All posts by John Ewbank

My name is John and I’m a Car-oholic!

Yes, I admit it, I seem to be developing an addiction for old cars.  Well, to be honest I don’t think that its a new thing; after cutting my motoring teeth on cars from the 1960s, and having owned an MGB for nearly 30 years, I think that I’ve always had a strong affection for vehicles that predate the modern era of complex electronics and a hankering for cars that you can fix with a spanner and hammer when they go wrong.

The latest addition to the Ewbank stable is a late 1973 Triumph GT6 which I bought ‘unseen’ in eBay and collected from the previous owner in Kent earlier this week.  The bodywork of cars from that era has a horrible tendency to rot  really badly but fortunately this one was substantially rebuilt with lots of new panels in the late 80s and so far (fingers crossed) it seems to be in really good condition.  There are a few bits of rust to be seen and the paintwork will have to be completely stripped for a complete re-spray but hopefully there won’t be too much need for welding or panel replacement.

I spent yesterday removing 4 or 5 gallons of stale petrol from the tank in preparation for its removal later today.  I also took the spark plugs out and turned the engine over, and was relieved to find that it isn’t seized.  The first big job will be to extract the engine and gearbox and to take the block down to a local engineering works to get the bores and bearings checked.  All very exciting!

Zab, Zakopane and the Tatra Mountains

At 1033 metres above sea level the improbably named ‘Zab’ is apparently the highest inhabited village in Poland – not something we knew when we booked our five nights accommodation in the Redyk hotel, though it became pretty obvious when we saw the mountain views on our arrival.  Wonderful on a lovely sunny day, but unfortunately it does mean that at least some of our time here will be spent with our heads rather more in the clouds than usual.

Zakopane, the local metropolis, is a busy (not so) little place sitting within a few kilometres of the Slovakian border and nestled nicely in the foothills of the Tatra mountains, beloved of walkers all the year round and skiers during the winter months.[mappress mapid=”5″]

As Tuesday dawned bright and sunny we decided to take a stroll into the Tatrzanski National Park.  Three hours and what felt like several thousand vertical metres later we emerged with a few new aches and pains but with that  smug glow of satisfaction that comes from knowing that we’re probably reasonably fit – or at least quite a lot fitter than some of our fellow walkers.  That said there were one or two fairly ancient Poles who looked as though they could have kept on going long after we’d decided that enough was enough for day one.

Today (Wednesday) started cloudy and as the BBC Weather App seemed pretty certain that it would stay that way all day we decided to try some sightseeing a little further afield.  The medieval castles at Niedzica and Czorsztyn (no, don’t ask me to pronounce them) are only about 45km off to the NE and feature in most of the tourist blurb so seemed like a good choice for a visit – though to be fair probably weren’t looking at their best on what turned out to be a dry, but pretty overcast, expedition.

Niedzica Castle
Niedzica Castle

Oswiecim – better known as Auschwitz

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I wasn’t too sure about wanting to visit Auschwitz.  There’s something very  uncomfortable, almost voyeuristic, about visiting the scene of something so very terrible; but I was persuaded to make the visit, and in truth I’m glad to have done so.  We only made it as far as Auschwitz I, which is the original camp established by the Germans on the site of a former Polish Army barracks about 40km to the west of Krakow – there are two more, and I think larger, camps and a number of smaller ones nearby – but one was enough.

The place itself is well preserved and contains a number of extremely informative exhibitions that explain exactly what went on there and just how inhumane and brutal the Germans were to those they regarded as being less human than themselves.  The scale and the depth of the depravity that was displayed at Auschwitz and elsewhere is overwhelming and highlights just how thin the veneer of our so called civilisation really is – look around the world even now and you don’t have to strain the eyes or the imagination too hard to see what man can be capable of.

And with that depressing thought perhaps we should move on and get back to our holiday!

Krakow – September 2014

Having indulged ourselves with our ‘big trip’ to Australia and New Zealand earlier in the year we thought that we’d stick a little closer to home for our summer/autumn break this year.  Poland has been on my ‘bucket list’ (if Obama can have one why not me?) for quite a while, so this seemed like a good time to see what the south of the country has to offer.  The plan is to start with a spot of sightseeing in Krakow before heading down about 100km to the south to do some exploring and walking in the Tatra mountains around Zakopane.

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Our first impression of Krakow is that it’s a gem.  We’re staying B&B pretty much in the heart of the old town which, despite the horrors that befell Poland between 1939 and 1990, seems to have survived remarkably well.  Plenty of medieval squares, a castle rising up in the centre of the city and more churches than you could genuflect at in a month of Sundays.

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But the really good thing is that it’s cheap!  Good beer at around £3 a litre and a wide selection of restaurants where you can get a reasonable choice of meals (not just pork, cabbage and potatoes) for around £30 for two.  If these are city prices I can’t wait to see what’s on offer in the rural areas to the south.

The weather, I’m happy to say, looks good so far. Bright sun and temperatures in the mid 20s for most of today – hopefully the threatened thunderstorms will give us a miss this evening!

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

Those who were unfortunate enough to miss my starring performances in such classics as ‘Lady Chatterley’s Final Fling’ and my masterful portrayal as Herr Flick in the Churn Valley production of ‘Ello, Ello’ are in for a treat!  I’ve decided that the trouble with live theatre is that too few of my admirers have been able to enjoy my epic performances – so this time (by popular demand) I’ve made myself available to a much wider audience and will be featuring prominently in a brand new Hollywood classic ‘Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death’ which is due to be broadcast on Sky this coming Christmas.  Not content with just one role I expect to be featured in a number of character parts, including …..the man driving a vintage car (Bertie) down the road …..the chap carrying an old fashioned gramophone … and, perhaps my most demanding role, so far, that of  ….the bloke on the vegetable stand at the village fair!  Anyone seeking exemplars of high quality ‘method’ acting need look no further than this masterpiece of modern cinema.

Seriously though ……..I happened to meet the casting director when the production company was recceing our Village Hall as a location for this this pilot episode and naturally when he asked ‘does anyone want to be in it?’ my natural reticence went completely by the board and before you could say ‘Errol Flynn’ I found myself signed up for two days as a ‘supporting artiste’ (the new term for those stalwarts I’ve always known as extras).  As I’m now completely smitten and stage struck I strongly advise you to watch this space for news of my next starring performance.  Just think …..one day you’ll be able to say ‘I knew him before he was famous!’….. but don’t hold your breath.

Fairport’s Cropredy Convention

I don’t think that you could consider either of us to be regular festival goers.  Denise had never been to one before, and the last D-at-Cropredytime that I let my hair down (metaphorically) at a ‘pop’ festival was on the Isle of Wight in 1969 – at this rate I shall be 107 just in time for my third festival attendance.  Though I have to say that we enjoyed Cropredy so much that we may just shorten that cycle by a few years.

For those who don’t know (and why should you?) Fairport Convention have run annual gatherings in the Oxfordshire village of Cropredy for the past four decades, with growing attendances which this year topped 20,000 for most of the three days.  Not being entirely familiar with the style and flavour of other such events (unfortunately I simply can’t remember anything about the Isle of Wight – such was the devastating effect of too much cider!) we can’t really make comparisons, but suffice to say that this was a really chilled experience in the company of lots of like-minded Saga members – in some cases accompanied by their children, grandchildren and pets.

.. a life of the ocean waves, a home on the rolling sea....
.. a life of the ocean waves, a home on the rolling sea….

The weather was reasonably kind and the site, which straddles the Oxford Canal, is lovely – lots of scope for walks and for getting away from the music if and when it all gets just a touch too much.   The music ……….. oh yes, that was pretty good too.  An interesting mix of folk and prog rock and quite a few things in-between – really nothing that we could take exception to, and quite a few acts that we’d probably be happy to see again – if only we could remember what they were ………… well, with cider being sold in four pint milk cartons, what do you expect?

Hackett does Genesis - not bad at 64!
Hackett does Genesis – not bad at 64!

The Joys of Camping

After an almost unbroken two-month long spell of good weather it was probably inevitable that for the few days we chose to go camping in Scotland the clouds would gather and we’d have a few spots of rain to remind us that British weather really can’t be trusted.  Although ‘north of the border’ probably wouldn’t have been our first choice for a few days away, I have to admit that our destination, Kirkcudbright, on the northern  shore of the Solway Firth, turned out to be a beautiful and interesting little spot that was well worth the journey.

The occasion for the visit was an opportunity to celebrate Jennie’s birthday in company with her and Nathan and to have an opportunity to get to know Steve, Ann, Jan and Gordon – the prospective ‘outlaws’.  As it turned out, the weather threatened rather more than it delivered and we were able to get out and about and see something of what the area has to offer.  Kirkcudbright has an interesting history, not least as the destination of choice for many of Scotland’s early and mid-twentieth century painters – notably the so called ‘Glasgow Girls’; the town celebrates this connection with a series of exhibitions and a huge number of small galleries where their work can be seen and bought.  The Glasgow GirlsFascinating stuff and a couple of hours very well spent on Saturday afternoon prior to the ‘crabbing’ grudge match in which Gordon, more or less ably assisted by Denise, produced an outstanding performance to catch no less than 48 crabs in the space of around an hour!  Jacques Cousteau could have done no better.

 

Sunday was an equally relaxed affair involving an afternoon visit to a local wildlife park followed by an evening beach barbeque accompanied by a little singing and guitar playing.  (note to self … next time learn some songs before you go!)

A quick round of ‘pitch and putt’ on Monday morning gave Jennie yet another opportunity to demonstrate her competitive spirit before we had to say our fond farewells to our fellow campers and set off for home.  Altogether a very pleasant long weekend in good company and in a lovely part of Scotland – who knows, next time we go we may have to take our passports!

World War 1 Commemoration

Our local village of North Cerney is fortunate in having a village hall that serves the local community by providing a safe, convenient and comfortable venue for events such as jumble sales, community suppers, pantomimes and a number of classes and activities.

The hall was built in 1926 as a memorial to those who fought and died in the ‘Great War for Civilisation’, so it was appropriate that, with the centenary of Britain’s entry into the War approaching, the Hall should act as the focus the village’s commemoration.

Last weekend’s activities included a fascinating talk by Lt Col (Retd) Rob Dixon OBE, Chairman of Trustees of the Soldiers of Gloucestershire Museum, about Gloucestershire during the war.  This was followed by a workshop for families which brought to life the experiences of the many young men from the county who enlisted.

Six North Cerney men on the day they enlisted
Six North Cerney men on the day they enlisted

My own little contribution to the weekend was to bring together a mini-exhibition with information about the men of North Cerney and Bagendon who went off to war – some, of course, never to return.   Fascinating staff and an ‘enjoyable’ insight into local history.

Austin, Austins everywhere!

In common with all enthusiastic  ‘nerds’ who want to get to know all about their new hobby I decided that membership of a motoring club would be helpful in getting better acquainted with ‘Bertie’ our new (well, new to us) Austin 12/4.  As it happens there are several extremely good clubs catering for Austin owners, but as the Vintage Austin Register claims to cater mainly for ‘vintage’ cars  it seemed sensible to give them a try.

Preparing Bertie for his outing
What’s this fly doing on Bertie’s windscreen?!

As it happens the club’s annual ‘my car’s shinier that yours’ rally took place near Bromsgrove at the end of June, so the weeks leading up to the event were spent in preparing Bertie for our first major expedition.  Although the car is generally in really good condition, its clear that its done little or no mileage for the past few years and that some routine maintenance had lapsed.  Finding grease nipples in inaccessible places, adjusting the brakes and changing the oils was a good starting point, but the real work came when we realised that the fuel tank was full of rust and a horrible sort of gum residue that results for leaving old petrol in the tank for years on end.

No, its neither lentils nor basil.... this is the rubbish I removed from the fuel pump!
No, its neither lentils nor basil…. this is the rubbish I removed from the fuel pump!

Removing the tank was simple enough, but getting the rubbish out and then cleaning and re-sealing the internal surfaces was a very different matter.  In the end I bought some specialist products and gave it as good a clean as possible before fitting the fuel line with an in-line filter which will hopefully prevent the worst of what remains from clogging up the carburettor in future.  Time will tell.

Anyway, the momentous day arrived and we set off at ‘sparrows’ leaving ourselves plenty of time to cover the 55 miles to the rally without having to hurry.  In point of fact  the words ‘hurry’ and ‘Austin 12’ should probably never be used in the same sentence as the maximum speed that we were brave enough to reach was only 40 mph.  You know, its amazing just how little traffic you find in front of you when you’re travelling at that speed – though whether the dozens of frustrated motorists behind us found it quite such an enjoyable experience is another matter altogether.

The VAR Rally at Avoncroft 2014
The VAR Rally at Avoncroft

Whilst I’d love to be able to tell you that we came away with armfuls of trophies the reality is that some of the cars were very, very shiny and a credit to the countless hours of hard work put in by their owners – so there were no prizes for Bertie on his first outing.  That said, we certainly weren’t put to shame and I spent several profitable hours looking at the competition and working out what improvements need to be done over the coming months to bring him up to standard.  All very enjoyable and made even more so by meeting some very nice fellow enthusiasts – most of whom, oddly enough, weren’t nerds at all!

Oh yes ………..and we got home in one piece too!

Bertie and friends
Bertie and friends

Home again, and getting down to the serious business of retirement

Well, in truth I’ve decided that I’m not going to use the ‘R’ word; the reality is of course that I’m going to be just a busy as I was when I was in paid employment- probably more so!  The difference is that now that I don’t have to toddle off to work every weekday morning I can actually get on with all those jobs that have been stacking up for the past several years, plus a thousand and one new adventures/challenges, without the pressure of having to get everything done during the weekends.  It’s early days, but so far I think I like it!

There have been two big excitements in our lives since we returned home.  First of all, just to make sure that I’m not going to get bored with all this ‘free’ time that I’m going to have available, we’ve decided to buy ourselves a little bit of motoring history.  I’ve always been a bit of a petrolhead, and having owned and largely rebuilt a 1969 MGB over a period of nearly thirty years, for a number of years now I’ve nursed a hankering for something a little bit more unusual.    A 1929 Austin 12/4 ‘Heavy’ Tourer may not be everyone’s idea of exotic motoring, but I reckon its going to give us a lot of fun over the years to come.  ‘Bertie’, as we’ve decided to christen it, will arrive from Yorkshire towards the end of the month.

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The other bit of excellent news is that Jennifer and Nathan have taken the plunge and got themselves engaged (to each other!).  Fantastic news and great excitement  all round.  We’re all delighted to welcome Nathan to the family and are happy in the knowledge that they’re very much in love with each other.   The really good news, of course, is that the wedding car is already sorted!