Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Those Were The Weeks That Were

The last month (ish) has been more interesting than most months that flutter by: I've cycled the length (well, not really) and breadth (almost) of the country to track down the perfect steel quadrangle (again, ish) upon which to further ride. The story of this jouney and the experience that was had is a slightly-more-than-mediocre place from which to begin my raconteurism.

I'd first heard the name Dave Yates in the nineties, when I got into cycling, as a builder of bicycle frames. I had had some fleeting contact with him nearly ten years ago asking about a custom frame (a project that I never quite brought to fruition as I blew my student loan on computer & hi-fi equipment, beer and bike parts...) Many years later, when I heard that he ran frame-building courses, and read a few accounts by people who had done the course, I was determined to get a piece of that action: a custom frame, built by me, how could I not do the course...?

The waiting list was something of an obstacle: the course needed to be booked about a year in advance so planning for this began in March last year. I say planning, but all I did then was book the course. I never really gave any thought towards actually getting to Lincolnshire until just a few weeks before the course. Looking at the available public transport options it became clear that, thanks to Dr. Beeching, the area I was aimed at was less than well-connected. True, the nearest remaining railway station was less than ten klicks away, but that would be a poor excuse for not cycling all the way there. So I rode there.

It was a lovely journey, with sunshine for the whole two days. Pleasantness was in abundance as I cycled from South London, through the centre and out of the North of London: what a feeling of freedom to escape the M25 like that! The hills North of there were quite hard work, especially with a slightly overloaded cycle, but they did provide some lovely views, and eye-watering downhills.
Then I rested: Around-about-a-half-a-way through The Shire Of The Bridge Over The River Cam the landscape changed and hills became not events in the here-&-now, but merely objects seen on the horizon of spacetime. I know cyclists should really dream of long, flat, straight roads, but when you see this in one direction:
And this in the other direction:
And this stretches on for nearly 11km. And it's far from being the only piece of road like it on your journey.

...things tend to get a little, well, if not exactly tedious, perhaps somewhat lacking in distraction. It is said(by who?) that a cessation of input stimulus can drive a man batshit insane. Thankfully my daily intake of dried frog pills meant I only experienced minor hallucinations.

In the afternoon of my second day on the road I reached Tattershall Lakes Country Park and was greeted by a receptionist, or rather, her several-centimetre-thick makeup and half-metre long fake nails and informed that the lake nearest the camping area was playing host to a jet ski competition. I don't really mind loud engines, but what really pickled me was...

[Now might be a good place to transcribe the notes I made whilst in my tent, that evening, in their original green biro]

"Some might say that cycling to Lincolnshire was not the most sensible way of arriving. These people would be correct were it not for the memories that light one's recollection of a journey; often the less sensible the journey, the more illuminating the memories that are associated with it. [Jesus, what drivel...]

Still cycling here was perhaps a foolish idea. I'm not sure if the nausea I'm feeling is down to hunger, thirst, exhaustion or the truly, truly needless karaoke taking place just a few metres behind my tent. Seriously, what the fuck am I doing at the Tattershall equivelant of butlins surrounded by jetskiing chavs whose idea of a good time is to shit on everyone else's peace? Ordinarily I would wish an A-10 airstrike on such fools, but more appropriate arms are to hand: as if to welcome me to the area a Spitfire had the kindness to pass over a couple of times. Thankfully our resident retards haven't murdered any travis yet, but one of their videos featured a Spitfire [plane ident FAIL: it was actually a Spanish version of a Bf 109 in the video] strafing the ground. I wonder if the BOBMF [BBMF] take on commisions...

As I attempt to use Radio 4 to quench the aural evil that is a karaoke version of 'Street Spirit[...]"

That's the end of that notage. Not sure where I was going with it, but I suspect the fantasy of strafing the field with vintage aircraft rather knocked off my writing hat.

Sunday was spent shopping for food, browsing the local roads for a route to Dave's place and, very satisfyingly, watching all the jetski monkeys dragging their knuckles away, leaving me in peace to gaze at a very pretty moon. And get attacked by ducks. And geese.

On Monday the course began! What joy to discover that Dave Yates was human and that both he and my coursemate James were up for a bit of workshop banter and laughter. Funtimes were had; acetylene was burned; tubes were cut; tubes were joined; astonishing manœuvres by Eurofighter Typhoons were observed, open mouthed; and biscuits were eaten, also open-mouthed. The framebuilding had begun.

That evening, as we cruising back from Dave's place James & I learned that we were both vegan. Wahey! Much vegan food was then consumed that week.

The week proceeded along much the same route as it began. Our awe of Dave grew as he introduced us to more exciting tools and techniques. We learned to saw; file; turn; drill; flux; braze; file some more; silver solder; file a bit more and, finally, to finish off, a little more filing.

I like to think Dave was impressed by my:
  • Workshop practices (whatever that means...)
  • Brazing
  • Quick mental arithmetic and understanding of nerdy references (see below...)
  • Most impotantly: aircraft identification and appreciation. (It was great to have a plane geek as a mentor, though, as will be reported, this was sometimes a hinderance...)
I think Dave was less impressed by:
  • My ability, or rather lack thereof, to saw in a straight line
  • Me having to keep depleting his rain barrels of cold water in order to quench the many burns I inflicted upon myself. (Top Tip! Don't touch the tender insides of your wrists on red hot steel. Remember that one, kids.)
Here's what led to the burns:
▲ Test brazing.
▼ And the real thing.

And here's an example of my "that could do with some work" hacksawing...

I wouldn't be Bananaworld if I didn't mention the awesomeness of the aircraft that populated the skies over the otherwise (truly) unremarkable town of Coningsby (famous for its airbase and... its church clock that only has one hand, FFS.) We saw, in no particular order, these aircraft fly: Spitfire, Hurricane, Dakota, F-15 Eagle, F-16 Fighting Falcon, Hawk, Tornado and, of course, Typhoon.

On the subject of the Typhoon flights, here is an extract from something I wrote in a forum whilst 'discussing' Trident replacement. Please note that I have trouble staying away from irreverence.

"I spent a week last month camping next to a Eurofighter Typoon equipped base and came to the conclusion that the Typhoon has three major roles in the modern warfare theatre:

1) Firstly, it's absolutely the most fecking awesome plane to ever leave the ground. I mean, REALLY incredibly, sky-burningly, outrageously-expensively amazing.

2) Secondly, it's a Spitfire deterrant:

[Yup, that's a Typhoon and a Spitfire in a tailchase...]

3) Thirdly, its raison d'être is to distract Dave Yates into leaving his workshop at critical moments when you're just about to burn your frame in half."

Relating to point three in the above quote, here are a couple of pictures taken by James that demonstrate Dave's, entirely understandable, need to fly the workshop in order to gaze at planes:

(I was utterly fascinated too. I mean, there's a Dakota flying in formation with a Spitfire and a Hurricane! Not something you see every day.)

Against the odds (the Typhoons were training for the airshow season so were more distracting than normal) we completed our frames and developed silly grins:

That's James on the left with the lovely lugged road and touring frame he made, me on the right with my mountain bike frame and the man with the hammer plan, Mr Dave Yates himself. Thanks Dave.

Incidentally, here's a picture of a decal on one of his bikes:

I got it, but then, I'm a sad bastard who looks for the Ultimate Answer in comedy science fiction.

The end of the course came as a shock: both James & I were saddened that such a unique experience had come to a close. We did have shiny frames to show for it, or rather, we would have shiny frames once Dave had painted them for us.

That Saturday I rode over to Sheffield to see Jon & Rachel, who put me up for a couple of days. An employee in the Sheffield B&Q carpark helped me with directions. He was mighty impressed that I'd ridden from London, but couldn't hide is disappointment when he found that my ultimate destination was simply around the corner in Heeley. Could be worse mate: I could've left a velociraptor in one of your trolleys!

I helped Jon finish off his 'new' bike; was taken on a lovely walk in the Derbyshire Peaks (Peak/Peaks/whatever); disgusted Rachel somewhat on the walk by spending some time with a rabbit's head mounted on the end of my walking stick (yes, yes, I am a child who picks up sticks and pokes rabbit corpses); and ate all their bread. Ah, Northerners are so generous to even the smelliest of travellers.

Then it was back to work. I decided to become part-time scum as work was really getting to me and wanted more free time to play computer games draw silly cartoons; write inane babble; visit London's wealth of FREE museums; and apply to Birkbeck College. I haven't quite decided whether to study 'Planetery Geology' or simply go for the more fundamental 'Physics & Mathematics'.

In my extended free time I have learnt:
  • Taking the Southeastern High Speed service fom Canterbury to London, via Ashford, is fast. However, travelling through Kent and yet entering London through Essex is confusing.
  • Professor Jim has reminded me that "all elements seek the stability of iron." Conan could not have put it better.
  • And some other stuff.

After what was perceived as an interminable wait, the frame arrived; painted in 'Flamboyant Ruby' and beautiful. I ought take some pictures of it, but more importantly I should really finish making it into a bike and go for a ride. For now, I'm happy just to gaze at it in wonder because... how long had I spent staring at the scars on my hands and arms, desiring that lustrous lattice of soldered steel to sashay its way to forever stay with its pathetically pining progenitor.