Friday, 23 June 2017

Birmingham – June 2017

Jackie put the lemon bag on Brians head while he had his hands in pastry
I know Brian wrote an entry solely on his visit to the Morgan factory, but that's not all that's happened in the last 10 days.

Thoroughly enjoyable curry with the Monday Club boys before a trip to Bury St Edmunds on Tuesday to catch up with Aunty Margaret and Ron, actually Mother's cousin, but always known as Aunty Margaret. We probably haven seen them since we started travelling so it was well past time. The trip over wasn't too bad, though the return was longer, particularly with no AC but we had a really enjoyable time. Good to catch up, reminisce at their wedding photos with me as one of the bridesmaids, some 40+ years ago, and eat a great lunch.

Aunty Margaret, Jackie, Ron and Pauline (Jackie's mum)
Steph with Ivy, Brians great-niece
On Thursday we finally met new greatniece Ivy, sister to Rory, offspring of Steph and Sam, Brian's niece. She wasn't on best form having not slept as required, but we did get some smiles and cuddles from her. Rory however was on top form, wanting to water the garden, which seemed to involve tipping quite a lot of water over himself, before taking me into the house to play with the toys in Grandma's toy chest.

Jackie attending to Rorys every need
Typical British worker scene, Rory watering, three people watching!
The weekend was spent mostly with Helen and Ian and a very hot Monty dog, so hot that when we went out for a walk (pub crawl) round Kings Heath he was left at home. Three pints later we returned to gin fizzes and a BBQ, to be followed by the G&T and Lemon tart with a G&T syrup that B had whipped up after our arrival. Sadly either the dog has learnt how to open doors or it wasn't shut properly, but either way, the only one to enjoy the tart, and then only the filling, was Monty! Ho hum, we probably didn't need it anyway, but the syrup did spruce up a hastily bought Co-op lemon sponge!

Ivy with Grandad Paul (Brian's brother-in-law)
Sunday we had a good catch up with Jo in the afternoon seeing wedding pics and all sorts, before meeting back with H&I, along with Manu and Crystal, also newly married and Pete and Hils, for a Sunday tea club with a difference. The difference being it wasn't Chinese! Instead it was a Dosai and Idly restaurant, dosai are Indian crepes then stuffed with a dry ish meat and potato curry, absolutely delicious. Idly are little dumplings, about which I can't comment. I really enjoyed the meal but did miss the Chinese!

BBQ at Ian and Helens
Apart from all that we've done loads more DIY, I've caught up with Alex, always a pleasure, we've had a regular Monday club meeting, been back to the garage and now have working AC in the car, Hurrah, fixed in the middle of the heatwave. We've been to the gym a couple of times and spent the day in Alvechurch doing all sorts of jobs as well as seeing Sarah and Mum.

Hunting for veg in Helen's greenhouse
Tomorrow we head down to Redmarley for a week with the four dogs and five cats (hopefully, though little Charlie cat has been very poorly so may still be in the vets). Amazingly the heatwave was the week just gone rather than the week we are with the dogs as it has been for the last couple of years, so all should be much better.

The G&T lemon tart after Monty had licked it clean, except for the pastry
She forgot to mention the new passport I applied for. Nowdays you can do it all online, including submitting your own digital photo. Unfortunately in Abi's house there are few blank walls to use as background. The only one is in the bathroom, but it's half tiled, so here I am standing on a stool to get above the tiles...

And here is Jackie standing on another stool to take the photo. Several attempts were made to stifle giggles in order to get the obligiatory straight faced photo

And while we're on standing photos, here is Jackie standing on a chair in the conservatory trying to swat a fly

Poor little Sooty's been on a diet and here Jackie is trying to put her in a mixing bowl balanced on top of the kitchen scales to see if she has lost any weight. It didn't go well!

Outside afterwards trying to get over the trauma

A squirrel came to see us and here it is chomping on a bit of pineapple...

 Apart from the squirrel we have had other animal events, we managed to scoop up a wagtail while driving, it looked most confused hopping over the windscreen wipers onto the bonnet! We then had the trauma of the maggoty rat that after I scooped it onto the compost heap, reappeared on the lawn. Hmm, just missed the binmen so bury it I guess, just about to go out to do so when two seagulls appeared, squabbled over it, and flew off with it! Problem solved!
Watched by Sooty

The lights Abi bought for the conservatory after Brian had installed them. They look pretty cool we think

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

A tour of the Morgan Car Factory, Malvern – June 2017

After meeting Bill, retired foreman of 25 years at Morgan Cars, who had rebuilt a 1920’s Morgan three wheeler, Abi bought me a ticket for a guided tour of the factory after she had seen my enthusiasm.

The day was Tuesday 20th June and I, minus Jackie, was booked on the 10:00am tour with about 15 other people. I’m not particularly a Morgan car fan, but I was interested to see a traditional British manufacturer of cars, now the oldest family owned car business in the world, started in 1909.

A finished wooden ash frame for a Classic 4/4
Although embracing some modern technology in engines and engine management systems, the classic Morgan is still the mainstay of their production, the 4/4 being the longest running production vehicle in the world, first produced in 1936 and still built on an English ash wooden frame, steel chassis and aluminium body.

The factory in Pickersleigh Road, Malvern was first opened in 1914 and now produces between 800 and 1000 vehicles per year. It has been extended over the years but still retains that traditional look, inside there are no robots or rolling production lines, it’s all very much as it must have been 50 or 60 years ago, each car hand-made and finished and, being on a sloping site, they use gravity for moving vehicles around.

Fitting a laminated ash wheel arch into the former
A Melbourne sourced rear axle fitted to a classic chassis
It’s true that a lot of parts are now sub contracted, but a lot of it is still UK based. The chassis are made at a company in Ross-On-Wye, the aluminium panels are formed at a company in Wolverhampton and the ash wood is sourced in Lincolnshire. The rear axles, however, are sourced from Dana-Spicer in Melbourne, Australia, which seemed a bit weird, but when you are building so few cars per year you have to get parts from where you can, as no car parts manufacturer would be excited by an order of 800 axles! They don’t make engines or transmissions either, they buy Ford engines for the standard 1600cc and 2000cc cars and use them with a Mazda MX5 gearbox. There’s a bigger 3.7litre engine variant that uses the Ford Mustang engine and the newer Aero 8 car uses a monster 4.8litre BMW engine (in a small car you can imagine how fast that must go!)

Line of chassis being worked on
Trimming the aluminium as it is fitted to the frame
They still make the ash frame in house and fit the aluminium bodies by hand, as each wooden frame is slightly different, so the workshop is a proper woodworking shop with benches, vices, hand tools and wood shavings on the floor (my dad would have loved it!). The door frames are wooden and are held onto the wooden frame with what looked like cabinet hinges, screwed on with wood screws, how fabulous is that! The aluminium bodies have some extra material which is cut off with tin snips and finished off with files by the workers as they are fitted to the wooden frame.

Morgan assembly line, Morgan Aero 8's this side, Classics on the other side
Workers hand making the bonnets
On through the factory we saw the trim department where skilled people fit leather to the interior and five or so female workers operate sewing machines to stitch together the trim. There’s another man cutting out veneer to fit to the beautifully carved dashboards and the final finish bay has a couple of people going over the car with a fine tooth comb looking for any problems. However, the final check is a 20 mile road test round the open countryside of the Malvern Hills where any niggles are noted and put right. Not a bad job eh?
Semi finished car showing the wooden door frame
It’s a proper traditional manufacturer, anyone buying a car can visit the factory anytime and see their car being built and they are given full documentation at the end detailing every worker who worked on it and any comments he made on that particular vehicle. There are, apparently no standard cars, they offer any of the 300 colours their paint supplier offers, several dozen colours of leather and numerous options and combinations. He did tell us about the Chinese lady who ordered a pink car with shocking pink interior!

And they look like cabinet hinges fixed with wood screws
Here's a guy cutting out some veneer for a dashboard
I really enjoyed my tour and I’d really recommend anyone who is interested in cars and particularly hand built cars to take a tour. I can’t afford one, the entry 4/4 Classic with a 1600cc engine goes for £39,000, the 2litre for £43,000, the 3.7litre for £53,000 and the modern looking Aero 8 for £93,000. Even the relaunched three wheeler using a USA motorcycle engine and Mazda MX5 gearbox sells for £33,000. They are lovely cars but really, they are totally impractical, they have only two seats and limited luggage space, the three wheeler doesn’t even come with a hood, it’s completely open. They are really just fun cars and are a lot of money just for that, but I guess if you have the money, why not, it would be great wouldn’t it?
The leather sewing area and final finish department behind
Now here's an interesting story, Morgans had always sourced their wood from the same ash forest in Lincolnshire, but sometime ago they were offered some Belgium ash at a very attractive price. Soon after taking delivery they started to break cutting tools while machining it and, on inspection they found metal particles inside the wood. It turned out that the forests were in the Ardennes area of Belgium, which was the site of the Battle of the Bulge, the last German offensive in 1944 and the metal particles were shrapnel that became embedded in the wood during the battle. The trees grew round the particles and they became incorporated within them. In this photo the metal particle is part of a bullet

Car wings being buffed up prior to final fitting
The three wheeler department. They built a couple in about 2014 to take to the Geneva motor show, expecting little interest, but they came away with orders for 200! They have now built about 800 of them
And they do look pretty good, the front mounted engine mimicing the original look
These are the motorcycle engines and MX5 gearboxes they use
This is a very rare car, they only built 26 of them, it's was unpopular
Morgan Classic 4/4 anyone?
Or what about an Aero 8?
It looks really different from the back

Monday, 12 June 2017

Birmingham, Malvern, Buckinghamshire – late May to mid June 2017

With Denise (Brians sister) and Paul in Warwickshire
Doesn't time fly? It's been crazy, hence the long gap, though obviously now back in the UK although we are busy and want to record it for ourselves it may not be as interesting for others!

The normal form with housesitting is we arrive and the owner goes away. This time however Abi had a few jobs for us, and herself, so we have house shared for the first fortnight. We haven't finished them all, but have made a really good start.

St Marys church, Lapworth, Warwickshire
The first thing we did was visit mum, in order to swap some clothes and catch up. This involved a trip to the village Indian, hurrah, the food we've been missing and a couple of pints as we didn't have to rush back to Sooty as Abi was there to look after her. After the curry and lots of chatting over a jigsaw it already felt like we hadn't been away.

Next on the list was a walk and dinner with Denise and Paul. Lots of family catching up and lots more chatting, a really enjoyable afternoon. Discovered they were off to Lisbon the following week, shame we couldn't have coincided, but they had a huge itinerary planned so perhaps we'd never have kept up.

A modern stained glass window, 2015, in the church
By the middle of the week we had made it to Ian and Helen to visit their loft and retrieve some of our cooking pots and pans to aid in reminding me what I used to cook. We also caught up with them at Diwans for the best curry. Hurrah.

Abi was away for the weekend, so Sooty had to make do with just us, though she seems quite happy and has rekindled her relationship with Brian. Over the weekend we caught up with Fiona and James, with middle granddaughter Becky coming home mid way through. Followed by a day with Jonathan and Lucy and nephew and niece Charles and Caroline. They have both grown so tall and are maturing scarily quickly, but still seemed happy to see us and spend time with us which is fabulous.

Jackies brother Jon with Lucy, Caroline, Gran Pauline, Charles and Jackie
Bill showing Brian the rare 1920's Morgan three wheeler
The second week involved doctors, vets, financial advisers, the gym, a Monday drink with Mark and Fiona and a curry at the beautiful Indian restaurant round the corner from here. (Seems to be a trend going here.) Mid week we had to take the car to Worcester to the garage as there were a couple of small niggles, mostly that the air conditioning wasn't working, which we did actually need when we first got back. We were quite happy to entertain ourselves in Worcester, but Abi followed us down as her mum, Mary, lives in nearby Malvern so we were going to visit and see the house we have heard so much about. We stopped at the campsite Abi stores her caravan at en route to collect something. We were in danger of never leaving as Brian's eyes lit up at the sight of a Morgan motorcar in a small polytunnel . He had a great time with Bill, the owner who used to work at the Morgan factory explaining how it all worked and how he had done it up. He was a lovely man and it was a beautiful car, but I think Abi and I glazed over slightly!

Call me an anorak but the controls on the steering wheel are, on the left, the choke, small lever on the right the ignition advance and retard and the big lever on the right is the throttle. In the centre of the dashboard,partially hidden in this photo is...
The oil feed for the engine. 1 drop every two seconds is the optimum!
Amongst the various visits, social and 'business' and small DIY jobs, Brian has fitted lights in the conservatory that we laid the floor in last year. We also tried to spend time working on our TEFL course as the weekend just gone was our two 10 hour days in the classroom. Very interesting, but very hard work. It's a long time to concentrate for our old brains and it was a good dose of reality about how hard producing lesson plans is. 

At the Morgan pub in Malvern with Abi and her mum Mary
Today dentist, and tonight a full 'Monday Club' meeting, starting with a pint before moving onto Diwans, again.....

Lunchtime pint at the Morgan
Sooty with Ted

Sooty getting involved in (or obstructing) Jackies jigsaw making