Sunday, 12 September 2010

WOW What A Summer!

Well folks here comes the autumn with it's darker mornings, shorter days and the promise of some beautiful colours in the trees and skies. I just bought a beautiful antique French wood burning stove on eBay which will make it possible to use Althea all year round without having to rely on an electricity feed for warmth. I'm looking forward to seeing smoke coming from a little chimney framing her in shafts of elven sunlight as a day in the winter woods draws to a close.....

And so to the summer. Althea and I have been to lots of festivals, spent nights by the sea, been smudged by Merlin, given shelter to strangers, been on the wrong side of the law and she even put me in hospital.

Apart from this she's had a new flexi pipe for the exhaust, 5 new wheels and the engine has dropped a few inches and had to be bolted back into position. I had to replace the clutch cable too which, in true Althea Style, was hanging by a couple of threads at the end of a very long drive. In the last couple of miles from home I was running out of gears until with less than half a mile to go I had to get out and get under with a couple of cable ties to persuade her to limp home.

The new (hardly used) wheels are a little smaller than the ones they replace but are in fact the right size. She handles much better now, goes up hills and with a bit of a grunt I can turn he wheel while she's standing still. Kwik Fit quoted me £200 for one tyre. The scruffy lads down the road did all 5 for £160.

She's now on the books of a couple of agencies that find vehicles for film and TV too but I'm not sure I could stand to have her out of my sight and not knowing what abuse she was suffering for weeks at a time. Though the thought of £300+ a day hire fees is very tempting. Let's see what happens.

I've also invested in an other, much bigger solar panel which fits very nicely into the windscreen. Even on a dull day it generates more than enough to keep the batteries topped up (as long as I park facing south) and in the summer I should be abe to run the new fridge off it too.

I bought half an old canvas army tent to make it possible to make the awning into an enclosed space and a special silicon flue thingy so the wood burner can be brought out and set up in the awning with the chimney passing safely through the canvas. Hopefully this should put an end to the grumbles of my fellow campers and usher in a whole new world of warm, dry comfort.

It would be folly to attempt to describe every detail of the summer so I won't try. I should have kept this blog updated as I went along but I was either having too much fun, too tired, without laptop, or all of the above.

The highlights were Glastonbury on my own but meeting up with friends. I had to pretend to be Japanese thanks to the name on my crew pass, which nobody ever questioned. It took hours to get in and then hours to get in again thanks to not being given a pass-out on my first trip outside. Althea was parked in the car park furthest from he site which meant nice peaceful sleeps but a 4 mile walk to her from the festival gates. I worked out that I walked at least 80 and more like 100 miles over the 4 days. It was lovely to be able to do what I wanted when I wanted and to just wander around going wherever my eyes and ears drew me.

Flaming Lips were the highlight of the festival for me. I ran out of tape and camera space on purpose as they started their show. I didn't want to be tied to my cameras for the duration so didn't worry about taking enough memory/tapes.

I can highly recommend seeing them live. Their show is a wonderful explosion of positivity and psychedelic humour which has to be experienced first hand to be believed.

Then there was The Big Chill. Not so brilliant now it's in the hands of Festival Republic but at least it survived. MOrris and I arrived almost a day early and had to go and sleep in a lay-by for a few hours before they would even let us in. It took hours to get in and thanks to Morris quick thinking we didn't get sent to the wrong campsite. We positioned ourselves up against the fence in the VIP area and pretty soon were getting the huge amounts of attention Althea enjoys. The man who runs The British Ambulance Society came and introduced himself with the words,

"Is that your ambulance? I've got three of those."

Needless to say we were best friends within seconds. He invited me to come and show her at their shows which I will certainly be dong. I explained that I thought the ambulance restorers would have me burned as a heretic for what I've done to Althea but he assured me that they would be very interested to see something different.

It was fun being mistaken for whoever it was people were mistaking me for (I think it might have been Pete Lawrence) because I was wandering round the site with Morris. I posed for the photos anyway. Let them work it out later and have as big a laugh as I did.

I got to stay back stage at Big Chill radio, hang out with the Disco Shed people and most of all I got to meet Graham Fellows aka John Shuttleworth aka Jilted John. He was doing a show as John Shuttleworth and I chased him backstage and grabbed him for a photo. He was a bit reluctant but I pleaded being a lifetime fan and he gave in. He stayed in character throughout and denied all knowledge of Jilted John.

Me and John

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

New wipers

Both blades and lever arms have arrived. I'm on my way home to try them out. At first I was very dissappointed with the very short arms but then I worked out that they extend. I'm hoping the land rover blades will fit without too much modification.

-- Post From My iPhone

Monday, 24 May 2010

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Driving back from an Ocelot gig in Rickmansworth last weekend in the rain I got soaked. It was a very heavy downpour and water poured in through the top of the windscreen. I'm guessing a certain amount of settling has gone on since the seals were re done. I bought a tube of black rubber mastic sealant and squeezed half of it into the gaps where the water was coming in. This morning I did my best to find any remaining leaks with the hose but there was only one tiny one on the passenger side so I'll leave that until it's dry again.

I then set to removing the old aluminium plate that was covering the place where the old AMBULANCE EMERGENCY sign would have been, in the hope that the original might still be underneath. Yeah right! All that was underneath was a rotten mess so I reverted to plan A and made the one in the picture from a piece of perspex (that's plexiglass to you Americans). It's glued on and sealed with the black mastic so we'll see if it drops off. It should be OK. I'm thinking of putting the Knight Rider style LEDs behind it for a laugh.

Next week Althea and I will be doing our bit as aHulaBula Sound System in a forest in Dorset for the Camp 50 party. A bunch of musicians are all turning 50 at the same time and we've been hired to provide the music.

Tonight I'm taking her to Camden to see Toby play in his latest band and to lend them my guitar amp, sub woofer and technical skills.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Mixmaster Morris

Here's a great biog of Morris. The bean bag in this photo is now in my garage shedding little white balls by the million through several large rips, awaiting my next trip to the dump. When it comes to festivals there aren't many people it's better to go with and when it comes to getting a lift there's nothing better than Althea to have your name on the front of.

Mixmaster Morris

Mixmaster Morris started DJing in the early 80s, was a founder member of Anti Nazi League, saw great gigs like Miles Davis / Captain Beefheart / Sun Ra / Gil Scott Heron / Steve Reich/ George Clinton / Prince, started doing remixes in 1985, worked with Coldcut and the Shamen, made the first chillout compilation, was resident for many years at Glastonbury, Love Parade, Big Chill, wrote for NME, i-D and Mixmag, did two John Peel sessions, discovered Boards of Canada, met Timothy Leary and Terrence McKenna, went to Japan in 1993 with 24 buddhist monks as my support act, made the legendary albums Flying High and Dreamfish, rode a bicycle to Alberts house, lived next door to Syd Barrett, presented The Chill Out Zone on Kiss Fm for years, did a party in a Japanese onsen bath, played at Solar Eclipses in Hungary, Zambia and Amami Oshima,made an album with Hosono from YMO and Jonah Sharp, DJ'ed with CAN at their reunion show, released mix CDs like The Morning After and Abstract Funk Theory, was resident at legendary clubs like Lost, Megadog and Megatripolis, won Best Chillout DJ at Ibiza DJ Awards twice, and started Nubient, Londons longest-running downtempo night now in its 14th year.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Muppet Skins

Some photos of the latest changes




solar powered battery charger controller and 12 volt distribution

new glass bullet rear lights

Saturday, 10 April 2010

All puffed out.

Toby came over on the Thursday night and we headed off to Brick Lane in search of music and curry. We hit Rough Trade and Toby was like a kid in a sweet shop. I got just as much fun out of digging through the shelves, reading the autographs on the ceiling and watching the other shoppers, as I did watching Toby flit from section to section with glee. The occasional, "Oh yes," and "Oh my god they've got this," gave away his delight. I didn't buy anything and Toby showed great restraint and will power and only bought what he went for which was a 7" single by what he described as a, "Welsh surf rock band."

I pointed out The Big Chill Bar next door which was our ultimate destination that night and we headed off to find Curry. Brick Lane has dozens of fine curry houses. Each proclaiming their superiority to their neighbours with newspaper clippings lovingly laminated and mounted in the windows. Each one has taken its turn to be "best, most popular, voted No1, curry of the year, chef of the year," and variations on the theme. Groups of touts hang around outside drawing your attention to the various special offers and bargaining with you on the street as to how many free drinks they will throw in or how much discount you will get if you choose their restaurant.

We were in no mood to haggle so we struck a lazy deal with what seemed to be a nice cheap place and went in. It was only when we sat down and studied the menu that we realized that the one curry that our tout had shown us at £5.25 was of course the only one priced anywhere near that and all the others were well above the average at £7.95 at least. We got up and left, much to the shock of the now half dozen touts outside. When confronted I pointed out that even with the two free beers the inflated prices were well above what we were prepared to pay and we weren't going to enjoy a meal having been tricked into eating it. I found the surprise and hurt they displayed quite touching and we decided to give them the benefit of the doubt and retake our seats.....No of course we didn't. We walked a hundred yards to a place with no touts where the waiter offered us no discounts and no free beer but good food at fair prices. It was delightful food in a lovely atmosphere. We had to wait a little longer than usual for it but that's not a bad thing.

The rest of the night was spent grooving to a lovely eclectic mix of tunes chosen by friends of Mixmaster Morris, while we chatted and drank with more of the gang. The BCB always has a really friendly crowd and Thursday was no exception. I spent some time with the doorman, being entertained by a drunken reveller who was being turned away but who thought that walking round the block and coming straight back would be enough to fool the doorman into letting him in. Needless to say it wasn't.

Eventually we headed off to buy bagels then home. We had a long hard weekend ahead of us. I persuaded Toby to share a taxi rather than spend all night on buses.

In the morning I wasted time by driving to Halfords in Catford for a clutch and brake bleeding kit which they didn't have. Instead we worked out a system of press, release, pump and hold and we got the master cylinder bled with me only having to have one face full of brake fluid. The brakes are now better than they have been for decades. It is such a good feeling when you have nearly 2 tons of van with about a ton of stuff in the back, knowing that you will be able to stop or park on an incline.

Just over two hours later we were on site at Mersea Youth, for the Cosmic Puffin festival. Pip, the head of the unwelcoming committee was on us in seconds with complaints about how I was damaging the grass by driving on it. How I was supposed to get Althea into the position I had been allotted without making contact with the ground I have no idea. It wasn't long before the inevitable issues about our position and timings came up. It wasn't long before the people who were really in charge had been identified and the decision to have us shut down at 6pm had been thrown out. It wasn't much after that that I was talking to the man in charge of the site about how they have used turf that repairs itself remarkably well and the tyre marks and holes left by vehicles will be invisible in no time at all.

A general observation from my years of being involved in a huge number of and very wide variety of events, in all kinds of roles from delivery driver to DJ to lighting designer, sound man, crew boss, client, name it, is to stay away from the short, stroppy, stressed, bossy woman with the clip-board. She is more often than not out of her depth and will only bring you grief. No amount of reason or logic will make her see the sense of your solution or indeed the madness of her own. She is not there to make the event work better or to make your part in it run more smoothly. She is there because she is bossy and bad tempered and someone has mistaken this for being able to cope with power. The best thing to do is placate her with your best forelock tugging and go and find the person who is really running things and deal directly with them.

Despite the wind, rain, mud and Toby and Dom (who was waiting for us when we arrived) being drunk as hell on gin by the time I'd got back with the willow poles, we managed to get the tents and the awning up before dark. I was quite pleased that the design for the awning which had so far just been a mental sketch worked so well. I slung ropes over the van and tied them to the chassis and attached willow poles scrounged from Will, a local oyster farmer, who uses them to mark out the oyster beds by sticking them upright in the mud, to the front edge of the huge canvas tarpaulin. When raised into position the poles bend making a nice curved opening and only needed a couple of ropes each to secure them to the floor.

We spent the next two and a half days playing music, eating home cooked Japanese and Watfordese style curry. Ramajac and Himeko came and joined us and we had the Lilac Fur Band's inaugural live jam session on the Sunday.

It wasn't a large event by any means but there were so many really nice people there. We got some great comments about our music and it was worth noting that the owners of two of the other sound systems spent quite a lot of time at ours.

Luckily I was able to take the rest of the week off work which gave me time to clean the tarp and everything else. I also got rid of a lot of junk from the garage and on finding the glass bullet shaped covers for Althea's rear lights, swapped them for the plastic flat ones she had on. The other day I bought enough green fur to finish the green bits and some outrageous, over the top long purple fur which I'm going to try on the dash. Soon I will take her up to John Warden to get the steering and exhaust problems fixed and then she will be (barring anything else turning up) pretty well finished.

Of course there will always be work to be done but the large, essential jobs are coming to an end now. I will renew my search for a bit of land somewhere where we can get together and have a party to celebrate the end of this mammoth task that is my lovely green ambulance.

Here are some photos Dom took

Some photos I took

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Puffin Ahoy

The newly refurbished brake master cylinder arrived at work by fedex yesterday. Luckily I had a nice early finish and was home by 5. Despite the wind and rain I got under and two filthy, cold, wet and extremely uncomfortable hours later it was back in position. The brakes system will need a few tweeks but it's all good now. So it's Cosmic Puffin here we come.

I bought the roof of an old marquee (30x15 feet) of very heavy duty canvas with eyelets in all the right places. Along with some willow poles and rope this will make an awesome awning.

Toby, Ramjac, Himeko, and I will be playing some music during the day and I will be doing some video projections in the psychedelic rock tent in the evenings. We are also going to launch the Lilac Fur Band with a totally unrehearsed jam at some point during the weekend. This will be Toby, Ramjac and me on guitar, drums and various electronic devices. I've packed a tambourine, cow bell and finger piano too.

The whole thing will come under the banner (literally) of aHulaBula sound system. The banner being something I made at the weekend with some spray paint and a strip of vinyl off cut from a huge billboard at what used to be The Millenium Dome.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Lights and lining

Being the first day if nice weather this year I spent a few hours fitting the lovely new chrome spotlights. As often happens with Althea, two things from completely different sources just fit together as if they were made for eavhither. In this case I had taken a chance on some yellow plastic covers for the lights which have a logo designed to look like a smiley face. Fully expecting to have to persuade them to fit I tried them for size and "click" they just fitted perfectly.

Now that the windscreen doesn't leak and the weather us dryer I can start to finish fur lining the cab. I managed yi get the passenger side done and it's looking great.

No good photos yet but here's one I took on my phone last night.

-- Post From My iPhone

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Give us a brake 2

Brake master cylinder

This is what I spent half my weekend, (ending up in a 4 hour session on my back under the ambulance, so cold that when I hit my thumb with the hammer I didn't feel it) extracting. It's the reason my brakes totally failed last week. Luckily there wasn't any traffic coming when I rolled out into the main road.

I would have a look, decide it was too big a job, go back inside, have a think about it, go back out and try again, until I eventually went for it. This is without a doubt the hardest job I have done on Althea. Though it may seem relatively small it was extremely uncomfortable

Tools used, three sockets, one worn nut extractor socket, one hammer, three screwdrivers, one socket set ratchet handle extender, one adjustable spanner, one pair goggles (brake fluid and eyes don't mix), one torch, one can WD40, one pair snipe nosed pliers (now broken).

I had to chip, scrape, dig and spray through 42 years of rust, grease and dirt to get to it. Once I'd got to where it should have just slid out I was up against the fact that the new floor had been welded into the way.

Hopefully that's the hard part done. I've traced a couple of places on the Internet who could have it in stock as a replacement part. If not then I will try sending it to the guy who refurbished the rest of the brake system.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Last Ditch Attempt

In which Althea does well in the snow and has a little accident.

Hi folks. It's been an eventful month or so, starting with the brakes taking 3 hours to put back in resulting in a mad dash across Croydon to keep the MOT appointment. This included running out of diesel in the town centre and having to re fuel from a jerry can in the middle of the road.

I got to the test centre just in time and had an extremely stressful 45 minute wait while she was put through her paces. The brakes were still a bit soft having just been replaced but the test guy understood that and much to my relief and delight she passed.

A couple of days later she was doing her bit as tour bus for Ocelot. We drove to a pub in the darkest depths of Watford. While we played and watched the other acts, about 4 inches of snow fell.
A bunch of young punks play some young punk songs

Though very pretty it made the journey home a little tricky. Every time I had to brake I was glad all the brakes were done and there was one less thing to have to worry about. It didn't help that the wipers kept getting stuck and I would have to get out and fix them.

We got back to Watford eventually and just in time to witness the rare and beautiful sight of flocks of lesser spotted Watford birds displaying their multi coloured plumage and bright orange skin. Even in the depths of a freezing winter they still have their summer feathers which cover the tiniest of areas only and exhibit either clumsy mating or aggressive territorial behaviour.

The next day I headed off to Yorkshire with the worst of the weather still to come. Leaving London wasn't too bad but from around Sheffield the roads hadn't been gritted and it was inch thick Ice for most of the rest of the way. As long as we kept moving it was OK but getting going again from a standing start was very tricky.

Once at my mother's place it was great to relax. We made some curtains for Althea.

Note the ancient hand powered sewing machine. We made the curtains green on one side and white on the other so they could be used to reflect the sun in the summer and blend in, in the winter. No more being woken by the first rays of sun in the early hours. Thanks Mum!

I contacted Lisa who I've known for about 25 years and who's half brother was the original owner of the original BMC bread van (see the start of this blog). She now has a delightful family (Grace, Gabriel and husband Dean) and lives on the edge of the moors in Mardsen. I made the mistake of trusting the sat nav to get me there and ended up driving across the moors. Once again I found myself being very glad I could trust the newly refurbished brakes on those steep snow and ice covered hills in the middle of nowhere. I had to park Althea quite a distance from the house and walk the rest of the way because the snow was far too deep.

I woke up on the sofa bed with Nell the Lurcher pup cuddling me which was quite nice. I took the more sensible route back to Mum's through Huddersfield and a few days later was on the same roads to visit my Dad and Maureen. They had been on a bizarre Scottish holiday with a bunch of what sounds like some very colourful old folks. Which started and finished with serious delays again thanks to the snow.

All this cold weather and hard work had taken its toll on Althea. I discovered a leak at the bottom of her radiator which may have been there all along. I replaced the radiator when I got back which cost £30 and took about 30 minutes. The cooling system has been fine since and now that she's not constantly overheating she performs a whole lot better too. I also got some proper windscreen wipers and grafted them onto the existing arms so they wipe properly now too.

After Christmas Althea rested for a while. I fitted the 1960s chrome spotlight I'd bought and installed a switch to divert the solar panel charge to either battery. The control box for which I was about to send back when I discovered a tiny switch which disables the LED display to save energy.

Last weekend I took her to Mersea Island to meet a man Called Jamie about doing something at his Cosmic Puffin event. I'm looking forward to setting up my sound system during the day and doing some groovy video projections in the evening in the dance room.

On the way she ran out of fuel on the motorway end of the slip road onto the A12. Sounds familiar? I filled her up from the jerry can again but this time she wouldn't start and much to my embarrassment I didn't know how to get her going again. In no time two police Range Rovers had me towed to safety using a rolling road block.

On the Saturday night I picked up Mixmaster Morris and we headed off to Bridies Yard in Glastonbury. Thankfully we had a smooth and uneventful journey all the way until the very last few yards. I turned into the wrong driveway and ended up in a farmer's yard. It was pitch dark and the road just narrowed and fizzled out. There was a large hole in the ground where some kind of foundations are being laid and as I struggled to turn round this hole found its way under Althea's rear offside wheel. Poor Morris was hit by the disco ball as it fell but so far that was the only damage done. We tried wedging stones and wood between the tyre and the wall of the hole but to no avail. The problem was that because the tyre wasn't making contact with anything the diff was sending all the torque to it and none to the one still on the road.

Michael and Tanya from Bridies yard arrived in a little Escort van. Though the van wouldn't have had the strength to pull Althea out of the hole it did have enough to pull her to the edge and after almost giving up, Michael gave it one last ditch (see what I did there?) attempt and she pulled herself free. All this was done in almost total darkness and silence so as to not wake the farmer. The four of us sat in the office drinking my home made ginger beer with vodka and eating the oysters I brought from Mersea.

The party was great fun. Quite a lot of herbal tea. Lots of very nice folks, great food and of course I was spoiled with great music too. Not least two exclusive MMM mixes on the way there and back and one at the party. I got up early and shot some clips of the venue to use as raw materials for the projections which went down very well. Althea was very popular with the Glastonbury folks. I would be surprised if she hadn't been there before in a past life.

We slept in Althea with an electric heater making it lovely and cosy inside while it froze outside. At about 3 am a small dog woke us with non stop barking which I eventually got up to try and help by letting him into the building. But of course upon seeing me he ran off. Only to return and start all over again. This time we ignored him and half expected to find him frozen solid mid woof when we got up.

On the way back we stopped off in town to see the abbey but were too mean to pay the entry fee so Morris took a couple of photos over the wall instead. I bought Furry Freak Brothers and Fat Freddy's Cat books. We had a quick trawl through the vinyl and books in a couple of charity shops, which Glastonbury seems to have plenty of.

We also stopped off at Stonehenge and Morris treated me to the entry fee. The sun was low in the sky and the stones looked great.