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Floods of Tears November 24, 2009

Posted by markswill in Navel Gazing.

As befits a burgh voted by Country Life as the eighth most desirable small town in Britain, here in Presteigne we’ve become quite alarmed by a recent outbreak of street crime which threatens house prices that have remained more resilient than elsewhere in the county. So last week the local cops were invited to attend a town council meeting to explain what they’d be doing about a posse of ne’erdowells who have been threatening elderly residents, damaging private property and physically attacking anyone who tries to stop them.

The gist of their response at a meeting also attended by several irate members of the public, including one recent immigrant from leafy Sussex who’d obviously bought into Country Life’s bucolic spin, was that there wasn’t much they could do because the perpetrators are essentially children. Banging them up overnight only to be released after a full-English (or perhaps Welsh) to return emboldened by their lack of punishment didn’t cool anyone’s indignation, and the imminent enforced absence from the family council house of a known drug dealer who is the father of one of the ruffians will probably do little to quell his son’s malfeasance.

The police, whose part-time presence in the town has inevitably been further diminished by funding cuts, could only rather sheepishly beg public spirited residents to consider becoming special constables and hope that locals will “report incidents and present themselves as witnesses”… despite the risk of being beaten up for their troubles.

Indeed it occurred to me as the 17-stone, 6’ 4” landlord of my local blithely suggested getting together a few mates to resolve the matter in a decidely extra-curricular manner that all of this was a consequence of the recession. There are no jobs and precious few recreational facilities here for any teenagers who don’t do sports and those responsible for what is an unusually vibrant arts and music scene in such a small community are all over forty – and then some  – fundamentally lack appeal to the drum’n’bass brigade. So come Friday night it’s now a rite of teenage passage, if not a badge of honour, for them to hang round the town centre, quaffing Red Bull, smoking roll-ups and throwing garbage all over the place, aping the attitude if not the antics of the four or five hard-core troublemakers who’ll be along later to show ‘em how it’s done.

As indicated by someone getting thrown through the chemist’s window after a fight outside the aforementioned pub last Saturday night, this isn’t going to end prettily. Bored kids excited by the lazy violence of dead-enders who’ve got little to lose but are losing it with impunity can only lead to copycat thuggery, and if vigilantism is the seen as the only practical response then we’ll all be the poorer for it. But whilst arguably a sociologically sound solution, approaching those concerned without getting a smack in the face, let along winning their confidence and channeling their angry energies elsewhere would be a hard call in a town where most of us are busy enough maintaining the area’s creative culture and/or earning an increasingly elusive crust as the economy drifts towards double-dip.

And talking of dips, I nearly took one of the watery variety as I drove, or rather surfed towards Shrewsbury for a weird evening of druid chanting, finger cymballing and other new-age nonsense (I may be obliged to blog about this in a few days). An ill-advised shortcut meant crossing a bridge over the swollen River Lugg, which was in fact technically not a bridge but a platform a few feet below a raging torrent. And once I was halfway across with water spurting from the edges of the bonnet, there was obviously no going back. Fortunately, being a diesel, i.e. bereft of spark plugs, the Citruin made it without conking out and I like to think that was partly due to the alloy patches I’d just riveted over its rotten front bulkheads in a desperate effort to make the bugger saleable in this week’s local press so’s to part-finance its successor. But it was probably merely luck.

I mention this to remind my city-dwelling readers that the sorry residents of Cockermouth are not the only ones suffering a hammering from the heavens. The Lugg, which skirts Presteigne, has already burst its banks at a couple of points and like several other rivers hereabouts threatens to disrupt day-to-day life in the Welsh Marches, albeit with less fanfare and hopefully less damage than in Cumbria… and there’s more heavy rain forecast tomorrow. So some of us, well me anyway, are beginning to wonder which would be worst, losing our living room carpets and the heaving shelves of books and vinyl which sit on them to the flood waters, or our noble middle-class features to some spotty teenager who, having been drunkenly challenged to stop littering the street with his post-chipshop debris decides to show exactly what he thinks of civic responsibility.

But for now I think I’ll trot down to the pub for a consoling gin-o-cide and ponder exactly how immune we who’ve fled the cities for a rural life of Riley really are from what ails society in general in these wretched, globally warmed times.

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Car Trouble November 11, 2009

Posted by markswill in Cars and Bikes.

As keen trivia vultures will well be aware, the above title refers to a crap track on an Adam Ant album (ringtone downloads are available) and an equally forgettable 1985 movie somewhat improbably starring Julie Walters as a romantic ingénue smitten by an E-type Jag. Not that I am either romantic or, god forbid, an ingénue, but we do have something in common, namely problems with motors.

Indeed I’ve already lightly chronicled the saga of my Lancia’s knackered engine in these postings and it continues with ever increasing complication and the expense that is its inevitable bedfellow. (If you are not even remotely a petrolhead, you may wish to stop here and turn to the more infinitely more edifying Heat or Waterways World websites). And last week I borrowed a van and collected a ‘spare’ Gamma engine from a barn in Oxfordshire which also housed a brace of jaw-droppingly pristine Bitter Coupes (rare German supercars). This engine looked as if it had been stored in a ditch for ten years but did – just – turn over when a 23mm spanner was sternly applied to its crankshaft end, however shortly after depositing it at Tanc Barratt’s classic Lancia emporium outside Kidderminster I got the call saying that it, too, was basically knackered. So that’s another few hundred quid down the toilet.

Or not quite. After further investigation at nice Mr Barratt’s not unreasonable hourly rate, it might prove possible that the undamaged crankshaft and con-rod(s) from the spare can replace the shot ones in my original. And whilst in the process, as the spare is a Series One engine with higher-lift camshafts, I’d quite like to stick them in my Series Two motor: even in the often genteel world of dodgie aulde motorcars, speed is all. Then the ancillaries will have to be stuck back on, a very large cheque handed over and I can get on with the business of halting a worrying vein of rust that I noticed creeping into a front wheel-arch as the car sat forlornly outside Casa Barratt.

At that point it’s usual for the impoverished classic car owner to decide to cut his or her losses, flog the damn thing and take up ornithology (or a subscription to Heat magazine). And vexatiously, this is the situation I’ve already arrived at with my daily driver, namely an utterly undistinguished but cheekily fast and hitherto reliable Citroen ZX Turbo Diesel estate.

Now some 15 years-old and as such almost approaching classic-dom itself, in the last year the ZX has exhibited a steady appetite for new components including a new clutch, timing belt and, most recently, rear brake cylinders. The recent discovery of rust (look away now if you’re of a sensitive disposition) in a suspension turret suggests that it won’t pass its next MoT without serious remedial welding using custom-fabricated parts (in its inevitable quest to build in obsolescence, Citroen neither rust-proofed nor offered appropriate spare mounts for this model), all of which would cost more than the car’s probable worth, i.e. about 300 quid.

And so the madness begins, namely the search to replace it. This involves an unduly obsessive trawl through classified ads in local papers and nowadays of course, myriad websites devoted to used car sales. Infuriatingly, the latter all seem to steal ads from one another, but re-drawn in different formats so just when you think you’ve spotted a really super 1998 Citroen Xsara TD Estate at just the right money on Yakaz.com, you realise that it’s the one you ruled out yesterday on Fish4Cars… because it’s 190 miles away in Hull.

So yes, primarily because it’s the ZX’s replacement with the same powerful, unburstable engine, I’m keen to get another mid-size Citroen estate, albeit at well under a grand. Certain iterations of the Xsara also offer the joy of air-con for our typically long, hot summers and of course I want one with a tow-bar for the ‘bike trailer I rarely use, but my lofty aesthetic standards mean that I can’t entertain a silver-coloured example which inevitably rules out most of them. This makes the search endless, time-consuming and leads to enticing little diversions such as a Peugeot 406 estate (same engine, same aircon, slightly bigger and thus heavier body so better find one with the uprated engine option), or a Fiat Marea Weekend (powerful turbo diesel, all the toys but ugly, patchily reliable and thus rare).

It will, of course, end in tears but possibly not before I’ve spent yet another wet afternoon trudging through that mélange of mud’n’sump oil common to all UK scrapyards in search of bits that could be cut out from a wrecked ZX and manouevred into place on mine. The sadness of it is that with neither the Citroen nor the Lancia have I the kit, skill or space to do the work myself, but the worrying thing is that I’ve just rented a second lock-up to house all the other bits that came with the latter’s useless spare engine, so it looks as though the madness may be with me for a while yet whether I like it or not.

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