Category Archives: Cars and driving

Update – Summer 2008

So its been a while since I posted anything, but I thought I’d keep people updated as to what has happened in my life lately.

At the beginning of August I had to sell my car and declare myself bankrupt. I was at the point of owing £15,000 and at my current level of income that would have taken me about 10 years to pay back, plus I would have been fairly povety stricken for that duration. Given my record of finding and keeping jobs(!) I doubt that I will find myself in some great earning IT job anytime soon, despite the fact I could pretty easily do the work.

The bankruptcy is going well so far, thanks to the Co-operative Bank I have a current account with a Visa Electron debit card and a fair bit more money available to me from my benefits given that I am not having to pay back what I owed to the banks and credit card companies.

Interestingly enough the Halifax, whom I owed approximately £6,000 to, has recently been taken over by Lloyds TSB (whom I owed £1,500), apparently because the Halifax had itself become insolvent. I’d like to say that I brought down one of the biggest banking groups in Britian, but sadly I think my debt is just a drop in the ocean to them! This is just the latest in a series of banking failures here in the UK, mostly brought on by the US ‘sub prime’ loan problem and the general ‘credit crunch’. Notice that no-one will use the word recession, and according to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, “this is not boom and bust”; who is he kidding!

My personal feeling, although this is extremely controversial, is that now is the time to wipe out all debt – after all, it is really just numbers on computers. Once we have done this, we should quit lending money to people with the soul exception of mortgages. No more credit cards or unsecured loans, because I believe this is what has caused all the problems: Consumer greed, and I think we are all guilty to some extent. But who is more guilty, the people forced into borrowing money for a better lifestyle (or sometimes just an existance) or the banks who spend all their time convincing us that we should take out loans and credit cards, sometimes to the point where we can’t ignore them.

Also during August I helped with a number of Autism research studies at University College London, but missed out on a MRI scanning experiment because of a small piece of metal left in me after my Gall Bladder was removed in 2001. It seems that I will never be able to find out the full details of the clip (make, model, etc) for the paranoid radiographers who control these experiments, because the hospital where the surgery took place have ‘misplaced’ the notes relating to it.

I also took part in research for my friend Kalen at the University of Manchester, who tells me that even if she can’t use my data – my reaction times suck and I definately have ADHD! Most people who meet me for just a few minutes know that I just can’t keep still, unless I am unconcious!

Whilst I was in the North West I was asked by a friend of mine to help at his workplace with some IT stuff. This taught me a few things: that my Windows Server skills are out of date and that eToken is more complicated than you’d think! eToken is basically a authentication system similar to smart cards, but uses a device that looks very much like a USB pen drive. It can also work over networks and this was the purpose, to secure servers at a remote site.

I have decided that I am going to use some of my time over the next few months to study for the MCSA exams or Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator. This is, I know a bit of a diversion from my Linux work over the past few years, but I don’t think I have the nessecary programming experience to be a proper Linux sys-admin. I last studied for these Microsoft exams back in 2000 when I passed the “Network Essentials” exam, but the failed “Windows NT Workstation”, sadly there was no credit for Network Essentials, it was just something you had to pass at the same time. So given that, my skills on the server aspects at least of Microsoft’s operating systems is about 8 years out of date. Maybe if I can improve my skills (and I’ll have bits of paper to prove it), then I’ll have more chance of getting a job… but can I keep it?

Spending about a week working 9-5 really made me realise how little I use the time in the day, since I have been back it has been a struggle to find things to do and not to spend money fleetingly. The lack of structure has if anything made me more depressed.

Last weekend I went to the NAS International Conference in London, it was a fairly good conference and a good chance to catch up with friends that I hadn’t seen for some time. I also got to meet some fairly big names: Alex Thompson from Channel 4 News (who has an Autistic son), Jane Asher (President of the NAS and all round good cake maker) and some of the producers and writers of Holby City and the film Snow Cake. I managed to ask some good questions as well!

Next wek I will be trying to spend my time wisely by doing some work, helping with binding for a printing company in Saltash. Its a bit of a long way to go, but its only for 5 days. So hopefully I manage to work out those 5 days! I’m also signed up to help chase up and collect in the voter registration forms for Plymouth City Council, that kinda pays on a piecemeal basis apparently, £1.50 for each form collected of which I will have 300 to chase!

Until next time… rave safe kids, rave safe!

This is what happens when you don’t take care

So today I went to buy an antenna, because quite frankly the antenna on my Yaesu VX-7R sucks. The only problem was that the closest place to get one was Weston-Super-Mare, near Bristol. I got there fine, got the aerial and fitted it. Then I drove into Bristol for a bit of a rest, went to IKEA, etc.

On the way back I stopped at Bridgewater Services in Somerset. I tested my antenna and I could hear some folks talking on a Repeater in Wales, GB3BC to be precise! I was amazed! I waited for a break in the conversation before I could talk to them. With only 5W from a small handheld connected to the new antenna I could open the repeater and the folks in Wales could hear me loud and clear! I felt great!

Only it didn’t last…

Realising all the water had dropped out of the washer bottle in my car again, I went to the petrol station at the services to top it up. Someone else was there using the air, so I pulled up, but I was too far for the hose. I tried to move the car a bit closer and that was when disaster struck… my foot slipped on the pedal and I hit a sign. Fortunately the car was not seriously damaged, it was drivable and there was no damage the radiator that I could see. Only the bonet, bumper (fender) and perhaps some of the frame at the front.

I admit I have spent the last couple of months being perticularly stupid in driving a car with only a provision license (learners permit) and no-one supervising me. Most of the time I do fine, but today I didn’t. I’m not going to drive it again, for a start I shall be away for a week from Saturday anyway. The problem is that I was going to sell the car to pay for my bankruptcy which I am due to do within the next few weeks in order to tackle the £15,000 of debt that I have. Now I have to get the car fixed before I can sell it or not get the £345.00 that I need.

I feel like a piece of crap, the road should have opened up and swalled me whole. For quite a while now I have been thinking, why am I here, why did I not get taken out years ago. Because all I keep doing is fecking up over and over again. Surely the world is tired of me by now….?

If the Police are reading, come pick me up…. you know where I am.

So, what happened here then?!

Here you can see the present state of our Kitchen/Diner with the two cylinder heads I am working on; one stripped from Punto #3 (background) and the other a 2nd hand purchase from eBay (foreground). [Click on pictures for larger versions]

The 2nd had head came to me mostly stripped down, none of the brackets were on it, and the thermostat had already been taken out. So I had to do a lot of stripping from the original head to get all the parts and enough studs to put it all together. This was fairly easy, so I then put the old head to one side and started working on the new head. That’s when the trouble started.

That spanner is actually stuck behind the 2 locked nuts that I was trying to use to get the stud out. I am assuming the stud is partly corroded at the head end (this is the exhaust side of the engine), and it will not move. Now I can’t get my lock nuts off, or the spanner out!

Arrrgggghhh…. why is nothing ever easy?!

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing!

Meet Punto #3, this time an Automatic!

Punto #3

I purchased this car on the Isle of Wight, unfortunately it had been sitting around idle for about a year… A few things needed fixing for it to pass the MOT, but these were easily sorted out, the car has been legal now for about a month.

The problem started when I decided that I would treat the car to new oil, plugs, etc… I thought that changing the spark plugs was an easy job… and it would be if there was good access to them. But not in this case. In the process of changing plug #2 I cross-threaded the hole and it did not tighten correctly. For one reason or another I ignored this (probably through pride) and just forgot about it.

All was fine until about 100 miles afterwards, when suddenly I lost power in the engine and it sounded like a tractor. Initially I thought my new exhaust might have dropped off, but no the exhaust was fine. So I checked the engine… there was oil in the engine compartment where there shouldn’t be… I suspected a blown head gasket.

It was not until I started taking the cylinder head off the car that I discovered #2 spark plug just sitting in the hole, not attached… DOH! I proceeded with changing the gasket and putting everything back together. However I had trouble timing the engine. I could not get it correct however many times I tried, so I got a local mobile mechanic to help – he was here less than 20 minutes!

So at this point I have a car that will move for the first time in about a fortnight! I have a few things to do, first of all I need to get the spark plug hole sorted out so that this won’t happen again! I try to start the car, it won’t start, the battery is flat. I get a jump start and get going – only to find it won’t start the next time I park up! I decide that I must get a new battery, so head to a car parts store. New battery in the car, I head home. Whilst trying to park the car, it cuts out (highly unusual for an automatic), so I try to re-start it… it won’t start! I get a high pitched noise from the engine. For some reason I don’t suspect my new cambelt and think about the starter motor. I go indoors and call out a breakdown service, they arrive and tell me that the cambelt isn’t moving when the engine turns over and to contact the mechanic who did the work.

After they go, I check out the cambelt myself, and initially think that something might have been caught in it because I could not fit the cambelt cover securely. I find a piece of webbing wrapped in the crankshaft pulley and try to remove it. I discover to my horror that this webbing is the cambelt and it has been chewed up by the engine. No problem I thought, I still have the old cambelt which was in OK condition. I try to fit this but then discover I can’t move the camshaft and again teeth get chewed off the belt.

Mechanic calls me back to tell me that the camshaft is probably seized – when I put the new head gasket on, I must have put it on the wrong way around and blocked an oil channel from the engine block to the head, hence no oil was getting to the camshaft! I go back to the car and check the camshaft, it’s not even slippery! He was absolutely right. I killed a cylinder head and 2 cambelts because I tried to do things too quickly, thinking I knew what I was doing!

All is not lost however, because I have sourced a 2nd hand head for £25 + £9.99 shipping and Lee, my friendly mobile mechanic is going to do the work for about £60, which is was I was quoted to get the spark plug hole drilled out and re-threaded! This car is costing me a fortune, but I think most of it is my own fault, I need to slow down and not try to fix things I can’t fix like the van i got last year from eCamperVanHire.

Until next time, rave safe kids!



Well, it has been quite a while since I have blogged, there have been some good things and bad things happening, which I shall summarize here:

The Motherboard that broke on me has been repaired, although initially it came back with the part I wanted fixing unfixed, they later sent me a replacement part which I replaced myself.

I have recently acquired an automatic car (rare in the UK), with the intention of passing my driving test in an automatic. This will mean that I can only drive automatics alone, but I am willing to deal with that until I feel more confident out on the road. The car that I got was untaxed (unregistered) and had no MOT (inspection), so I had to do some work on it before I could get it legal; I replaced the front part of the exhaust and also the fuel pump, and finally got it legal and on the road last week. Now I just have to pass my drivers test!

I have been applying for a lot of jobs, mostly office admin and alike, however I haven’t got very far. So far I think I have been rejected by at least 10 of the jobs I applied for. I have had 1 interview and 2 more lined up. I suspect the problem is that my habit of not keeping jobs for very long is catching up with me, so my references are bad.

For a while I have been thinking about getting a pet, originally wanting a cat… but since I live in a shared house I thought it might be quite difficult to keep an animal that likes to roam, plus one of our friends who likes to visit has a cat allergy! So I compromised and decided to get some rats instead. I have never really had a problem with rodents, I had mice in a previous flat (as in an infestation rather than a pet!) and although I had to kill them, it didn’t make me afraid of being there. So I have ordered a cage and some stuff, once this arrives I am going to obtain 2 male rats and call them Steve McQueen and James Dean; two actors/racing car drivers who died before their time… and yes, I did get the idea from House.

My run in with the Police seems to be over, they have decided not to prosecute me and have returned all of the computer equipment that they confiscated.

Finally this week I am working for a local software house doing some testing of a new version of their software… I don’t think I am doing too well, it seems very abstract to me, I am sitting here not really sure what to do – the fact that a lot of what I am doing doesn’t work correctly doesn’t help!

I am starting to wonder if I am in love with the idea of having a job, rather than actually wanting to do a job. Every job I have tried recently has ended in failure because I get there and then I get bored and tired after a while. I can’t cope with boredom too well, unless that boredom is self-induced!

I think what I need in a job is for it to be well structured and have enough breaks for me not to get too tired; i.e. part time. Trouble is that not a lot of employers are so willing to help in that respect.

Oh well, I hope I can sustain this or Dan (who got me the job) will be very pissed…

Until next time, rave safe kids – rave safe!


The end of an era…

Well today I finally got the car I crashed back in September towed away to that great scrapyard in the sky.

It had been looking very sad and pathetic outside my house for the last 3 months…

Here it is when I brought it…

And here it is on the tow truck being taken away.

In a way I suppose I am glad to be rid of it – my neighbours have been giving me a hard time about it being there recently, but its sad because this was the first car I ever brought and I never really got to drive it!

My driving has gotten a lot better since then and I am taking my practical driving test on November 24th!

Meanwhile, I did manage to obtain a similar Punto for about £60 ($100) which I fixed up with parts from the original grey one. However, I still haven’t been able to get it to pass its MOT because of problems with the water pump!

Here is Punto #2 – aka “The Blue One”!

If only I could seal the dastardly water pump, then I would be able to get it back on the road!

I no-longer have a car

Well, only 11 days after purchasing my first car, I have pretty much written it off in an accident. I was under my friend Norman’s supervision, but I took a roundabout (rotary in American English) too fast and then lost my footing and hit the accelerator pedal rather than the brake pedal. The car went into a steel crash barrier and uprooted some of it!

So I am not best pleased. My insurance is only third party, so they won’t cover the damage to the car, only the crash barrier. The damage to the car, once we were able to open the bonet (hood), was pretty bad, the engine had moved to one side. I had hoped that it would be a case of replacing a panel, but I think its done structural damage.

With the help of Gemma’s Dad we were able to tow it back to my house, where it now rests.

Here are some pics…

After we’d pushed it out of the road!

The roundabout is in the top right corner.

I’ve brought my first car!

I should have blogged about this last night, but I was tired and it took me a while to upload a photo to my photobucket.
Yesterday, with the help of my friend Norman (whom I’m staying with at the moment), we went to look at a car in Shipley, West Yorkshire, which is near Bradford. The car is a Fiat Punto (which is a subcompact for those American Readers). Its a 1994 model, but it’s in good condition and has no major faults.

Today we went to pick it up. After spending 4hrs getting there entirely by Public Transport, it took us 1.5hrs to drive back! I haven’t had the chance to drive it properly yet – since I am not allowed to drive on Motorways (Interstate Highways), must display L-Plates and have a person who is over 21 and held a full license for 3 years or more sitting in the passenger seat, it would have been difficult to drive it back here, since the main route is mainly motorways.

So once Norman is able to drive it back to Plymouth, I can go out practicing – my good friend Gemma has agreed to supervise me. I take my test on September 20th, please send good vibes! I am still taking lessons with a driving instructor, but its getting expensive and he says that all I really need is practice!

So, here it is my first car!

I passed the test!

About a month before I went to New York I started learning to drive, except for my dumpster incident, I have been getting better and better and my driving instructor was pretty impressed with me today.

In order to pass your drivers test and get a full license in the UK, you have to take not only the “written” (or theory) and practical tests, but also a ‘Hazard Perception’ test which is part of the written test. Its all done on a computer, first you are asked 35 questions about driving law and how to operate and maintain your car and then you get a 3 minute break before the next part.

The Hazard Perception test consists of a series of 14 video clips shot from a camera mounted on a car, you assume the role of the person driving the car and you have to click the mouse when you see a “developing hazard”. There is a countdown system, if you click your mouse when the hazard first appears then you get 5 points, for each second later you loose 1 point, unless you get zero points if you would have caused an accident because you didn’t react. You have to get 44 points out of a possible 75, 13 of the clips contain one hazard, one contains two.

Because this is fairly difficult to explain, I have uploaded a video clip from the training CD I have. This is not an official government video, so its not as good a quality as those used in the actual test, but it gives you an idea of what its like.

Watch the video at YouTube by clicking here.

I think its fairly easy to spot the hazard there – the kid drops something in the road, but doesn’t look before he runs out and grabs it. Every drivers worst nightmare, but you can see that this does have a positive effect – those people who cannot pass this test, can’t get a drivers license.

The UK is, as far as I know, the only country in the world that currently does this. It has been a requirement for about 4 years now, but weather it has succeeded in lowering the number of deaths on the road, I don’t know.

So, now that I have passed the theory and hazard perception tests, I can continue to take lessons and get my driving up to a standard where I can take the practical test. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

Dude, where’s my bridge?!

This afternoon my driving instructor picked me up for my lesson as usual, but he had some news for me, we would probably end up in lots of traffic jams today because of an incident that happened earlier in the day – a low-loader truck carrying a cherry picker smashed into a footbridge over a main road near the train station and dragged it 50 feet down the road! The road, although now re-opened, was closed for some time.

These are some photo’s I took tonight, its kinda spooky, the steps to the bridge are in tact (although apparently their foundations were seriously damaged), but there is no bridge across the road!

You can read the full story on the website of the local paper, the Plymouth Herald, here.

They’re never gonna give me my license!

Those of you who don’t know me very well might not know that I have been taking driving lessons back in England. I am doing pretty well and I have about 19hrs experience. I took a break from that to go on my vacation, which I am spending with my good friend Gina and her family in New York.

Gina’s step-dad, Steve, wanted to move the cars from the driveway so that he could mow the grass on either side of it. He told me to call Tod from American Auto Transport Inc.

Lets just say that the car Gina has been driving up until recently is pretty beat up. She can’t drive it anymore because it won’t pass the NY DMV Inspection which is due now.

Gina's Car - a 1991 Chevy Cavalier

This is the car; it’s a 1991 Chevy Cavalier.

So I thought that I would try and help Steve out by moving Gina’s car. All I had to do was reverse it 30 feet down the driveway. The last thing Steve said to me before I started the car was “Don’t hit that dumpster!”.

The Dumpster - 1.5cu yard capacity

This is the dumpster; it’s about 1.5 cubic yards in capacity and made of solid steel!

Now, I have never driven in the US before and I have never driven an automatic car before; so both of these were very different to me, since we drive on the left in the UK.

I started the car and put it into reverse. Now I am pretty sure I didn’t hit the gas pedal, but then I didn’t hit the brake pedal either! According to Gina and her Mom who were watching, the car shot backwards at 40mph and went straight into the dumpster, knocking it over and pushing it back about 5 feet from its usual spot.

Damage to the dumpster

Apart from being knocked over and moved forward, the dumpster didn’t sustain any damage apart from some paint which rubbed off the car. Although Steve had to use a tractor with a snow plough to push it back to its usual spot.

Damage to the Car

The car however, was damaged. The trunk was dented and the plastic covering the rear lights was smashed up, there was also damage to the bumper.

Apart from a very dented pride, I was fine and Gina was cool about it too, since it is not economical to do any work to the car to get it to pass the inspection.

I think I’d better stick to driving cars with dual controls and manual gearboxes that have the driver’s seat on the right hand side for the time being! But wit that being said, take a look at this extraordinary remote control cars. I already bought one for my son.

Stay well!