Roughy the Balsa Slayer

Capstan "floor fly"

That’s me. A week of unspecified lurgy has kept me off the bike and in the shed. I am getting very twitchy about not riding, especially as March was another (modest) record in terms of distance and saddle time.

It’s all gone to poo tho. Cough, Bunged up head, snot everywhere and a throat that feels like it’s been sanded. It’s a possibility since everything else from the dog upwards has been given a good lashing of balsa dust this weekend.

Well enough to play with toy gliders, not well enough to mow the lawn. That’s my self-certified medical diagnosis. That glider is a Slingsby Capstan. My dad had a share in a full size one when I was no’but a nipper, and I had many vertigo-challenged hours in the co-plilot’s seat looking down at the ground and wondering when we were going to hit it.

We built the model as well. Must be – FLIPPING HELL – thirty years ago. Shit, there’s no way of saying that without instantly appending “you old fcker” is there? We didn’t really know what we were doing so the poor thing was beaten to death by Yorkshire stone. I don’t think we ever had the courage to chuck it off the edge, instead darting it into rocky scenery and innocent bystanders.

The company that made them went out of business years ago, but some enterprising young turks bought the plans and moulds and forΒ£70 dealt out wingy nostalgia for those of a certain age. Carol bought me one for my birthday last year, but only now have I had the time to get jiggy with the sanding block.

The original seemed to take about a year to build. And about a 10th of that to destroy. My skills in both those areas are still about the same – so although it looks mostly glider shaped, it’s not been all plane sanding. Luckily Carol is on hand to help me with the difficult bits, and talk me out of apply powertools to any problem that takes more than 10 seconds to rectify.

I’m sort of embarrassed to admit that rebuilding my youth has been mostly good fun. Sure I’ve ingested around a kilo of second hand balsa, and invested time really that could have been spent doing almost anything more useful, but it’s therapy of a sort.

Man has cold. Man has shed. Man has mug of tea. Man has all sorts of tools, some of which he knows the purpose of. Man has things to build and instructions to ignore. Man has decent enough time while wondering if sympathy of family might extend to some fortifying cake.

Better be better next week. Once I’ve finished this, Carol will probably feel I’ve learned skills useful for general repair work and specific bevelling.

Probably be a good time to start riding again.

Windy Filler

Matthew's Luna

Ah the simple joy of feeling the wind in your hair. Except it wasn’t really a wind, more icy gusts punctuated by moments of flat calm. And my little remaining thatch was well hidden under a hat last worn by “Benny from Crossroads“.

So more Arctic blast freezing my eyebrows interspersed by periods of mild terror when the wind decreased in velocity and the model in altitude. I am still not entirely through the trauma of my favourite glider being significantly inconvenienced by rather more ground than expected at the moment of crushing impact.

If, however, there is ever a market for piloting skills to surprise the earth with a beautifully disguised vertical plunge, I’m in the money.

The glider in the picture is exactly the same as the one I destroyed. Except that it a) isn’t mine b) was flown rather better and c) wasn’t removed from the slope in a brown bag.

In the time it has taken my friend Matthew to buy, build and get around to flying his Luna, I’ve wrecked my way through a distinguished lineage of previously enjoyed gliders in a spookily similar manner to my bike collection.

I even managed to crash my latest acquisition before it had actually flown. Three times it had been to windless slopes, and three times it came back unflown. Yesterday would have been the perfect opportunity to commit it to aviation had I not accidentally launched it from the rafters in my workshop.

Broken? Yes. Repairable? Probably. By me? Take a wild guess.

So aside from the odd glider slipping gently below the slope and being retrieved by the “trudge of shame”, much fun was had by many with nary a smashed anything. After some Olympic class dithering Matthew finally converted his expensive desk ornament to flight with only mild encouragement – “Come one what’s the worst that can happen“*

The bugger not only flew it with an aplomb entirely missing from anything vaguely controlled by twitchy-thumbs here, but landed it in a manner that made the glider entirely available for re-use. Lucky, that’s what I call it πŸ˜‰

So no time for riding this weekend. Too much time on underpinning the chicken house so preventing local rat population from helping themselves to both the food pellets and some rather tasty shed door. Only way those buggers are getting in now is if they install a flailing masonry bit on their noses.

Couldn’t even ride in today with the train scheduled to arrive some thirty minutes after I needed to be here. It would seem that the entire population of the West Midlands has seized upon the same New Years Resolution “YOU ARE NOT WORTHY OF THE ROAD. I ALONE AM BEST“. This is trying my Christian Motoring approach to the traffic.

* Answer “it’ll all go wrong and be smashed into a thousand pieces”. Response “Okay, fair point, what’s the SECOND worst thing thar can happen?

Al the Unflown

Garway December 2010

Three times I have trudged up steep hillsides encumbered by expensive pieces of moulded plastic, and three times have I descended same hill without so much as a sniff of being able to launch them into the slope.*

It’s been nearly a month since a windless day scuppered my last attempt. Winter arrived early for Christmas, and appears to be hanging around for a while yet. And while I’m stupid enough to inflict trench-todger in sub zero temps on a mountain bike, even I can see standing still on the highest and windiest point around isn’t going to be a lot of fun. Especially as access tends to be via untreated, broken up doubletracks on a gradient.

Still day off, monster westerly forecasted, above zero for the first time in weeks – surely portents of a successful day ahead. The lack of actual blowy weather against the lies on the Interweb was nothing more than a back-story to the main event of actually getting there.

My faux-by-four may be lambasted by Landrover beards’ and the like, but I’m still amazed at the stuff it gets up. Our road is a good start since one good freeze closes it to anything 2 wheeled drive that’s not a tractor. The steep, ice-encrusted slope was another, shimmied up there with only increasing revs demonstrating how hard the 4WD was working. I was keen to engage the manly diff-lock, but apparently that’s not something to be attempted while teetering on the edge of traction half way up at 15{45ac9c3234d371044e23e276755ef3a4dde8f1068375defba7d385ca3cd4deb2} slope.

Had I not been on board the dithering bus to unflown-central, the bloody glider would have been at least briefly committed to aviation. But no, the wind died and with it my hopes of anything other than flinging bits of foam about. It’s no much about flying then, more throw/sigh/collect as I’ve shown below:

The Fling.

Garway December 2010

The Brief Period Of Aviation.

Garway December 2010

The Inevitable

Garway December 2010

The Trudge of Shame

Garway December 2010

Always worth the walk for the view tho

Garway December 2010

Eventually the wind circled round nearly 180 degrees creating an instant competition of who could fly a glider back down the slope and end closest to the truck.

It would be unfair of me to gloat as befits the winner. Let’s just say my victory was sweeter because it included a piece of precision flying where I dumped the foam wing on top of the only tree for about 9 miles. Actually that’s not true, there is another spiky number some way off to the south side. Ask me how I know.

On arriving home, I couldn’t but help notice the gale now raging at the front gate. So before I contact deed pole, I need to decide on “Al the Unflown” or “Al the sodding Weather Jonah“. Honestly it’s enough to make me reconsider the planes with bloody great fans on the front. Although the last time I tried that it didn’t end terribly well either.

Ho Hum, beer time methinks.

* Most proper flyers throw them off the slope. I’ve found it saves time to just crash them straight away and get it over with.

This could go two ways…

Bird 60 unflown

This way or something less cosmically destructive.

Let’s weigh up the evidence. I’ve broken almost everything toy glider shaped since embarking on another stupid hobby some eighteen months ago. The latest “bring a bag, we’ve had an nasty incident” episode saw my first proper moulded glider be re-kitted to nothing more than vaguely recognisable broken bits.

There was also a case of the “unbreakable” flying wing being AL-transformed into an entirely unflying explosion of foam. I’ve spiralled in my GRP birthday present of last year – more than once – and it flies now only because of the pity based repair lavished on it by a friend of mine.

There are many fliers who turn up – slopeside – with fantastic models looking entirely unflown and perfect. Whereas my motley collection all have the appearance and general airworthiness of models downstream of a nasty fight with a lawnmower.

Rather than fix the broken Luna, instead I threw some money in another direction snapping up a bargain from a man who was keen to educate me in every nuance of setup, flight performance and various unfathomable – yet seemingly important – pointers around how to land the bloody thing without loud noises and softer tears.

I’ve chosen to ignore all that. Instead I’ve slapped some weight in the nose, waggled transmitter stickage to approximate movements of flying surfaces, and congratulated myself with a beer. Tomorrow, I’ll chuck it off a high Welsh mountain ignoring a bird-walking cloudbase, freezing thumbs and absolutely no idea what’ll happen once expensiveness is committed to aviation.

I fully expect the experience to have the same time span as an ice cream introduced to a blast furnace.

If it isn’t fixed, break it.

Two halves of the same thing

Do you know what it is yet? Or – and tense is important here – what it was. The photo below is more than a bit of a clue.

Luna 2

Yes that was my favourite/latest/fastest/most fun to fly toy glider. And having not had the chance to stand on a hillside freezing my cods off for a month or so, I felt this weekend was an ideal time for a bit of sloping therapy.

Didn’t fancy riding because my knee hurt a lot. Ironically it hurt more after trudging up a lumpy, tussocked approach to a not terribly windy edge. The pain in my knee however was subsumed by the dent to my pride, after bits of once expensive moulded glider cartwheeled across the ground.

It’s hard to say what happened. Well, no that’s not true. It’s very easy to say what happened – the model fell out of the sky from around fifteen feet in an entirely vertical direction, and ploughed into the ground with all the finesse and elegance of a piledriver.

What’s not so easy to understand is why. Let’s go with pilot error and leave it at that. Not far behind in the “uh? what?” stakes is how the hell I’m going to fix it. The broken bit up there is in the middle of the fuselage. Moving forward, where the wing used to sit is just shards of glass fibre, and the wings themselves are missing the pieces which were ripped out on impact.

It’s possibly repairable. Even by me. Whether I have the time/inclination/ability to survive mainlining horrible gluing compounds is something else.

The irony of not going riding because of a broken knee wasn’t entirely lost on me. So the next day I decided to see exactly how broken it was by subjecting the bugger to a bit of early morning MTB action. Result of which is I am still walking, but more of that later.

For Christmas, I’d like some less stupid hobbies, twice as much time and a titanium knee insert.


Not the photo. Not my model either. This was the first flight of my friends’ glider spanning 4 metres, and quite a few days to get it ready to chuck. It all went very well until he accidentally activated the airbrakes, wherein the glider changed from wind-riding, effortless flight to soil-guided bomb.

It missed the tree, but still hit the ground. And then broke in half. Still apparently repairable, although such alchemy is beyond a simple man like me who looks at broken stuff and thinks “firewood”.

Of which, I moved about half a ton today from one side of the garden to another. Reasons unknown. It has tweaked my bad knee – when I attempted an Irish leggy rotational pummeling twirl on a wet, spherical log – to the point that I disappointed the mutt by curtailing the evening walk on medical grounds.

A ground that was both saturated and getting more so. The dog showed every outward visible sign of enjoyment while I limped along, grumbling into a facefull of almost sleet and wondering at what point it may stop raining.

That was some time ago, and yet there is nothing outside that suggest we’ll not be rowing to the gate in the morning. A morning where I should be riding, but I’ve already made my excuses. I know I was giving it the big one about how riding in the shit, and the grim was fantastic, but I’ve come to my senses.

Wet, Cold, Dark. Pick two. Otherwise, pick up a bottle and the remote control. That’s where it’s at in Winter ’09.

The future’s bright, the future is…

It flies! Retro colours, rubbish pilot

.. orange-ish. Had you going there eh? Thought I had bought a new bike. No, that particular item has not even reached the debating table, and the assertion that “it is easier to apologise than ask permission” is somewhat tempered by the potential loss of testicle to the rolling pin of fiscal stimulation.

Make of that what you will. Anyway another glider has been committed to aviation which is not as mundane as you may think. Because I* built it, covered it, plugged it full of electronics and even flew it on its’ first – and nearly last – flight.

The plunge into the valley below was, this time, not a direct consequence of my stick twiddling skills. No, the major factor was launching into a autumnal abyss not troubled by any actual wind. Cutting out the technical stuff, gliders without wind are generally slightly aerodynamic bricks soon to become many, many unrecognisable shards of splintered wood.

To my amazement I managed to land** some 15 metres below my feet in some handy bracken. Subsequent attempts at flying above the ridge have been mainly successful and, so far, I’ve returned home with the same number of pieces as I started with. In the same shape. This is pretty contrary to my flying career so far. Probably just got lucky.

Every time I stand on the slope, I think “I really should be riding my bike”. I have been riding, but it’s not exactly a priority for my spare time. Saturday we had a proper MTB ride in the woods with the kids, except they had a great time sliding between trees, and I less so chasing them on Shanks’ pony, much encumbered by tyre-chewing mutt.

I think the solution would be a new bike. And possibly a novelty testicle.

* Except for the difficult bits. Carol did those. Natch πŸ˜‰

** Verb used in the context of “was available for re-use” rather than anything you’ve experienced in a proper aircraft.

Ask a silly question…

Remember the first time you tried something new? The mental vertigo experienced while teetering over the scary chasm of much unknowing. The gap between what you know now and what you need to know is both exciting, frustrating and occasionally terrifying. This holds for many activities explored in our younger years – learning to drive, going to work and the sweaty, fumbling of sexual experiences*

At almost pensionable age of 42, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to think those days – like so much other stuff – are far behind me. But that’s just not the case, the pie chart of all-knowing still has at big old cake slice marked “How the fuck do I do that?“. A second, and larger, section coloured in a deep angry red reads “Why the fuck am I doing that?“. Another reason for this yawing gap between what I need to know and what I don’t can be simply summarised by this conversation with the small random child.

Daddy, what was it like when you were 30? Was it much different” to which my considered answer was “I can’t even remember what was occurring when I was 40, only ghostly mists of largely concealed hinterland are visible before then“. Probably a bit much for an eight year old, and last time I looked she was googling for exactly where in the world “Hinterland may be located”

But the point – and yes there is one in case you were concerned I’d descended into incomprehensible dribbilisaion** – is a combination of fading memory, inability to learn new skills and an enlarged impatience gland do not offer the succour of a sanguine middle age. Yesterday extensive experience of crashing brought forth some structural changes to a much loved model glider. Some would celebrate its’ new easy-to-carry design with a detachable tailplane, and a few hundred balsa shards that can be simply transported in a spare pocket.

Others – myself included – may shake an impotent fist at the unseen meterological forces that makes landing four pounds of wood go something like “missed the ground, missed the ground, missed the ground, shit where’s it gone, HIT the ground, crraasshhhh“. My inability to close the knowledge gap takes many forms, one of them being a God given ability to ignore the advice of those who clear do know what they are talking about: “Don’t go that far behind the slope, you’ll crash” they said. “No I won’t” I said “Need a bag to carry the remains?” they then said.

Anyway it wasn’t my new glider and I can probably repair it with such skill it might even fly again. Assuming it’s carried off by a passing bird of prey with poor eyesight. But one facet of this repair splash landed in the custard of doubt***, and I inadvisedly “leveraged the power of the virtual expert” by posting a very simple question on an Internet forum. What I didn’t get was a simple answer.

The first ten replies told me not to start from here. I gently pointed out that decision had been somewhat taken away from me about the time that soft wood hit hard dirt. The next slew of responses marked out the tribal boundaries of the Flat Earthers and the New World Men. From there, an increasingly embittered argument descended into name calling and cyber-cage-fighting. When I last looked, the moderator had stepped in and a tense calm had broken out.

I don’t expect this state of affairs to last. They may need to call in ACAS or possibly the UN.

At no point, did anyone answer my question. This proves to me the Internet is rubbish, and my original approach to wield fast revving power tools in a whirling circle of woody death was clearly the right one. I may still be misinformed, cerebrally undercooked and darkenly unenlightened. And I’m sure to bugger up the repair with my normal klutzy incompetence. But – and this is huge ladies and gents – I am not sat eating my keyboard and offering to slice someone open with a balsa saw because they had the temerity to question my all-knowing craft skills.

I’m thinking we should go back to chisels, slates and shouting.

* Certainly was for me. Those sheep were FAST.

** Long term Hedgies will understand the nuance, newer readers may struggle to notice the difference

*** In the Pie Chart. Try and keep up.

I need another weekend. Starting about now :(

Between six hours of fantastic – if endlessly moist – riding on Saturday, and some extreme chucking of gliders on Sunday, it’s been and gone in all the time needed to say “Weren’t you supposed to be painting?”.

Well I did some of that as well, and about a million other thing. What I’ve failed to do is sit down for more than five minutes, or prepare myself for a week full of difficult stuff. Ah well, never mind.

Should time allow, I have things to share – the first of which will be a rant about a bloke with a blacked out people carrier, a personal number plate and a “South Eastern” attitude that very nearly got him punched. Honestly, it’s like the badlands down there, everyone is completely MAD.

More soon… that’s a threat, not a promise πŸ™‚

It lives.

As opposed to Michael Jackson whose unexpected croak-age has completely upset the celebrity dead pool. It also knocked Farrah Fawcett off the front pages – a major disappointment for those of a certain age who had THAT PHOTO on their wall, and in their minds during periods of lonely sexual activity.

Or so I’ve been told. Anyway, not old did Jacko supplant other dead celebs, he also managed to subvert the entire news agenda for more than twenty four hours. Watching the Sky rolling news, I saw the same grainy picture of an ambulance informed by voxpop scrolling messages “I still have the paper cups from the 1984 Bad Tour, and they are my greatest treature. Michael, you were my life and you’ll live forever”.

No he won’t. Let’s face facts here:

He was a kiddie fiddler. He was such a proper nutter I’d grudgingly award him Hedgehog Loony Status. His best work was some twenty years behind him. He’s dead and/or working in a chip shop with Elvis. Okay I accept he made the odd decent record*.

But now he’s dead from an overdose of painkillers or chimp jism or who gives a fuck. He’ll live long in the memories of those people who have no life of their own to cherish, and the rest of us will remember the “Thriller” Vid being pretty cool and not much else.

So get over it πŸ™‚

Anyway I’ve had a day of fixing things. Bicycles, children’s toys, gliders, lawns, etc. My first foray into soldering for twenty years proves – once again – how completely clueless I am with any tool other than a big hammer. Still the glider flew, didn’t catch fire even once and even came to land somewhere close to the house.

A bit too close really, Carol was starting to panic a bit as I began to hum the Dam Busters theme tune, when the big yellow winged incendiary was locked onto the perfect flight path to smash through a window. I was never really worried, but then I did have a beer in one hand.

Flying the Electric Glider. And it not catching fire. Again. Flying the Electric Glider. And it not catching fire. Again.

Important to relax I’ve found during times of stress I’ve found. And on that note, I have many half written, half baked, quarter arsed things to say about lists, London and loving the summer. I shall committ them to the unwary readership as soon as the next batch of beer is appropriately cool.

Until then, have you noticed the nights drawing in? πŸ™

* Don’t push me on this. I’m struggling to think of one, but 65 million people can’t be wrong, can they?