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10th March 2003

Frank Westworth asks why does the sun shine when he's spannering, and why is it raining now the bike's fixed? Life in The Big Shed rarely runs smoothly...

Tales From The Big Shed

Life in The Shed is always good. Well… occasionally it is.

Spring was plainly approaching. Birds were amazing the cat by scudding hither and yon, intent upon the sort of thing that birds do in the springtime, and belting out an impossible amount of jolly twittering while they were at it. And boy, were they at it a lot! This does little for the good humour of Gimlet the cat, who glowers darkly from her favourite dusty recess, wishing damnation upon the happy flappers, while at the same time sending out unmistakable vibes demanding that The Shed - and particularly her fave bit of it -- needed cleaning out. I've no idea how cats accomplish this psycho-wossname telepathy, but that they do is certain.

Happily, just I was thinking about wondering where the brush was (because, to be honest, there is a considerable scattering of cat litter on The Shed floor at the moment)(nothing to do with feline incontinence - heaven forfend! -- but because I use it to soak up spilled oil), the Better Half stormed back down the hill on This Year's Beezer.

 This year's Beezer; one eversotasty A65 special. Note especially handsome posh alloy tank...

This was quite plainly a good thing! Not only can the Better Half make tea, do dishes, converse with normal people and look decorative, but she also rides hard, and her returning home under her own steam, and with at least one cylinder still functioning is generally a cause for celebrating. And for tea, if not dishes and decorating. Usually.

This was a good return, too. I could tell this because her cheery grin was visible through the full-face lid she prefers, the smile protruding several inches from both sides of the visor. Happy days! The return of Rowena and her flying broomstick meant that I could postpone the hunt for my own brush and could demand credit and reward for what had plainly been a glorious outing aboard a superbly maintained (par moi, naturellement) A65. Credit and reward can take many forms, but as this is a family website…

She's learned lots of Useful Routines For Britbike Riders, too. Like; when starting, turn on fuel and tickle and then kick a couple of times with the ignition switched off, so that when the serious kick is delivered it is more likely to succeed. Like; make sure the sidestand is up before riding off…

And of course, she has understood the peccadilloes of classic fuel taps and always remembers to switch off the fuel after switching off the ignition (and removing the fuse so the battery doesn't mysteriously drain its charge away into the wiring). Except…

Great curses suddenly replaced the beaming grin inside the crash helmet. Potential excellent reward for faultless maintenance was abruptly replaced by nameless dread. Why-fore were there curses?

'What's happened to the fuel taps?

'Why can't I turn them off?

'Why is there petrol soaking through my gloves?'

So many difficult questions. So much mystery. So much for my cuppa…

There was only one thing to do, and I immediately did it. 'Why don't you pop up to the house and put the kettle on? I'll have this little worry fixed in a moment and we can have a nice cup of tea!' Said with manly confidence, new-age affection and a certain subtle machismo, this can be a fine stratagem.

'Why don't you stop leering like an idiot, and just fix it? Like now?'

So much for fine strategies.

But no worries. The fuel taps were simply sticky. They are reasonably ancient and rarely used in recent years, and all the varnishes, so forth, in modern fuels can gum them up. But these taps (which are actually brass plumbers' taps and of high quality) are take-apartable and therefore cleanable, so there are no big problems here. I'll simply whip them out, soak them in switch cleaner (you can't say words like 'methylene chloride' or 'methyl ethyl ketone' these days without the health and safety mafia wondering whence it came and sending the boys round) for a day or two and bingo! Good as new.

'Oh yes, but I want to go out again later. Later today'


Plan B involves fitting my spare super quality and really expensive nice new fuel tap (and why do some folk call them 'petcocks'? Sounds very odd). There are too many utterly rubbish fuel taps available at jumbles and the like, and there are also some good ones. You can tell them apart by the price. This last ace etc tap had cost an armanaleg and had been intended to fit to the Ariel Toastmaster - at least that was the plan until I discovered that Mr Ariel had fitted his petrol tanks with a fuel tap fitting of vast dimension, entirely unlike all other taps used anywhere in the world since about 1916. But that is no doubt another story.

Fitting fuel fittings to a classic British bike is easy. Undo union twixt pipe and tap. Soak self in fuel, having forgotten that the excellent A65 boasts two fuel taps and that the other one was of course open. Even eco-friendly, green and pollution-free fuel stings when it gets into abraded skin, you know. You'd think that alter all these years, moon landings, so forth, that the Human epidermis would have evolved to be hydrocarbon proof. But it hasn't.

After jumping about and shouting a bit, and remembering why it was that The Shed is equipped with an elevating workbench while at the same time wondering why I hadn't put the BSA on it - thus demonstrating that the Human mind has evolved to the point at which it can be confused and irritated about several different things at the same time, or 'multi-tasking' as the computer literate may prefer - we moved on. I stuck the flailing fuel line into a convenient fuel can to allow the tank's dregs to drain away, and applied spanner to fuel tap. It unscrewed easily enough, until the last thread, which caught somehow inside the boss on the tank.

Easy! I tapped the spanner with a handy hide mallet and the tap came free. As did the flailing fuel pipe, which sprayed me with fuel, startling the cat, which ran beneath my feet, causing me to fall over and the plastic fuel can to up-end, pouring an imperial gallon of Mr Shell's finest all over me.

It's a simple job, changing a fuel line.

Sigh. Again.

Undaunted (and under the sceptical glower of Ms H herself), I sat with stern resolution in my own private inflammable puddle and fitted the new fuel tap. Remembering of course the new fibre washer. You'd thought I'd forgotten that - hah!

'There you are, m'dear. One new fuel line. I'll just top up the tank, and off you can go.'

And indeed. The new fuel tap was perfect. Easy to operate and shutting off the flow of fuel precisely as He intended. Except… why was fuel dripping from the pipe onto the Lucas Rita ignition wossname even when the tap was turned off?

Ms H departed at this point, along with the cat. Their paired stormclouds promised forty days of rain and forty nights of… well…

I took it all apart again. I fitted another new fibre washer (for am I not an experienced Shedder, who keeps a stock of these things?). It still leaked. It leaked so copiously that the fuel line was rotting from the outside-in (little-known fact: modern fuel lines are often only fuel-proof on the inside. 'hem).

Just in front of the carb you can just see the fuel tap. Interesting, isn't it?This was baffling. With the previous taps it never leaked, although the taps were impossible to close (as discussed earlier - are you keeping up?) so fuel leaked from the carb all over Lucas Rita, rather than from the pipe.

What was up!

Simple. Remember the last sticky thread when I was removing the old brass tap? When I had so skilfully un-stuck it the tap had come away complete with part of the petrol tank. Which is an expensive alloy competition item available only from an obscure bike shop just outside Baghdad.

Sometimes you just can't win…

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