Wednesday, 13 April 2011

The snap of a rat-shit strap

Well I went back to Portland yesterday as I promised you I would, but this time I took a trailer to bring back the stone - the old Volvo's tough, but not that tough.

This one has been set up for towing. It has self-leveling shock-absorbers fitted which cost about £300 each before fitting. I only found that out because I had to replace one a year or so ago. Normally I would fit a pair at a time, but I didn't like the idea of spending more money than the car was worth on them, so just had the one.

I bought this 850 Estate from an animal-hoarder who specialised in horses, and it used to tow them around in boxes. When I went to collect it (from Martock in Somerset) it was in a paddock, surrounded by his four-legged friends. One of them had kicked a dent in the back door-hatch, which I have never bothered to straighten out.

When you leave the quarry, fully loaded and wondering whether or not you have strapped the blocks down securely, the first stretch of road you have to negotiate is an extremely steep and narrow, down-hill street with tight bends all through the town, which has women pushing prams, small children and old people on either side of it, tottering along on very narrow pavements. You tend to hold your breath all the way down until you reach the causeway that takes you off the island and toward Weymouth. It is the same for fully-laden, 40 ton trucks as well - there is no special route out for them. Then you remember that it was the same for horse-drawn carts, way back in the 17th century, slowed down by steel wedges which slid along the ground, acting as inefficient brakes the whole mile or so to the bottom, so you don't feel so bad.

I made the 2.5 hour trip back to Bath with only one mishap - the ratchet-straps (or rat-shit straps as we call them) had worn through against the sharp edges of the blocks, and one snapped completely, dropping the steel hook somewhere on the road behind to cause punctures and fatal accidents for those who came behind me. Luckily I noticed in the rear-view, and pulled over for an emergency repair before one of the quarter ton blocks slid off on the next roundabout.

Some of these quarries make up good names for their products, but they usually cannot remember how they got them. 'Ayer's Rock' was probably named so by the first white man to clap eyes on it, but I see it is now usually referred to by it's Aboriginal name - or both at the same time, like they do with Welsh street signs.

You can see (above the car in the top photo) this row of gigantic sample boards for the various types of Portland to be quarried at this place, and it looks as though some of the early operators were called 'Jordan' and 'Bower'. As I was moaning in a previous post, 'Roach' now takes pride of place, consequently pushing the price right up. Good job my client is paying for it.

I arrived at 1.00 pm - lunch time - and, in true British tradition, had to wait until the men had finished their sandwiches before one of the taciturn bastards would plonk them on the trailer with his fork-lift.

Some things never change.


  1. ah the true British spirit
    repairing your rat strap with a bit of knicker elastic!

  2. We used to have an old Volvo estate. It wasn't just a car, it was part of the family. So comfortble and like driving a tank, invincible. (Yes, I have driven a tank - Vickers Main Battle). Eventually had to let her go when she started letting in rainwater and was too expensive to fix.

  3. My old mate Jock used to have the same trouble with his car. Jock's strap was always coming loose.

  4. Prizes go to John and Cro in the "Carry On" category.

    I've been buying Volvo estates for about 30 years, Sue - but I haven't ever driven a tank. I pay no more than £1000 for them, and run them until the repair bill is more than the car is worth. I then scrap it, and buy another. This usually takes about 4 years of punishing treatment. The one above probably cost £25,000 new, so I reckon that's cheap motoring. This one above cost me £850 (850 for an 850), about 3 years ago, and runs beautifully and predictably, with comfort - even when towing a ton. The next model will be a V70, if I outlive this model.

  5. I wait with bated breath for what you intend to do with the stone. Keep us posted - thought processes as well as the donkey work.

  6. Oh, I'll just be doing what I always do with the stone, Weaver - turning it into a valuable asset and a cherished heirloom for generations to come.

  7. I'm glad you got home safe, Tom. Those narrow roads sound just like where we live. And you get sheep on the road here as well. I used to drive a Volvo (My O/H bought it out of a motor auction) until I suddenly met the postman smack on, on a blind corner. No more Volvo!

  8. Do you still get post delivered, Moll?

  9. They just sacked that particular postie for having too many crashes. He goes hang gliding off the Long Mountain instead now.