Onwards and upwards

It’s been some time since we released any London2Sydney news, so you’d be forgiven for wondering what’s been happening at London2Sydney headquarters recently. Allow me to bring you up to date.

With no change in Nick’s situation following our annoucement that the expedition had been temporarily postponed, it’s time to take a fresh look at the expedition and set a new course for the future. After all, there’s a 1977 VW camper van just itching to drive to Sydney and it’s not going to get there on its own!

Needless to say, my own enthusiasm and commitment to the expedition is undimmed, and with so much hard work already having been done, there’s no way the expedition is going to be allowed to lie fallow. All that is required is for a group of dedicated people to come together and take the project on to a successful conclusion.

So I’m currently working on the slow and careful task of assembling a new expedition team. Once the team has been formed, we’ll be able to begin building on the excellent foundations already laid and working towards our twin goals of a successful overland expedition to Australia and raising money for our chosen charity Cancer Research UK.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank our sponsors for their continued support and understanding, everyone who’s given so generously to Cancer Research UK, and all the people who’ve been behind us every step of the way.

I look forward to announcing a new team and new departure date sometime in the not-too-distant future. Thank you all once again for all your support. Stay tuned for more news!

A sad day

A sad day indeed.

A few weeks ago, Nick informed me that, for family reasons, he would not be able to join me on the road to Sydney at present. This news was obviously a big blow to the expedition and since then I’ve been pulling out all the stops to try and keep everything on track. But now I’ve got to admit that we’re just not going to be able to honour our original departure date.

Given the terribly short notice, it has proved impossible to find anyone to take Nick’s place on the road with me and for various reasons (safety being one of the major ones) setting off alone is not really a viable option.

It’s been a very difficult decision to make, but it has become increasingly clear that the best course of action for the expedition, our charity work, our sponsors and everyone who’s been supporting us, is to temporarily postpone the expedition.

We are, of course, bitterly disappointed at the moment but we want to take the opportunity to thank everyone who’s offered us their help, support and encouragement since the expedition began, especially our sponsors and everyone who’s given a donation to Cancer Research UK on our behalf. In fact so far we’ve raised over £1000 for CRUK and we’ve been delighted to pass every penny of that directly to them!

There is no way that the expedition is in any danger of being cancelled, so do keep an eye on the website for updates on our progress. Better still, make sure you’re on our mailing list so you’re the first to know as soon as we have some more news!

In times like these, there seems to me to be only one option and that is to turn the situation into an opportunity. We’ll be making the best possible use of the delay, so when the London2Sydney expedition does leave, it’ll be bigger and better than we ever thought possible before!

At the Extravaganza

The threat of rain did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of the crowds that had gathered for Bedford Prep School‘s Summer Extravaganza. This annual event is the time when all the pupils at the school get the chance to conceive and construct their own stands and stalls offering games, baked treats, activities and challenges, with all the proceeds going to the school’s own nominated charities that year.

Pursued by excited shouts of “It’s Squiffy!” from some of the boys who must have been paying attention during my presentation earlier in the week, I gently eased our expedition van through the mingling punters and parked her up underneath the School’s climbing wall.

Opening the van and raising the roof, I spent a very rewarding few hours explaining about the expedition to boys and their parents, answering people’s questions and demonstrating the marvels of Squiffy’s rock-and-roll bed.

squiffyattheextravaganza

Special mention must be made of ten year old George, who bounded into the van at the first opportunity and listened intently to my early guided tours. Once he had satisfied himself that he was sufficiently briefed on the details of the both the van and the expedition, he politely reassured me that I could safely chat to boys and parents outside the van while he conducted tours and expertly answered people’s questions from within. I have to pay tribute also to his sterling work with the Cancer Research UK charity tin, as I’m sure that he was personally responsible for the vast majority of the donations received that day!

Thanks to the generosity of the boys and their parents, a further 37 pounds and 73 pence was raised for Cancer Research UK which was wonderful, especially considering that the boys’ own stalls and exhibits at the Extravaganza were all raising money for the School’s own nominated charities.

Thanks to everyone who came to look at Squiffy and offered words of encouragement and support. Thanks to all the boys who climbed up to have a look inside, and to everyone who gave something for CRUK. My only regret was that due to the interest in Squiffy I didn’t manage to get a chance to have a proper look around at the Extravaganza, although I did see what looked like an ingenious hamster racing course on display which had drawn a large crowd of cheering punters. I have fond memories of the times when it was my friends and I who were painstakingly constructing and dutifully manning the stalls arranged around the school’s playing fields.

To wrap up, I just wanted to offer some words of reassurance to the lad who sat open-mouthed in Squiffy, staring all around him and asked me “How will you manage without a telly?” We’ll cope, I promise!

Back to school

Following the article about the London2Sydney expedition in Bedford’s Times & Citizen newspaper, we’ve received a number of messages from well-wishers and several donations to CRUK. It’s always nice to receive messages of support and especially nice to know that the expedition is succeeding in its aim of raising money for CRUK.

One phone call I received was certainly a pleasant surprise: the voice on the end of the phone was that of Phillip Lewis, a teacher at Bedford Preparatory School, who once upon a time had the dubious honour of teaching me history. Having read about the expedition in the paper, Mr Lewis was calling to invite me to come and address the school at their Wednesday morning assembly. I was delighted and honoured to accept and so, on Wednesday morning, armed with a slide show of images of scenes along our route, I clambered into Squiffy and made my way through Bedford back to my old school.

It is a strange experience visiting a place that has filled your head with so many memories. It is an even stranger experience drinking coffee with some of your former teachers in the once-mysterious and forbidden realm of the school staff room!

Mr Lewis and I teamed up to give an interview-style presentation, and me the opportunity to give the boys some more information about the expedition. It was a delight to see so many keen faces! Once especially keen boy even approached me afterwards to enquire about the address of the expedition website!

As chance would have it, next Saturday is the day of Bedford Prep School’s Summer Extravaganza, an annual event which sees the boys of the school, including the inevitable but eternally popular “throw a wet sponge at a teacher” stall. Mr Lewis asked me if I would like to bring Squiffy along to the event, show her to the boys and try and raise some more money for CRUK. I was delighted to accept his invitation, so next weekend, Squiffy will be performing her first public engagement!

I thoroughly enjoyed coming back to visit the school and speak to the boys, and would like to thank Phillip Lewis for giving me the opportunity of doing so. A full report on Squiffy’s trip to the Extravaganza will be up after the weekend!

Quick note: There’s more about Andy’s visit to Bedford Prep School in this news article on the School’s own website!

Clamp down

Back in the UK and sufficiently recovered from my jet lag, I joined Nick to lavish some more attention on Squiffy, and in particular on her roof. With her shiney new roof struts installed the problem was no longer how to lift the roof up, but how to keep it down!

In her past life, Squiffy probably had two roof clamps but one had long since fallen off and the one remaining clamp was in a rather sorry state.

Removing the old clamp and catches revealed a rather unsavoury mix of old paint and rust, so a quick lick of Hammerite paint was applied to the area to help protect the underlying metal.

Time then to fix the brand new clamps and catches that we took delivery of back in January and time to play with a new toy in the London2Sydney toolbox: the rivet gun!

This neat tool made a simple job of attaching the new clamps and catches, even if between us we didn’t make a simple job of putting them on in quite the right place at first…

However, two smart new padlockable clamps was a much more satisfying end result than one disintigrating old one, so we felt that our cup of tea at the end of the day was well deserved.

Charity car painting!

London2Sydney fever hit the USA on Saturday when my venerable 1988 VW Fox which has served me so faithfully during my time in America got treated to a rather unique paint job!

To mark the occasion of me and my house-mate’s departure from these shores, friend and work colleague Chris’ birthday and because, as everyone knows, any day is a good day for a party, a large and merry band assembled at our house in Princeton, New Jersey.

A gloriously sunny afternoon set the scene for a fantastic afternoon. And against a backdrop of a sizzling BBQ, a well-stocked bar and games of volleyball and horseshoes partygoers vented their creative spleens all over my car and helped London2Sydney raise even more money for Cancer Research UK!

In exchange for a donation to CRUK, keen punters got the chance to grab paint-brush and spray-can and adorn the long suffering car with whatever designs they fancied, leading to some interesting results!

As the evening drew in, the throng assembled inside our house to be treated to some outstanding musical performances by several of our friends, many of whom had travelled many miles to be there. Big shouts out to Ras Ujimma and the Black Circle Symphony (Wahkiba, Melshawn, Isaac & Israel) playing their congas, Daniel (saxophone), Misha (guitar), Anna Marie (vocals), Rick (guitar), Olivier (guitar) for making it a truely special evening.

Even with all the instruments packed away, the music and dancing went on and the party continued well into the small hours!

Thanks to the generosity, enthusiasm and general keenness of everyone at the event, $237 was raised and, as with all the money we’re raising for charity, every cent of it is going directly to Cancer Research UK! A big thank you to everyone who contributed!

Despite my excitement at the thought of being back in the UK in less than a fortnight now and being able to spend the next two months concentrating on the expedition preparations, I’ve got to say that it’s not going to be easy to leave such a great bunch of friends. Thankfully, the memories of all the events we’ve had like this one will take a long time to fade.

But meanwhile, the expedition planning continues apace and with plenty of work for Nick and I still to do, the next couple of months promise to be busier than ever!

An unexpected prelude to the long-awaited finale

An early start saw us at L.A. Performance once again to begin the final preparations before Squiffy’s engine would be ready to be reunited with Squiffy herself.

Nick and I set to work sorting through the jigsaw of tinware pieces (exchanging many quizzical glances and shrugs–it’s quite an exercise in spatial reasoning!). Meanwhile, Lee put the final touches to the beautifully prepared long block (the heart of the engine).

Only one thing stood between us and Squiffy with a purring engine at the end of the day, and that was… a badly fitting oil pump! Unfortunately, despite hours of grinding, hammering, blow-torching and cut fingers, nothing would make our oil pump fit properly to the engine, until we eventually had to swap the part out for another which, mercifully, fitted perfectly.

It was starting to look like we wouldn’t be able to reach our goal of having the engine back in the van and running by the end of the day, but after a quick lunch, things began to pick up and progress was rapid. On went the rest of the tinware, the engine’s fan and the very business-like carburetors which Lee then carefully set-up.

Despite valiant efforts, the absence of a few of the key components of any good engine (erm spark-plugs being one!) meant that we had to call it a day for today. But we’re not beat!

Will Lee and the London2Sydney team be able to get the engine back in the van before Andy’s 4pm flight back to the US…? The challenge begins 0900 hours, L.A. Performance’s workshop. Check back tomorrow to find out!

Strutting about…

While attempting to get a good night’s sleep in one of Squiffy’s upstairs bunks, the last thing we’d want is for her pop-up roof to come crashing down on us. Unfortunately, Squiffy’s pop-up roof had managed to convince us of its potential as a death-trap, and so demanded our attention.

Once elevated, Squiffy’s roof was supposed to be held up by a pair of pneumatic struts, one at each end. The years had taken their toll, however, and the struts were, frankly, putting in a very poor effort. Even more worrying was the small wooden stake which had been installed to take over their role, and was not inspiring confidence.

So we installed two brand new struts in the hope that we could dispense with the wooden stake and enjoy stress-free kip throughout our journey.

It turned out that the new struts were so good and so hard to compress that they needed a good deal of coercion to get them to squeeze in under the roof. A stout piece of broom handle made a convenient prop while the back strut was forced in.

But the front strut proved to be a little more stubborn, calling for an ingenious application of man power…

The engine saga begins…

With all the efforts going into Squiffy’s interior, we didn’t want to neglect the most important part of our van: the engine. We were going to be asking a lot of it come July, so we wanted to make sure that Squiffy was being propelled by an engine that was up to the challenge.

Despite being massively keen to take on the job of preparing Squiffy’s engine for the expedition myself, my work schedule would be pulling me away from sunny Bedford for quite a bit of the Spring, so we felt that this was a job for the professionals…

So a quick call to Milotane in Bedford to ask them to take the engine out and remove the cylinder heads so that we could get a better idea of the work that we hoped wouldn’t be needed.

Squiffy’s engine bay (Type 2s have their engines at the back, of course) certainly looked a bit naked without it’s usual occupant, but with the engine out, we could clearly see how the engine had coped with over 20 years of use.

Unfortunately, what we saw was not pretty. Both cylinder heads had been blowing (exhaust had been escaping where it shouldn’t have been) and one of the pistons was suffering from the effects of something (probably a bolt) having fallen into one of the cylinders at some point in its history!

After consoling each other over a cup of tea, we decided that we needed to put some careful thought into our next move. So, trying hard to maintain her dignity, Squiffy meekly submitted to being towed back home, her engine resting in several oily pieces on her newly lino’d floor.

Hopefully, this is a scene that won’t be repeated once we’ve set off for Sydney!