29 February 2008


Having been over to see Pete at the weekend, he's just finished a rather nice shooting board with a couple of attachments so that both long and short mitres (as in a box and a picture frame) can be made. The clever thing as well is that everything is fully adjustable for accurate setting up in case any wear takes place with use of time. All rather clever I think, so I've adapted mine for shooting picture frame mitres but I need to see how Petes' done the other bit...all interesting stuff as it means that one shoot can have multiple uses and so take up a lot less space in the 'shop. Unfortunately I'm without a picture imaging device at the moment so I can't show you what I've done, but hopefully this will be resolved shortly.

23 February 2008

Bimbling, Smoko and Fishie Fingers

Having got back from the Falklands earlier in the week and got myself sorted out, it's about time a little account of the trip was produced. I was quite surprised just how pain free the flight was as the MOD subcontract the airbridge to a 'murrican outfit called OMNI who fly DC10's to the South Atlantic via a stop over at Ascension Island for a crew change and fuel, so it was all quite civilized. The flight in total was about 16 hours, but with lots of free drinks (no booze) and plenty of decent food, I wasn't going to complain, especially as it only cost me £55 each way!! Unfortunately there was a severe weather warning in the Falklands at the time we were due to land, but the pilot had a 'window of opportunity' and decided to take it, so we came in very carefully and landed without mishap...however folk who saw the pilot immediately afterwards commented that he was as white as a sheet and probably needed a change of underwear.
Stepping of the aircraft you're immediately assaulted by the wind, which rarely seems to be blowing less than a Force 5 and is often stronger, so everything that we did outside of Mount Pleasant Area (MPA) was dependant on the wind conditions. If the wind was sufficiently strong then all roads out of MPA were closed to military traffic (apart from duty visits) so that we were stuck on camp for the day and that happened more than once.

Initial reaction to the landscape was one of utter barrenness as it's totally devoid of trees (probably due to the high winds) but after a few days of getting out and about, it grew on me. The serenity and peacefulness of the place needs to be experienced. Several times on good days, I drove up into the mountains, stopped the vehicle and got out...no sign of any other human habitation anywhere and absolute silence all around with the air being crisp and clean...wonder full.

Driving in the Falklands is an experience in itself. On arrival, all passengers from the aircraft (military and civil) have to attend a MT brief given by the Master Driver on the pitfalls of driving around. There are virtually no tarmac surfaces and roads, such as they are, are just gravel chippings or in some cases rough stones about the size of a snooker ball. Needless to say, just about everyone drives around in some sort of 4x4 and there are over 300 Land Rovers at MPA alone and a lot more in Stanley. You are also instructed to drive at all times in the middle of the road (which was very odd to begin with) as a violent cross winds can flip a vehicle onto it's roof which is what happened to the last soldier to die in the Falklands a few of years ago.

I went into Stanley a couple of times and found it to be a pleasant little place, full of painted 'wiggly' tin buildings with brightly coloured roofs. Unfortunately they're now catering exclusively for the cruise ships that regularly call into the harbour, so that prices in the gift shops reflect the influx of the day trippers, in fact just to set foot on the visitors jetty in the town costs each passenger a staggering £38, so multiply that by the visitors on a ship! At Sealion Island the landowner charges £120 per night, per person to stay in a tatty wooden lodge on the beach but she does have the Elephant Seals on her land, so I guess you pays your money...

Any excursion outside MPA is a 'bimble', a unique military term for the uninitiated for which you need a 'bimble chit' and if lunch is needed for the day then you can obtain a 'bimble bag' from the Junior Ranks mess. I was lucky enough, depending on your point of view, to sample the culinary delights of 'Biscuits Brown' on one occasion...don't ask! I stayed in a room at MPA near the Sargent's Mess which is where everyone on my grade ate...food wasn't too bad, with plenty of it and best of all...free! The very worst thing though, was the absence of fresh milk. It was that awful UHT stuff that tastes rancid in your tea, so I went without milk in tea and had it black for a couple of weeks so it was fabulous to come home and have a brew with some proper milk.

One of the bimbles I did on my own was out to Darwin, Goose Green and San Carlos. I went up to San Carlos and had a look at Blue Beach where the landings during the Conflict took place. It's a very quiet and peacefull place now and the cemetery is beautifully kept... very, very difficult to imagine what it must have been like in '82. The Argie cemetery was also worth looking at and I have to say that it's probably one of the most desperatly sad places to visit that I've ever been to. Of all the graves there, only a few have names (lack of name tags), all the others are 'known unto God' and I have it on good authority that most of these graves just contain body parts. Even the sign to their cemetery is just a coupe of bits of old angle iron stuck in the roadside with a plaque held on by some rusty wire...I was very glad to leave and go on down to Darwin House, past the memorial to 2 Para on top of the hill, for 'smoko' which is a traditional Falklands expression for tea and buns, consumed round about 11.00 am or mid-afternoon so it was all very pleasant.
On the subject of the Conflict, I went on an organised walk of Mt Harriet which was attacked and taken by 42 Commando. The visit was lead by Lt Fay Meddleycot of the RA and was a real insight into the conditions on top. The whole place is littered with Argie debris, tent poles, ponchos, burnt out equipment and rusting weaponry. The wind on that particular day was truly awful and almost blew me off my feet at the top, so I've got some sympathy for the poor bloody Argies stuck at the top the mountain for about four weeks during the Falklands winter...and then having the realization that the Commando's were coming for them.

I went to a couple of lectures given by John Smith at MPA who's lived there for about 45 years or so. He and his family decided to stay in Stanley during the Argentine occupation and his tale was a fascinating account from the 'inside looking out' (his expression). There's much literature written about the Conflict but he's produced the only book written by someone who was there at the time in Stanley, and guess what...I've got a signed copy of 74 Days.

One of the real highlights of the trip was to see the wildlife...absolutely fantastic! I saw so many penguins and I think they'll never fail to delight me as they are just so funny to watch in their environment. I especially liked the Gentoos who are very inquisitive little birds. On one occasion I hunkered right down on the beach and one little chap came to within about 200mm of my outstretched fingers as he obviously thought that they might be a tasty little fishy morsel and was quite happy to have a dainty peck at them. Just off the beach there were dolphins playing in surf... an amazing sight to see. We also had a 'chopper trip over to Saunders Island to see the albatross chicks sitting on their pod nests, what a sight! They are completely grey, very big as well as being very fluffy. They have no fear of humans at all and just make a peculiar 'clopping' noise with their beaks when you get within about 600mm of them, which is very easy to do.
We also had a two day excursion to Cape Dolphin where there are a couple of colonies of Southern Sealions and what magnificent beasts they are. With some care I was able to get to within about 2 metres before they got a spooked somewhat and retreated a bit further down the beach, but again, the spot is so remote and difficult to access that very few people see them so they have very little fear of man. During that trip we stayed overnight at one of the lodges on a farm and Ben the landowner said that he could provide us with a lamb roast dinner for when we arrived, to which we agreed. Expecting a small half leg of lamb (for two people) such as you might get from Tescos I was more that shocked and surprised to haul out of the oven a quarter of a sheep, ribs, shoulder, the complete works, accompanied by spuds and cabbage. The only thing we forgot to bring was the mint sauce, fortunately we took along a case of Grolsch so things were quite comfortable that night!
So was it all worth it? My view is that once acclimatised and desensitised to the weather conditions it was and experience not to be missed, but I think the best bit was that Gentoo who thought he was going to get a free meal...great stuff. Oh, and by the way, the workshop now has a new red triangular sign...it just says MINES!

03 February 2008

Up and Away

To say I was a bit 'twiched up' on Friday was a bit of an understatement 'cos I'd been waiting for the 'call-forward' instruction from the Falklands. Until that call is recieved, the seat on the aircraft is never certain as it only takes a couple of extra confimed bookings and your seat has disappeared. Well, much to my huge relief, the call came on Friday at 2-30 so I'm off to Brize Norton tonight at 6pm ready for the midnight flight.

I had a fabulous day last Thursday when three of us (me, Pete and Paul) met over at Pete's place for what could be described as the first 'Bash' of the new season...a great day had by all with lovely food provided by Pam. We were playing around with scrapers for a lot of the day in Pete's shop and I was hugely impressed with the Veritas No80 that Paul had brought along. This is a much improved version of the old Stanley original of which I've owned a couple in the past. I could never though, get them to work properly, maybe due to the shape of the casting...who knows. Anyway, the Veritas version is light years better than the original, so the next day I ordered one from CHT and it came on Saturday, so after a little bit of blade prep on the Spyderco 10000g stone and a quick turning of the burr on the edge, I had it taking off whispy thing shavings of some difficult and cranky grained elm, so I guess it's going to be a very valuable addition to the hand tools in the 'shop.

I also made the back panel framework yesterday for the Elm Cabinet, which went together well and was the first time that I'd been able to use the new LN mortice chisels...they certainly are good to use. I also used the big 25mm bevel edged LN for the first time (even thought the back needs a bit more work on it) and I was very impressed with it...seems to have a lot of 'presence', difficult to explain but I think it may become one of my most used chisels in the rack, especially for cutting things like tenon shoulders, which is what I was using it for yesterday.

I just need now to make sure that everything's oiled in the 'shop and then I'll be able to give all the tools a cuddle before locking the door for a couple of weeks...how sad is that?