The trip starts with a few small snafu's
We couldn't get a cab to the airport, so Beth (one of Sue's co-workers) was kind enough to change her plans so she could give us a ride in. We didn't get our sleeper seats; another airline had canceled a flight so the plane was at capacity.
Unrelated to the airline issues: a half hour before leaving for the airport, I picked up the T-shirts, they looked great. With thanks, Beth was presented the first one.
Over dinner, the team discussed our experiences getting strange items onto planes. My contribution: getting a bass Dulcian (also called a Curtal, the renaissance predecessor to the bassoon) onto a plane to Ireland.
Now we are standing around the boarding area. Geo has a complex logic puzzle for the rest of us to try, but instead of working on a solution to it, I try to logon and send FOTN [the friends of the NERDS mailing list] some email. Couldn't get thru, and the phone ate a quarter. [This was a prophetic turn, tho I didn't know it at the time.]
The plane was a half hour late boarding, and an hour late leaving, because of weather. but we are on our way for real now. We are sitting directly behind Crash and Geo, and using some of the time to plan; our tentative agenda for Saturday is the Science Museum and possibly the V+A.
If we can find net connectivity I will put some web changes thru. I did get some web stuff done on the plane; beginning this journal is part of it, and I also worked on a chronicle of one of my more memorable interactions with a motorist. [editorial comment: boy that was ambitious thinking.]
Well my watch now says 2:55 and 7:55. We are a few min from landing. I wonder how customs will react to Frankenbike? Will it complicate things to tell them about the tv gig or just "on business." Make it simple, just "on business for me, holiday for her".
which feels like more of day 0.
We are on the ground at Gatwick and the pilot comes on and warns us to not dawdle... There are 3 more 747s right behind the one we are in, and 1000 people were going to strain passport control. This was classic British understatement. People were backed up both ramps, and it was an utter mob scene. About an hour later we got to the luggage hall and eventually got reunited with our bags+boxes.
We clear customs. (They didn't have an issue with frankenbike; they weren't even in the room.) Next begins the great driver hunt. At this point, the trip starts turning from the normal wearying routine, and starts assuming death march status. [Editorial comment: at 15 hours total, I think it does qualify as a death march.] After a bunch of calls, someone turns up, we overload the vehicle, and get underway. It takes an amazingly long time to get to the hotel. That when we were 2 blocks from the hotel, the driver turned in the worst possible direction, and led us on a 1 hour 12 mile detour (we finally grabbed the map, and navigated for him) didn't make it any shorter.
Little bits of British discovery - While waiting at the airport, I bought Sue one of her favorite cookies, stem ginger shortbread. Crash and Geo had never heard of them before, but loved them.
After the unscheduled visit to bits of London when the driver (not a proper "done the knowledge" London cabbie) got lost, we checked in, and to get our internal clocks reset we had an active afternoon. Abandoning the original plan to go take notes at the Science Museum, Crash, Susan and I set off by light rail and tube to see the new Tate modern museum (highly recommended). After we returned Crash and I futzed around until we were able to defeat the hotel's incompetent phone system and get a net connection. [Phone "issues" were one of the "running jokes" on this trip.]
Up approx. on schedule, it's my chance to meet some people that I only knew as an electronic writing style. Carrying a boxed Frankenbike, and with Crash for company as far as Paddington Station, Sue and I went to the BHPC race meet at Hayes. We arrived in time to see the main event, a 45 minute race for streamliners.
Over a tight approx. 1 mile course with a couple of steep bits, and a pair of hairpin turns, the race winner turned a series of 1:45 laps for a 55-60 km/h average speed. Dave Larrington and his wife Tina were kind enough to give us a ride back to the hotel. (Thanks again team lemon racing.)
After returning from the races, I went to a local pub with two members of another team (not competing this year) called The Sprockets.
Crash spent the day at the science museum taking pictures of all sorts of machines. (Visible crib notes.) Geo spent the day with his friend Justin, who was en route from Africa back to Boston.
Dinner for Sue and I was with one of her statistical colleagues, Dr. Stuart Pocock, and his wife Leslie. After dinner Stuart took us on a walking tour of central London. Stuart is an opera lover, and snuck us into the [closed] lobby at the royal house at Covent Garden (the guard politely shooed us away), along with other places of note.
This erudite meal and tour finished up in front of the Coliseum. With a roar from his Harley, Bowser arrived. We walked around the corner to a pub that he frequents. (It's across the street from the station where he is based). We met some of his mates, and talked for about an hour... Some fine stories were passed on, with the size of one shoot's record bar tab displaying healthy growth.
Day 3 Intro shoot.
This was our first day in front of a camera. Each episode starts with a one minute introduction of the team members, usually shot at their home. Since this presented practical problems in our case, the shot was done in London. William, the director of our episode, met us at the hotel, and we hopped on the tube to the RDF offices. We finally got to meet a number of people that we had been conferring with thru the trials, and the arrangements for our appearance: Jeremy, Jason, Dom and especially Jackie. We collected a camera person, and Lizzie (another familiar email presence).
The next stop was a restorer/importer/dealer in vintage American autos. I got a foretaste of what prepping for the competition would be like, as the camera person taped the microphone to, then hid the cable and transmitter in, my clothing. I leaned on the front fender of a '57 Chevy Nomad, and tried to conduct an interview, as trains roared overhead. (The shop was directly UNDER the second busiest rail corridor in Britain.) We managed a bunch of single sentences. The long pauses for the trains passing will get edited out. Geo was filmed leaning across an old black Cadillac, and Crash got the newest, a 68 Mustang.
After a stop for lunch, we boarded a tourist bus, and they filmed us from the open upper deck as we toured the city. Completely in character, the first "oooh" came from Geo. It wasn't from the usual tourist items (like the parliament building, etc.) but from his first sight of the London Eye , a very large ferris wheel [may in fact be the largest currently operating]. We hopped off the bus at Westminster, and various bits got filmed. William headed to a meeting, and the rest of us continued on past the Dali exhibit , to near the base of the "Eye".
At the request of the TV folk, to say "American" to their British audience, Crash and Geo were in Stetsons. I was wearing a baseball cap, as I don't own a Stetson. (It bore the logo of the National Security Agency , a souvenir of a visit to the National Cryptologic Museum in Maryland) We did the spaghetti western cliché entrance, with a mild twist -- each of us stepping to a line, camera photographing our feet only. Work boots, work boots, sandals with socks. Pan up to my tool belt.
While they did request the funny hats, what happened next was a clear surprise if not a shock to them -- Approaching the Eye, Crash wondered aloud, "how fast does it have to turn, to get weightlessness at the top". No problem, we just need the diameter. Using Geo's body as the sighting stick, we did the usual proportional triangle method to get the height, using paced off distance estimations. Our result was 429 feet, only 11 feet short of the real diameter. Plugging the diameter into the acceleration formula along with 10 m/sec^2 and solving for angular velocity, we discover that it would need to make one revolution every 40 seconds. (A lot faster than the 1 revolution every half hour that it currently makes, as well as its "emergency" speed of one revolution every 12 minutes.)
we were doing all of this, Sue spent the day visiting the British Museum,
and getting introduced to a few of Stuart Pocock's colleagues at the London
School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, around the corner from the Museum.
We rendezvoused at the RDF offices before dinner. While chatting
about where to go eat, etc. [also known as dithering] we met Cathy Rogers,
the second presenter (who greeted Sue as "Mrs. Nerd"). We also met
several members of a team that would be filming the next week, "The Mothers
of Invention", which featured a mother [the absolute cliché grandmother
image] and her twenty-something son. Dinner was at a
fine Arabic restaurant in Soho, followed by a side trip to Leicester Square,
so that Geo could get dropped 40 meters. (No, not bunjy jumping,
but an amusement park ride.)
Day 4. Prep Day.
Geo gets dragged off early to get a medical exam for dive clearance. We finally get to see the junkyard "set". It's a corner of a real working scrapyard. Just the other side of the boundary wall is a crane literally throwing cars thru the air. They were still cleaning up the aftermath of the previous week's build, but we did get a look at the workshop. We all sat on the " throne" for a picture.
We try on our costumes (their logo for us: Pocket Protectors), and meet our opponents "The Dipsticks", a bunch of Scots undersea oil platform equipment designers. Also present for fitting and training is Bowsers team "Filth".
Next comes quad bike training. While they are motorcycle based, there are a number of subtle differences with the controls. The first to confuse is the thumb throttle, then a rear brake lever where the clutch lever should be. I decide that I still can't back up with a trailer, but don't otherwise have a problem with it. It's a short day, going easy on us before the build...
As planned, that evening, Sue and I travel out to Heathrow, to have dinner with Ian Sims, the founder of Greenspeed, and designer of the trike I built. (He happened to be passing thru London enroute to his home in Melbourne.) It turns out we had just missed another acquaintance, Richard Loke, the publisher of the magazine "Recumbent UK".
When we get back, Crash, Geo, and a bunch of the film crew were sitting around in the hotel bar. I get introduced to Duncan, our expert consultant. We refrain from asking him what he does for a living. A half hour of banter, a last minute team conference, and there is nothing more to do. We go to bed early, and I try to get some sleep.
Day 5. BUILD DAY
The van shows at 6:15. Not only did I manage to get to sleep, but unfortunately the alarm didn't do its thing, and I have to rush. Once onsite, we get breakfast (the catering company calls itself "Bad Catering", and are anything but -- we were very well fed on the shoot), and get geared up -- costume, microphone (with hidden transmitter), radio, helmet, toolbelt, etc. We then did a special shot used in the introduction. It involved us standing in precise spots, while bathed in Roscoe fog. (we also got a picture of the team with Robert, in the few remaining clean moments our coveralls would have.)
We get a last look at the workshop, and gather around to hear for the first time what our creation is to be. We run to the blackboard, and start discussing possible solutions. We make a shopping list, and await our release into the scrap pile. When the release comes, we roar off in the quad bikes, Geo driving, me in the trailer. The build itself was a near blur. We had to hustle the whole time. We did get a tools down, one hour lunch break (aka: when the machine gets redesigned). While we couldn't work on things, we were still on camera, answering questions.
After lunch, I continue to make scavenging sweeps, and build some chunks of the machine. One thing that distinguished our team was near constant calculations by Crash and Geo, a fate I mostly avoided. As a result, I got to do a lot of building, and scavenging, tho Geo made some of the most critical part finds. Things got pretty frantic toward the end, but when Robert called "tools down", we had a functioning machine hanging from our hoist.
While we were doing all this, constant cutting and welding noises had been coming from the other side of the barrier. We finally got a chance to open the big door in the dividing wall, and admire each others creations. We discussed our designs, demonstrated their basic operation, and congratulated each other for surviving the day's work. After a shower, a beer or two with my teammates, and members of the other team, I crawl off to my room, and collapse.
Day 6, Transit day
I wake up, and my body asks my brain "aren't you old enough to know better yet?". Not particularly sore, but very, very tired.
Today our creations get moved to the test site. The test site is several hours away, so we will actually be spending the night there. The machines leave in the morning, the people in the afternoon. Sue and I manage a visit to the "Design Museum". (Observant folk will see a theme here. The term Crash uses is "Museum Goth".) After a long drive from London, we arrive, have some last minute discussion with the production staff, and a team meeting (until the pub closes), find out our departure time, and crawl off to bed.
Day 7 THE TEST
After some initial confusion, we get underway to the test site. Breakfast, costuming (no radio this time), and a chance for final "trim" of our creation. (We also give it a little decoration while we are at it.) We each get two scored tries, with the total to determine the winner. (We aren't on the test course at the same time.) More to the point, we don't get a "practice" run. All that happens on the course, counts. The Dipsticks go first. We watch intently. Then our machine is on the hoist, about to get moved onto the course. We run our machine, while they adjust theirs. Our turn to tweak, then another run thru the course. Finally the moment of truth! Scores are announced, with a production crew member hiding off camera with bottles of champagne to hand the winning team. Crash did the honors, spraying the lot of us.
Various publicity shots get taken, luggage gets piled into one of the vans, and we begin the long trip back to London. The test day was actually a longer one than the build day, and it's 9 very tired bunnies hauling their luggage off the van in London.
A day of rest. Geo departs for Geneva, the Scotsmen head back to Aberdeen, and we visit the Victoria and Albert.
Departure. We re-pack all our luggage, prep Frankenbike for travel, and head to the airport. The return flight is uneventful.
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