All posts by John Ewbank

Winter’s Coming!

As we drove west across Maine on Highway 2 we could see the outside temperatures start to drop.  Apart for an occasional light rain shower as we left the coast the weather remained fine, with bright sunshine showing off the forest colours to great effect.  Some of the leaves had started to drop in the stiff autumn breeze and as we approached New Hampshire  we spotted trucks with snow ploughs fitted every few miles along the road, obviously ready for an abrupt change in the weather.

Echo Lake
Echo Lake – a stones throw from our B&B

Our stopover in North Conway is interesting.  For some unknown reason it’s developed as New England’s favourite ‘outlet centre’ with loads of out of town shopping providing what the Rough Guide describes as a ‘depressing’ introduction as you approach what would otherwise be quite a pretty town. As well as being a popular place Autumn Coloursfor summer vacations this part of the Washington Valley and White Mountain National Park also has the advantage of being a well known ski centre which attracts large numbers of Bostonians  during the season; in fact many of the residential properties are obviously weekend homes for those who drive up for their weekends in the mountains.

Yesterday we drove the 15 or so miles up towards Crawford’s Notch intending to put in a longish hike into the mountains  but a flurry of sleet and temperatures approaching freezing persuaded us to set our sights a little lower, so instead we walked the short but steep trail up to Arethusa Falls – which at 43m has the distinction of being the second highest waterfall in New Hampshire.

Cathedral Ledge
Cathedral Ledge

The final challenge of the day took the form of our evening meal – the largest pizza that I have ever seen and with enough garlic to stop an entire family of vampires in their tracks (handy for Halloween).  Looks like it will be pizza for lunch for the next few days.

Heading North

Our trip up the Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine coastline was uneventful.  After the disappointment of Salem we popped our noses briefly into Newburyport on our way up the coast to our overnight stop in Kennebunkport, which we later learned is the home of the Bush family.  George ‘Dubya’ must have been out of town that evening because I’m certain that we didn’t spot him in the little seaside café where we enjoyed our evening meal.  Note to self …. in future avoid the local scallop dish – rather like Mars Bars they’re not really improved by being deep-fried.

We stayed two nights in a lovely home near Sullivan just off the Schoodic  Coast Road to the north of Desert Island.  Although slightly off the beaten track (we ate out both nights at their ‘local’ pub which turned out to be some 18 miles down the road) it was a great location and well located for Thursday’s trip down to Bar Harbor.  This particular part of Maine receives some 2.3 million visitors each year, mostly during the summer months, with many being literally shipped in by the many cruise liners which anchor in the well-protected bay on their way between New York and Halifax. As a result Bar Harbor seems to have set itself up almost exclusively for the tourist trade with numerous gift shops providing an extensive choice of knick-knacks and souvenirs.  We resisted the temptation to invest in another Christmas decoration and settled for our usual coffees and a shared muffin – just call us the last of the big spenders.

Looking East from Mt Cadillac
Looking East from Mt Cadillac

Undoubtedly the best views of the island are to be had from the 1,500 ft  summit of Mount Cadillac which can be reached either by car or by a 3.6 mile testing climb through some of the most beautiful countryside that Maine has to offer.  Unfortunately bright blue skies and a fresh but comfortable temperature of 60F meant that we had no reasonable excuse for avoiding the walk.  It was one of the highlights of the trip so far, with the added bonus of allowing us to feel especially smug at the end of the four hour round trip – despite our aching legs and feet.

Doctor Livingstone I presume?
Doctor Livingstone I presume?

 

A little more Boston, and more witchcraft than you can shake a broomstick at!

Monday was a bit of a rest day spent close to our temporary Cambridge residence.  We started with an early morning walk around Fresh Lake accompanied by legions of joggers and dog walkers all of whom seemed happy to share with us the morning sunshine and vivid autumn colours – it being Columbus Day and a public holiday nobody seemed to be in too much of a hurry.

Harvard Yard
The Harvard ‘Yard’ – at least five tourists for every student

A short bus journey took us into Harvard Square, the hub of the world famous university; within the space of a few yards you get an interesting contrast between the leafy squares and elegant colleges and a high street that seems to have more in common with Watford than Oxford!   Harvard must be a great place to study if you have the brains and the money – if you can put up with the continuous stream of tourists wandering around.  Bit of a strange place really.

PENT8729aWe walked home along Brattle Street which is one of Boston’s most desirable residential areas – not hard to see why when you look at some of the mansions, several of which pre-date the War of Independence. We ate our sandwiches in the garden of the former home of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (which had also served for a while as George Washington’s headquarters in the opening days of the Revolutionary War) before taking a turn around  Mount Auburn Cemetery which it seems was the first ‘landscaped’ burial ground in the US.  Perhaps not something that you would normally think of as a tourist attraction but well worth a visit with lovely leafy lanes, impressive monuments and some great views of Boston.

View from the Tower in Mount Auburn Cemetery - quite why the residents should need such a great view wasn't clear!
View from the Tower in Mount Auburn Cemetery – quite why the residents should need such a great view wasn’t clear!

After collecting our hire car on Tuesday morning we started our drive up the Massachusetts coast stopping off briefly at Salem – the focus for a series of notorious witch trials in the 1690’s.  Perhaps it would have been better if we’d managed to avoid visiting during the build up to Halloween – the town was a little too commercialised for my tastes ……….. and if I never see another pumpkin or hear another ‘hideous witch-like cackle’ ever again, it will be too soon!

 

Only in America…

Our journey from New York to Boston on Saturday was pretty uneventful:  rather than pick up another $60 taxi fare we used the subway to get out from Brooklyn to JFK , which delivered us to the airport in plenty of time for our 37 minute flight.  Likewise, the relatively short trip from Logan International Airport through the centre of Boston and out to our AirBnB hosts in Cambridge (home of Harvard and MIT) was easy – public transport seems to be something that both New York and Boston have got right.     We then managed to give ourselves a severe scare by struggling to find the key to  our accommodation (our hosts were away for the weekend) and at one time I had visions of having to sleep in the garden whilst waiting for their return!  All my fault – I hadn’t looked carefully enough and eventually managed to find the key exactly where they said it would be.  Oops!Boston City Hall

Yesterday was spent strolling around Boston , following the Freedom Trail, mixing with the crowds and enjoying the early autumn sunshine of the Columbus Day celebrations.  The city is a little less frenetic than New York and its good that the residents are happy to celebrate their history, so we enjoyed our trip down their ‘Independence Memory Lane’.   I was particularly struck by the hotel where former members of staff are claimed to include both Malcolm X and Ho Chi Minh (though not at the same time!) and by visiting the site of the Battle of Bunker Hill – which was neither an American victory nor actually on Bunker Hill (in the early morning mists of a June morning in 1775 the rebels managed to build their fortifications on the wrong mound!).

Who ya gonna call? Well probably not her ..........!
Who ya gonna call? Well probably not her ……….!

The Columbus Day Parade through the North End of the city was colourful fun.  A chance for marching bands to march and play, for city politicians to wave and throw Hershey Bars to their electorate,  and for portly city cops  to sit astride their Harleys and gaze out inscrutably from behind police issue Raybans  Only in America ………………PENT8647a

“New York, New York!

… it’s a wonderful town! The Bronx is up and The Battery’s down” ,,, Well, the song got it right, it is a great place to visit; and provided you’re prepared to do a bit of walking, and the weather’s reasonably kind, you can see most of the tourist bits in just a few days.

The Highline
The Highline runs between 14th and 34th Streets – urban regeneration at its most inventive

AirBnb has provided us with an excellent base in Park Slope in the heart of Brooklyn and after an initial struggle getting the hang of the subway system (which involved one short trip in completely the wrong direction) we’ve managed to find our way around pretty well.  That said, the best way of getting to see and understand the city is unquestionably on foot; that’s if you’re prepared to wear out a little bit of shoe leather – the distances are deceptive and unfortunately the sidewalks aren’t paved with gold.

View from Central Park
View from Central Park

My initial impression is that New York is clean safe and welcoming.  Yes, you see some pretty strange people out and about, but that’s certainly the same in London or any large European city and provided you can manage to avoid the ticket touts who seem to outnumber the tourists on Broadway and Fifth Avenue, wandering around is fairly relaxed.

You can’t help but be impressed by some of the architecture and, even though you rapidly get blasé about skyscrapers that are a mere 50 storeys high, the likes of the Empire State Building, The Chrysler Building and the new One World Trade Centre give you a real sense of what New York is all about … as well as a pain in the neck!

No disappointments so far – though from the distance of the Staten Island Ferry the Statue of Liberty seemed to be smaller than I’d imagined it to be.  But then, American visitors to Stonehenge probably expect something a little more impressive than a rockery on steroids!

View from the ESB
Looking north over the East River from The Empire State Building

As today looks as though its going to be a little overcast the plan is to see what the museums, gardens and parks of Brooklyn have to offer.

A Yorkshire Wedding

PENT8228aWell, the great day came at last and Nathan and Jennie have now tied the knot!  A September wedding in Yorkshire was always going to be of a bit of a gamble with the weather – and celebrating the event in a tent (sorry, a Papakata tepee) in a field on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors was definitely pushing their luck – but fortune favours the brave and I’m glad to say that we were blessed with sunny skies and the only water to be seen was bottled and on the tables.PENT8315a

Beautiful bride, handsome groom, glamorous bridesmaids, lovely setting, great weather and surrounded throughout the weekend by family and friends – what more could we have asked for?  Well, we could have asked for a Hip-Hop DJ session provided by Richard and Tom – but we got that anyway!  All part of our musical education I suppose.

One drink and she just can't stop bouncing!
One drink and she just can’t stop bouncing!

Bertie – the Dependable Austin!

Yeah, right!  Unfortunately Bertie’s been anything but dependable of late.  Having behaved himself reasonably well on what was his first ‘commercial engagement’ for Dan and Hannah Eales’ wedding, he then let himself down on the homeward journey by conking out about a mile from home. Perhaps it was the PENT8065aexcitement of the occasion, or maybe he just wanted to assert his independence, but whatever the cause, and despite my best efforts, he’s stubbornly refused to start for the last four weeks.

Now that wouldn’t have been too bad if he hadn’t been needed for Jennie’s wedding just a fortnight after he decided to throw a hissy fit.  Anyway, when it became increasingly clear that he was likely to be ‘hors de combat’ for the big event I had to make the hard decision to leave Bertie on the touchline and put some extra effort into getting the Stag ready for a starring performance at Jennie and Nathan’s wedding.  Now there’s a turn-up for the book  …….. a ‘dependable Austin’ being substituted by a car which, to put it mildly, doesn’t really have much of a reputation for reliability!

But stranger things have happened and in the end the Stag played a blinder, motoring the 462 miles to Thirsk and back without missing a beat, and getting our little girl to the church (well, more of a Teepee really) on time and in a certain amount of style.  As I think I’ve said before, when it comes to classic and vintage motoring its always a good thing to have the odd  spare car knocking around  – just in case!

Forgive me father, for its been three months since my last Blog

No excuse really, other than whenever my conscience has told me to sit down and update the blog there always seems to have been a valid reason/excuse for not doing so.  Its not as though we’ve been sat at home twiddling our thumbs without having lots to report – such as buying (another) Triumph, a fun trip to Belgium (not a phrase that would readily spring to mind), an enjoyable reunion with old friends and a few days camping on the South Coast, to name but a few.

Anyway, with that confession out of the way I can now hopefully get back to reporting the odd short snapshot of Ewbank life as and when interesting things happen that liven up our otherwise bleak and empty lives……………..

The latest addition to the motoring stable is a 1975 Triumph Stag bought at auction back in May.  With the rebuild of the GT6 more or less complete it started to dawn on me that, lovely little car though it may be, driving the tiny Triumph for longer distances was going to be a less than comfortable experience – the fact that I need a Stannah Stairlift to extract myself from the driver’s seat says it all.  Despite their early reputation of abysmal reliability I’ve always liked the lines of the Michelotti designed Stag, and the noise of that Triumph V8 is just wonderful – so when three cars came up for auction at Brightwells back in May I decided to take a look.

Examining the three offerings was like a scene out of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: one was a complete wreck and would obviously take years to restore, the next was low mileage and therefore likely to be expensive …… and the last, it seemed to me, was ‘just right’.  The rest, as they say, is history; six days later the car was sat on the drive at home with a brand new MOT and ready for some serious tinkering.

PENT7341-small PENT7344-small

 

 

Nuremberg with Richard and Colette

Slightly belated post to record our recent visit out to Nuremberg to spend a long weekend with Richard and Colette.  We like Germany (hardly surprising really considering the number of years we lived there and the fact that all of the children were born there) and we especially like Nuremberg, which seems to have everything going for it – great architecture, beer and bratwurst!

Once again we elected to fly from Stansted which, although not the most accessible airport from Gloucestershire, has the twin advantages of taking us direct to Nuremberg and offering the cheapest flights.

PENT7260-small

On the Saturday Richard kindly drove us the 60+ miles to Rothenberg ob der Tauber, a well-preserved medieval walled town  which Denise (heavily pregnant) and I last visited in 1982 with my parents.  Unsurprisingly it hadn’t changed much; perhaps there was rather more of the ‘Disney’ feel about the place this time, but nevertheless we enjoyed a wander around the town soaking  up a bit of spring sunshine whilst Richard lived out one of his ‘Teddy’ fantasies – try dribbling all over that one mate!PENT7245-small

The next day we trooped off in the opposite direction towards the Czech border just north east of Bayreuth.  Lovely walk, more sunshine, good food and a cooling radler in a great little gaststätte way up in the forest.

On Monday Denise and I  explored the Nuremberg alt stadt whilst Colette and Richard got on with earning a living; this is what retirement is really all about!

Thanks both for making us so welcome.  As Arnie says …… we’ll be back!

 

How Much Can You Trust an MOT Inspection ?

There’s currently a bit of a debate about the future of the annual MOT inspection for older cars.  Apparently the UK testing regime exceeds EU requirements and as a result there’s a suggestion that cars older than 30 years (vehicles registered prior to 1960 are already exempt) should no longer be subject to the test.  Until very recently I was dead against the change and held firmly to the concept that the annual test is a ‘good thing’ in that it guarantees that our classic cars are safe and fit for the road on at least one day a year.

Yesterday’s experience has caused me to wonder whether all testers are as diligent or competent as they might be, and therefore whether the test is as useful an indication of good maintenance as it should be.  The story goes like this ……….

Having spent the last six months rebuilding the GT6 I finally arrived at a point this week where I thought it should be tested.  Not that I fully expected it to pass – but it seemed to me to be a good way of getting a fully qualified second opinion on whether it was fit for the road.  In point of fact there were a couple of points on which I expected it to fail:  despite several attempts at bleeding the brakes the travel on the pedal was longer that I liked, and I was convinced that the exhaust was blowing a bit.

I sat nervously during the 90 minutes of the test, reassured that they were doing a thorough job, and sure enough  ……….it failed.  But not on the points that I’d expected!  All that the tester could find to comment on was the security of the fuel line and the need for a brake hose to be moved slightly to avoid fouling a shock absorber.  Great, I thought, and booked the car in for a re-test two days hence.

On leaving the garage I’d travelled 150 yards when I noticed that the steering was behaving oddly; another 100 yards and I was convinced that something was seriously wrong and pulled over to the side to check out what might be amiss.  Shock, horror  – one of the track rod ends was extremely loose and the other had lost its securing nut and completely parted company with the steering arm on the near side vertical link.  Had I been travelling at speed or attempted to take a corner in this condition an accident would have been inevitable.  A phone call home brought Denise to the rescue with the socket set and some nuts and the problem was quickly solved, after which I was able to drive home thanking my lucky stars that disaster had been averted.

The fact that the track rod ends weren’t secure was obviously my fault – but my point is that the test failed to find the most simple, and potentially dangerous, of faults and was therefore completely worthless. and left me wondering what else they’d missed.  One of the arguments for abandoning the test for older vehicles is that most owners of classic cars are enthusiasts and quite possibly know more about how to keep their particular vehicle safe than the majority of MOT testers.  So, recognising that we all have a legal responsibility for ensuring that any vehicle we use on the public highway is safe, we should, perhaps, abandon the requirement for an annual MOT check, learn to cope without that particular safety net, and save ourselves £39 in the process!