My first tattoos

To celebrate getting my P2 grade in Krav Maga, I got my first two tattoos, both of them Christian symbols: an Icthys (Jesus Fish), and a Trinity knot.

My Ichthys tattoo

My Ichthys tattoo

I was a bit nervous beforehand about how painful it would be, but it wasn’t that bad; around the nettle-sting level, although more concentrated. By the time the artist (Miles) had finished the first tattoo and marked out the second one, my endorphins had got going enough that the second one hurt very little.

My Trinity Knot tattoo

My Trinity Knot tattoo

Most tattoo shops look pretty off-putting from the outside, possibly a sign of wanting to attract people who’d like to look off-putting. I noticed one of my Krav Maga friends had a large tattoo on one of her legs, and I asked her for a recommendation, and she recommended Good Times Tattoo in Shoreditch, and so that’s where I went. It’s a cheerful-looking place, with lots of natural light, and very different from the dingy back-room image that I’d somehow associated with tattoo parlours up to then. I recommend them heartily; I’m planning to get some lettering added to my existing tattoos, and I’ll certainly be going back to Good Times for that.

Getting my Krav Maga P2

A few months ago, I passed my Krav Maga P2 grading. Like my P1, this was on the second attempt. This time, I scraped through with a borderline pass. So now, I’m (just) trained up enough to deal with most civilian street attacks.

At the time, I thought that P3 would be out of my reach, but now I expect I’ll eventually go for it. I’m not the fastest at learning physical skills, and I’m not the most co-ordinated of people (typical Aspie-ish techie, I suppose) so it’ll probably take me a while to feel ready.

To do P3, I’ll have to be able to do combat rolls, which so far I seem to be unable to do, so I should start practicing headstands / handstands at home before long.

In the process of getting this far, I found I’ve become a lot fitter than when I started, and can run without getting short of breath. I’m not a particularly fast runner, and I can’t run as far as many people, but, after kicking an attacker on the knee hard enough to “chicken-leg” them, I should be able to get away :-)

Camping and laning around Salisbury Plain

Since my last post, I’ve been doing various unfinished projects on Marmalade, hence not posting any more. But some of them are well on the way; in particular, I got the new tent cover pretty much working (although since then I’ve damaged it on an overgrown green lane, and have yet to fix that, of course making some improvements while I’m at it).

Before covering the camping and the laning, here’s a “general status” picture of Marmalade, roughly as he is at the time of writing:

Marmalade on a gravel track, with metal tent-cover and incomplete metal wheelarches

Marmalade on a gravel track, with metal tent-cover and incomplete metal wheelarches

The new tent cover is made from a short-wheelbase Land Rover roof, shortened and widened and fitted to a welded steel frame. I gave up on making fibreglass or plastic wheelarch extensions, and got some treadplate folded to shape, and some brackets TIG-welded to the underside of it. I have some matching metal waiting for complete shaping to make curved front and rear sections to the rear wheelarches, too. These arches are strong enough to stand on, for access to the sides of the roofrack for tying things down.

In April, I went green laning with some friends, camping at the Stonehenge Campsite (which isn’t very near Stonehenge itself). Here is the tent cover in the open position; I’m going to alter the strut supports a bit, and may sometime add side and end curtains to it, to make it an extension to the tent. The tent itself is unchanged; I’m trying to look after it better than I have done before (I bought it with legacy money from my late parents, so it’s partly a Memorial Tent!), and so re-waterproofed it last summer, as well as making the new cover.

Camping, with the new tent cover up

Camping, with the new tent cover up

The tent cover swings up on four roughly parallel legs, with the front pair shorter than the rear (so that rain will run off away from the tent), and I pull up a pair of more robust struts to for it to rest on at the front. (I’ve started to make levers to pull those up for me.) The struts are stabilized by some channel welded to the roofrack, that they drop into as they move into position; I’ll change the rear leg supports to have stablizers too.

Inside the tent, I’ve taken out the old flourescent tube, and added an LED ribbon, which distorts the tent less in its closed position.

In the military training area

In the military training area

We drove on tracks in the military training area; where we stopped here was nice and dry, but we’d been through some very major watersplashes to get there.

A moderately muddy lane

A moderately muddy lane

Some of the lanes were muddy, although not enough to cause any real difficulty.

On an overgrown lane

On an overgrown lane

South of the training area, some of the lanes were badly overgrown in places. This one was like driving through the middle of a hedge for about half a mile. I took this picture when we had to stop and cut a fallen tree out of the way. Unfortunately, some previous lane users had pushed through the real hedge and made a detour into the neighbouring field, rather than moving the tree out of the way. We had a chainsaw with us (unplanned; someone had left his in his Land Rover after some gardening), and cut the tree into small enough pieces to drag aside, and used the pieces to plug the gap in the hedge.

A lane with big puddles

A lane with big puddles

Some lanes were rather wet; a bit before this puddle, there was a section so deep I was up to my ankles in muddy water, with my feet on the pedals! That one was a bit alarming; I’m glad I wasn’t the first in the convoy, and I saw the vehicle ahead get through alright, as you can see this dashcam video. I probably wouldn’t have attempted this one if I’d known how wet it was going to be; I doubt we did any actual damage, though; it seemed to be a normal lane surface underneath the water, and any mud we churned up will have settled again fairly quickly.

High-current wiring to the rear

I’ve now connected the long battery cable that runs to an Anderson connector near the back door, with a couple of tap points on it. As I didn’t want to cut and join the cable (there’ll be enough drop anyway at that length), I tapped it with blocks of brass drilled to fit and clamp around it.

Here’s the connector block near the middle of the vehicle (just above the damper of the middle axle); this will take the link from the auxiliary (camping) battery.

Forward tap on the long power cable

Forward tap on the long power cable

It’s bolted to the bodywork with a screw recessed into a cylinder of Delrin, and there’s a block of Tufnol between that and the brass block, to make sure positive and negative stay apart. I’ll add a sheet of rubber between the box and the bodywork, too, in case of cracking.

Inside the `toolbox’ compartment at the back is another connector, fitted just in case it comes in useful later rather than for a specific purpose — it would be much harder to add later. As the cable is on the `battery’ side of the main isolator switch (for a little added security — it can’t be used to bypass the isolator), I could use it for maintenance lights, a clock etc.

Rear tap, in case with clear lid

Rear tap, in case with clear lid

After this, the cable runs on to an Anderson SB175 power connector, for jumpstarting at the rear, running a towball winch, charging phones, or whatever else comes in useful.

Billing: first camping with as a six-wheeler

I got Marmalade just ready enough to drive to Billing on Friday a week ago. I fitted the side steps, put the winch into place (but it needs more work, including fitting the drive shaft and the fairleads), and just about got the rewiring done, but it didn’t quite all work (I had to remember to move the indicator stalk the opposite way) but I got there alright, and set up the tent as easily as before.

Here are the side steps, in their lowered and raised positions:

The side steps, in their lowered (working) position

The side steps, in their lowered (working) position

Side steps, in their raised position

Side steps, in their raised position

The steps will eventually have a motor to push them into the raised position, where they trap the doors shut, for a bit more security when the vehicle is parked (as well as making a bit more room alongside).

The winch didn’t quite fit the bolt-holes in the bumper, as the bumper has been galvanized and so is slightly thicker (I’ve since filed the holes to make them match.) Therefore, the fairleads aren’t in place in this picture.

The winch, re-fitted but lacking drive shaft and fairleads

The winch, re-fitted but lacking drive shaft and fairleads

The tent and cover worked fine, although the cover is due for replacement soon. Marmalade drew quite a bit of attention — probably the longest Land Rover there.

Camping at Billing

Camping at Billing

My first year of intermittent fasting

I’ve now been doing Intermittent Fasting for a year. I saw the article by Michael Mosley on the BBC website, and thought I’d give it a try for a month, and started on 7th August, 2012. My original plan was to fast two days a week, but I immediately found it so much easier than expected that I went straight up to three days a week. (I didn’t want to try the Alternate Day Fasting, as I wanted a fixed weekly pattern, to fit around Krav Maga classes, a team pub lunch, and a brunch after church on Sundays.) My weight loss started quickly enough to motivate me into carrying on after the trial month.

At first, I could only just stick to the 600 calorie limit on fasting days, but once I got used to it, I found I could eat less than that, sometimes going down to around 80 calories (one tin of tomatoes).

I had already been recording my weight daily for some time (in a spreadsheet on my phone), and started to plot graphs of it. I noticed that my weight loss wasn’t steady; it tended to fluctuate on roughly a two-week cycle. However, looking back over my earlier weight records, I found my weight typically varied at that frequency already.

My weight, 2012-2013

My weight, 2012-2013

In the graph, the green line is my daily readings, which of course fluctuate (typically by about two pounds) between the morning after a fasting day and the morning after a non-fasting day. The red line is a seven-day average, to smooth the curve a bit; and the blue line (on a different vertical scale) is the difference between that day’s seven-day average and the corresponding figure from seven days earlier.

After a while, my weight loss slowed down, and became steppier and less regular; presumaby as I had less fat reserves, what I ate on any one day had more short-term effect. In particular, the plateaus between phases of weight loss became longer.

Now, after a year, I’ve lost just over 4 stone (56 lbs, 26kg), from a starting point of 16st 6lbs; so, I’ve lost just under a quarter of my starting weight. I reckon I’ve still got between half a stone and one stone to go before being actually lean; the remaining fat mostly shows just when I’m undressed, as a small roll of “loose skin” (actually skin with subcutaneous fat) on my lower abdomen; I gather that the skin will tighten gradually as it goes through its replacement cycle. It’s certainly a life-changing amount to have lost; I can exercise better, and feel better about how I look, and more importantly it should improve my general health and longevity. My cholesterol level has come down enough that my GP is now letting me try coming off statins for six months, and a liver function test (transaminase) that has been raised for as long as I’ve known it be monitored has come down to normal. And some old trousers and shorts that I’d kept in hope of eventually being able to get into them again are now far too loose!

My diet on the fasting days has varied as I’ve gone along; at the period of fastest weight loss, I was eating tinned tomatoes a lot; low calorie, low fat, rich in lycopenes (which may have beneficial effects). At the start, when I was still getting used to 600 calories a day and not ready to go any further, I’d skip breakfast, and for each of lunch and supper I’d eat a bag of ready-made salad and a tin of mackerel in tomato sauce. Tinned ratatouille is a handy variant on tomato (actually it’s largely tomato anyway). Some days, I just have instant soup; reasonably filling, easy to count the calories, but typically a bit saltier than is medically recommended (although possibly containing less salt than an uncontrolled day’s food). Small tins (200g) of pasta and similar foods are also conveniently sized. (Baked beans have more calories than tinned spaghetti, to my surprise; I think the sauce included with them is usually sugarier.) Currently, I’m back to mostly eating salad with fish; it certainly gets me at least “five a day” of vegetables, and I’m looking at co-ordinating it with my non-fasting days to approximate a “polymeal” (incorporating salad, fish, nuts, garlic, red wine, and chocolate; probably a bit tricky to get all of those in on a fasting day, unless I have just one meal for the day).

An observation that I’ve heard other people make, and have found for myself, is that “eating makes you hungry”. On a non-fasting day, once I’ve eaten something, I’ll often want to eat more.

My plan is to continue Intermittent Fasting for life, although now the first year is up I’ll sometimes let myself have just two fast days in a week (but still with three as the norm); that’ll give me a bit more flexibility for social eating.

To celebrate completing a year of the diet, I’ve bought a weight vest, that can be loaded with up to 30kg of weights. It’s interesting to feel how much weight I’ve lost; loaded appropriately, the vest is so heavy it’s quite hard to lift it over my shoulders to put it on. I’ll soon being using it when doing bodyweight exercises!

Some busy weeekends and evenings in the run-up to Billing

I’ve been doing some more work in preparation for going to the Land Rover Fest at Billing — it’s good to have a deadline to work to, although it can be a bit stressful at times.

With the help of some expert metalworkers, I got the remaining metalwork fabricated, and took it to Acrow in Saffron Walden for galvanizing.

Galvanized metalwork

Galvanized metalwork

I’ve primed and painted all the galvanized work, for further protection and to make it match the metalwork already on the vehicle.

I got an aluminium frame for the new wiring hub welded by Mackay’s small works department.

The new wiring frame, with connectors ready to go in

The new wiring frame, with connectors ready to go in

I glued all the connectors into the frame, and left that to set.

Wiring connectors in the frame

Wiring connectors in the frame

They are “Multi-connector, 8-way” from Vehicle Wiring Products.

Alongside the wiring work, I continued adding seats and seatbelts in the rear.

Rear interior, with all seats fitted

Rear interior, with all seats fitted

The front-most nearside bench seat is easily removeable (and the seatbelts come with it) so it can also be mounted on the roofrack or the winch cover (for example, for filming from the vehicle).

The roofrack, repaired from rust damage

The roofrack, repaired from rust damage

The roofrack is now all assembled, the front part being from the original roofrack (with quite a few repairs) and the rear part a modified new one.

A bracket on the roof-rack

A bracket on the roof-rack

Brackets with weldnuts underneath, like this, are for mounting the moveable seat and various other optional fitments. Since taking the photo, I’ve painted it with black Hammerite. Some time I’ll get round to drilling drainage holes in the bits of plate that are surrounded by mesh, to stop rain pooling on them.

The winch bumper, now galvanized and painted, is back in place, ready for the winch (which is in pieces for overhaul at Makespace, of which I’m a member).

The winch bumper, re-installed

The winch bumper, re-installed

The side steps came from a scrapped Discovery, and I had them modified to make them able to swing up to trap the doors for security (adding a motor and control for this will be a later project). As with the other parts, I galvanized and painted them.

A side step, galvanized

A side step, galvanized

A side step, with non-ferrous metals primer

A side step, with non-ferrous metals primer

The old wiring hub was a mess.

The old rats' nest of wires

The old rats’ nest of wires

I meant the new one to be tidier, but somehow it didn’t work out that way:

The new wiring hub

The new wiring hub

Installed, it looks a bit better:

The new wiring hub, in place in the middle of the dashboard

The new wiring hub, in place in the middle of the dashboard

The back of the fusebox held all of the old wiring directly; now it’s much simpler.

The back of the fusebox

The back of the fusebox

Connecting it up was reasonably straightforward, with just a few bugs showing up.

The cables, plugged into the hub

The cables, plugged into the hub

I’ve also fitted the side steps, but it was getting a bit dark to get a good photo.

Next stages: re-assemble and re-fit the winch (this evening, I hope); fix a few bugs in the wiring; re-connect the ceiling switch panel. I’d like to get the steering guard back on before I do the off-road course at Billing, too. I suspect I’ll end up taking it there in the back, and attaching it while I’m there.

More laning, and more work coming up

Over the last few weeks, I’ve done a little green laning, and a lot of normal everyday use, and a bit of preparing for the next round of work. Although obviously not completed, I think Marmalade is looking quite fine in this photo (on Porters Way, near Longstowe, Cambridgeshire):

On Porter's Way, a green lane

On Porter’s Way, a green lane in Cambridgeshire

I’m looking forward to having the winch bumper painted, the winch installed, and the tent cover properly supported rather than tied on at a jaunty angle.

Here’s a picture of more “everyday” use (coming into town on Sunday morning for church). This road is quite narrow to manouevre such a long vehicle into, with an awkward turn at the entrance.

Parked in a city street

Parked in a city street

He does turn out to be quite usable in town, although not really what you’d call a “town car”.

I’ve also driven my backup car, a Citroen Xantia, a couple of times, but that’s really boring, and hardly seems like driving at all now I’m normally back to Marmalade. I think I will still want a smaller car as a companion to Marmalade, but I’d like something with more character — I’m thinking of a Bond Bug, or, if I can’t get a Bug at a reasonable price, a Reliant Robin. Of course, I’m already thinking about how to make a docking mechanism that will allow me to tow the small car behind Marmalade… and to dock and un-dock while Marmalade is in motion! (I don’t think there’s specifically a law against this, although I’d check carefully before doing it on the public road.)

Thinking about Land Rovers and about three-wheelers together gave me an idea for another Land Rover project, going the other way from my rebuild of Marmalade: to cut an old Defender off behind the transfer box and front seats, put a crossmember across the chassis there, and mount a swinging arm (like a giant version of a motorbike rear suspension) and a single, centrally mounted, tractor wheel. I don’t know if I’ll ever get round to doing this, but it sounds like a fun idea.

Tomorrow I’ll be doing more metalwork with the welding guys, and then this coming week taking all the additional metalwork for galvanizing. When I get it back, there’ll be quite a bit of painting to do, before I can bolt it all into place. Then I’ll have to improve the rear wheelarches, and after that it’ll be time for some really nice photos!

More metalwork

I’ve spent a couple of Saturdays helping two expert metalworkers prepare some of the steelwork that bolts onto the main part of the vehicle, and this time I’ve remembered to photograph it for the blog. Some of this I mentioned in my previous post; this time I’ve added pictures.

Front bumper removed, exposing the dumb irons

Front bumper removed, exposing the dumb irons

First, we removed the interim bumper (which will go back on for a while when the winch bumper is off for galvanizing).

Front bumper, with some added holes

Front bumper, with some added holes

We completed the front bumper, welding some plates with holes and weldnuts onto the back of it to take supports for a bumper-to-bumper roofrack in case I ever do that, and I drilled holes for foglights and towing eyes. The lug on the top surface next to one of the square holes is for padlocking a removable winch cover to, and the square holes are what the winch cover slots into. The bumper fits slightly further forward than it did on the old chassis, as it didn’t quite fit and I had to get a couple of plates welded to its mounting points to make it compatible. The winch drive shaft will need lengthening to match.

Roofrack with mesh

Roofrack with mesh

We cut the top rails of the new section of the roofrack, to make it a single tray a the front and to take the tent at the back, and welded expanded steel mesh onto it. There are a couple of bits of mesh still to add, where we’ll take out the recess that took the front of the tent cover in the old length. This mesh makes the roofrack much easier to use, although I think it increases the overall wind resistance as the air can’t escape so freely from between the “ramp” at the front of the roof and the roofrack. There are still some bits of steel plate on the old section of the roofrack, meant for making it more comfortable to get in and out of the tent. They failed to do that, and won’t be replicated when I replace that part of the roofrack.

The triangular patches about half-way back in the rear section of the roofrack are plates with weldnuts, for attaching a seat to.

Roofrack details

Roofrack details

The roofrack upper rails slant down at the back, towards the tent cover. I’m designing a new tent cover, that will lift forwards separately from the tent instead of hanging down behind it, and those holes (with weldnuts behind them) are for pivots for struts to support the cover.

A multi-function bracket for the rear crossmember

A multi-function bracket for the rear crossmember

We made a pair of brackets for the rear crossmember. These will support the poles that support the tent, and will also support some bracing for the roofrack. At the outer ends, there are pieces of thick steel plate wrapped around the corners of the vehicle, so they’ll also serve as bumperettes (corner protectors). I was originally planning to make them form a rear step too, but decided to get a ready-made on of those separately, that will bolt onto the towing bracket.

A sidestep, welded

A sidestep, welded

We modified a pair of old Discovery side steps / tree sliders, to fit onto brackets that I’ve bolted onto the chassis. They will be pivoted, so they can swing upwards to make the vehicle a bit narrower, and in the upright position, they’ll block the doors from opening, as an extra security measure. The bracket at the back is to connect them to a motor which will push them up and down.

Seat frame

Seat frame

We made a frame for one of the two-person bench seats that originally came with the vehicle. (I replaced them with three-person seats at the “Millenium”, but I still have one of the originals.) The frame will also hold the seatbelts, so the seat and belts can be moved as a unit. So far, there are four points where it can be mounted: either side of the loadspace (between the three-person benches, which are right at the back, and the forward-facing second row seats); on the roofrack; and on a winch cover frame that slots into the front bumper.

Winch cover frame

Winch cover frame

Here’s the winch cover frame, which also serves as a seat support. It drops into the square holes on the upper surface of the front bumper. The idea of putting a seat here is so that when wading the vehicle, you don’t have to wade in yourself with a stick to prod for the depth ahead of the vehicle; someone can sit here with a stick instead. It might also be good for filming from (one of my brothers teaches film-making).

There’s still some more steelwork to do; when it’s all fabricated, it’ll be galvanized before attaching to the vehicle.

In regular use again

Now Marmalade is back in regular use in his new configuration, and I’m getting used to the handling. For everything except tight manouevering, there’s not a lot of difference; getting into narrow spaces without much room to swing in is of course a bit harder, and the steering takes more effort, but the overall difference is less than I had expected.

I think I’m even changing up gears earlier than before; the extra momentum seems to suit the engine. (I’ve noticed this effect before, when carrying loads or lots of people.)

Last Saturday I helped a couple of more expert metalworkers than myself do some work on the new roofrack section (sorry, no picture yet) and on the front bumper, and on a frame for a 2-person bench seat that will be moveable to various positions, with the seatbelts (now required by my insurer) attached to the same frame, and so coming with it when it is moved. There’ll be a side-facing mounting on either side between the rear 3-person benches and the forward-facing second row seats; possibly a rear-facing position behind the second row; at least one forward-facing position on the roofrack (good for picnicking when stationary, or perhaps for filming when moving), and one on the winch cover that will slot into the front bumper, for someone to check the depth with a stick when the vehicle is wading, without having to wade themselves.

The side steps / sliders are still to be done, along with a grab rail for getting into the second row from the side steps, that will also double as a drying rail as the middle of it will be above a small oil-filled storage heater (made for Swedish taxis, apparently).

It’s good to be back on the road with Marmalade! I’ve driven the Xantia one day since then, but it didn’t really feel like proper driving in comparison.

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