Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Drive It

Crazy Fools!Apparently Sunday was "Drive It Day", and to quote Fiat 500 Club board regular, paul1947, "we are being called upon by the great and good to take our cars out and about to raise public awareness of vintage and classic cars".

I didn't. On Sunday it was pissing it down with rain, and rain is not a good thing for a 1971 Fiat 500. Especially not lots of rain. Humbug!

And so "Drive It Day" was a total wash-out in the South East of England. Mind you, apparently (and rather perversely, given the usual state of affairs) the North West of England was bathed in glorious sunshine, so I hope Northern classic car owners took full advantage. Many South-dwellers less wimpy than myself also braved the changeable weather.

Other news-worthy events. I went out in the Lotus a few weeks ago. That is, my father drove me around in the Lotus because I accidently messed up the insurance renewal and was not legally permitted to drive myself. Anyway, it's running very sweetly and starts first time with it's new upgraded starter motor, timing adjustments and cleaned carbs. Thank you Neil (current chap charged with keeping the Lotus ticking). I'm still waiting for the bill. Eek!

Also, though we didn't make "Drive It Day", the Fiat did take an outing on the Saturday before, which was bathed in glorious sunshine. We made the mistake of going to a garden centre - just to look around, of course.

Three plants, compost, pots, watering can and grass seed later, we had an interesting 3D jigsaw to complete in order to get everything in the Fiat. Much to the amusement of the good folk coming and going from the establishment in assorted 4x4 and people carrier things. Let me just say, it's a good job the roof opens.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

We Found It!

The garage! We know where it is! Hallelujah! There is a God!

I'm going to map the garage sites of Epping (I now know every single bloody one) and post the map to the District Council, suggesting they make multiple copies and hand them to new garage keepers so other people don't end up taking a week to find their newly rented property!

Still, it's a nice garage and a quiet spot. And we still have the keys to the old one, in case the County Council change their minds and don't knock them down after all.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Filthy Habit

Smokin'!!!Remember Uncle Buck's car? Every time he started the damned thing it billowed smoke like a factory chimney. The Fiat must've seen the movie too. They are exactly the antics it has decided to mimick to the point where it is really beginning to get embarassing.

Picture the scene - it's a busy supermarket car park. We put the shopping on the back seat, hop in the Fiat and ready ourselves to depart (which involves all the usual faffing with seatbelts, fumbling for battery isolator key, &c.)

Meanwhile, and unbeknownst to us, a middle-aged lady wanders over to the car parked behind us and starts to transfer shopping from trolley to trunk (or boot, or whatever you want to call it). We reversed in, she reversed in, so there we are, back to back.

Oblivious, my girlfriend gives it a quick pump of the gas, turn of the key and the little 500cc motor ticks in to life... with an enormous black cloud of oil smoke, completely engulfing afforementioned unfortunate shopper. Oops. We make a cheerful apology and a hasty exit.

I really must get it fixed. While the rest of the country obsesses on quitting smoking, our Italian baby starts! Typical!

In the meantime I'm waiting for it to develop the other Uncle Buckesque trait - the window-shattering back-fire when it stops.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Garages - The Full Story

Slough. How depressing.Look. No 'N'. I'm proud of me for breaking that vicious cycle. Now, I know I digress from the topic of motoring slightly with this (and the previous) post, but I simply must tell you how things panned out with the Council(s). And I strongly suspect the local paper would like this too.

Now a garage is a fairly simple structure (see photo - those are actually in Slough, probably most famous for The Office - but you get the idea). A concrete shed with a thin metal door suitable for keeping a car in. Unfortunately, most garages are owned by local Councils and the upshot of this is the bureaucracy and incompetence surrounding their management is often jaw-dropping.

When I moved to Epping last July I intended to take on the tenancy of the garage the previous owner occupied. He had done this five years previous when he took on the cottage himself and didn't seem to think it would be a problem. He informed us the Council tended to give preference to the cottages where I live, because we have no off street parking.

There was just one piece of information missing - he didn't specify which Council. Being new to the town, we assumed he meant the District Council since they have the most imposing presence and fanciest building.

So off I go, bravely and naively in to the realms of local government to try and claim my garage tenancy. Nine months, three letters, multiple emails and telephone conversations later, I am beginning to decipher what actually happened.

Under the impression the District Council rented the garages behind the church in Epping I contacted them first, explaining the situation, telling them I wished to take tenancy of the garage behind the church - as the previous property owner had before - and was this possible? Here's what they said:

No. We'll send you some forms so you can join the list.
And here's what they actually should have said:

We have to confess, we don't have anything to do with that garage site. In fact, it is controlled by the Town Council but I'm sure they can tell you what their policy is if you give them a call.
Bit of a difference, wouldn't you say? If they had told me in the first place the garages weren't actually theirs, this whole saga would never have happened.


The District Council proceeded to send me forms to apply for a place on a garage site they didn't even run. The forms arrived, I called the District Council to ask the proper name of the garage site and was told to put "behind the church" (this was their second opportunity to tell me the garages weren't actually theirs), filled them in and sent them off. There. I'm on the list for a garage in Epping, with a stated preference of the site behind the church. All I can do now is wait.

In the meantime, our good neighbours to the right of our cottage both move to Chelmsford, vacating a garage on the site. One of them popped over and said we should call the Council as there was a garage up and he was sure we'd get it. Again, I called the District Council about the garages behind the church, only to be tersely told to wait my turn. (A third opportunity to tell me they didn't even look after those garages!!)

I gave up at this point, I resigned myself to being on the list until something came up. So imagine my shock when I discover the District Council are saying they have a glut of garages in Epping (see previous post). Now, and only now, do our heroes inform me:

  • They don't look after the garages behind the church - the Town Council do
  • They have loads of garages, but thought we only wanted one on the Chapel Road site
I wanted to scream, cry and laugh all at once. I didn't even know where Chapel Road was! Why would I want a garage there specifically??

But at least there was now light at the end of the tunnel. The District Council immediately offered me a garage on their Springfield 'C' site, which I took because a garage fifteen minutes away on foot is far superior to no garage at all when you want to keep a classic car dry.

I picked up the keys this morning, however the lady I spoke to didn't know where the garages were. Of course! What else should I expect from a local government organisation which kept me on the line for nine months trying to rent me a garage they didn't own?

There are three council garage sites somewhere in the south end of Epping, down the hill - Springfield A, B and C. I drove all over the place this morning and found A. I continued, in and out of every side street, and as I was verging on giving up I found B. I then gave up. I still have no bloody idea where C is and neither do the Council. I've spotted a likely location on Google Maps using the satellite imagery (see the sandy vertical strip in the centre of the shot) which I shall be investigating, as it's the last likely location I can see anywhere in the whole town. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, I finally knew who really did look after the garages behind the church - the Town Council - so I could call them and ask about getting one. The sucker punch?

The Town Council only rent the garages behind the church so can't help. They don't own them. And the County Council (who do own them) have ear-marked them for demolition. Of course, we don't know that for sure yet, because much in the same way as the District Council don't actually know where their own garages are, the County Council don't know what they do with theirs - instead they referred me to a private property management company who look after all that stuff for them. And this company will only deal with me in writing. So that's where my Council Tax is going, eh? Ho hum.