Thursday, 26 November 2009

In search of boys toys (IV/VI)

written 23rd November 2009

Finding ourselves back on the mainland early saturday afternoon, we took up once more our quest for headlights and headed to the scrapyard.  They were a bit shocked by us - english tourists not being their usual customer base - and despite my beautifully prepared french, they were too busy exclaiming that they couldn't speak english to bother listening to it....  Fortunately, anticipating such a problem, I had written down what i wanted which pleased them greatly although from their reaction, you would have thought that cars didn't exist in 1978, much less that if such a thing were to have existed, that you might voluntarily choose to drive one... 

Incidentally, we have discovered that the french government has a similar scrappage scheme to ours but instead of taking only perfectly serviceable, MOT'd cars off the road (such a criminal waste IMHO!), the french scheme allows you to trade in any old chicken shed on wheels you have dug out of the depths of a hedge at the back of your garden and as such is is extremely popular...

After much humming and ha'ing a boy was dispatched to hunt out whatever they might have, and the head honcho even emerged from his back office to see what all of the fus was about.  After some headscratching and a look at the van, he determined that he had lights for a 1980's van but nothing as old as ours - it is possible that they are the same lights but they were whisked away as soon as they were brought out so we couldn't check.  We did however manage to convey our need for a lamda sensor (thing which measures the fuel air mix in the exhaust in some way, I am reliably informed, fortunately, lamda sensor is the same in french so didn't require some tortured "thing which does..." explanation on my part) which was a vital and as yet missing part from Will's technical genius project.  It took a while for him to realise that we really didn't mind what car it came from and when he came back with the thing, he gave us a €5 foreigners discount (or dropped voluntarily from his opening price to his close negotiating price as we were clearly not in a position to argue the toss with him...) either way...  He was also able to give us slightly better directions to the industrial zone where the VW specialist apparently lived so we could head there on Monday.

Having already achieved far more than we thought possible in terms of random technical bits buying, Will decided that, despite the many hours spent in Maplin, he still needed more bits.  Quick straw poll of blog readers (who I know are biased towards the technical so this probaby won't be a true result)  How many of you know what Maplin is??  Moreover, how many of you think that the average man on the street (or more specifically girl in a tourist office) would know what Maplin was and what it sold?  Will thinks that everyone will know what Maplin sells but I am not so sure...

Anyway, we set off to the tourist office in the hope that they could help.  To be fair to me, I did preface my request (in my very best french) by saying that it wasn't a usual question, at which the tourist office lady smiled confidently and intimated that really, there was no tourist question she couldn't answer.  Pulling out Will's pot of resistors and bits, I then said that we were looking for a shop which would sell these types of electrical bits.  This was not a question which pleased her and throwing her hands in the air with a very gallic shrug, she advised us that 'bof! there wouldn't be anywhere in the centre of town that would sell such things'  Well I could probably have told her that!  Unfortunately, if anything that isn't in the centre of town, it clearly didn't exist for her so we headed on out.  Being back on that side of town, we thought we'd try the computer shop which had so successfully sold us the power adaptor - surely, as boys who deal with computers they would at least know what a resistor was which the tourist office lady clearly didn't.  Unfortunately, the shop was closed, as was the helpful chandlery who had pointed us to the computer shop in the first place, and we were about to give up for the day when we realised tha we were passing the University and more specifically the faculty of science and technology - surely they would have geek engineers who wanted to play with small bits of electronics.  In a random search for not quite sure what or who, we turned down some side streets and found another computer shop which was actually open, and after initial surprise, the boy behind the counter was able to confirm that there was such an emporium, behind the Conformama and next to the Darty after sales service shop on a nearby commercial centre and was even able to point to the right ring road exit on our tattered tourist map - we have definitely got our €0.20 out of this fine publication! - and tell us it was only a mere 10 mins away.  As you may remember, this is not the first time we have been sent on a quest to find the so far mythical Darty on a commercial park which is only minutes away, but with nothing better to do, we set off once more.  We found the actual retail park quite easily - like Thurrock, you follow the endless snaking queue of saturday shopping traffic off the motorway - and fortunately the slow moving queues allowed plenty of time to look at the shop signs.

After one circuit in the wrong direction, we saw finally saw the fabled Darty and decided to abandon Jules in a momentarily free space next to a shoe shop and set out on foot when there it was, across a carpark, behind a hedge, E17 - the french equivalent of Maplin! I must have done something bad in a former life (or this one) to keep ending up in such places....

E17 is more than Maplin, which IMHO, is mix of garish flashy light gimmicks and spotty youths behind componants catalogues, it is a proper boys toys shop with everything from lighting rigs to sounds desks, to airfix models, to proper flightworthy radio controlled model aeroplanes - there was a whole aisle of 2ft propellers!  It is also not a soul sucking as Maplin :)  After a wander round and the discovery that, obviously now he could see such things were available, he needed more than just a couple of componants... we headed for the counter where a very patient man deciphered our requirements through a combination of pointing, pictionary, bad french "I am looking for a thing which transfers 15v to 5v" (a 5 volt regulator) and the fact that a DSUB9 connector and IEC connectors are luckily the same in french as in English :)  Flushed with our second unexpected success of the day, we headed back to Jules and set of towards Carrefour in search of food.  At this point, the EGR (Exhaust Gas Recirculation unit - something which is fitted to US federal spec buses (only) as part of their emmissions laws) warning light started to come on, on the dashboard.  Consultation of the manual revealed only that this should happen when the bus reached the required service mileage interval but, as Jules has neither an EGR (we took it off when we first bought it) nor is the warning light connected to the odometer in anyway, this seemed unlikely, and as the last time this light came on, albeit in conjunction with the battery warning light, it was an indication of serious alternator issues, this is a bit worrying.  We made it to Carrefour (where we found that in celebration of the 39th birthday of the retail park they were giving away coffee cake - bargain!), and after a quick trip in with me to debate the relative merits of battery chargers (so when we stay in places with electric hook up we can charge the leisure battery as well as run the laptop and the fridge), Will left me in charge of food, whilst he undertook to root cause the problem.

Now, on a timepressed lunchbreak or evening after work when I am tired and want to go home, I am not a massive fan of supermarket shopping, but when left at leisure in a massive foreign food shopping palace, I can happily wander the aisles for hours in search of the new and unusual.  We hadn't decided what we wanted for dinner so the choice was down to me and in such circumstances, it doesn't do to rush these things.  We were planning on campsite for the following (sunday) evening so could hopefully bbq, first in ages, so a choice of Saucisse de Toulouse and Steak Hache (burgers) was the eventual, somewhat obvious decision, which just left that night and something which could be cooked on the hob in a
public carpark.

After toying with the idea of pork chops or some sort of lamb, my eyes lighted on a hitherto untried french delicacy - horse! Well it had to be done! so, decison made, the rest of the shopping was quickly done and by the time I was finished, Will had worked out that, whatever the cause of the warning light, it wasn't serious at this point and he was geting all the expected voltages from all the expected places.  Austin, any ideas???

Now I know there will be those of you crying out "how could you, the poor cute ickle pony-woney!!!" (in fact Leah, you might want to skip on a paragraph to Sunday) but pan fried for two minutes on each side and pink in the middle (as per packet instructions) with boiled potatoes (yes, we are still working our way through a big, cheap bag bought some days ago!) and steamed broccoli and washed down with €0.85 table wine, it was delicious.  The texture is finer than beef, almost liver like and it is a bit tougher but it tastes wonderful.  Horse will feature on the menu again at some point!

Back in our free carpark home, although in a normal space this time as all the camping-car spaces were full, we settled in, all snug out of the rain and wind battering down outside, to some more programming/mag reading to RFM's 80's hour - yes, there was chair dancing and hand jiving, especially to it's raining men, but Will stopped and looked busy and serious whenerver the camera came out - spoil sport :)

The next morning, the sun was shining when we woke up and we found that we were parked right in front of another british campervan, the first we have seen so far, a ford autosleeper something or other.  Deciding it would be both rude and anti-social not to say hello, we wandered over and thus it was that we met Bilbo and the Bear, on their way back from a two month wander as far as venice and back and a happy couple of hours was passed swapping stories and drinking tea - proper english tetly tea with milk! not that I am missing it or anything... - whilst outside it bucketed it down again.  Will even fixed the wireless dongle - well if you're reading this Bill, I hope it is still working! - he is a useful boy!  With many campervan adventures under his belt, Bill was happily able to pass on some tips for our route south and we will no doubt be seeking further advice via as and when we have internet - I hope you and Bear enjoyed your elephant ride!

When all the tea was drunk and stories told, and with a nod and a wink towards free wifi at the McDonalds over by the marina, we bid farewell to fellow travellers and set off into town in the sunshine in search of lunch bread and then onwards for internet.  The quest for the mythical McDonalds was nearly as frustrating as the previous search for Darty - well we hadn't really asked for directions, I mean, McDonalds are everywhere and if there isn't one right exactly where you happen to be, there is usually a sign telling you exactly how far away the nearest one is, just in case you are beginning to fret - but this proved not to be the case and I couldn't bring myself, in this land of gourmet food delights, to ask someone for an american hamburger joint.  We did eventually find it and were able to park almost close enough in the car park, but it was very busy and the network clearly saturated with other users so after some trying, we gave up and headed for the marina carpark for a bit before heading back to our more sheltered town centre carpark for the night and a meal of Tolouse sausage and bread, olive oil and balsamic vinegar - keeping it simple is sometimes the best way - and settled in to watch some telly - Weeds, it's brilliant, ta muchly Dave and Emily!

This morning, we left our little parking spot, and set off to find the VW specialist.  We found the right exit, as indicated by the scappy but on getting to the top of the slip road, found that there is both a north and south industrial zone with the same name so we picked one at random and stopped by the entrance board.  Nothing looked promising so we decided on a quick drive round before heading to the other part of the park, when, outside the very first unit, we saw three campervans -this had to be the place!

With a combination of bugs, buses and dune buggies, a proper boy racer shop it was too!  I so want that accelerator pedal...

The man was quick to confirm that he did indeed have the requisite lights (for some exorbitant price, but we hey, we need them) and a peruse of the shelves lead Will to thinking he needed a performance air filter for his plan of cunning technical genius.  The part was not in stock but is on order so we are here until at least wednesday, which should also give Will time to either fry or lose some of his components (well it does happen, I'm not just being mean for a cheap laugh!) whilst we are still somewhere where he can replace them.  We have spent the rest of the day in the municipal campsite (it's the time of the month for a shower again), hooked up to some lovely electricity so we are not fighting over limited laptop battery time, and have also done some dull, practical things like washing and cooked delicious special fried rice with onion, sweetcorn and left over sausage. 

Will is at the stage of duck diving into the engine bay to take bits and pieces out and is happily modifiying them with ally mesh, fibre glass and old bike inner tube - the plan is to fit a new airflow sensor (bought from the scrappy in Cornwall) inline with the old one, by means of a purpose formed fibreglass connector, so that his newly wired up arm chip can take voltage readings off both the old airflow sensor and the new airflow sensor and compare them so we can re-map the requisite bit of ECU and replace the old airflow sensor (which we think has dead bits which are causing a nasty judder at low speed/low revs) completely with the nice new one which can be more easiy tweaked for better fuel efficiency, and some other side project involving metro temperature sensors fixed to the cylinder heads - see I am listening...  Iasked him what he was going to do once he has finished his project of technical genius and his reassuring(?) response was "well I'll be spending all my spare time trying to find out why it isn't working..." tomorrow we will head back to our nice free carpark and hopefuly find some internet on the way.

tootle pip for now - it's bed time!

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