Car Ownership Guide

An idea which might appeal to owners of cars out there if you have a car which you are interested in and are knowledgeable about then I am happy to write an article about it and post it on this blog.

The work for you is that (unless you are located very close to me) I will need you to answer a questionnaire (and possibly some follow-on questions) and I will need you to have reasonable ability with a digital camera – the blog is going to need pictures as well.

Although I compiled the following article from an interview in the old fashioned – turn up ask questions – manner. It seems feasible that I could compile a questionnaire from this which I could despatch to whoever was interested.

I am hoping that the idea has appeal and will encourage people to submit cars. If you are reading this blog and you’re aware of someone else who will fit the bill by all means pass along details so that they can profit from it.

A considerable number of years ago, when it was easier to dream, I had in mind that I would like to write for a classic car magazine. At that time one of the magazines was featuring a “Best of the Web” article. I was working in IT and loved old cars and so this suited me well.

For a short while I researched and wrote these articles and fitted it in around the day job.

Sadly there was a change at the magazine and it was determined (probably correctly) that the “Best of the Web” article was as boring as a lengthy parliamentary speech. So it was pulled.

A person less given to dreaming would probably have seen the writing on the wall. I hadn’t yet let go of that writing dream however and so I tried to come up with some ideas of articles that I could do.

I was approaching the very limits of expertise. I had no background in engineering or in journalism but I wasn’t going to let this stop me.

I realised that once in a while a very knowledgeable person drawn from a classic car club would lay out what it was like to own a specific kind of car. Such accounts were no doubt rose-tinted and that suited my somewhat romantically idealised view of ancient machines.

So I set about contacting owners clubs but I was aware that I could not use the cachet of any magazine’s name as strictly speaking I didn’t work for any of them.

Unsurprisingly for a very long time I didn’t get any takers.

Eventually however I had a response from Tom Lucas who was the owner of a Lomax. For those uninitiated to this car it is a vehicle that you could assemble yourself based upon a 2CV.

It turns out that I had been very lucky to find Tom. Not only was he knowledgeable and keen, he was also willing to help someone who quite obviously was no journalist.

I have subsequently discovered that Tom Lucas (surely the same man) published a book called “Lomax the First Ten Years” bookfinder.

The car YSU191 has also been the recipient of prizes.

It is also apparently still taxed and MOTd to this date according to the DVLA.

Tom, if you are reading this, thank-you for your help.

I returned to the magazine in the hope of a new venture but it turned out I was not as good at this writing business as I had hoped. There was certainly no suggestion of the article being used.

As a result I am free to use the article on this blog all these years later and hopefully Tom will get to see it here.

This was the article:

 

Ownership Guide

Engine

This is usually removed from a 2CV, the engine can be taken from an Ami 8, Dyane or from the rarer Ami Super.

Most Lomax are built with a standard 602cc 2CV, Dyane or Ami 8 engine (these are essentially the same being an air-cooled flat twin of 30 BHP).

The older 435cc engine (not found in donor cars after the 1970s) will fit but is rarely used.

Useful power improvements can be obtained by fitting the Ami Super engine (1015cc). This is a flat-four air-cooled engine and requires the 4-speed gearbox from the same car.

Alternatively the later Citroen GS (1299cc) unit is a simple exchange.

The Citroen Visa power plant (652cc) provides a more complex challenge. This 38 BHP motor had electronic ignition requiring sensors on the gearbox bell housing which do not easily fit the 2CV. One method in use is to utilise motorcycle electronic ignition from a BMW on the front of the engine.

Officially any 2CV engine from 1985 will run on unleaded; however engines from the 1960s are currently running on unleaded without detrimental effects.

The exception is the Visa 9 ½:1 compression engine, which requires super-unleaded.

The standard engine is “bullet proof,” even modified engines tend to have a standard bottom-end, as it is very tough.

Valve and seats are very hard and recession tends not to be a problem. Valve clearances are checked then checked again after the first 6000 miles. If no recession is detectable no further checks are necessary.

Oil Changes

It is worthwhile doing regular oil changes at 3000 miles – maintaining this interval gives increased engine life expectancy of 150,000 miles with 300,000 miles a possibility.

10/40 oil is recommended for the 2CV but the Lomax has different requirements due to the absence of the cooling fan from the front of the engine. This means that the engine runs hotter than in the 2CV a 20/50 oil should therefore be used.

Use of synthetic (or semi-synthetic) oil is not required.

The oil filter should be changed at the same time as the oil. This is easily accessible as the bonnet can be removed in one piece. It is therefore considerably easier to access than in the 2CV donor.

Parts are available from ECAS (Eastwood Continental AutoSpares) of Stafford (01785) 282882.

Carburettor

The standard 2CV is fitted with a single carburettor positioned in the middle of the engine over the crankcase (a downdraft Solex).

This requires a long manifold to each cylinder.

Post 1982 2CVs, Dyanes and Amis were fitted with a twin choke version – this yields 2-3 BHP extra.

A common modification is to fit 2 motorbike carbs on short manifolds (for example the flat slide Dellortos from a Moto Guzzi). This modification yields significant performance advantages.

Ignition

There is no standard distributor; instead there is a points box rather like that on a motorcycle engine.

This has a 2-lobe cam producing a spark to both cylinders at every engine revolution via a double-ended coil.

The cylinder that is on the compression stroke is able to use the spark to fire. The cylinder on the exhaust stroke gets a ‘wasted spark’.

Modifications include electronic ignition kits from Lumenition – this replaces the points and box lid with a sensor (£115). An alternative “123” Dutch-made kit is available through ECAS. This replaces the point’s box and the advance/retard mechanism (£112).

Gearbox

All gearboxes fitted since the start of production are the same in that they are all 4 speed.

The internal ratios differ slightly, the Dyane having a slightly higher ratio in top gear.

The gearbox is behind the engine and drive is transmitted via drive shafts incorporating disc or drum brakes.

The low weight of the Lomax and its relatively small frontal area (compared to the 2CV) make the gearing a handicap.

Top gear limits performance to around 80mph, as higher speeds would cause the engine to rev excessively (no taller final-drive ratios are available).

Gearbox rebuilds are very rarely required, as they are very durable. For instance large, quality, bearings were used in the gearbox manufacture. Regular gearbox oil changes at 12,000-mile intervals are recommended to prolong gearbox life. Reconditioned gearboxes are available from ECAS (£220).

Brakes

The brakes are inboard – either drums or discs dependent upon the age of the donor (cars prior to 1982 having drum brakes). Changing pads is easy; changing shoes requires removal of the driveshaft first.

Drum braked cars tend to have a more effective hand brake as the disk-braked cars have separate (small) pads for the handbrake. The lightweight of the Lomax however, means that this handbrake system is still adequate in disk-braked cars.

No flexible brake pipes are employed. The solid brake pipes are coiled to take up any suspension movement. Despite this unusual arrangement no brake pipe fractures take place.

The gearbox from a Citroen GS comes with 11” disc brakes which would seem a useful modification. However, the Lomax is already significantly lighter than the donor car so no changes to the brakes are necessary.

Later Citroens with disc brakes do not use standard brake fluid but LHM mineral oil. The seals on these cars are a different material to those on drum-braked models (which use standard brake fluid). This means that the correct fluid must be used. In addition when replacing the rear-wheel brake cylinder it is critical to select the right one (the LHM version is painted green).

Rust

The body of the Lomax is GRP and hence does not suffer from rust problems; however the chassis is of steel and from the donor car.

Earlier cars had better chassis (those built in the late 1960s) particularly the Ami – these are therefore better donors.

The chassis from an Ami Super is a good choice as it is made from 1.2mm steel. The 2CV chassis is made from 0.8mm steel.

Cars manufactured between 1987 and 1990 tend to be more prone to rust and should be avoided.

Alternatives include a galvanised square section tubular steel chassis produced by The Lomax Motor Company.

Alternatively ECAS sell a galvanised replacement 2CV chassis for £430.

Preservation of the chassis when constructing the car is recommended. To do this, prop the framework against a wall so that it is close to vertical. Pour in Waxoyl from the top and allow it to drain through.

The exhausts rot out regularly due to the small engine and long exhaust, the rear of which remains relatively cool even with prolonged use. This means that acids tend to condense causing deterioration of the back box.

It is common to use a motorcycle silencer on the Lomax, but in this application a stainless one is recommended.

Body

The body is all GRP and the floor is of plywood.

The GRP gelcoat is a popular finish to leave the car in when first assembled.

The colours available include British Racing Green, Pillar-Box Red and Anchusia Blue.

However the finish tends to fade in UV light (i.e. in the sun) dark shades particularly becoming unattractive after a number of years. The car can then be sprayed conventionally to disguise this.

Crazing of the GRP can occur at stress points over extended periods of time. Replacement panels are available or if the body tub is affected it is cheaper to grind away the gelcoat and fill with fibreglass resin.

Suspension

Most Lomax cars are assembled using the 3-wheeler format– this entails removal of one of the rear suspension arms. The remaining arm is modified at the Lomax factory allowing it to be turned through 1800 to be inboard of the rear chassis arm (which is removed).

The suspension is totally derived from the 2CV with horizontal canisters containing the road springs.

The kingpins tend to wear if they are not greased at 500-mile intervals. To replace these, the driveshafts have to be removed and the bushes replaced with a press or a sledgehammer and a drift can be employed for similar results. After 2 or 3 sets of kingpins have been fitted the arm is too worn to accept another set and must be replaced (£95).

The suspension arms turn on taper-roller bearings which can show signs of wear at 100,000 miles (£24.50 each – 2 of per unit) – they are sealed for life so once fitted need no maintenance.

Genuine Citroen telescopic shock absorbers are required (£65) as they are designed to work on their side – conventional shock absorbers would wear out very swiftly if employed.

The Lomax suspension is lowered when compared with the donor 2CV. The suspension arms have tie rods, which are threaded. Releasing these rods a few threads lowers the suspension. This increases the kingpin castor angle improving the self-centring of the steering with a slight increase in kingpin wear as a penalty.

The lowered suspension can “bottom-out” and so modifications have been developed to use both suspension canisters.

Lomax has chosen to use a “rear anti-roll bar.” An alternative is to use the arrangement originally designed for a competing kit car (the Falcon). A front anti-roll bar on the three-wheeler is a requirement to prevent the car banking hard into corners.

The anti-roll bar from a Citroen Ami 8 or Ami Super can be used to make cornering safer (these are now scarce). The Lomax Motor Company now manufactures its own version. Alternatives are available from other kit-car manufacturers e.g. Black Jack in Helston.

Performance Improvements

The air filter is a bulky item which can be improved with a low restriction type, such as that manufactured by K&N.

Removing the front cooling fan and ducting is good for 2 BHP.

Carburettor improvements include use of the later twin-choke version (2-3 BHP over the standard item) or use of twin motorcycle carbs.

Performance cams are now available due to the popularity of 2CV racing.

Modifications include boring out a standard 2CV engine to fit a Citroen Visa piston – this raises capacity to 650cc whilst retaining the same stroke as the 602cc. The downside is that the cylinder side wall is made very thin by this modification and the engine can seize whilst running in.

Swapping the 602cc engine for the 650cc engine from the Citroen Visa is workable (the camshaft in the Visa engine is “hotter” than standard) but this is not an easy modification.

Driving

3 wheeled driving is a very different experience. The car has a sports car stance being close to the ground and alighting requires climbing down into the seats.

The suspension retains the donor’s ability to soak up potholes – only finding difficulty with the taller “sleeping policemen”. If the rear wheel hits a diesel patch or wet manhole cover then the rear can step out, but will swiftly regain traction.

The insurance is very low due to the small engine size.

There is lots of capacity in the boot for shopping or even continental touring.

The car is relatively safe in accidents due to built-in weak points in the Citroen chassis– a built in “crumple-zone”. These fold in the event of accident protecting the cockpit from serious damage.

The performance is better than the 2CV donor with good acceleration and 80mph normal. It will cruise at 70mph easily.

It is equally manoeuvrable handling twisty back roads faster than a number of conventional vehicles.

The controls are conventional apart from the gear change pattern where 1st is opposite reverse. The handbrake is an umbrella version (from 2CV donor) although some builders have opted for a more conventional handbrake layout.

 

 

With thanks to Tom Lucas for advice and information. Tom is the author of “Lomax the First Ten Years” (£10 from most bookstores).

 

 

 

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Fifty Special Things – Longthorpe Tower

When: 04-05-2015

Where: Longthorpe Tower

Price: £6 for two adults £4 for a guidebook

 

Review: Very popular – it was cold the day we went but there were still a number of people there.

Tip: Opening is restricted – limited to weekends and bank holidays – check the English Heritage site before setting out.

This hasn’t been open long, I found it had opened in 2013 by Dr Janina Ramirez (famous historian and TV presenter)

We were determined to go see it because of the well preserved mediaeval artwork. We visited on a bank holiday monday – one of the few that it opens during the year – don’t turn up on a weekday.

We have been National Trust members for a while but haven’t yet stretched to being members of English Heritage as well. If you do a lot of ancient building exploration joining would be worthwhile.

Patience is the order of the day if you want photographs of the walls inside the tower. It was very popular the day we went. I imagine that remains true throughout the year due to the restricted opening times.

Second Floor

The address is Thorpe Road, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, PE3 6LU. However parking is in St Botolph’s church car park. This is no particular hardship as long as you are reasonably mobile. However bear in mind that access to the tower is up a set of external stairs.

The tower is the only part of the site that is accessible as the rest of it is still in private hands. Whilst I’m sure it’s lovely to live in such a prestige location I’m not certain about lots of visitors traipsing past your door every day.

The tower was apparently originally built by Robert Thorpe who was a lawyer. It was an addition to an earlier house.

The tower is a solar tower – added around 1300 but is unusual in that they were usually added to grand houses – possessed by nobles – rather than someone from the legal profession.

The tower or solar contained Thorpe’s private apartments, the second floor contains Thorpe’s bedroom. Thorpe was a Steward of Peterborough Abbey which at the time owned nearly all the land.

As an official of the cathedral Thorpe would have been a well-respected professional in his day. However he is the mediaeval equivalent of a man made good (from humble origins). Thurstan De Thorpe was still a (villein) serf to the manor at Orton Waterville until 1200 (or thereabouts).

However by 1226 his son William was able to buy the manor at Longthorpe. No one seems to have dug too deeply into how they got their cash…

This site however speculates that with education it was possible to elevate yourself (even in an era when to pass yourself off as gentry was illegal).

The family seems to have loved that habit of naming the son after the father: William begat William who built the manor house and the church whose car park you used on the way in. Originally St Botolphs was on the edge of the village. It was for the use of the manor originally but now is the parish church.

Second William begat Robert (which would be easier only Robert then begat you guessed it – Robert).

First Robert is the one we have to thank for the solar – it is a scaled down version of a similar construction more frequently found in castles. Robert became enriched through services to the nearby abbey. However by 1320 was working directly for Edward II. (He received a knighthood).

Second Robert became a steward to the Abbey like his father and the wealth continued. It was he who commissioned the paintings, which were painted around 1330.

As a defensive building it is sadly lacking (Robert was attacked there in 1327 and held to ransom). It was designed to show off the owner’s wealth and status – this it does rather better.

It is likely that connections with the Abbey allowed Robert access to artisans with significant skills (such as those commissioned for work on the 1st floor). However the skills are somewhat variable as some paintings are better executed than others.

Sadly it wasn’t to be for the Thorpes – although the building remained with the family, the final Thorpe – William – died without children in 1391.

Thereafter it was a second home for a while for John Whittlebury. This family retained the house from 1391 and sold it  to the Fitzwilliam family in 1501.

The Fitzwilliam family retained the house thereafter – the tower alone was gifted to the nation in 1948. This was probably because it required some quite expensive structural work which was taken on by the then Ministry of Works.

It is a great shame that the adjoining buildings can’t be viewed as well. After all that history one would imagine that they are magnificent.

The ground floor is unpainted and historically would have been used for storage. (The painted room is on the first floor). But you can’t get into the ground floor in any case.

The second floor is also unpainted but has some interesting displays including this helmet.

On the day we went (probably for everyone on reflection) we were invited to lift the above helmet to discover how heavy it was.

It is extremely heavy, how a mediaeval knight managed this together with a suit of armour I do not know – they must have been very hardy types.

This is the stone seat of a Garderobe – this is a basic form of mediaeval toilet.

Given it’s on an outside wall and would have been exposed to the elements I couldn’t help wondering why the seat wasn’t wood faced as it must have been very cold in winter.

Apparently a good cure for moths was to hang clothes in the Garderobe as the smell deterred them.

The word wardrobe apparently has its origin in this practice of hanging clothes in a small space.

As you can see mediaeval rooves were not hot on insulation the tile pegs can be clearly seen here. The house might be impressive but it doesn’t seem to have been cosy.

All the windows have been glazed over but historically glass would have been very expensive indeed. Certainly areas like the Garderobe were often left open to the elements in order to dispel the odours.

Rooftop views of adjoining buildings to which sadly there is no access.

The existing access is provided by a timber stairwell up through an enlarged former window. Originally the access would have been through a door (now blocked) to the adjoining hall. Additionally there is no direct access from the first floor to the ground floor storage area – access originally being gained through the adjoining building.

The adjoining hall is Grade I listed like the tower.

The narrow stairwell to the first floor.

It is best to avoid people on the way down – passing on those stairs would be challenging.

I didn’t find the rope of much assistance. Pushing against the wall whilst muttering “steep stairs piggin’ steep stairs” in the end being much more efficacious.

An arrow slit on the main stairwell – now glazed.

How on earth did servants get up and down these stairs whilst carrying things? I’m not clear if Thorpe liked to dine in his chamber but the kitchens were elsewhere in the site so it would have involved some trek if he did.

Small room off the recess in the second floor probably originally a latrine.

The First Floor

And so at last to the first floor, this is what the fuss is all about. After the paintings became unfashionable the walls were whitewashed over (around the time of the reformation). The paintings were thus hidden from view for centuries.

After a period of lease to the Home Guard in World War II the tower became part of a farm again in September 1945. The farmer (Hubert Horrell – a nicely alliterative name that) was prepared for decorating. He discovered sufficient of the pictures to make him believe that the tower was of importance.

He notified the owner (Captain Fitzwilliam) who thankfully recognised the importance of the pictures. He decided to fund an expert examination. He spoke to The Society of Antiquaries of London. Eventually a wall-painting specialist, Edward Clive Rouse was determined to be the man to start releasing the paintings from the layers of whitewash.

It took years – until 1948 – to reveal all of the paintings.

It is now regarded as one of the best preserved wall decorations of a mediaeval domestic building (in England if not in Europe).

Sadly the paintings are much faded now but are said to have been very bright indeed on discovery.

They were painted onto dry plaster using pigments including red/white lead, chalk or vermilion mixed with egg and oil. There is also evidence that some of the paintings were gilded.

Some of the depressed lines were made in the plaster whilst it was still wet.

Some of the detail that was evident at their discovery in 1946 can no longer be seen . Thankfully Mr Rouse was an excellent record keeper creating a small scale watercolour of every painting as he found it.

Potentially I assume this could mean that they could be restored. Something that has been done to great effect in some of the Egyptian tombs I notice.

This first floor room is believed to have been the great chamber for the manor.

It probably had several uses including dining room or reception room. The paintings were therefore for the purpose of impressing guests.

The West Wall

This is the Left hand side of the west wall. The west wall consists of a large alcove with a tiny window offset to the right hand side.

This leaves a large expanse of wall – now painted.

However remember that the paintings date to some-time after the building was erected.

Nonetheless this design seems to indicate that painting the walls was always in the plans. Otherwise why leave this large expanse of wall space and such a small window.

The tower has suffered subsidence in the past which lead to some alterations although it is believed that originally the North wall looked similar in construction.

The above picture shows 4 figures on the arch which are identified as the labours of the months – only 4 can be seen here starting with January at the bottom and moving up to April.

The months have an inscription (where this survives). January is said to be a man warming himself by the fire. February is too destroyed to be certain. March is a man digging. April again is damaged but it is speculated that he may have held flowers. This is in common with depictions at the time of rural people and what they were doing in each of the months.

The only other month that remains is December (the other side of the arch).

Close up of the lower left hand side said to be a pecking bird and the upper part of the door in the South wall that used to lead into the great chamber but is now sealed.

The upper picture is said to be St Anthony. Part of the inscription survives. St Anthony is the figure standing praying – asking how to find salvation. Opposite him is an angel sitting making a basket (working) and an angel behind stood (praying).

Overhead – now largely lost was the head and shoulders of God watching from above. The answer to his question – you can find salvation by praying and working.

The inscription read “do thus and you shall be saved” (apparently SIC FAC ET SALVUS ERIS) apologies to anyone who actually understands Latin.

St Anthony was the patron saint of basket weavers which is perhaps why this was the illustration chosen of work.

Alternatively Peterborough is considered the gateway to the fens and basket weaving has for a long time been considered a Fenland craft.

Two rabbits can just be seen behind Saint Anthony although these are less well done – appearing more like Disney Rabbits than real rabbits.

The border below is quite faded but apparently represents textile. It contained images of a lapwing and owl and a parrot apparently although you may find it difficult to pick those out now.

The two large figures are said to be a teacher and a student with perhaps the teacher wearing a doctor’s cap.

To the left of the teaching scene, on the walls of the recess. From the bottom of this picture: a square niche in the wall, above it a Heraldic Shield, above that a creature (mostly lost) and above that a heraldic banner.

Continuing to the left of the teaching scene, further up the wall on the same side. On the right hand side of this picture can be seen more heraldic banners, to the left a figure (unidentified).

On the West wall the lancet window is small and to the extreme right hand side (North). The window was apparently placed so that painting could be presented on the remainder of the wall. This is an alcove to the right of the window – 2 figures and an inscription which is now hard to make out.

The figure on the left wears a garment with a hood, the figure on the right is said to be a child. The hooded figure is saying to the child “Our Lady will absolve us from sin” (NOTRE DAME NOUS ASOUDRA DE LA PECHE)

This is the Right Hand Side of the West Wall said to be representations of a Bittern and of a Crane. (The Bittern is the uppermost picture). These were apparently not often painted from life but from representations of such creatures found in a bestiary.

The left hand side of the window in the West Wall this is said to be Saint Paul In his right hand a sword in a scabbard.

A close up of the same image.

The East Wall

In the upper part of the wall two figures address one another. The one on the left has been almost completely lost (some of the foot can be seen The figure on the right is complete. He is holding gloves and has a dog standing behind him, however the inscription which would have told us what this meant has now been lost.

Below him is a person in a crown standing behind a wheel. This is called a wheel of five senses and originates with Aristotle but found this form in the 13th century. The rim of the wheel has on it a Monkey, a hawk, a spiders web, a boar and a cockerel – of which the monkey (though partially missing) seems the best done.

These had the following meanings:

Monkey – taste

Hawk – smell

Spider’s web – touch

Boar – hearing

Cockerel – sight

The artist made a mistake with the cockerel and his first attempt can be just seen above the current version.

At one time the wheel would have had inscriptions which indicated what it meant – these are now lost.

It is believed that this means the five senses need to be regulated through reason and restraint.

To the right are two damaged creatures said to be hounds and to the left a damaged creature said to be a squirrel.

It can be seen here that the Boar is not very well done (could easily have been an overweight dog). The remnants of one of the damaged hound pictures can be seen.

Above on the ceiling is a representation apparently of an organ player (a mobile or portative organ with 16 pipes).

Close up on the Spider’s web which could as easily be a dartboard I suppose or given the date more likely an archery target.

Above the doorway can just be seen a very faded set of pictures said to be of the apostles.

This image is in the recess for the current doorway (which was a lancet window). It was enlarged to make space for the current doorway.

This picture appears above a doorway that would have led to a latrine. It is a picture to remind the viewer of mortality and was popular in mediaeval times.

Baased on a 13th Century poem originating probably in France. The legend is that 3 men meet with 3 dead and the 3 dead urge them to repent. The poem may have first been told by Baudoin de Condé a minstrel attached to the court of Marguerite II, Countess of Flanders in the 13th Century.

In this representation the first king is now lost, the second has a red crown which you might be able to see, the third is the one speaking with his finger raised.

The three dead startle the three kings and the kings rebuke them for this. But the dead state that they are the king’s ancestors and question them about why they have not said mass for their souls.

The message is designed to point out how fleeting is the existence of man and hence provide a moral message.

The three next to the king with the upraised finger are now in black but the pigment was lead which has oxidised with time, originally they would have appeared as in white shrouds. The last though is without a shroud – naked – and covered in maggots.

Above the current entrance door there is an aperture cut in the 1940s to expose the remnants of the original lancet window. The current entrance was enlarged in the 17th century and is now back in use. It uses a wooden staircase constructed in the 1940s. The hole which you can see here (when viewed from the correct angle) shows the original construction.

The figure just before the hole is said to be one of the apostles. (The Halo is visible – potentially at one time having been gilded).

To the left of the apostle above is this image of an apostle on the same wall. There is no indication as to which apostle is which. This one appears to be writing I think. Traditionally an apostle writing is generally thought of as St Paul – after his letters to the Corinthians and so on…

Facing the current entrance (I.e. looking towards the east wall) there is a niche just inside the door on the left hand side.

It is of a bearded man teaching three pupils the only discernible word when uncovered in the 1940s was apparently OREILLEZ which may mean “hear me” in old French.

The North Wall

This is the Right Hand Side of the North Wall, uppermost is the second half of the “seven ages of man” the last figure is the easiest to see with a crutch he is decrepitude above him is old age (said to show a man with his life savings).

Above you can see the entire seven ages of man of which a great deal is lost. It starts at the left hand side with an infant; above this is a young boy with a spinning top; above that is adolescence but of which little can be seen.

In the centre top is a youth with a hawk; descending the right hand side is manhood – with a sword; old age – with life savings and decrepitude – with a crutch.

Beneath the 7 ages of man is a depiction of the nativity which has been partly encroached upon. (The window was widened in an attempt to counteract subsidence).

Originally it would have been a small window as for the west wall seen above. However what remains is Mary seated on a chair with Jesus. The missing part would have shown the crib , the ass, an ox (parts of these can still be seen).

The ceiling above the North Wall upper left of this shot is a partial figure believed to be a cymbalum player.

In the other quarter of the vault is the Eagle of St John and beneath that the figure of St David. To the right a Psaltery player.

The South Wall

This is the left hand side of the south wall. Above is a coat of arms said to be that of Edward III.

The border was originally of the Thorpe coat of arms and at one time was gilded – not that you can see it now. Apparently fleur de lys were once visible here – but you need better eyesight than mine to make then out now.

Below the border is an alternating checkerboard pattern said to be painted to look like a hanging cloth. It is likely that this once was behind a high-backed chair that sat against the wall in this position.

This is the right hand side of the South wall uppermost is the arms of Edmund of Woodstock. He was the Earl of Kent and a half-brother of Edward II. He was executed following a planned rebellion against the regent Isabella (after the king was deposed).

The Earl is considered to have been Robert Thorpe’s landlord and so it is likely this is the reason for the inclusion of this coat of arms.

Beneath this something which is much more fun, it is a Bonnacon. You can just see the arm and bow of an archer and the rear of a beast that appears to be ejecting poo in his direction.

Apparently you would be foolish indeed to shoot upon this mythical beast which despatched its victims with flaming ordure expelled from its behind with some force.

The Tower

This is one of the buttresses – showing that the knitting together of the walls is no longer that exact.

Buttress and wall look close to separating here – further evidence of subsidence damage probably.

Here you can see external cracks visible in both North and East walls.

Above the current entrance – the outline of the former lancet window which was enlarged to make this entrance can be clearly seen here.

Visible subsidence cracks on the exterior – work to attempt to remediate these resulted in thickening to the north wall and a change to the window aperture.

This is further up the same wall showing that the cracking extends up to the Battlements.

It is a fascinating place and I have had plans to revisit. Indeed given the gradual fading of the artworks (and no obvious sign that they are to be restored) it might be as well to visit sooner than later.

If you are not of the historic nature (but your partner is) you can indulge them and chill afterwards in Thorpe wood which is nearby.

On that day on May it was beautiful and I have no doubt restful at most times of year.

 

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The Art of Procrastination

With a blog entitled “The Procrastination Pen” I suppose it is reasonable to expect that at some stage there would be something on procrastination.

To be honest the naming was something that came to light after several days of brain stretching. It was only fixed after I discovered that all my other great name ideas were already taken.

(This is fairly familiar, see my discoveries about the use of the term “Wreck of the Week”).

It was all going swimmingly until Amazon launched a product which is actually called a  “Procrastination Pen”. This consigns my little blog to low down in the Google search results.

Anyway enough of this – suffice to say that the title “Procrastination Pen” was in the search for a unique blog title rather than some manifesto of intent.

However it is not a title without aptness. Throughout my life I have struggled with procrastination. At times I would rather clean the toilet than embark on the task that I regard as the most important. During revision for the various exams I have undertaken in my life I have dusted, hoovered and tended the garden to avoid picking up a single book.

And so it was with great embrace that I greeted the book that is the subject of this post.

If like me you have symptoms of procrastination in your life I recommend that you buy this before any other book on the subject.

Procrastination 1

Bookfinder

My copy is now very precious to me.

John turns out to have been a lifelong procrastinator of the advanced order. This puts him in a uniquely sympathetic position to other sufferers. He is the most positive person I have encountered when it comes to the treatment of procrastination.

If you want a flavour for the author’s style then visit his website here.

He raises the idea of akrasia (apparently originally from Aristotle). This describes why people will do anything other than the thing they are supposed to be doing.

He proposes that procrastinators far from being inefficient wastrels actually get a great deal of work done. However they get that work done whilst avoiding some other task.

Perversely they may be seen to be very hard-working and efficient as a result.

The major outcome of which is that being a procrastinator is quite positive and nothing whatsoever to be ashamed of.

Although he is perhaps the first to propose the term “structured procrastination” to cover this behaviour the first to write about it apparently was Robert Benchley in the Chicago Tribune in 1930. The article “How to Get Things Done” is now the subject of a blog posting.

Structured Procrastination

The benefits of structured procrastination (as opposed I suppose to doing absolutely nothing) is that it is feasible to get procrastination to work in your favour. A great deal of work can be accomplished whilst avoiding the task you really do not want to engage with.

The issue is that mentally (or physically if we can bring ourselves to be that organised) we have a list of tasks which we must accomplish.

Habitually a procrastinator will have the most important task glaring him or her in the face. He or she is quite prepared to exercise his or her self in the performance of tasks lower down that list to avoid that most important task.

The wrong thing to do when you have this mindset is to address the task directly. Worse still is to attempt to minimise the distracting tasks to focus fully on the main one. If you succeed then the only way to avoid the main task is to do something which is not constructive – watch the television, cut your toenails, pick your nose and so on.

One approach is to try to find another yet more important task and to mentally (or physically if it helps) add this task to the top of the list. Now you will be spending all of your efforts to avoid that task. Your previous most important task is now second on the list and is likely to receive attention to avoid the new most important task.

Alternatively, if no likely task presents itself, promote one of the less important tasks to be the most important one.

This means you have to fool yourself that this task is more important. As John points out we fool ourselves all the time anyway in the pursuit of procrastination so we’re already experts at this.

Perfectionist Moi?

Procrastinators are fantasists, unable to complete the task perfectly but nonetheless imagining that they are able to do so.

Finding themselves unable to complete a task to this imagined standard of perfection means the task does not get done.

That is unless the task has a deadline, in which case as the deadline passes guilt kicks in. The procrastinator attains a mad scramble to complete the task. In the process he or she gives his or herself permission to do a less than perfect job.

John states that we would be better using a task triage in this situation. Decide which tasks you can forget altogether, which you can forget until later, and which to start work on.

In the process decide whether a half-arsed job is sufficient or if a perfect job really is needed.

Lists

Surely the bane of any procrastinator and the subject of way too much time-management reading I’ve performed over the years.

Procrastinators keep lists – either mentally or, for the more disciplined, physically.

The lists are pretty pointless. The only reason they are created is to get the buzz from crossing things off the list. Hence the list grows with items that did not need to be on the list simply for the feedback of all those ticks.

Where lists do come into their own is when the procrastinator is faced with a task that he or she cannot face. Something so daunting that nominating some other task as the most important will surely fail.

Here the task needs salami slicing. Each component of the task listed out so that the procrastinator can approach it piecemeal.

The safest time to make such a list is just before sleep – that way you’re less inclined to be distracted.

Music

Motivational music is well worth having.

Personally I think that you can’t go far wrong with this:

You will have your own preferences.

Distractions

These are bread and butter for the procrastinator, email and web surfing for example. Avoiding these is not realistic. Set something that will interrupt you. At least you will stop emailing/surfing the web (or alternative distraction of choice) and do some work before the sun sets.

Desktop

A lot of procrastinators work by spreading papers across the desk. Do not resist this if it is you.

Putting papers into filing cabinets is an almost certain way of never dealing with those papers again. If you are not bound by a clear desk policy feel free to leave the papers exactly where they are when you stop working. That way you can instantly pick up where you left off.

Non-Procrastinators

Procrastinators drive such people mad. Non-Procrastinators are useful to have around. They will insist that you work in a non-procrastinating way. This can be very motivational (if hard on any relationship that you have with them).

Obsessively productive people may choose to do the tasks for you. Make sure that you contribute equally if so.

Positives

A surprisingly large number of tasks don’t need doing at all. By not working on them you gain time that non-procrastinators lose.

Some tasks find better qualified people to work on them and they also disappear from your mental (or physical) to do list.

There are many ways to spend time and many opinions about the best way to spend time. Spending time daydreaming may in the long run be more productive than writing that essay.

Procrastinators may ultimately find better ways to enjoy life.

Unpleasant News

Whilst John is positive throughout about the impact of procrastinators he does reference some material which is likely to bite a bit harder.

Procrastination: Ten Things to Know. (Read this if you’re a procrastinator in a really upbeat mood or a non-procrastinator who needs validation).

For those determined to beat their procrastination into submission John recommends this book:

Procrastination 2

Bookfinder

However as John concludes, procrastination is not the problem. You will only attempt drastic action against procrastination if you are unhappy.

It would be far better to work on the unhappiness rather than the procrastination.

 

 

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Fifty Special Things – Cambridge Gin Laboratory

When: 18-02-2017

Where: Cambridge Gin Laboratory

Price: Free – It was a gift

Review: excellent way to spend a few hours, several different courses available

Tip: take the bus, and then you can spend the rest of the day in the bar next door.

I remember when I was thinking about how to make the fifty special things work that one problem was always going to be budget. Having made the decision to try to make my fiftieth year a special one, how do you afford it all?

So it was with great delight that I received a gift of a gin tasting session at the Cambridge Gin Lab.

It turns out that it is very popular, the day we went it was full up. I imagine other days are not dissimilar.

Gin 1

The Cambridge Gin Laboratory is at 10 Green Street, Cambridge.

Gin 2

There is a board outside to confirm location and a sign on the door.

At the time I was convinced that I was going to rule the world via the medium of blogging – such that there is quite a strong pictorial record.

Gin 3

Gin 4

It was around the time of this visit that I began to comprehend just how fashionable gin had become and just how many people were keen to get in on the act.

Gin 5

The lab is downstairs and is laid out with all kinds of gin-related paraphernalia.

Gin 6

Prior to the gin sampling itself there is a very interesting talk on gin and the history of gin from which I made a few notes.

Gin 7

Note the picture of the black Labrador on the wall, said to be the reason why it is called the Cambridge Gin “Lab”.

There are various events available including a tailoring option to create a unique gin.

Gim 8

Gin is actually juniper-flavoured vodka. The predominant flavour must be juniper. The juniper “berry” is used (which is technically a cone). No sugar.

The nose of gin is often described as “piney”. Juniper was used for medicinal purposes for a long time. However claims that drinking gin is healthy are sadly untrue.

Gin 9

A monastery used to distil wine and float botanicals in it and used this as a treatment. Drinking this though was not tasty so they started to sweeten it.

Gin 10

Traditional gin was produced in the Low Countries (Dutch) in the 15th Century. Jenever was their name for juniper.

Gin 11

The English fought the Dutch in the 30 years’ war. Soldiers began to be given alcohol before they went into battle – it became referred to as “Dutch courage”.

The English then started to make their own gin. The gin craze was between 1720 and 1751.

This could be thought of as the first drug war. In the poor areas of London 1/3 of households were making and selling gin. However there was lots of methanol left in it which is poisonous. Some sellers cut the result with turpentine which is poisonous.

They were drinking 80% ABV in pints – like beer. They became very addicted.

The Gin Acts 1751 started to legislate gin production.

William Hogarth 1751 creates two paintings Gin Lane is political propaganda intended to encourage people to switch back to beer (Beer Street).

Gin Lane
GinLane

Beer Street
Beer Street - Calle de la cerveza

Beer Street and Gin lane
Beer-street-and-Gin-lane

Gin was still allowed to be drunk however.

The theory is that Hogarth was paid by the beer industry to encourage people to drink beer.

The Gin Act was passed. After crop failures and attempts at alternative beverages – they eventually got better at making gin.

Alcohol fermentation, involving yeast processes on sugar, produces heat, carbon-dioxide and ethanol (together with other alcohols).

ABV (ethanol by volume) the maximum that fermentation achieves is 15% ABV. (You can heat the result to make it stronger).

To distil – put the alcohol in a still – heat it. It starts to boil and evaporate. The outlet tube is cooled in water (it is coiled to increase its surface area).

Simple distillation apparatus

Different compounds boil at different temperatures:
Ethanol 78.4oC
Methanol 60oC (ish)

You track the temperature and collect the low boiling point liquid and dispose of it, this is referred to as the “head”.

You collect the middle boiling point liquid and keep it.

You collect the higher boiling point liquid referred to as the “tails” and dispose of it.

In this way you get to concentrate what you want.

In vodka you remove a lot of the impurities, this produces 96% alcohol. In whisky you keep some impurities by retaining a greater heat range, this affects the flavour.

Gin started to be recognisably gin in the early 19th century – juniper is added during the distillation. Juniper flavour becomes incorporated into the gin.

They also started to use continuous distillation – here a huge still uses plates to draw off the distillate at the correct temperature range.


CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Gin now starts to taste nicer – it becomes fashionable to have unsweetened gin.

London Dry Gin became fashionable – today this is a subcategory of gin.
London Dry Gin started in London but not made there anymore.

It is dry – not sweet – you must use real botanicals – these must go into the distillation pot and not be added afterwards.

Gin – is a shortening of jenever the Dutch for Juniper. Today other botanicals (plants) are used e.g. rose petal, cherry blossom, coriander seed, juniper cone.

These react differently to heat – the heat is high so the botanicals are added at different times – this is like adding ingredients in cooking.

You treat each botanical with the level of heat that suits it. The boiling point is related to atmospheric pressure – reducing pressure reduces the heat needed for boiling.

1 botanical is added at a time – you distil different botanicals. What comes out is not a gin, it is a flavoured distillate. Then you blend the distillates.

However it needs a basis of London dry gin. Therefore you can blend your own gin.

The distillery has 100s of distillates. It is tailoring gin to individuals, bars, and restaurants. You can use delicate things in gin e.g. cucumber.

Hendricks add the flavour afterwards – you can make a lot more gin this way – but not a London Dry Gin.

1 gin run takes 1 hour – there are 4 people in the company.

When we arrived we had a gin to start with which was a standard London Dry Gin with a fever-tree tonic. I rather liked this.

However we also got to use atomisers to spray gin directly into the mouth (well after some practice – the first squirt was directly into my eye). Atomisers contain the same spirit as the demijohns on shelves around the walls. They are used to allow tasting without consuming a lot of gin.

Brands feel it is important to be traditional – to have this as part of their brand.

Wheat is the basis of gin, potato potcheen (Poitín). Gin must be a neutral spirit – the basis does not have to be wheat, however if it is not wheat or potato then this fact must be listed on the bottle. Potato vodka is slightly oilier. Rye is slightly spicier (to a trained palette).

To make comparisons involves a system for tasting gin which needs consistency and needs a standardised language. Tasting is an ability that develops from training & experience. Room temperature is best to identify botanicals.

After the initial gin on entry and trying the atomisers there were 3 gins to try, these were sat on the table protected by glass lids.

The first apparently had rose and violet petals in it. The sequence is first mouth feel – it should feel somewhere between milk and water – medium. I have the palette of a straw bale I established.

There is no sweetness added – when you distil – sugar does not carry over, hence the distillate from pineapple has no sugar. What you can have is associative sweetness – this reminds you of sweet things for example florals gives this effect. (It’s all in the mind in fact).

It also had blackcurrant leaf – which gives a fruity flavour and basil, angelica, rosemary. Angelica is very common in gin – it is slightly spicy. In tasting you want to linger a little not too short.

You don’t have to prefer one that wins awards – as this is a measure of how well it is made rather than if you like it.

The Cambridge Distillery make different gins for different bars – Midsummer House has a herbal garden – we use those herbs in their gin.
Pint shop – Peas Hill we use peas in their gin.
College graduation gins – they forage for flowers in their garden – buy the gin which is unique to that year. Usually you have to go to the venue to taste their unique gin.

Japanese gin has become a retail product (this is the second gin that we tasted).
Nobu in London wanted one. It was made with a team of chefs inspired by botanicals used in Japanese cooking. This is light in intensity, the spirit is the same though. The botanicals are different, Juniper, cucumber, sesame, schiso leaf, almonds (it is marzipany), sanshō pepper (a bit perfumy), yuzu.

Botanicals are affected by the weather and are used seasonally. Each year there are seasonal gins. The ones in spring/summer are lighter. The ones in autumn/winter are more warming.

Each gin is therefore non-re-creatable. 100 bottles of each one are made and these sell quickly.

Autumn/winter gin contains bergamot. It has fennel in it, bergamot, rosemary, blackcurrant leaf, and juniper. It can manage a punchier tonic. They tend to use fever-tree as a good “go to” mixer…

The Dog – the black Lab is the lab dog Gin 12 he/she is why this place is called a gin lab Gin 13.

They capture the lightest 1% of stuff that evaporates referred to as the angel’s share of gin. They have made an angels share gin at £2000 a bottle.

They produced about 6 bottles, all sold quickly.

In addition to the tasting which we attended there is also available:

  • Histories and mysteries of gin session
  • Make your own bottle
  • Themed tastings

Given how great our session was these will also be worth a try.
Afterwards they give you a voucher to try a cocktail in the bar next door (accessible underground). The bar is on Trinity Street.

This is at 2648 Cambridge. Great cocktails which may make you want to stay.

As I say take the bus there…

Gin 14

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Prezzo St Neots

When: 01-01-2017

Where: Prezzo St Neots

Price: Free – it was a gift

Review: I find Prezzo to be reliably good whenever I go there

Tip: Wise to book – it can get busy prior to film showing times as the cinema is next door.

This is an old blog post that never got put in the correct place. This dates from a time when I saw the future as reviewing those experiences I was able to take in.

Shortly afterwards I determined that the time for the experiences took away from the time for writing the blog.

This and a few like it will have to stand as memories of that aim.

The last such post is here: https://magic-phil.co.uk/2017/02/20/fifty-special-things-thanh-binh-restaurant-cambridge/.

I had concluded that I would write no further reviews. That was until fellow blog writer Anthony reminded me that the 50 Special Things did not officially have an end. Two years later it would now be 52 special things in any case so I have plenty to review.

You can catch Anthony here: http://unofficialcambridgefilmfestival.blogspot.co.uk/ or tweet him here https://twitter.com/theagentapsley

It had been a few months since my resolution to fill my 50th year with as many fun things as was feasible.

The visit to Prezzo St Neots was my suggestion. http://www.prezzorestaurants.co.uk/restaurant/st-neots/

The purpose: to celebrate my 50th birthday with my family. The event was coming somewhat after the actual birthday date.

If one believes in horoscopes I was born under the sign of Libra. (Which should give you a clue).

The original resolution for “50 special things” was before my birthday in a meeting with my counsellor . (However it was embellished on my birthday whilst eating in a resort restaurant with my two friends Jacqui and Jon. (We were in Gaya in Malaysia). I suspect in some not too distant blog entry details of that will emerge.

The idea of 50 special things was to dispel the belief that a birthday is limited to one day per year. Limiting celebrations in this way is likely to be disappointing. Allowing the celebrations to last all year circumvents that problem.

The idea came through talking to my counsellor. In my experience counsellors are often the source of great advice.

I’m certain that not all great recommendations come from counsellors but in my experience many of the good ones do.

This is quite an awesome responsibility when deciding to embark upon the journey towards being a counsellor. (How do you come up with these good ideas).

As a volunteer counsellor myself I am not certain that I can measure up to that expectation.

A 50th birthday celebration at Prezzo. This was in the hope that gluten-free means less stomach aches the following day.

Prezzo have a pretty extensive gluten-free menu (other restaurants take note). This menu means that I have eaten there many times.

St Neots is the usual Prezzo venue due to the familiarity I have with eateries there. (I live within easy driving distance of St Neots).

(I seem to be a creature of habit who would like to be a creature of adventure).

Prezzo is usually a place that is highly-populated due to its proximity to the St Neots cinema. It has a hubbub akin to a football stadium.

New Year’s Day and all I needed was to sleep (after a night in an Indian restaurant – the site of our New Year’s Eve celebrations).

Prezzo 1

An Indian restaurant some bottles of wine a need for sleep the day after. (To anyone of average intellect that would not have been surprising).

So I am sat half-asleep in a restaurant with a surprisingly muted hubbub. Perhaps I was not alone in my post Chilean wine indulgence.

New Year’s Day certainly seemed to bring a falloff in demand for Prezzo culinary expertise.

It was hard to get enthusiastic when consumption of unsuitable food the night before meant a tsunami stomach ache. Besides enough gas to replenish the North Sea pipeline.

Prezzo 2

Despite this malaise I noticed that the service (by three waitresses) was excellent. They seemed to cope with a deficit of staff (no doubt brought on by the holiday season) without noticeable decline in delivery or positivity.

For some reason the menu was not filling me with joy (as it has on previous occasions). I wondered if there had been a recent redesign or possibly it was feeling green that did it.

When you’re trying to avoid incompatible-with-IBS foods risotto is usually a good standby. That is apart from those establishments that insist all risotto must contain peas.

Prezzo 3

Peas are great if you fancy spending a day or so on your own fumigating a greenhouse. With a stomach that feels like a space hopper with an overweight and restless kid on it.

Sadly my choice was only slightly less tolerable as it contained leek. Leek is fantastic for post-food onion-orientated fragrances (as beloved by no one).

King prawn risotto following a starter of gluten-free bread with balsamic onion dressing. I love onion but onion wages outright war on me. It starts with the intestines and continues on down.

For an IBS-sufferer like me rice and gluten-free gets my recommendation.

Fortunately I have not developed a dairy-intolerance. If you are unable to take the cheese in the risotto there are a few gluten free pastas. I do not tolerate tomato well so eat these when I’m feeling quite well before hand.

Prezzo 4

Desserts of ice cream are well-tolerated by me (with peppermint tea). (This means I get to socialise otherwise going out would be taxing – finding foods that don’t make me ill.)

After all of these precautions I opted for the chocolate drink. In my defence I read recently that dark chocolate helps stay the commencement of Alzheimer’s. (Dementia has been a theme in my family).

Prezzo 5

I would recommend Prezzo as a place to go if like me you tend to tolerate some foods poorly. The menu gives some options that I don’t see at other nearby restaurants.

Although Prezzo is busy the service tends to be swift. The staff are pleasant despite having a huge number of tables to attend upon.

I tend to visit this restaurant every few months. So far the only down side is that the background volume in there can get elevated. In other respects I choose Prezzo over the alternatives.

 

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Fifty Special Things – Thanh Binh Restaurant Cambridge

When: 03-11-2016 and 10/01/2016

Where: Thanh Binh Vietnamese Restaurant, 17 Magdalene Street, Cambridge CB3 0AF, United Kingdom
Tel: 01223 362 456
Email: info@thanhbinh.co.uk/thanhbinhcambridge@gmail.com http://www.thanhbinh.co.uk/

Price: Free first time (50th birthday present), £20 second time

Review: Excellent Staff. A tiny place in which to treat yourself.

Tip: If you want to drink take your own wine – small corking charge applies.

Next in the task to have 50 great things happen in my 50th year.
See the previous account in this series:
https://magic-phil.co.uk/2017/02/12/fifty-special-things-brampton-wood/.

A suggestion from a counsellor and a great suggestion. Why does the celebration end with the birthday – why can’t it carry on all year?

One reason is making enough time available to do the things in life that you always wished to do.

The next is that, having achieved this hoary old age, remembering all the dreams that you once had becomes a lot less easy.

However I have taken this up like a new religion and so I am trying to make fifty great things happen before I am fifty one.

I think of this restaurant as being on Bridge Street. On the first visit it was a treat from my sister and had that air of specialness that comes from being the focus of attention. My sister drove me to Cambridge and I walked with her to the restaurant with the normal Phil air of complete obliviousness to geography.

On the second visit I was with people from work and I told them to meet me on Bridge Street at the bridge. Only to find the restaurant is on Magdalene Street and the meeting place was a bit beyond the restaurant. (The restaurant is up near the traffic lights and St Giles Church more than down near the Cam).

Of course people have become used by now to my species of woolly-headedness and so after some leg pulling we set off back up the hill.

The restaurant has online booking and in contrast to some places I have tried in the past it is effective. I had confirmation within a few hours of registering interest in a table for four. It is also a relief that having entrusted the booking to mouse and keyboard when I attended they were expecting me.

I had attended with my sister and brother in law for an after-50th birthday meal at the beginning of November. (I was in Borneo for my actual Fiftieth birthday. Accounts of which will be in this blog in the not too distant future). We had a great time in November.

It was with this fond memory that I had recommended it to a couple of friends from work. I was confident in the place: in that it was enjoyable; I wouldn’t have to fight my way through hordes of eager eaters, and the staff were courteous and attentive.

Importantly I would be able to find stuff for me to eat. Given I have IBS (and have a diet slightly less restricted than a vegan) this can make for some entertainment.

Details of the IBS and how it developed will no doubt hit this blog at some point as well.

Of course anything in Cambridge is going to involve some parking negotiations.
When I had come in with my sister she had driven in and very kindly paid for the parking. On that occasion we used the Park Street car park:

https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/park-street-car-park

Not what you’d call cheap, not what you’d call fragrant but had the advantage of being close. I could not recommend much in the way of parking in Cambridge. Cambridge majors on the historic or even quaint but not much on the car city. Bicycle yes, car no.

On the second occasion (taking into account that I am a cheapskate) – after arrival I drove round for some on-street parking. This left a bit of a walk down Castle Hill.

On street parking is a bit of an endangered species in Cambridge. Resident’s parking bays are apparently procreating.

Very soon parking without fee will involve the kind of expedition that would bring a gleam to the eye of Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

It is pointless recommending anywhere because as soon as this blog item is out the parking will have disappeared.

Given the distance from the venue and my encroaching portliness I was late, again.

My two friends were waiting with that patient air of someone who’d dearly like to say “where the hell have you been”. They limited themselves to mentioning that they’d decided to wait at the appointed place.

The bridge is picturesque in that tiny “I wouldn’t have noticed if you hadn’t pointed it out” kind of way. But given the outside temperatures lingering on it was likely to have been diverting for all the wrong reasons.

Despite having attended in November, by the time I attended again in January I had forgotten where it was. A fact that caused some amusement to my companions.
Although not that exceptional for me I have to say.

If you’re as far as the bridge on Bridge Street you need to retrace your steps some way towards the traffic lights. A disconcertingly long way when you can’t remember where the place.

In fact if you are opposite Magdalene College you’re just about there.
Oh and if like me you forgot to look out for it on the way down the hill and walk past it then this is a cue for more ribbing behaviour.

It is tiny.

dsc02789

I felt like I was sitting in the comfort of someone’s front room the whole time I was there.

The staff are friendly and welcoming. In that fashion which does not involve them fussing round you whilst you’re trying to have a conversation.

On each occasion it has been quiet like the low murmur of somewhere refined.

Maybe the more restricted areas of some gentleman’s club but without the wing backed chairs (and the prostitutes).

The first time we took wine to celebrate (they don’t serve wine but allow you to take your own). This is a top tip if you want to drink – they are quite happy for you to bring some.

There’s a small charge for this but cheaper than getting wine in a restaurant I thought.

The drinks available are appealing even if the lack of alcoholic ingredient may deter many.

Although Vietnamese and therefore chopsticks provided as standard fortunately cutlery is available. This is useful considering that I am a Luddite and have the finger dexterity of two large lumps of concrete.

Although chopsticks make a very effective projectile. (As I discovered; I caught one with my sleeve and sent it down to the lower ground floor level – with a resounding clatter which caught everyone’s attention).

The toilet is on the lower ground floor beside the kitchen down a winding staircase. This means having too much to drink is not too great an idea in any case (you might arrive on your backside).

dsc02790

They have both chrysanthemum tea and jasmine tea so I was a bit torn opting for jasmine through habit.

For those who can drink tea which has camellia sinensis in it they have green tea but I saw no evidence of the fermented variety.

The food is to die for and semi IBS friendly. Although I tend to find no matter how careful I am after I go out – being close to some facilities (and away from people) for 24 hours afterwards is a good thing.

The fish I had a couple of times (once on each visit) because I liked it so much. (In a former life I must have been a marine creature given my love of all things seafood).

dsc02792

Mostly you go out for the company. This is a place where you can have a conversation and not have to compete with the hubbub. Neither will you find it necessary to shrink yourself down to a skinny person – to avoid elbows, back or bum intersecting with someone else’s’ eating space.

The first occasion with family was a very uplifting experience – helped by being made a fuss of.

I can’t speak on behalf of my friends but personal view was that the second visit was also a success.

I imagine that at intervals it must become busy and I can’t speak for the experience then. Both occasions where I have attended there hasn’t been need to elbow back the crowds or to join some tiresome queue whilst you “wait to be seated”.

They have some interesting desserts too. Although after my experiences in Malaysia I would not recommend anything containing durian.

They have durian ice cream but after the face shrivelling experience of trying some on an open market in Kuala Lumpur I can’t say I was tempted this time.

The first visit I opted for the standard ice cream which given November wasn’t too shabby temperature-wise just about made sense.

January it turned out was a bit stiffer in its resolve to bring draughty. Everyone agreed dessert was not what we were looking to do.

If you’re coming in and do not fancy car park negotiation one of my companions pointed out that Shire Hall is now pay and display at £1 per hour (at weekends). Compared to some multi storeys this is a disgraceful bargain. But if you’re a cheapskate could be considered ruinous. Consider it a contribution to the good works of the local authority…

I recommend this restaurant for a visit. I’m hoping that my recommendation will not ruin the special atmosphere through increased demand.
Perhaps the thing is to get in quick before the rush starts.

Grafham Fireworks – Grafham Village – 2016

An Unofficial Review

Summary:

When: 05-11-2016
Where: Grafham Village Hall http://www.grafham.org.uk/villagehallhire
Price: £4 per adult, £2 children (free parking) – sparklers £1 for 5
Tip: take something to light sparklers with.

Amazing the number of places who believe that the gunpowder plot was on November 4th. Maybe my memory isn’t so hot but I thought it went “remember remember the 5th of November.”

I had high hopes of attending Kimbolton this year but it turns out the Catholic attempts at shrugging off Protestant repression occurred a whole day earlier than I thought.

Sadly coincidentally with my seeing a couple of counselling clients. (Who (I imagined) might think it a bit rich if I sloped off to catch a few fireworks).

Anyway so it was the 5th and fight my way into Cambridge (and choose between parking in a dinky car sized space or paying an Ivana Trump style fee for leaving my wheels somewhere).

Alternatively something a bit more local and risk fireworks – the impressiveness of which probably wouldn’t disturb the wildlife much.

And so I saw an advert for fireworks at Grafham (piggin’ close), ample on street parking (free) and £4 entry.

This appealed to every cheapskate aspect of my personality.

Of course it is dark around 11am now and this is profoundly disturbing to a large number of motorists I have discovered.

Therefore I was pleasantly surprised when turning off at Great Staughton that we managed a steady 50mph all the way to the Grafham village turn.

The event is surprisingly well subscribed and we joined a convoy on the access road which culminated in the inevitable car park when we reached the village.

However there was a left turn which had something to do with the church – I figured we had legs. The decision turned out to be a good one as we parked just inside the village limits and were followed by lots of other motorists looking for some gridlock respite.

The walk to the village hall had a frisson of excitement as I had no idea where it was. There was general milling around of tired taller people with excitable smaller ones.

Eventually tagging along with a reasonable sized group of smaller people (at a distance I judged appropriate to avoid Rolf Harris accusations) led us out into a well-lit area. Where people were extracting us from our silver and permitting us access in one motion.

It turned out that smaller persons were only £2 so something of a bargain if you have smaller persons that you intend to take.

The field was already looking like the early stages of a concert venue and one person was doing a swift trade in packets of sparklers – something I cannot remember playing with since I was myself a smaller person.

These were the ruinous amount of £1 for a packet of 5 (so we got two packets).
I hadn’t thought to bring lighting devices so sidled over to a man who seemed capable of turning multiple sausages at once on a barbecue that the US airforce would have envied.

We got the first sparkler lit but then instead of enjoying it I spent the remaining time anxiously lighting one after the other from it to ensure we had a means of lighting them.

Phil’s top tip take a cigarette lighter…

By this stage a healthy queue had developed and given the English love of queues I had to participate.

We were queuing beside the QE2 sized barbecue and heading into a village hall so I had strong hopes of tea.

The queue became porous as greater and greater numbers of people poured in and wanted intimate contact with the bonfire. Only accessible apparently by pushing past those queueing.

The night was perishing windy and I was grateful for the surrounding houses which kept the autumnal blast down to merely finger biting proportions.

After an interval – in which some members of the queue had evolved into other life forms – we got inside the door and saw the queue split in different directions.

No tea.

There was a sign saying mulled wine – tempting but no mulled wine was off. Later someone went in for mulled wine from the bonfire and I reflected that they really needed to up the volumes – a lot.

There was hotdog, there was soup, there were baked potatoes.

Hmm decisions decisions big stomach ache or really big stomach ache. (I have IBS so I’m not supposed to eat wheat or potatoes).

So we opted for hotdog, which on a cold autumn night was frankly delicious in fact I had two of them.

£1 each – another Grafham bargain. Volunteers were friendly and in frank amazement at the level of demand – food shifting at a rate of knots. I reassured them by telling them about the car parking demands and likely consequence for their ability to get out at the end. (I’m noted for my helpfulness).

We emerged at the self-same moment the fireworks began with an enormous clap that should have accompanied the London New Year’s celebrations (and not a small fireworks display in a local village).

It was so exciting that out came the iPhone:

limerelight1484476945894.png

 

After far too many pictures and fingers turning the shade of whitewash I had to put gloves on again – never thought iPhone gloves would be of any use till this.
It was spectacular so many bangs you could have made a convincing run at the 1812 overture. So many wees and squeals that a room full of piglets with a megaphone would not have outdone it.

Every time that I thought it was at an end another ffft-pow and a great hailstorm of light followed.

Truly the best £4 I’ve spent of late.

And then the silence of the expiry of a few thousand pounds of fireworks.
Followed by much whooping and cheering from the taller persons assembled.
(Smaller persons engaged with various highly-lit toys including some very impressive light-changing light sabres which I really wanted).

So the crowds headed for the exit like some AC/DC concert exodus.

Reason dictated that the tiny village exit road was now swamped with 4x4s and people carriers so we snuck over close to the dying fire.

Just enough heat to warm the face not quite enough for toasty to properly set in.

After a wait that just saw the worst of the crowds dissipate we headed out.
Every road was a trail of red tail lights – it appeared I was going to get to know the best of Radio 4’s evening entertainment.

However the choice of church lane turned out to have been an inadvertent masterstroke.

Somehow we had parked in an area that had quickly cleared of cars.

A quick turn into the village and it was out on the road we came in on. Not only that but 45mph was a reality – despite the obvious darkness. (There is no understanding the brazen guts of people is there).

So home in minutes – feet up with a glass of something – can’t say fairer than that. A top endorsement from me; if you’re in the area next November…

https://www.facebook.com/GrafhamVillageFireworks