Monday, October 31, 2011

Racecar Shack Build, Day Two

Weekend just gone (Oct 29/30) Bill paid FTC a visit to help me complete the first stage of the racecar shack build.

This is where we got up to last time if you don't remember.

In the few weeks since his first visit I'd sorted 8 metal roofing sheets, the 'special' nails for the sheets, as well as the hangers and wood for us to erect another joist.

Friday night was a little later than planned, and that plus an early Saturday morning F1 Quali session saw us a little slow to start.  We quickly realised we were light on wood for the noggings so decided on a swift visit to wickes ... and calculated en-route (with the use of a dusty Benz dashboard) that if we could get 360cm lengths of wood we would be able to notch them - and the joists - and get everything to interlock nicely.  This was a little too much use of the little grey cells for such an early hour, and so after loading the wood into the Benz we dived into the adjacent fast food retaurant for a flame grilled wopper!

Once we got back lunch time was fast approaching and so we got busy erecting the second joist;

and then notched our first nogging;

followed by notching of the joists;

and nogging No1 was in place by the time round two of burgers were ready (this time flame grilled on the Barbie!)

With one already done we were quickly into our rhythm;

and the remaining notching went super fast ... but it always helps when Tim from next door passes over a couple of pints!

With the woodwork complete it was time to throw the tin sheets up!

And 45 mintes later we had a full roofed front section of the shack!

Now's time to get the Fig Tree moved, and then the rest of the shelter can be erected up to the barn.  More tin sheets will go down to extend the roofing and it'll be an awesome usable waterproof space!  By the end of the day Bill and I were pretty proud of our achievements, its just a shame this photo only accomodates one - thanks though mate, I couldn't have done it without you!!

Ciao Marco!

Every once in a while something happens in life that stops you in your tracks, and makes everything else in life seem totally insignificant.

Such an occasion happened last Sunday (23rd) when Marco Simoncelli was tragically killed at Sepang.  I can't quite put my finger on why, but its something thats really hit me.  I was a massive fan of his and watched him progress through the lower classes up to MotoGP.  His tall build and crazy big hair set him a unique figure, and there was many an occasion when I referred to Alfie as 'Marco' or 'Simmo' due to his crazy hair tendancies.

When I watched him on a 250 you could tell he'd make it.  He had that something about him that seperates the great riders from the good.  And, much like his close friend Valentino Rossi, he had that Italian charm and broken English which always seems to go down well with the English crowd.  Toby Moody commented in his blog about the way Sic used to say "Ciao Tobbee" and even though I never heard him utter those words you can just imagine him saying them!

I think its the events of this year that have really made his death so untimely, and a factor to why I've found myself spending the past week rewatching interviews, searching for pictures and yesterday (Thursday) watching the Italian stream of his funeral.

My friend Barry Kidney only started watching MotoGP this year, he said he was looking for the outsider to cheer on, someone who might be able to take on the big boys.  I said Simoncelli was the man, the last race of the 2010 season had shown he wasn't to be pushed around by anyone, even if that meant upsetting the current champion Jorge Lorenzo.

With Rossi struggling to sort this years Ducati it meant most MotoGP races were quite processional - I said to many people this year that MotoGP was only worth watching till Simoncelli binned it.  He was the one to watch, the one pushing the boundaries, and the new boy taking it to the 'aliens'.  He had factory support - Honda could see how great he was going to be - but he was still on an independent bike and it was clear he would be chasing wins this year.  You could see this was going to be a learning year for Sic, a year where the exploration of the boundaries would result in a few trips to the kitty litter but you knew would also bring podiums.  That isn't a slight on his ability, I remember Stoner and Lorenzo highsiding themselves into orbit whilst they learnt exactly where the 'line' lies.

And it was great to watch, his tall 6ft+ frame like a preying mantis on the Honda whilst all around him were 5ft nothing jockeys trying to hold on to 230+bhp monsters.

Only three races in and Lorenzo was taking shots, but Marco seemed to take it all in his stride.

But then came Le Mans.  Simoncelli knew he was quick, we all felt his first podium was just around the corner.  He made a hard move coming back against Pedrosa.  Pedrosa went down and broke a collar bone.  Im still not convinced Simmo was wrong, but either way it was exactly the kind of racing us fans want to be watching!  If you haven't seen it, this is the best video i've found of the incident, but I can't seem to embed it into the blog easily.

Simoncelli got a ride through pentaly which I felt was riduculously harsh, and a large portion of the MotoGP paddock seemed to turn on him.

Three weeks later Sic had an unfortunate highside on the first lap, and his crash took out Lorenzo.  A week later Dani Pedrosa refused to shake his hand at Mugello.  

All this did was endear him me - and all his fans - even more though.  This is clearly shown in this interview at the British GP (which fell between Catalunya and Assen) - his Italian charm there for all to see!

For a few weeks we lost our 'SuperSic', his confidence clearly had taken a knock and he just wanted to get some finishes under his belt.  He looked a more mature rider than his 24 years suggested, and you sensed it was a step forward.  Then since the summer break he'd nailed consecutive fourth places before a career best 2nd (and his first podium) just two weeks ago at Phillip Island.

He was back on the up, and as he went into the Malaysian Grand Prix he must have fancied himself for victory.  Certainly none of us ever imagined what would play out last weekend.

I remember thinking mid season how happy I would be for him when he won his first race, however he was taken from us before he had the chance to pop that feather in his cap.  Without doubt I think he will always be the greatest World Champion that there never was.

Ciao Marco, you were a breath of fresh air to MotoGP!

As Matt Roberts said in his excellent blog, "Motorcycle racing brought Marco Simoncelli to his death but it also brought him to life" and when aboard his Gresini Honda he came alive like no other!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Alfies First Baking Adventure

OK, so on Monday I had a super productive day.  I made the most awesome tomato, mini pumpkin and chili soup for dinner and it was all sat with fresh bread ready to eat before Tash got home ... and so I had the genius idea of prepping some ingredients to bake some cakes with Alfie.

The plan was to get everything ready so we could do it when Tash got home ... cos I was sure it was gonna take two to monitor Alfie with floury ingredients!

Everything was kept simple, ideal for a child with about a 13 second attention span - and what could be more perfect than vanilla cupcakes with a chocolate frosting/icing!!

The cake recipe was 150g butter, 150g caster sugar, 100g plain flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 3 eggs ... and Alfie was only too keen to help out with the measuring, literally diving in with two hands!

And he mastered the electric mixing quick-smart, and only tried to stick his fingers in the whisk attachments about four times! (which I considered a success!)

Tash measured out the batter into the cupcake cases and each one was baked at 160 for about 20 minutes.  Whilst the cakes baked Alfie got on with cleaning the whisk attachments!

Once cooled I gave half of the cakes a chocolate frosting and half a chocolate icing (cos my awkward wife doesn't like frosting apparently).  Far from baked works of art, they are however baked gems of tasty joy!  Alfie confirms this with lots of pointing at the cake stand accompanied with 'mmmmmmmmm' noises.

Incidentally, if you would like to learn how to decorate cupcakes properly (not like my half arsed attempts) then you might like to know my gorgeous friend Holly Bell (who was in the final three of this year Great British Bake Off) is now running classes up in Leicestershire.  She's got a real eye for this kinda thing, and I can guarantee she'll be the most welcoming host and helpful teacher.  Click here to be taken to her website where you can book your place!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Tomato Harvest

Every year I plant a large number of tomato plants, and this year I focused on some bigger varieties with the aim of a bumper crop.

I been slow posting these pics, but you can see that by mid Sept they veg had well and truly taken over the garden!  The tomatoes were growing like crazy, and some weird mini pumpkins had decided to grow all across the gravel paths!

Alfie started picking a few a number of weeks back;

And I picked a load to ripen up whilst we were away last weekend.  And yes, that one at the front is ONE tomato!

But before then I collected about 1.5kg of ripe toms and made the most awesome sauce.  Its kinda the reason I grew them, I wanted a big stock of sauce ready to go for pasta and pizza bases.

So here's what you do.  In a big stock pot sweat an onion in a good glug (or five) of olive oil.  Add a diced apache chili.  Add your 1.5kg of toms (chopped).  Once they start to reduce and give out a little liquid add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and just under a tablespoon of caster sugar.  Leave over a low heat until it has reduced to the consistency you desire.

When needed, just add a generous handful of fresh basil and it is tomato perfection!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Racecar Shack Build, Day One

For a long time now I've wanted to get a shelter built off the back of the barn.  A place for the racecar to live, and somewhere for me to start its rebuild with a roof over my head.

Short of funds for a complete garage to be built I decided a carport would be a suitable solution to the problem.  A recent call to Bill had him booked in to help out with the erection and a phone call to Less2Build had the materials with me by Thursday.

On Saturday morning it was time to clear some space!

And got the woodburner fired up to give us a helping hand.

We spent a while measuring everything out, working our which way the posts were going to line.  With the barn and the adjacent fence not being at right angles we had to work out which way the 'square' of our four posts was going to line.  With everything planned I ran out to grab some postcrete whilst Bill went about digging some holes!

I returned to find all holes dug, and so we set about mocking up the posts and setting them into place.

With the posts set in place we went about measuring the joist position whilst accommodating a 6 inch slope for the rainwater run off.

It was looking good, and Bill gave it the thumbs up!  Proper job!

It was about this time I learnt a valuable lesson.  When tapping coachbolts into place don't leave a lump hammer on the top of the step ladder ... cos if you lose your bearings and try and step off the wrong side of the step ladder not only will you fall on the floor, but the step ladder will also fall on top of you throwing said lump hammer right between your legs from about 5ft up!

Once I'd finished jumping about and my voice had dropped back down to a normal level we got everything finished off.

All properly finished off with recessed coachbolts and right angle brackets in the corners!

With everything done for the day we made the most of the last half hour of daylight to try and remove some off the abundance of tree and shrubbery near the fig tree.  I'm pleased to say that most of the budlia is now gone!  Its amazing what a few blokes can do with a piece of rope and a bit of heave-ho!

Next up is to move the fig tree, and then the whole carport will be extended to join the barn. In the meantime I'll probably add another joist, brace it with a few noggins, and then lay a nice tin roof over what we've already built.  A perfect shack to build a racecar under!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Making The Most of The Indian Summer

Last weekend the calendars clicked over to October.  I suppose that really marks the start of Autumn, but due to the freak 30+degree heat it was more like summer than anytime during June, July or August!

I was loving it, happier than a shark at a surf festival, and with a perfect weekend already planned the weather would prove to be the icing on the cake.

Due to post-Gathering activities I hadn't even made it to a single Villa home Premier League game this season, but with my Dad out of the country I had been left the pair of season tickets and I had no intention of missing the game on Saturday.  The only spanner in my plan was the fact Tash was away at the NCT AGM for the day.  Due to the wonders of social media I learn my pal Nathan was 'home alone' for the weekend and so invited him to join me for the day ... and help me try and keep Alfie reigned in!  Part of me was dreading it, but mostly I couldn't wait to take Alfie to Villa Park for the first time.

All in all we had a cracking day - whats better than football in the sunshine!?  Alfie slept on the way up, we arrived just before kick-off giving just enough time to grab a photo, a programme and of course his first Aston Villa scarf!  

The game flew by, and Alfie found himself easily amused; mostly by the people around him, bouncing beach balls in the crowd, or birds that he thought he could see.  With Villa rounding out 2-0 winners there was plenty of opportunity to clap which also pleased him a lot!

Sunday rolled round, a date I had been massively excited about for a long time.  It was time for me to collect some more ink!

I had spotted the picture of the clown in the art store based above Casemates in Gibraltar back in 2007 - oddly enough the same place and same time as Tash found the image of her 'birds' that she had tattoo'd.  I loved the image right away, it just made me smile.  It kinda said to me to keep a smile on your face, even when the world is pissing down upon you.  And as time passed this image kinda grew with me, and always seem relevant and appropriate to my life.  The clown / the entertainer / the stay at home Dad, and the ducks as the family.  I think that comes back to something I heard Tash say years ago, something about "no-one cuts up her ducks".  That's why there is only one duck - to represent Alfie - and others will be added as future children arrive.

My only problem was Tash finds clowns freaky, and so didn't have the same affection for the picture that I did.  I dunno if I just wore her down or if she changed her mind but eventually I managed to make the comment "I'm gonna have my clown tattoo'd" and I didn't get the response "I'll divorce you if you do!".  And with that a deposit was laid down (thanks Sal!) and come Sunday I was ready to go under the needle once more.

We jumped on the train;

and whilst Alfie slept we found a lovely little Sushi place down Camden Lock;

of course it wasn't long till he woke up and joined us for some food;

saw a lovely poo-brown Porsche 911;

before arriving at Evil From The Needle, the shop where Jeff Ortega works from (and owns).

It was lovely to just sit down and chill whilst being tattoo'd ... and whilst Alfie ran Tash ragged for a change!  Does that say something, that I'd rather have a man stick needles in me than be in charge of my son?? lol.  Jeff let me take some 'in progress' shots;

And here's the finished piece, I am absolutely over the moon with it!  Jeff, if you read this, thanks man!!!