Classic cars


The short version (a tanka)

river’s melody
embraced by guardian hills
a chaffinch sings
the mad bull sinks into us
relishing the peace he brings

The longer version

Perfect spot

No mobile telephone signal, no radio signal, no internet, just the singing of the river outside the door and the birds. Bliss! We’re in Borrowdale, more exactly on the banks of the river Derwent near the hamlet of Stonethwaite.

A chaffinch, dressed to kill, perches on a branch no more than two arm’s lengths from our door and entices a lover with a melody composed in heaven.

One tree has plucked feathers from the birds …

The freshest green of early Spring bleeds from the blasted trees and the long greened-over molehills and boulders. One tree has plucked feathers from the birds and transformed them into more fresh Spring green as they shower towards the rushing water below.

Priorities correct, two ‘glasses’ of red wine, ‘Toro Loco’ of course, Tempranillo and Bobal wrung from grapes in his far away homeland, stand beside two hastily erected chairs, prepared to catch the last of the sun as it sinks below the highest hilltop to the west. My VW ‘summer’ t-shirt is perfect for the occasion as we eat chicken thighs and pork chops, cooked at home, with salad, and mashed potatoes from a packet.

It’s surprisingly warm here, no cold blast as in the town, Keswick, where we stopped for a warming coffee, there being no heating in Lofty, our forty five year old VW camper. Petronela insisted on buying me a pair of trousers reduced from £60 to £14.95. It reminds me of my mother, RIP, who could never resist a ‘bargain’ whether it was something needed or not. We give Lofty an affectionate pat for having brought us here, the final approach along a pitted narrow track threatening, with one slight wrong move to the left, to tip us down into the riverside area designated for camping. Petronela gives a warning bleat, joining the sheep on the surrounding slopes. I tell her to keep quiet while I concentrate; there’s only a couple of inches on either side.

“We’ll be putting a few more stones down before the season,” the farmer tells me when he comes to collect the £5 per adult per night, clearly having received one or two complaints from the two or three modern car drivers who have ventured here. “Don’t bother for us,” I say, “he (gesturing to Lofty) relishes tracks like that.”

We go to sleep with the birds at eight o’clock, envying no one in the five star hotels and Michelin starred restaurants ringing the lake only a couple of bird calls away.

§

Two chatty great tits sound the alarm at 5.30am. I take a quick look through one open eye, enjoying their chatter. Another single open eye meets mine. “Go back to sleep! I don’t want coffee yet,” emerges from some hidden depth in the sleeping bag. I do as I’m ordered.

An hour and a half later the tits are insistent; eleven hours sleep is enough they say. I make the coffee. I eat the raw oats and milk which has been my breakfast Monday to Saturday, with rare exceptions, for half a century.

About a quarter, or less, of the way up. Lofty the camper is the tiny white speck you see between the trees on the right.

“I want to see if I can climb up to that point between the two peaks,” I say. I’m amazed when P says we can try. She gave up on a much lower, and easier, climb on the Cat Bells last year. The first part of today’s climb, maybe to a quarter of the way up or less, was not helped a lot by some rudimentary steps alongside a rushing mountain stream. The steps have obviously been unused for many a year; in disrepair and unstable they were probably more dangerous than any unmarked route. Before they petered out P said she was going no further.

Petronela at the point she gave up. My target is the dip in the skyline to her left.

I debated whether to go on alone as with no phone signal a turned ankle could be a real problem. However, I was determined to take advantage of my new lease of life so continued. I learned later that P waited an hour for me then came back to the van. I didn’t make it quite to the top; I saw rain advancing up the valley so decided it was sensible to turn back. We are in the rainiest place in England. Nevertheless, I was happy that I had been able to get that far; six months ago I could not have attempted a fifth of that height, even on a reasonable track (regular readers will know that I’ve had, still have, some serious health problems). As usual, although requiring far less energy, the descent was far more difficult than the ascent. I arrived back at Lofty 4.1/4 hours after leaving him. P said I was crazy. I said “What’s new?”

The pub

I said no WiFi and that was true down the valley where we are parked. But we decided in the evening to walk the 15 minutes to the local pub, The Langstrath Country Inn, for some soup and to sample the local brew. It has WiFi so I’ve uploaded this post so far though I will not finish it till we’re home tomorrow. A roaring open log fire completes the joy. My legs are killing me but I’m hoping that a couple of pints of an extraordinary brew, Keswick Special, dark with a hint of sweetness, will get me home (or sleeping with the sheep in the field).

The soup was superb, celeriac and white wine. Thick, tasty and filling, with some great ‘black’ bread. Not cheap, nor the beer, but we’re past caring about the price.

I made it past the sheep, ate some salata de boeuf left over from the Easter ‘feast’ with the remains of the Toro Loco and was soon asleep, though the beer had me up two or three times in the night. Fortunately we have a loo in Lofty so I didn’t really wake up, just as well as it felt like I’d been beaten all over with sticks.

§

Friday morning, 7am, and still feels like I’ve been beaten all over but, coffee made, I’m feeling great. No chaffinch this morning unless he was here earlier and didn’t wake me. A brief visit from a robin who said good morning then departed. It’s been raining in the night and there’s quite a wind this morning with some ominous clouds, though it’s not cold. The valley in which the hamlet of Stonethwaite sits (the road ends at the pub, the track to nowhere continues past the campsite) has its own micro climate and I expect it’s a lot colder elsewhere. Maybe we’ll have a leisurely breakfast and set off for home if the visibility isn’t too good.

It’s raining. So what?

At 9am the Derwent Fells to the north west (beyond the end of the valley) have disappeared in rain and cloud and it’s raining quite hard here now. P’s eyes are grey, not blue, this morning, which means rain for sure. She jumps in the river. Now who’s crazy? Reluctantly we pack up, check Lofty’s oil, and are away at 10.45.

§

2.15pm and we’re home. It’s sunny; a large gin and tonic is easing the pain. Just got to sort out some pictures then post this.

The author, Christmas morning 2016, with smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and champagne breakfast.

Breakfast, Christmas 2016

I’ve been following Cristian Mihai’s blog almost since I began blogging approaching five years ago. I was first attracted to it because of the excellent writing in English by a Romanian, having taught English in Romania for around a decade. Since then I’ve found other Romanian blogs written in excellent English covering one or more of the wide diversity of topics you would find on mine, which as followers will know, breaks one or two cardinal rules if you want a lot of followers: posting frequently, even daily, and sticking to a theme. As I also speak and read Romanian pretty well, though I’ve never cracked writing it well, I now follow quite a few Romanian blogs posting in just Romanian or both Romanian and English, though I was sad to see that after my long absences several seem to have ceased to blog.

I used to post fairly frequently, though never every day, but some serious health issues two and a half years ago meant that posting became very erratic, particularly as I was also attempting to keep up with editing, and blogging on, a site I created for the Yorkshire village in which I live.

Our 'music corner' at home, showing tv with Vienna New Year concert 2017, panpipes sitting on the Yamaha 'piano'

Vienna New Year concert 2017

So followers may well find me writing on any one of my major hobbies – music, photography (on film); food and cooking; my efforts at writing fiction or ‘poetry’, as distinct from journalism (which was my profession), and our local writers’ club formed and run here in Wharfedale by a Romanian (!); classic cars particularly my mini and vw camper; and a few others. Or my major hobby-horses which include: discrimination in any of its many forms; the beauty of Romania, it’s people, traditions and food, particularly my love affair with the Bucovina; the idiocy of politicians; my experiences with our superb National Health Service and its staff here in the UK and the determination of those in charge of it and successive Governments to destroy it; habitual use of certain ‘four letter words’; and again, a few others, including scrambled eggs! (I know, overuse of exclamation marks but perhaps merited here 😉 ).

So, you have been warned; I am not taking up Cristian’s reblogging offer to find a lot more followers, but just to give him a bit of support. Hence this introductory blog which will be the first I’ll be asking him to reblog. After that, perhaps a few of my past blog posts then one or two new ones.

This facility must surely be invaluable to those younger than me who wish to get better known and maybe make a bit of money out of their writing so it would be very sad to see it not continue. I have no such ambition. I write because I like to write – that’s all.

lettersTrying to get back into regular ‘personal’ blogging I have the dilemma of what to blog about – skipping from food and cooking to another hobby, eg photography, writing, classic cars, or varied hobby horses, etc, as I used to do – or stick to one topic, as advised by the blogging gurus. I’ve decided on the former, for the moment. It suits me. I am working up to a cooking one soon, in which I’ll be asking for advice from the many brilliant cooks I follow, but today here’s something completely different, though it was brought on by a guest post from Joanne Gennard on the Ilford blog ‘Best in Black and White’.

Memories brought flooding back

When my mother died several years ago I found that she had kept letters which I wrote to her during my time in Romania. Many friends have suggested I should turn them into a book; though I wasn’t sure about that, I did promise myself that ‘one day’ I would save them in another, more widely accessible, form by scanning them and storing them also digitally. I have never looked at them until the past few days and, when I found them, assumed that she had kept all the letters, from March 1993 to mid-2004. Having recently been reminded forcefully that I am not immortal I decided to do something about it. Having read about a quarter of the letters, I’m so glad I have started the job: there is so much that I had forgotten which I’ve been delighted to be reminded of – eg, experiences with the many children I taught, for example the ‘Bunnies’, a delightful special needs class, pictured on the right (some of them have featured before, in a post on 27 January 2013) and even experiences at the start of my relationship with my wife leading up to New Year’s Eve (her birthday) 1999. We married in 2000.

ltr2-toner_ed

Not a letter but included with a letter to show my mother something about my internet projects and show her a picture of a class of delightful special needs children I worked with. I could not print colour then so stuck on a colour photo.

Sorting through the packet a few days ago, I found that the earliest letter is from over four years after I arrived in Romania, when they began to be written on ‘computer’ and printed. The many before, written by hand on what I seem to remember were called ‘aerograms’ are not there, not one. Why the printed ones were saved, but the handwritten ones not, I cannot explain.

Simple OCR

One of the reasons I had never got around to the task was that I thought I would have to transcribe from handwriting. No excuse now, I thought, as OCR (optical character recognition) should make the job easier. I’ve also found that it can be done in a much more relaxed manner than using a scanner and computer, by using an iPad and a great free ‘app’ called ‘Doc Scanner + OCR’. It takes a while to figure out how to work it but once that hurdle is jumped it is very good. It is not happy when the printing to be scanned is light, ie a pale grey, but really excellent when the type is a strong black. I’m still working on that, and on getting reasonably even lighting across the page being scanned.

scansetup_edFor my first attempts I just put a sheet of typing on the floor and handheld the iPad over it. It was quite difficult to hold the iPad steady enough and parallel to the sheet so I’ve now made a simple jig by carving up a suitably sized cardboard box (pictured). The zoom slider in the latest iPad OS camera is a big help in getting the image to the optimum size.

Once scanned and converted to text, I’m copying it and pasting into another free app called Pages, in which it is easy to edit (the OCR conversion is good but never perfect). Pages is another really great app which I use a lot, for everything from writing letters to drafting blog posts. Finally I’m backing it up to Dropbox and my ‘Personal Cloud’ as a pdf. When I’ve completed all the letters I’ll print them out.

I might even make a book 😉 .

Little did I know then, 1953, when a play I wrote with a neighbour was performed as part of the street celebrations for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, that I would spend most of my adult life writing professionally as a journalist. To my knowledge it was the second piece of fiction I wrote, the other being a fanciful short story written a few years before. Sadly (for me) neither script nor story have survived, though I remember the latter concerned a robin under the Mersey tunnel (I think it was ‘inspired’ by a choir – St Peter’s, Saltaire – trip to Liverpool)!

Black and white photo of cast of play written by me and Betty Chapman (the witch in the picture) and performed by children living on Albert Avenue for 1953 Coronation street party

Kids from Albert Avenue, Shipley, W Yorkshire, UK, dressed for the play I (wizard, left, back) and Betty Chapman (the witch, right, back) wrote and performed for the street party celebrating the 1953 Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. My two younger brothers (Bob) played ‘the king’ and a page (Rodney, left, front). Unfortunately my mother, who could have identified the others, is no longer with us.

Still writing. Busy this weekend with a report on the Village Show (Menston, Yorkshire), with photos, to do for the local paper, write the Menston page I do for a monthly local magazine, and also report the show on the village website I edit:

http://menstonvillagewharfedale.com

While the show judging takes place, I’ll pop over the moor to a meeting of a ‘Writers Club’ in nearby Ilkley (of “baht ‘at” fame), set up, would you believe, by a young Romanian lady – Ruxandra – who now lives in the UK. She sometimes prompts us to write at these meetings or sets us a short story theme to write on for the following week’s meeting, though this week it’s just talking.

I hope to get to a post on our 7,000+km VW camper trip to Romania next week.

Lofty, closer to home at the Cow & Calf rocks, Ilkley

Lofty, 10 mins from home at the Cow & Calf rocks, Ilkley

The hoped for trip to Romania gets ever closer; a few health and other hurdles yet to overcome but increasing optimism has prompted me to create a Facebook ‘group’ where I can keep a running diary during the trip. The group is ‘public’ so anyone can see it, but only I can post on it – that makes sense as it is intended to be a diary of the trip. Of course anyone will be able to ‘like’ and ‘comment’ and I hope they will. I’m hoping too that I might be inspired to create a few more haiku too.

The Facebook group is called Lofty2Romania – ‘Lofty’ (1972 VW crossover Bay) is, of course, camper’s name (given by the previous owner due to his high top). He has a standard 1,600cc air-cooled engine but has an LPG conversion, done by Steve Shaw at Gasure, just inside Wales the other side of Chester. Definitely recommended; the only downside is losing the storage under the rock and roll bed, mostly taken up by the LPG tank.

I may do the occasional post on the new Facebook group as things progress towards 26 July. I’m hoping Lofty doesn’t get too excited as although he knows the Yorkshire Dales, N Yorks moors, Yorkshire coast and the Lakes very well and has been as far as Cornwall (with us), he’s probably a bit jealous of his little sister ‘Mini’ (1975 classic mini) who took us to Romania and back, camping, in 2006 without a minute’s trouble, even taking hub-cap deep potholes in the Rodney mountains in her stride (I did this same trans-Romania route on a push-bike in 1994; no chance now!).

Mini

Mini - my 1975 classic miniMini will probably have a bit of treatment while we are away; her original suspension cones are rather hard after 40 years and the state of Britain’s roads now, and those ridiculous speed humps, cause her (and me) a lot of agro, especially while recovering from surgery twice this year (I’d probably have been able to drive her much earlier had the suspension been softer). I’ve only been able to drive her for about a week and have yet to drive Lofty since the surgery at the end of May.

picture showing some of the hairpin bends on the trans-fagaras highwayLofty will have to do even better than Mini in some ways though we don’t expect potholes on the trans-fagaras highway, by which we intend to cross the Fagaras mountains, visiting blogger friends we’ve never met in person.

Paint, seat, exhaust, petrol pump and …

At the moment Lofty’s still getting some new clothes (ie coats of paint – rollered). He’ll probably get a few more flowers and butterflies too. The driver’s seat needs new seat pad, back pad and cover; in fact he’s needed them for years now but maybe sitting more or less on the springs is not a good idea for a 4,000+ mile journey. For the past year I’ve not been able to do it because of the health issues.

He’ll be making a trip to Gasure soon to have a new exhaust fitted and while there have a dicky petrol pump replaced. It may not always be possible to find an LPG station on the trip though hopefully most of the time as he’s much more economical on LPG. I reckon I’ll need about 1,000 litres of LPG during the trip; it wouldn’t be much less petrol at almost twice the price!

Harwich to Holland

At the moment the intention is to go via Harwich to the Hook of Holland. Hull would be great, as I’ve done before but not with the camper, but the cost is ridiculous now. A leisurely trip down to Essex then a sleep before taking an early morning ferry, at about 1/3 of the price, makes sense to me. Anyway, I love being on the sea so a daytime sailing is much more attractive.

Back via Weimar?

To Romania we will be taking more or less the same route as with Mini 9 years ago – down the Rhine through Germany then Austria and Hungary. However, I’m hoping to come back via Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic then what was East Germany where I was last some 40 years ago. I really want to visit Weimar though it will not be the same. I vaguely remember playing a piano said to have been played by Liszt and Wagner (was this at the Elephant, now a top luxury hotel, or the Erbprinz – now no more?) and sitting at a table, certainly the Elephant, at which Hitler was said to have held meetings with the Nazi hierarchy. Not in a museum; they were just there.

Wish us luck to be able to make a start on 26 July.

 

Malham Cove, N Yorkshire from close to the rock fae

Malham Cove, N Yorkshire (click the pic to see larger)

A wonderful sunny Yorkshire day rounded off a great week with a trip to Malham for Lofty, the VW Bay camper, to show off his new MOT and annual LPG service by Steve at Gasure (highly recommended) the day before. During the week the first session on the eggs2iPads project, in which teenagers introduce potentially isolated elderly people to the wonders of internet on iPads, was a resounding success (see below).

Malham Cove is one of the many wonders of the Yorkshire Dales and that I was able to do the necessary walk (about 2.1/2 miles – nearest parking is in the village) makes me glad I went through with the hernia operation in January and gave a welcome boost to my ‘enthusiasm’ for the follow up op next week (otherwise there’s sure to be a problem with walks in the future). The pictures are by my wife Petronela as mine, on film, won’t be available for a while (for the classic photographers, an XA4 – colour film – and XA – black and white – in my hands).

A plate with a slice of quiche, lemon drizzle cake and fruit cake in the 'pop-up' cafe in Malham Village Hall.

Quiche, lemon drizzle cake and fruit cake in the ‘pop-up’ cafe in Malham Village Hall.

An ‘Animal safari’ in the village meant there was a very large number of visitors and many Morris dance ‘sides’ performing. But, for me, the highlight apart from the Cove itself was a ‘pop-up’ cafe in the village hall. A really tasty quiche (baked by ‘Rachel’) followed by a slice of a wonderful poppy seed laden lemon drizzle cake and a slice of fruit cake (bakers unknown), all washed down by a cup of freshly made tea, was a bargain at a little over £3, all to raise money for local causes. I felt I deserved a day off from my diet, first ever, having lost over 3kg in a month by cutting out cakes, puddings  and chocolate (ouch!). I had put on 12kg due to the hormone treatment for the prostate problem.

At the Cove itself, I wondered at the climbers inching their way up the sheer face but was even more impressed by the magnificence of a Peregrine Falcon standing guard over her chicks, seen thanks to the powerful spotting scopes set up by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

Lofty needs a new petrol pump – a definite requirement for the planned Romania trip in case I cannot find LPG – as he’s not happy running on petrol at the moment. As he almost never runs on petrol a cheap pump should do. His exhaust system also needs renewal so as Custom & Commercial have a good discount offer over this holiday weekend my order will be going off later today.

Teaching grandmother – from eggs to iPads (eggs2iPads)

The eggs2iPads team

The eggs2iPads team (there’s one more not in the pic). Click the pic for more on this project.

The eggs2iPads project got off to a wonderful start on Thursday teatime. Five enthusiastic but potentially isolated elderly people came to my village’s (Menston) Menstone club to get together with the ‘eggs2iPads’ team of six 14/15 year old youngsters (all Explorer Scouts) to experience and learn to use programs like Skype, and more, to stay in touch with distant relatives and friends. For more on this project click the picture.

Surprise of the session? No-one seemed to have heard of the expression ‘Teaching grandmother to suck eggs‘, from which the project title was derived of course. I must be getting old!

Wonderful Yorkshire cheeses

Worth mentioning that our session at The Menstone was followed by the first meeting of the Wharfedale Fine Cheeses Cheese Club, at which Caroline Bell, daughter of the founder of Shepherd’s Purse, cheesemakers of Thirsk, introduced their range of wonderful cheeses of which the blues are my favourites. Companies like this are showing we Brits can compete with the French and have something other than Cheddar and Stilton.

I abhor cheeses with ‘stuff’ like cranberries introduced (making a favourite – Wensleydale – dreadful to my taste) so am unlikely to be impressed with the Shepherd’s Purse lavender infused). But the blues – wonderful. Again, for more on this go to http://menstonvillagewharfedale.com.

 

Lofty, VW camper, at the Cow & Calf rocks, Ilkley, 10 minutes from home

Lofty at the Cow & Calf, 10 minutes from home

First hurdle on the track to the planned long trip to Romania in the summer has been successfully jumped; Lofty, our 1972 ‘crossover’ VW Bay camper got his MOT last week after being laid up for several months due to my health problems.

He started (on LPG) easily enough; the brakes had seized but not seriously so this was not a major problem; he needed quite a bit of welding underneath though (chassis legs, outriggers and one inner sill). The front, including a ‘new’ beam, was done last year but the floor under the passenger seat needed a pretty large replacement welded in. All done by Frazer at Wormalds in Otley. He now just needs his annual LPG system check (by Gasure in Chester, who did the conversion; worth the trip to get Steve who really understands LPG and VW campers) to ensure he’s fit enough to make the 6,000 km (4,000 mile) plus round trip.

Transfagarasanul

We hope to ‘do’ Transfagarasanul, which the Top Gear team dubbed the best driving experience in the world).

Part of Transfagarasanul, the trans-Fagaras mountains highway, over 100 miles long in all

Part of Transfagarasanul, the trans-Fagaras mountains highway, over 100 miles long in all

The serpentine route across the Fagaras mountains stretches about 90km (60 miles) and reaches a height of 2042 metres (6693 feet).  This is not the highest road in Romania, that’s the Transalpina which goes up to 2145 metres (7050 feet), but we will not have the time to do the two.

I’m hoping for some good weather in May (looking out today on a deluged Tour de Yorkshire route not more than 200 yards from our sitting room window) so, with no undercover space, I can tart him up a bit. A little filler for a few bumps and scrapes on the outside then a couple of rollered-on coats of paint, a good clean inside, new pads and covers for the seats and, if there’s time, some paint in there too. I’ve got a few more flowers and butterflies for him too.

It’s a race against time: I have surgery again on 29 May but, based on the recovery time from the previous one at the end of January, I should be just about fit enough for the trip starting at the end of July but certainly any physical work on cars needs to be completed before the end of May.

Classic Mini

Mini - 1975 classic miniMeanwhile, Lofty’s younger sister Mini has been behaving well and last Friday got a dose of clean good oil and new filter after a week of running on cheap supermarket stuff with a new filter to clean out her innards (automatic gearbox). The engine steady bushes were replaced with ‘posh’ polyurethane ones from Moss (super pig to get in) so the engine is not now shaking around but that has put the noise up quite a bit.

A new filter mount to front cover gasket with the new O ring with the oil filter has completely cured the oil leak which was annoying my neighbours (communal car park) and now there’s not a drop from her overnight, hot or cold.

If she’s lucky, she’ll get another lick of paint too.

Apology

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted here. A lot to catch up on after the hospital visits and recuperation. I hope to post more frequently in the coming weeks and during the Romania trip.

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