all kinds of welders I reckon it took real balls, which of course Girl doesn’t have, to get stuck in at the (slightly grotty) local college so she’s well deserving of her ticket.

So having slaved away over a hot welding torch all afternoon with our guests it would’ve been rude not to have had a party later with gallons of lager and a million screaming kids and the rest of BBP lot took no persuading though feeding a few of them anything but rubbish can be fraught. It’s one thing to try and advocate a more gracious living when we gather but, sadly, it’s like reading Shakespeare to the dog…


I Nose What I Like

By Mike Bull

On average we’re a poor bunch on the Bluebird Project when it comes to food, as most of us are fairly simple creatures that are quite happy to live on meat and two veg and pasties. (We’re not actually sure what Mick the Block lives on though, as he seems to like no food stuffs whatsoever- I suspect that most nights, he sits down to a plate of ‘Lightly grilled fresh air served on a bed of delicately par-boiled bugger all’)

So often when we socialise together we sit down somewhere posh and look at a menu that seems to be partly written in code; it superficially looks like English to start with, but upon closer inspection it reveals itself to be some kind of weird patois. (And I thought patois was that dog-foody stuff that posh folk spread on their crackers anyway?)

“What’s ‘moderately perturbed sea bass served with hand cut lightly roasted segments of best English potato and seasonal greens?” Rob (for example) would query, and someone else would eventually crack The Patois Code (by Dan Brown, 50p in all good charity shops) and translate that to “It means fish and chips mate”.

“Well why doesn’t it ‘kin say that then…”

Once the whole menu has been translated accordingly, and fish and chips have been decided upon as being the safest option, said dish would be ordered and you sit and eagerly await your meal. A little while later, the food starts to arrive in scenes reminiscent of a 1950’s B movie, with huge flying saucers hovering over our heads. Seriously- these things are casting shadows that are wilting the decorative flowers on the table. But fear not, the aliens haven’t landed- that’ll just be the arrival of our two-foot diameter plates. “Great!” you think, “a huge plate- think of all the dinner I’m going to get!”

Once the saucers have landed however, you gaze down at this massive gleaming white expanse of plate to see, nestled somewhere there in the middle, a tiny cube of food about three inches square. Now, it obviously takes dedication and skill to arrange someone’s food in this way, but why? What exactly was Gordon Worrall-Pierre-White-Oliver hoping to achieve exactly? To create a good impression? Because the first impression I’ve got is that there’s bugger all on my plate…

So there you have it- a teensy piece of fish and three slightly posh-looking chips, and some token greenery. Yours for £17.95, sir.

Why? Why do we pay considerably more money, to be served much less food, in a fancy manner on a massive plate? Now, note that I’m not talking about pure nouvelle cuisine here, and nor am I wanting everywhere to be like a bargain basement chain pub- rather, I’m talking about those establishments that are hovering somewhere in between, serving what should be fairly ordinary everyday food in a manner which they think is clever, but which in fact is just ridiculous and over-priced.

A further example of culinary stupidity for you- at a recent lunch, our Girl ordered a cottage pie which arrived…wait for it…packed tightly into a little glass jar. Now if daft food usually arrives by flying saucer, I can only assume that on this occasion the food had travelled by TARDIS. The jar was one of those small chunky ones with the thick lid held by sprung clips that you’d use for pickling onions or the like and yes, said jar was sat looking sorry for itself in the middle of a massive plate. So not only did poor Girl have to take a lid off to get at her squashed food at all, she was also in need of one of those long knickerbocker glory spoons to be able to get it out.

So here’s a tip for the all the mid-range restaurants- leave the fancy stuff to the big boys, and stop fleecing me for a lot of nothing, especially just because I’m in some tourist trap village or other. We’re a nation that was brought up on meat and two veg and good old fashioned stodge, and while K7 runs of avtur, most of the lads rebuilding her run on pies; or, ‘Slow braised selected cuts of beef with lovingly grilled kidney with a distinctive jus served encased in a delicate golden short crust pastry’, if you prefer.