Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Starting a 2.2 Dti Vauxhall Frontera - don't go to Halfords

In keeping with the spirit of the plans for the great travelogue tour of England the crises keep coming. Some of you might have read about the work I had done on the Truck in recent weeks. I've had a dealer service from the main Vauxhall dealer and I've had the enthusiasts change the vacuum tubes and clean out the inlet manifold. They did a sterling job removing a mass of black oily gunk and that seems to make it run very smooth now.

However, since the inlet manifold was cleaned I've had intermittent starting problems. It would start first time, as it always has done, but it would run really lumpy for a few seconds then die. It would then take ages of turning over before it would finally start with lots of smoke. I know the smoke is the unburned fuel as it's turning over but I can't identify why it dies after the first time of starting. I took it to the nice man at Fort Horsted and he's changed the glow plugs. (He said he's replaced one of them but looking at them today they all look quite new.) But still it's not starting properly.


So today, on the day of departure, it died again and took ages to restart. Suspecting the battery I took it to the guys at the local motorists shop, Motorway Belts, and it was declared good. The guy at the shop could easily have sold me a new one and I'd have known no better, but it seems he was an honest man. (That is in contrast to the oik at Halfords least year who tried to tell me that my battery was knackered when I was investigating an unrelated issue. Just remember the name folkes, Halfords. I'll say it again Halfords. Halfords, Halfords, Halfords! The oik at Halfords, almost a year ago told me that my battery was knackered yet today it was given a clean bill of health. Halfords, in case anybody didn't get the message. He wanted to charge me 120 quid for a new one. Halfords!)


Anyway, I'm now wondering what else I could check, considering I have just a few hours before the off. This all started happening after the inlet manifold was disturbed but I can't see it being related to that as the guys at Fort Horsted had it off again and presumably they would have seen if there was a problem, and if there was they would have put it right. (Vauxhall Frontera owners feel free to make suggestions, 2.2 Dti B series.)


Anyway, I'm going anyway… Watch this space.

Monday, 29 April 2013

One day and counting...

So it's one day to go before the off on the great travelogue tour. It nearly went pear-shaped when I realised that the bank hadn't sent me the new cash card as promised three weeks ago. Fortunately the phone company guy spotted it as I was making sure it wouldn't get cut off while I'm away. (The things I do for my lodgers, eh, but do they notice?) Anyway, I have to pickup the new card on the way around some time in May at a branch only to be revealed after I have picked it up. Otherwise the crises have come and gone during the day and seem to be resolved.

Tuesday will be spent packing and loading the car ready for a start at an ungodly hour ready to arrive in Oxford by 6am Wednesday (May Morning) to hear the choir sing in the tower of Magdalen College and then go on to see what I hear might be the last ever performance of the Hurly Burly Early-in-the-Morning Band. Or at least I hear the front man is leaving town so I wonder if that puts future performances in doubt. Let's hope the tradition is stronger than one individual as all good traditions are.

See you there if you can make it.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Nervous times before the off

There is now less than a week to go until I set off for 39 days camping in the 39 historic counties of England. To be honest this last week has had me just a bit terrified, if it’s possible to be a bit terrified. One might imagine that being terrified is an all or nothing situation, perhaps it's digital rather than analogue. Anyway, I digress... as usual.


After the last blog, where I had the Truck looked at by the fine chaps of the Vauxhall Frontera owners, I’ve been a bit nervous about it all falling apart (okay I suppose being a bit nervous means I probably wasn’t wholly terrified). That’s the trip falling apart not the Truck, though that may be what you think as this post unfolds.

The owners group did some sterling work on the Truck, changed the vacuum tubes (whatever vacuum tubes do) and cleaned out the inlet manifold. (I can tell you with certainty that if you ever own a 15 year old Vauxhall Frontera that’s done about 120,000 miles it’s well worth getting this done, as even your Vauxhall main dealer won’t know about the need for a clean-up, my main dealer certainly didn’t and they still charged me 200 quid for a service!) So the guys cleaned out the oily gunk that had been stopping the truck breathing properly and it ran much better, even using less fuel. However, in the two weeks since I’ve had an electrical problem and an intermittent starting problem that has had me on edge about the whole project.

When you think about it, going away from home for a little over six weeks is a bit beyond the norm, though I’m sure many people have done it and some go travelling for years. Usually they are young with parents at home, on the other hand I’m considerably longer in the tooth and my domestic arrangements differ somewhat. I’ve worked in other parts of the country and in Europe for months; even now I’m in Kent during the week which is sometimes a bit like another country when you consider the Dartford crossing and all that. However, I’ve always managed to get home at weekends. Most of us manage a two week holiday every now and then, although personally I prefer to pepper my summers with a series of weekends away, frequently under some sort of nylon construction, often listening to the coolest of counter culture music or involved with people into the weirdest of counter culture philosophies. (I use the word weird advisedly here.) But going off for six weeks is something I’ve never done before so I’ve had to consider the logistics: finances, access to email and Facebook plus any number of unforeseen issues from unexpected bills to watering the plants. Add to all this the fact that the Truck was playing up it seemed the whole project was beginning to look like it was in jeopardy.


However, after an impromptu visit to the nice mechanic at Fort Horsted he checked the work of the Vauxhall enthusiasts and declared it all clean and shiny, but he did discover a guilty glow plug, of the worn out variety. So it seems the Truck is now in good shape and it started as easily as ever this morning. Therefore, things are looking better and I’m feeling a lot more positive about the project. Now all I need is for the Met Office to stop predicting snow for next week.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Where will Mars exploration lead us?

There’s talk in the media about missions to Mars, there has been ever since the moon landings 40 years ago. How would we fund such a trip, would we be able to overcome the technological and psychological obstacles? These are all issues that now have potential solutions. Mars One is a project that hopes to use reality TV funding to raise the cash.

So the audition (sorry selection) process will be televised (as will the revolution but that's a different story). Their web site states “The online application will consist of general information about the applicant, a motivational letter, a resume and a one minute video in which the applicant answers some given questions and explains why he or she should be among the first humans who set foot on Mars.”  I might even apply myself, surely a dissipated, middle aged writer with poor eyesight and a dodgy beard would be just what they need. What’s the worst that can happen, I get rejected? Hey, I’m a struggling writer, I’m used to rejection.


The process continues with the obligatory medical checks but round three is the most telling. “This round is the national selection round, which could be broadcast on TV and internet in countries around the world. In each country, 20-40 applicants will participate in challenges that demonstrate their suitability to become one of the first humans on Mars. The audience will select one winner per country and Mars One experts will select additional participants to continue to round four.” So it really is possible to see the selection  process turning into an audition and once the public becomes involved we are talking about the full Big Brother experience. Will the first colonists of other worlds be the most beautiful and handsome? Will the first children born on other planets have square jaws, perfect clear skin and the blondest of hair? Presumably the broadcast will continue right to the point where they land on Mars, build their settlement and begin their existence on the red lifeless waste that will be their new home for the rest of their lives.

We might imagine how their daily lives, of survival decisions and scientific experimentation, are influenced by ratings. Will there be a behind the scenes struggle between the directors of the scientific programme and the media division, with the associated back stabbing and scandal? This would make a great plot for a film or TV series. In fact I think the film might already have been made and I think there was a series with a similar background. The series was cancelled, I seem to remember, because the real world accountants pulled the plug when ratings didn't take off. So what happens when the audience figures for the real Mars landings drop off? Actually, when you consider it, it would be self-sustaining as lack of audience figures would put their funding at risk, which would put their lives at risk, and their audience would increase with the likelihood of disaster. They would be on a constant knife edge though. (Comparisons to Columbus might break down when you consider he wasn’t reliant on a constant stream of funding from his supporters in Europe to ensure he had survival resources on board ship or in the new world.)


But this is where the big issue arises. When the inevitable disaster happens, when they have a catastrophic failure, or worse, a slow demise due to some equipment failure that can't be resolved in the eight months it takes to resupply, how much will be televised? Doubtless the media will debate the fact that this is what they might have expected and as such the colonisers/stars would want it to be broadcast, it's in their contract, after all the royalties will go to their families after their death.

The first Dutch Big Brother programme in 1999 was a game changer and this will be too (it’s interesting to note that the first Big Brother series was in Holland where the Mars One project has its base). The spread of Big Brother and other reality TV concepts in the first years after the millennium changed what we considered to be acceptable in the media in general and so will Mars One. Once we see people in daily peril for the sake of audience figures disguised as exploration, how long will it be before live reality TV is used as a funding source for other risky activities? Will it then become acceptable to film the death of participants in extreme situations? Hell let’s take people and film them while they risk their lives for big cash prizes, they sign a release form so there’s no risk to the producers at least. Come to think of it, this would make a good plot for a film.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Countdown to May Morning

Things are moving ahead on the plan to go off around the country to write a Travelogue about spending a night in each of England's 39 historic counties. I'm trying to get everything in place ready to head off into deepest England on May 1st. To that end this is my first blog post using the tablet without intervention from any other computer (not to mention without intervention from a spell checker as Android apps seem sadly lacking in that respect).

I've been testing apps for Facebook and Twitter with varying degrees of satisfaction but this is my first attempt at anything like serious writing. When I come to write the actual manuscript it'll be interesting.
In other related news I spent Saturday in Norwich with members of the East Anglian Region of the Frontera Owners Group who did a sterling job of preparing The Truck for what is expected to be something like a 2000 mile journey. The inlet manifolds were in a terrible state and it's running much better now. Still a few minor issues to sort out and I may have to invest in a new battery but hopefully in the next couple of weeks that should all be sorted out.

Watch this space, it all starts to happen from here on. I need to buy a rug for the tent and sort out a few other details and then on May 1st it's off to Oxford for the May Morning celebrations; the Magdalen Choir in the tower of Magdalen College, Morris Men and Jack in the Green all over and the Hurly Burly Whirly Early-in-the-Morning Band on the steps of the Clarendon Building. That should give me something to write about in the first chapter.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Who would stay at work anyway?

Some weeks ago, in my day job writing for big companies about things I'd rather not write about, an idea was hatched. We had just started a lottery syndicate and the inevitable conversations resulted about what we would do if we won. After someone else's insinuation that I would buy a luxury tent with my millions (don't ask, it'll soon be apparent) one of the ever hopefuls in the office suggested the idea of buying a Winnebago to tour the country. Driving back around the M25 that afternoon it occurred to me that such an idea wasn't really that ambitious and that I didn't really need a lottery win to do it; have tent will travel and all that.

The plan, then, is to set out on May 1st, with the intention of spending the night in each county of England, and write a travelogue while I'm at it. I'm not going to describe the plan in too much detail as you'll have to buy the book, but suffice to say that it'll take six weeks for 39 counties. (They didn't want me to take the time off from the dreadful job but I think they realised that I'd have chucked it in if I'd not been allowed the time off.)

afoot and month

So plans are afoot and a month from now I'm off to parts of the country I've never visited. I'm still thinking about what I'll put on this blog or reserve for the book but I'll probably work that out day by day. I've been testing Facebook and Twitter apps on a tablet so no doubt I'll post some sort of news as I go along. Here's episode two

Travelogue blog two