Monday, 29 October 2012

Fun with papier mâché

    Making a mould of your foot turns out to be a surprisingly difficult business. You scrub your toes and put socks on, so your feet are a perfectly accessible part of your body, right?
papier-mache-foot    You find out just how inflexible you have become as you grow up when you have to hold your foot up in the air and apply wallpaper paste soaked newspaper to its sole. As an experiment yesterday I had a go at using papier mâché to mould my foot for lastmaking, and I have to report mixed results. And a lot of contortion and aching leg muscles, it's surprisingly difficult to not put your right foot on the ground for a couple of hours.
    We all made papier mâché stuff at primary school. My art teacher mother reminded me that schools have the luxury of leaving stuff to dry for a week, my cast had to dry in an evening. So there I was last night with a hair dryer, trying to make my soggy paper covered foot dry enough to remove the paper in one piece.
    It worked, just. Eventually I was able to ease a soggy paper slipper from my foot and place it on a wire cooling tray to dry out. And though it will inevitably have settled a bit, with a carefully placed teaspoon or two to maintain its arch, it looks as though it'll deliver a reasonable mould of my foot.
    I'm still going to go with my original plan of using latex moulding compound for the same task. And I may also pick up some of the moulding supplies used by podiatrists, foam impression moulds and polymer moulding socks. My preoccupation is with making an accurate mould of my foot, and if it takes several attempts then I'm quite happy to go along with that.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

About two years.

    Just from curiosity I took a look back on this blog at what I was up to at this time last year. Bin-diving to save R's possessions. That was fun. Then a further hop, to this time two years ago.
    A question: "How long have I got?". Meaning of course: "How long before I can't take all this any more and can't go on any longer as a bloke?".
    You learn stuff, given enough time.
    I've learned that it's not a black and white thing. You can always hang on just that little bit longer, I've been doing it continuously for the last few years. And while I feel sadly a lot closer to the edge than I was a couple of years ago I've also had a couple of extra years practice at making it go just that little bit longer.
    All the same though, I can't help thinking that my answer back then was "About two years".
    Ah well, another year chalked up. My answer this time next year may or may not be "About three years", but I know for now I have to hang on.
    Just that little bit longer.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sacrificed in the name of engineering

    Long-term readers of this blog will know I am blessed with feet of a size unusual in male circles and almost unknown in female ones. Thus the pursuit of female-appropriate footwear in large sizes has become something of an obsession of mine, you might say I'm a world expert in the matter.
    With a very few exceptions, larger size ladies footwear aimed at the transgender community tends towards the fetishistic. Shiny PVC, painful heels, lots of straps and buckles. No doubt very tasteful if that's your thing, but mine it ain't. So I'm left with a tiny array of simple styles, mostly in black patent. could be worse, but I could weep when I see the shoes my natal female friends can pick up so easily.

     So do I put up with it and do nothing? Hell no!

    I'm an engineer, I make stuff!  I've never made a shoe before, but the blessing of being a trained engineer is that assurance that you can make just about anything if you put your mind to it.
    So I'm going to make shoes. No, they ain't going to be pretty, not at first, anyway. I have to learn how to make shoes. But you have to start somewhere.
    So given that, where does one start? In the first case, make a mould of your foot. In cobbler's terms, a last. A foot-shaped working surface on which to assemble your shoes.
    I bought the rubber moulding compound to do this about a year ago and haven't had the courage to start. I guess it's time. In effect I'll be making a pair of custom rubber socks, into which I'll pour a moulding material such as plaster or resin to make the last itself.
    But mould aside, how do you make a shoe? They don't teach you this stuff at school. As with most engineering projects, it's best to start by looking at work someone else has done, so to that end I've got hold of some discarded ladies shoes from a friend, and I'm about to dissect them. Pull them apart, even cut a pair in half with the bandsaw.
    It's going to be messy, isn't it.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

How much do you need to know?

    There was a teacher at my secondary school who was - presumably still is - a deeply unpleasant man. His speciality was punishment, and he seemed to derive a vicious pleasure from punishing young teenage boys. We were fortunate not to have been his pupils in the era when teachers used canes. In his case the playground view was that he took just a little too much interest in this aspect of his work, and in the way of young boys of course this took on an angle involving rumours of gay sex. Did any of us have any real knowledge on the subject? I certainly didn't, he never tried anything like that on me, I was bigger than him. And I never walked in on him in the book cupboard with a third-former among the history books or anything like that. But the fact is he was abusing his position and damaging young lives, I still have nightmares about school today because of people like him, and I know I'm not alone in that.
    Could I go to the police? Of course not, much as I wish I could send him into the nastiest jail imaginable. I'm guessing that however much damage he did, he wasn't breaking any laws in what I saw him do, and I can't do so on the basis of playground rumour.
     If you're British, you'll probably have guessed why my teacher is on my mind this morning. The story of the moment is that the late 1960s and 70s TV personality and sanctified charity fundraiser Jimmy Savile has turned out to have had a penchant for sexually assaulting young teenage girls.
     The shock comes of course because it's not really a shock. I first heard rumours about Savile about twenty years ago when I was working at the wilder edge of the media industry. They sounded like idle tittle-tattle, but we're told for those close to the epicentre it was more than just common knowledge. Others have done plenty of outrage at this both faux and otherwise, where I find the worry is at a more personal level. How much do you have to know before you go to the police?
    So in an odd way I understand why Savile survived in a culture of rumours. The people with real evidence - those who walked into the dressing room and found him with a 13-year-old - are unforgivable, but for those who didn't I can see why it would have been very difficult for them to do anything about it. Like my teacher, he was in too unassailable a position.
    I wonder how guilty I'll feel though if an ex-classmate of mine ever comes forward with a more serious tale about our teacher.

Monday, 8 October 2012


    We forget, in these days of ten thousand mile service intervals, what cars used to be like. My modern, the Turbocharged Rollerskate, is now a high mileage car. Yet it is as much an appliance as it is a car, given a bit of maintenance it's functionally exactly as it was when I first drove it off a dealer forecourt eleven years ago. Advanced metallurgy, synthetic oils and modern coatings have given it a nearly wear-free engine and a complete absence of rust.
    The Wreck by comparison needs constant attention. Oil top-ups, ignition adjustments, coolant checks, and battery charging. And it's not just the Wreck, I was thinking about the Mini I drove twenty years ago, that was the same. Not a problem for a much younger and spottier instance of me, but how easily I have forgotten the joys of standing in the rain pouring oil.
    A couple of weeks ago I took the Wreck on a Grand Tour of the West. The original plan was to visit my friends Nikki and Dru on my way to Bristol, before swinging north to Herefordshire to see my cousin, and dropping on my friend Ian in Gloucestershire on my way back to the Bright Lights. Sadly though that weekend saw the heaviest rain of the autumn, so instead I abandoned my plans after Bristol and headed east through the downpour.
    All non-vintage cars have a battery. The Wreck is no exception, it powers everything electrical on the car. The starter, the ignition, the lights, the wipers. On a modern car the battery will be charged by an alternator with a modern electronic regulator, but cars the Wreck's age instead have a dynamo and an electromechanical regulator. A big black box full of electromagnets and switches.
    The trouble with dynamos is that they're not very good at what they do. A nice long drive on a sunny day and your battery arrives in tip-top condition, but run the lights and the wipers as I had to and there won't be quite enough power to charge the battery. So when you stop, you won't be able to start the car again.
    I've always resisted an upgrade to an alternator, it's a little more hassle than just plugging and playing. On that particular front though I have to admit I'm starting to weaken.