Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Lord giveth, The Lord taketh away...

Mini shell
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
Last week I was jubilant about receiving a tax refund for $4600. Today I had a bill for the bodywork repairs on my Mini Cooper for virtaully the same amount. The original quotation was for £700. I knew there was some rust in the sills but didn't think the repairs would be so expensive. As it turned out the problem was serious. They had been fitted with overpanels to hide the rotten mess underneath. The bodyshop found filler packed around cardboard and bits of metal plate that had been tacked in place. It takes skill do botch a repair that badly! I've got a million things to do before my trip back to the UK on Thursday and I have a feeling sleep is going to be a luxury item between now and then.


Monday, November 29, 2004

Mad Dog Rallying

MDR Logo
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
Dear gentle (and rather occasional) readers. I hope I won't bore the pants off you for the next couple of months but I'm going to be harping on about the strange world of classic car rallying quite a bit. By now you know that I'm gearing up for the Monte Carlo Historique in January 2005. I've spent a day writing emails to various vendors and individuals regarding the car prepartion. This is going pretty well but I'm concerned about a pencilled in photoshoot for MiniWorld on December 10th. We may not make it. The Mini is back at BRR but Lee McNair has pulled out the subframe again (I'm not sure why) and we still have to drop the motor back in and fit period accessories in the interior. The coming week will be critical. Watch this space.


Sunday, November 28, 2004

Hold that Tiger (part 2)

Oliver Tiger Mk3
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
Now that the euphoria that bubbled up from learning that I'd been accepted for the MC rally has subsided a little I thought I'd complete the story about my teenage hobby, namely flying and building model airplanes. See Hold that Tiger (part 1).

The engine of choice back in the 60s was known as an Oliver "Tiger". It was a 2.5cc, two stroke, diesel motor that was designed by the legendary John Oliver (JO) who lived (and still does) in Dorset, England. The Tiger was an absolutely brilliant design. Very powerful and rugged with a timeless appearance somehow reminiscent of other British classics such as an XK series Jaguar or a Supermarine Spitfire. The Mk 3 version of this motor was the best and it was the mill of choice for combat flying and team race. They are now quite rare (many had a very hard life) and sell for outrageous prices on eBay.

Back in the summer I was offered a Mk 3 Tiger for a mere $80. I bought it sight unseen and without hesitation. The motor I eventually picked up was in very sad condition. Not only was it quite clapped out and missing the correct needle valve assembly but the fins had been squared off (a team race practice, I think) and at some point it had suffered a very hard air-to-air collision with another engine: the crakncase thread was clearly and deeply imprinted on the cylinder head. I pondered for awhile as to how to restore the Tiger to its former glory and came to the conclusion that this would be better done in the land of its birth. So I emailed Clive Sharp and asked him for advice. To my utter amazement, after discussing various engine tuners, Clive offered to ask John Oliver in person if he would do the refurbishment. I wasn't aware that the great JO was still around in earthly form let alone fiddling with stinky diesel engines. Well it turns out that John, who is now in his 80s, is not only alive and well but is still as meticulous as ever and accomplishing feats of engineering genius.

I duly sent my rather sad lump of metal off to the UK (rather insensitively in a box which had once contained a modern Chinese/Australian Oliver copy known as a CS). That was back in August. Then yesterday, out of the blue, I had a message from Clive to say that the motor was finished and he enclosed the picture posted here. Not only has JO rebored it but he has fitted a lighter piston, bushed the conrod, fitted a new cylinder head, needle valve assembly and prop nut (which is anodised black). The prop driver is still the original and a bit battered and the crankcase has an epoxy repair on it. But this patination lends some character. The motor had already been tuned and with JO's touches, I'm convinced it will go like stink when it's run in. When I get it back I'll put in a Dominator and use it for fun flying: it's too valuable to expose to the rigors of open diesel combat. Overall I feel very proud to own one of these classic diesels and indeed honoured that the great JO himself has personally refurbished and tuned it for me. Thank you, John.


Saturday, November 27, 2004

We're in! Hooray!

Monte Carlo rally
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
The waiting is over. The nervous nocturnal pacings can stop (at least for awhile). Today I got the news that the Automobile Club d'Monaco has accepted Bill Richards and me for the 8th Monte Carlo Historique Rally. This is great news but I'm more than a little intimidated by the amount of work that we have to do. There is an awful lot of stuff to organize and this weekend I'll need to write a million emails. Oh well, at least I have a mission. Watch this site for frequent updates.


Friday, November 26, 2004

Hold that Tiger (part 1)

John with Warlord

Well still no word from the Automobile Club d' Monaco on whether Bill Richards and I've been accepted for the Monte Carlo Historique rally. I thought there would be an announcement on their website and even got up in the middle of the night (don't forget Monaco is 9 hours ahead of Seattle) but to no avail. I failed to reach Bill by phone but did call Nicky West who also campaigns a Mini Cooper with her husband, Rob Stacey. Nicky hadn't heard anything either and she had Rob had been checking their computer all day too. Let's hope I get some news soon: not only is the suspense killing me but the lack of information is making it very difficult to plan my trip next week.

One delightful piece of news though. I had an email from my friend Clive Sharp in England. As teenagers growing up in Woking, UK, Clive and I used to fly model airplanes together. Specifically something called control line combat in which two fast acrobatic planes fly together in the same circle and the objective is to cut off a streamer towed by your opponent. It's amazingly good fun although the carnage is high and the life expectancy of a combat model is not long. I packed up model flying when I was about 16 to concentrate on school studies (actually I immediately discovered motorcycles but that's a story for another time) and never gave it another thought until recently.

About 18 months ago I was idly surfing and came across a combat website. There is a local group of mostly middle aged nitwits who still indulge in this so-called hobby. Most of these guys have been flying since they were teenagers and use the same engines (diesels as it happens) and model designs from the 60s and 70s: they term this silliness "Vintage Diesel Combat". I made the mistake of emailing one of these combat pilots and almost immediately received a very persuasive phone call inviting me to try my hand at flying. Despite my protestations to the effect that I hadn't held a control line handle in 37 years, I made the journey out to the local flying field and to my immense surprise could remember quite easily how to fly these models. Just like riding a bike I suppose. I was absolutely hooked -quite possibly something to do with the smell of ether and amyl nitrate in the fuel. Actually I'm fairly convinced that I spent a good deal of my teenage years out of my head on solvents: the fuel components along with solvent-based glue and "dope" (it's not called that for nothing, you know) for finishing the wing fabric are very powerful chemicals. So I purchased an engine and a couple of good planes and started practicing. On my third session out I came third in a contest and on my fifth time out I won another competition outright beating some noted pilots in the process. I felt ridiculously pleased with myself -this was by any standards a good result after a 37 year layoff and nearly 40 years since I was Woking and District Model Aero Club junior champion.

Anyway I've digressed a bit and just realised that I don't have time to write anymore tonight so on my next post I'll explain about my email from Clive Sharp and "The Tiger"...


Thursday, November 25, 2004

Waiting with baited breath...

I can't stand the suspense. I'm hopping up and down on one foot waiting for the Automobile Club d'Monaco to publish the list of entrants for the 2005 Monte Carlo Historique rally. They said announcemnts will be made on November 26. It's currently 11.25pm in Seattle on Thursday 25th November and hence 9.25am on Friday 26th in Monaco. I've been checking the ACM's website every 10 minutes. Come on guys (and gals) the suspense is killing me...


Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Blogging the night away

Wow, there really are some fantastic blogs out there. I'm discovering a whole new world. Apart from the Queen of Sky mentioned in my previous posting there are some truly amazing political sites with highly intelligent and well-reasoned rhetoric (of the left wing type). I would thus like to recommend the following which in my view are truly outstanding:
Conceptual Guerilla's Strategy and Tactics
Baghdad Burning

These are well worth a visit -be prepared to spend at least 10 minutes on each. They are highly addictive. You have been warned.


Saturday, November 20, 2004

Queen of Sky

Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
I've been following the blog of Ellen Simonetti (aka "Queen of Sky"). This diary is compelling for several reasons:
1) Although the commentary isn't particularly heavyweight, it is witty and engaging and concerns Ms Simonetti's alter ego, Queen of Sky, who is a flight attendant for Anonymous Airlines.
2) Ms Simonetti made the "mistake" of being photographed, in her flight attendant's uniform, in mildly risque poses, and consequently was fired by her real life employers, Delta Airlines.
3) The QoS site, has had a phenomenal number of hits over the last couple of weeks. While the majority of comments have been supportive, QoS has also attracted a large number of creepy, bigoted, misogynistic and right wing morons who have posted an extraordinary amount of nasty hate mail. Some of this is due to the fact that Ms Simonetti is open in her support for the Democratic party.

Overall, I feel Ms Simonetti is worthy of support. Although her photos may have been a little ill-advised, she most certainly shouldn't have lost her job, health care benefits etc. and is the victim of the worst kind of corporate bullying. But more than that she is an example of how big business can stiffle semi-private spleen venting from the blogging community. Please check out her site and leave an intelligent, supportive note.


Thursday, November 18, 2004

Them again (unfortunately)...!

Yesterday a nice man by the name of Simon emailed with yet another tale of woe about Henley Classic Minis and its proprietor Alan Tozer. Since posting a warning on the Mini Cooper register bulletin board a couple of months ago I've had quite a few concerned individuals conatact me. I sincerely hope that that I've helped one or two of them avoid being fleeced or perhaps injured in the frequently dangerous cars this man sells. I'm absolutely determined to play my part in the downfall of this organisation. I've said this before and I'll say it again, Alan Tozer is a habitual criminal. He has been sued time and time again and yet somehow remains in business. Please wake up Oxford Trading Standards and close him down! Oh and in case anyone thinks I'm broadcasting libelous comments, please write to me and I'll sned you a sheaf of evidence concerning the practices of HCM.


Hypertext Links: Issues with Macs

I got the hang of picture hosting a few weeks ago -well at a basic level at least (one photo per post). Today I figured out hypertext links. The problem was more complicated than I thought although the solution was easy. For some reason I could see only the spellchecker and the image upload buttons on the editing toolbar. I use a Mac and the Apple Safarai browser. When I tried IE Explorer I couldn't see the toolbar at all (another Microsoft winner!). I tried adding code in HTML but to no avail. Eventually I did what all grown men try to avoid: email the HelpDesk at Blogger. I received an immediate acknowledgement and a full reply 24 hours later. It seems that the current version of Safari has a few compatibility issues with the Blogger editor but subsequent versions will support so-called rich HTML editing. The browser of choice is Firefox from Mozilla which is available as a free download for either PCs or Macs. I duly configured Firefox on my iBook and "Hey, Presto" I can now do hypertxt links and get up to all sorts of mischief including a bit of Google Bombing. Firefox appears to be a brilliant product and the Mozilla site is well worth a visit (no, I'm not getting paid for this endorsement.)

I should also mention that the IT Department of the orgnaization in which I am employed is recommending that we all switch to Firefox as it doesn't have the security issues associated with IE Explorer.


Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Martial Arts

Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
On one of my earlier postings I said I'd write about my training in iaido. For the uninitiated, iaido is a Japanese martial art based focused on sword drawing. However before I get to this I should say a few words about my relationship with the martial arts in general. As an undergraduate in the fair city of Cardiff, Wales, I was enticed into practicing judo and karate by my landlord, Colin Jenkins (where are you now Colin?). After a couple of years fairly avid training I gained a green belt in judo and a brown belt in shotokan karate. However I found both of these disciplines lacking an indefinable 'something". Somehow they were too physical and centered around competition. More martial sports than arts.

Then at some point I attended an aikido demonstration and immediately thought that this was for me although I was certainly terrified of the gymnastic nature of the breakfalls. Aikido, although complex, seemed more evolved technically and philosophically than either judo or karate. Furthermore I was intrigued by the sword-derived movements as well as the use of bokken (wooden practice swords).

Sadly it was another 10 years before I began aikido practice in earnest. I started with Morita Sensei in 1985 when working in San Francisco. Morita taught Yoshinkai style aikido which is a quite rigid but standardised hard style. In 1987 I moved to San Diego and was fortunate to be able to train with Chiba Sensei for nearly five years. I also studied iaido for the last two years I was with Chiba. I found the iaido fascinating and it improved by aikido no end.

I then moved back to the UK and practice took a backseat. There are some excellent aikido practioners in England including some of Chiba Sensei's former students -notably Dee Chen at the London Shinmeikan. But getting through London in the rush hour was always a deterrent and my martial arts practice lapsed.

Now, nearly a decade later I have found a great dojo in here in Seattle that teaches iaido, or more correctly battojutsu, which is a more practical form of swordsmanship and as well as the traditional kata involves cutting rolled straw targets. Aikido is also taught although this is not the main focus of the organisation. The dojo is known as Ishi Yama Ryu (Stone Mountain School) and it has one of the most beautiful practice halls I have ever seen. I'm hoping that I will have a long association and happy association with Ishi Yama and its chief instructor Russell McCartney Sensei is highly likeable, technically accomplished and appears a very sincere person. So all going well my training is set fair for the forseeable future and after years stuck at 1st kyu (brown belt) rank I'm hoping to obtain at least the elusive shodan (black belt) before too long.

So now I've introduced the topic, I'll make regular posts in future...


Sunday, November 14, 2004


Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
Have been meaning to add this photo for some time. On my jaunt to the Big Island of Hawaii two weeks ago I took a helicopter ride over Kilauea. This is an active volcano and quite awesome in every sense of the word. The red glow from the molten rock is amazing. The larva flows have changed the shape of the coastline over the last two decades not to mention having destroyed several hundred homes. Beautiful as Hawaii is it seems a stressful place to live. The populace appears to be dodging typhoons, tsunamis (tidal waves) or larva engulfment for a good portion of their time. Anyway for more information on volcanos click here.


Heads of the Lakes

Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
This morning I got up an unreasonable and anti-social hour and drove across a rainy Seattle to watch my my daughter, Olivia, compete in a regatta. The "Heads of the Lakes" appears to be quite big deal in the rowing season and concludes the autumn program. Approximately 400 crews compete against the clock in sequential starts. Olivia rows for the the University of Washington "Huskies" who have a formidable international reputation. Indeed O seems to be rowing at national level these days having picked up gold and bronze medals at the US Rowing nationals earlier in the summer. Well the Husky women prevailed with both the varsity (O's boat) and the junior varsity teams winning their classes. The varsity crew beat several noted teams en route to their first place including Stanford, UCLA, University of British Columbia and long standing rivals, Washington State. Now that's it for racing until March and Olivia will be getting her nose into the books and concentrating on getting her degree in psychology. Needless to say I'm a proud dad.


Friday, November 12, 2004

Do ye ken John Peel...?

John Peel
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
Today is John Peel's funeral which will be held in St. Edmunsbury Cathedral, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. There is so little unsaid about this great man that it is hard for me to find appropriate words. His passing two weeks ago was a tremendous shock. I had listened to John for nearly 40 years: initially as a teenager in the UK and more recently, as a resident of Seattle, I would stream in his late night music programme or "Home Truths". I think I had come to think of him as immortal. Or at least an institution like other BBC broadcasts such as the shipping forecast and the football results on a Saturday afternoon. Extraordinaily steady and comforting.

I saw him just once: at the National Jazz & Blues Festival, Sunbury, in the summer of 1968. Yet somehow I felt I knew him as a friend. This was his gift and many of the tributes that poured into the BBC said the same thing. Something to do with the way he could project genuine sincerity, humour, insightfulness and compassion. My record (well OK, now I've replaced most of my vinyl with CDs) collection and indeed my general musical tastes have been very much influenced by Peelie and now I will always think of him when I play Pentangle, Fairport Convention, Jethro Tull et al. He is quite irreplaceable.

John, you left us too early and I don't know who I will listen to now. Apart from your music you were an absolute gentleman and humanitarian. I lament your departure from earthly form however you certainly left your mark on society and you will not be forgotten. My condolences go to your family.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Kona beach
Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
Talk about lunacy. Having spent three days in DC at the end of October I then flew back to Seattle, stopped for just about enough time to feed the cats and then scurried off to the airport again to catch a flight to Hawaii. The purpose of this jaunt was to attends a friend's brother's birthday party. Tough work I suppose, especially as I wasn't paying for either the ticket or accommodation. Anyway I ended up on the Kona coast of the Big Island (actually Hawaii) -see picture. A very pleasant place and the trip was well worth it despite the confused state of my biorythms. In fact I could have happily spent more than four days there but it was fun nevertheless. One particularly intersting aspect of the trip was a helicoper flight over Kilahuea, an active volcano, however that will be the subject of another entry.


Friday, November 05, 2004

The night they drove old D.C. down II

Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
I have to say that picture posting makes this whole blog thing much more compelling and possibly interesting for readers too.

This is really a "P.S." to my posting of 10/29/04 which reported on my trip to Washington DC for NIH study section duty. So here's a pic, taken with my cell phone, of the committee (in a 10 minute recess). Chairman Ron Kennedy (center/white shirt) kept proceedings timely.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Rally preparations

Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
I seem to have finally got the hang of this picture hosting business (Flickr.com is recommended) and I apologize for the apparent overindulgence but pictures can truly be worth a thousand words.

I am waiting with baited breath to hear whether the Automobile Club d'Monaco has accepted my entry for the 2005 Monte Carlo Historique rally. Roll on Nov 25. In the meantime I'm spending a fortune on car preparations. I've fixed a lot of minor bodywork problems which have amounted to a virtual respray of the car. Still all the rust, which was not as minor as I had thought, is now gone and the car is structurally stronger as well as looking very pretty. I've acquired a lot of period BMC ex-works parts and the interior is looking very good. I still need an intercom, a full set (6) of Dunlop 93J tyres (I'm trusting that Bill Richards has managed to negotiate a deep discount as well as a race suit and open face helmet. When I go to England next month I'll get the suit and helmet. I'll also do some fine detail work in preparation for the car's photoshoot with MiniWorld which is pencilled in for December 10th.

I'm also hoping to visit Stamford's (best map shop in the world) in Covent Garden, London, where I'll pick up a set of large scale maps that will cover all the rally's regularity stages. Then all going well Bill and I will make a quick trip to Monaco for a recce of the infamous night loop section over the Col d'Turini. I'm a bit worried about these plans as Mercury will be in retrograde for that period (the fourth bloody time this year). For those of you remotely interested in this nonsense, Mercury is the ruler of my sun sign, Virgo. In this three week phase confusion abounds. It's usually nothing life threatening; just chaotic, irksome stuff. I hate it and it's really not the best planetary aspect for travel or planning a rally.




Originally uploaded by wjwmorrow.
I think I'm going to sit down in a darkened room with a bottle of Prozac for the next four years...