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October 2012

Yes, yes, yes… I know it’s been ages but it’s been a peculiar year. I’ve been driving a desk of late, something I promised not to do ever again after I turned 40 in 2007 but in January I discovered lunatics running my asylum and had to clear the decks before a long overdue propelling of my businesses into the 21st century. It’s been a most rewarding challenge but it’s eaten into my Bluebird time – a sad tale of the seven deadly sins but it’ll keep for another time…

Because of this I got home late the other night and stuck my nose into the living room to say hi only to be ignored because the telly was showing pseudo-cockneys slugging it out over fictional domestic trivia. Eastpretenders, I think it’s called. The missus watches another called Constipation Street that’s more or less the same but with Mancunian accents and once we were accidentally trapped in the room as though by fire for about twenty seconds with Britain’s Got an X-Talent Pop Idol or some similar abject bolleaux while she punched frantically at the stack of remotes and I ripped plugs from the wall in an effort to shut off the horror. It was awful!

Nah, forget all that fake stuff, if you want a real soap opera the Eurozone crisis is unmissable.

I love Greece. The laid-back lifestyle, the food, the sunshine, the welcoming people… but, let’s be honest here, had tax evasion been an Olympic sport they’d have had to pay extra to get their medals home and it’s a place where, if you want to get anything done at an official level, you’d best take a big bag of illicit wedge. Our 2003 Britannic exped arrived on site only to be told our permits weren’t the right ones because they’d been issued by a now defunct government department and we’d have to reapply to the local minister for sitting on his deckchair by a pool, on which he’d doubtless avoided paying the swimming pool tax until busted by the advent of Google Earth. Or, in plain language – now you’ve got this far, cough up a big bung or we send you home empty handed.

€30,000 later we had new permits and the TV company was considerably lighter in the budget dept. Good play by the local minister, I thought.

Then there’s Italy.

Beautiful people, admittedly, (at least the wife says so of the men) and ofttimes an excitable lot. The crunching shower of plastic followed by shouting, arm-waving histrionics as thirty Smart cars charge a single Rome alleyway at a change of lights is a joy to behold, mainly because when they’re done they simply clip the bits of plastic back to their cars and carry on like nothing happened. The food and wine is equally fabulous but it’s another place you’d best take a secret wad of moolah if you want to get anything done in a hurry. Anyone remember the days when you got a gazillion Lira, or Drachmas, to the pound because their currency was endlessly devalued? So who on earth had the bright idea of saying come spend our Euros instead? I’m no banker (though I’ve heard the odd reference to the merchant variety over the years without understanding why) but even to me this seemed like a disaster waiting to happen.

I just can’t deny my savage glee as I watch a slightly panic-stricken Angela Merkel running around her six barrels of snakes with only five lids.

But (presumably) saner heads kept us from joining their party so now the pound is safe and strong, which has a certain feel good factor about it, and our holiday spendies go further, but it’s not good for exports whilst on the other hand we can offer to help bail out the Euro-losers only if some of the stupid rules foisted on us by Brussels over the years are renegotiated – result!

But that’s enough politics and economics – the reason I mention any of this is because it left me with a hint of optimism about the Olympics.

You see, the Chinese put on quite a show, and so they should because they can do whatever they please without having to worry about such things as pleasing their electorate, the H&S wombles or what old, Mrs Miggins might say about having a missile battery mounted atop her care home. We, on the other hand, love to pander to whiners and I had visions of the whole running, jumping and spear-chucking contest descending into an over-budget, risk assessed, method statemented farce – but there was always hope that those who saved us from the Euro-mess were somehow enmeshed with the Olympics in which case we were in with a shout of not ballsing it up.

Went off rather well, didn’t it…

I remain firmly of the opinion that running fast, throwing things and jumping over stuff, though it had survival value to our forebears, only demonstrates the more primitive side of mankind whilst F1 and the Red Bull air races show how clever we’ve become so a carbon fibre pedal-bike had to do, but nothing lost and wasn’t Jess Ennis perfectly lovely?

The whole spectacle brought a swelling of pride and I’d bet Seb Coe ended well chuffed with himself along with countless of thousands of deserving others when the curtain came down. Even our very own Checkie Rob was down there doing something clever for O2 to keep people’s little screens working. Speaking of which, and I digress mildly, even the glass phone company seems to be getting its act together these days because the new Podeye phone seems to be made of something durable at last.

They used to be made of breakable glass, of all the stupid materials! Some genius designed a gadget to be taken into the real world by ordinary folk where it’d meet the terrors of everyday life that breaks if you give it so much as a hard stare. I’ve lost count of the number of times someone I know has dropped their iPhone 27b onto a feather pillow from a height of three millimetres and now it’s shattered and dead as a brick. Why would anyone buy such an ill-conceived thing in the first place knowing it’s not safe to be taken out of its packaging? Would you buy a car with porcelain bumpers? No, of course you wouldn’t, so why buy an everyday accessory that’s about as robust as a lead crystal champagne flute? Then, when it breaks, you take it to the Apple shop where they mend it expensively and you’re really pleased. They ought to make a thingamabob that makes a sound like a farmer approaching on a quad bike with a trailer full of sheep pellets when you shout, Baaaah! at it. That’d sell…

So people who bought the old version then had to save it from disintegrating if a breeze sprang up by encapsulating it in layers of plastic or bits of old tractor tyre… You’d think that if the people who made it in the first place had any common sense they’d wrap it in tyres before it left the factory.

Ahh, but on the face of it, they seemed to have common sense aplenty because they’d smugly watch their glass phone rendered mildly bump-proof at the customers’ expense or otherwise charge to mend it, so when the new, unbreakable one was recently announced I asked a gadgetologist friend of mine how come that had happened.

“They’ve listened to their customers,” I was told.

If that’s the case then they clearly had no common sense at all because surely a global company doesn’t need a miffed bloke with a smashed, glass widget to tell them it wasn’t a clever idea from the off, which leads me neatly back to the Olympics and to the point of all this rubbish.

What was it Seb’ said about the ‘legacy’ of the Olympics and about inspiring a generation? Young folk today really don’t have much to be inspired about at all, do they… overpaid youths running after a ball, perhaps – great, just so long as you don’t require intelligence in your chosen hero.

So what of those geeky kids who do things like homework, don’t get a girl / boy until half their pals are already married then grow up to be computer programmers or engineers? Who or what inspires them?

Just maybe a big, tin machine tearing down a lake will do it for one or two… the centre stage of an arena that must sustain its home-grown commerce and traditions into the future when you can fly to the sunshine for the price of a pint these days.

Having retired recently, after a long and illustrious career circling the globe in the employ of a gobsmackingly massive company, a gentleman instrumental in ensuring our ongoing success decided a slow tour through the Lakes with his missus would bring relaxation. He didn’t live far so I just assumed he was steeped in the place; but it turned out he’d never set foot amongst tarns or fells in his life and was totally blown away by it all.

“I get it now…” he said of the Bluebird Project and I thought he’d got it all along!

Then there’s another pal of mine who’s enjoyed soggy slate and dripping ferns his whole life because his folks took him to the Lakes as a kid and the magic just never wore off. He could go anywhere in the world but Ullswater does just fine.

So – here’s the question, I’ll make it multiple choice, as is the way of things these days, so even the nuggets are in with a shout.

When our big tin machine comes back to life, smells of jetfuel and we’re ready to get her wet and see what she can do, should we,

  1. Run her out of season with the short-sighted aim of persuading people to Coniston when the weather is crap for the sake of a brief spike in the cashflow of some local businesses. Or…

  2. Run her at the height of the season so the kids can come and have their minds blown, their imaginations fired and their education furthered as they fall in love with a place they will then doubtless return with their young-uns one day?

Which is likely to be most beneficial in the longer term? Maybe we ought to ask the miffed bloke with the smashed glass phone to explain it better.

But I shouldn’t criticise the Glass Phone Co. because they certainly know how to sell stuff just as we’re forever being pestered to offer a few new treats. We’ve made a point of never taking more money than we’ve needed and up to now our prints, DVDs and other merchandise have met our meagre financial requirements adequately but as well as rising costs for things like exotic tin from California to build sponsons, Mike’s million-dollar rivets and a zillion captive nuts to hold all the bits together there’s a constant request for new kit for its own sake to offer something different so we mulled over the catalogue and chose a few new bits and bobs.

Our John is very careful with his money and usually keeps it locked away in one of those Velcro ripper wallets so we bought him a new one.

Lots of compartments and such for your bus pass, donor card and winning lottery ticket so long as you’re strong enough to tear your way into it. Your cash certainly won’t go missing!

Then there’s this body warmer, or ‘botty warmer’ as my kids obstinately mispronounce it.

Pockets in places you didn’t know you had and super-warm (except for your arms) a must-have item of BBP branded clothing. And, just in case it rains, or the sun comes out…

One of those golfists’s brollys with a carbon-fibre stick up the middle. Very cool and the very dab for sitting beside a muddy lake with your carp rod for a whole day or getting caught in a cloudburst a million acres from anywhere with only your golf bats for company. Then, if you get properly cold, you can wrap yourself in a genuine BBP blanket made of some warm, comfy stuff that isn’t scratchy at all.

Perfect for draping over Grandpa’s knees, keeping the dog off your furnishings or the ants out of your picnic or, for the serious Campbell anorak, just the job to snuggle under at bed time. We had lots of requests for a blanket so here it is. (photo-bombing tot not included).

And, finally… Meet ‘Mumbles’ the teddy bear.

What can I say about a teddy bear, we all love them and he’s delightful so you can now buy all of these quality items in our shop except for the lovely Charlotte who kindly offered to model for us.

Thanks, Charlotte.

But how are we doing with the big tin machine, I hear you ask? And herein lies a problem because there’s only so much to say about the rivets that amount to pretty much all we’ve been up to – that and some minor bits of tin-bashing. The outer skins are very much an ongoing programme so for anyone who’s just joined us here’s a recap plus some new stuff.

It’s an awful long time since we stripped the outer skins from our boat and it was a nerve-wracking time because, though all our careful surveys and expert advice (that’s real experts – not the numptys foisted on us first time around) suggested that we had solid foundations to work from, the proof was always going to be found amongst the mud, dust and swarf so it was a massive relief to find the frame good as new even in the places where we hadn’t previously been able to access it.

Some of the outer skins were a different matter, though.

This one was a real pain because Donald’s mates shoved all sorts of fittings through it. Everything from electrical connectors to the outfall for the bilge pump, and not one of them was the same material. The result – granny’s lace curtains yet again. But we’re used to that, and the trick is to let in the patches of new material one at a time, returning the panel to its original shape after each one.

It’s fairly thin material and it welds easily but the resultant shrinkage is such that even a small insert will ruin its shape. If you then weld something else nearby it not only creates its own set of problems but it also captures some of the misshapenness of the previous repair making that even more difficult to deal with so the problems heap one upon the next as you go. It’s a long, painful process; welding then stretching then dressing the panel back to smoothness time and again. We did the left-hand side some time ago, this side is complete now.

Another important part of what we do is to studiously avoid removing shape that’s original. For example, you may discern a slight ‘quilting’ around where the vertical rows of rivets attach the panels to the formers. This was caused back at Samlesbury Engineering in fifty-something when they got the panel near enough then fired it down, stretching the skin slightly as the rivets were set. There’s no need for us to undo this so it’s been left alone. The last thing we want to do is sanitize our iconic museum object so unless we need to put back strength or keep the water out we don’t mess with history.

The tail cover is progressing nicely in this shot. Still a lot of pins but this many means it’s been choccied to the last and is ready for rivets rather than just hung together awaiting something else.

The yellow pins are through original holes and are 1/8th of an inch diameter. That’s 3.2mm and, more often than not, those holes can be reused because we took the old rivets out very carefully (and expertly by the time we stripped the tail cover). You see red pins where new material has been added and we’ve drilled 3/32nd diameter holes so there’s minimal loss of original material.

I remember someone being in awe that we’d had to take a rivet out of every hole without ever considering that, not only did we have to put them all back again, we had to add many thousands of extra ones to put it all together for good.

There you go, almost no pins, each replaced with a rivet. Each hole and its countersink has been carefully cleaned and maybe tickled out with the appropriate tools until it’ll take a rivet smoothly and neatly. It’s not unusual to have to cut each rivet to length too as the depths of the countersinks vary (not our doing!) and it can take an inordinate length of time to finish a single row if that’s the case. Each hole gets a dab of choccie on the end of a piece of welding rod to make each rivet watertight and impervious to dissimilar metal rot before the gun is applied to one end and a block to the other to hammer the rivet tail flat thus firmly clamping the skins together. Of course there’s a layer of choccie between the skins too so the whole lot soon begins to ooze like an over-filled jam sandwich and before long you’re covered, the tools are covered and, unless frequent breaks are included to mop up with a piece of towel and some isopropanol, the work area becomes covered too.

The engine cover is much more involved than the tail cover due to the way we designed the new doublers. Many of them overlap and the assembly sequence is critical. We repaired the engine cover first then applied the lessons learned to repairing the tail cover so we saved ourselves a world of pain with that one.

It was the usual grubby mess when it came apart but things always look better when they’re cleaned. The boat slapped down hard, hydroforming the right side of the engine cover inwards but it wasn’t a big job to send the metal back from whence it came.

This is the station immediately aft of the air intakes where those two little horns normally stick up through the skin.

The horns were merely little vents. Forward facing and connected to steel pipes that descended to face aft and force a draught past the engine and out around the jetpipe to ventilate the hull and prevent a build up of explosive or flammable vapours.

Here’s one, and notice the repair patch it’s sitting on. The inside of the skin has been doubled then a patch made to bring the material thicknesses and heights back to where they ought to be.

And here’s the whole area with the worst of the damage shrunk out and some doublers in place.

See where that G-clamp is hooked over the forward edge of the cover… that’s about the centreline, the spine of the boat, and notice a circular hole just aft of it. That contained a rubber grommet that blanked a redundant hole. It’s because it was rubber and not some sort of metal that that hole is perfect but look a little further aft and there’s another, ragged hole where some steel fittings were attached and then either side of that is another pair of similar holes where the horns used to be.

Then, with all the parts fettled to the Nth degree, Bettablast painted them and off we went. Or rather our dedicated teams of rivetists went.

Above, you see the cover with its left-hand, lower skin choccied and pinned. It has two lower skins, joggled under a large cover over the top. Here’s the other lower skin choccied and pinned.

Although most of us have bashed in a rivet here and there and we’ve all screwed pins until our fingers bled, John and Richie have made riveting the covers their baby.

We don’t even look to see what they’re up to nowadays. They just quietly assemble stuff then (incredibly) noisily rivet it all together to the most amazing standard. Here’s the top cover going on, note the ocean of choccie it’s about to splash down into.