Sorry. That was terrible. Hope everyone had a good Christmas and New Year – or as good a Festive Season (of whatever variety) as we can manage at the moment.
Many apologies for being a terrible correspondent – the stats for this Webpage show that many kind folk are still reading it and putting up with my burbling – I guess we must all be REALLY bored during lockdown.
At any rate – here we are again. 2021. Groundhog Year. I’m back in the UAE after a strange Christmas at home in the UK, and just in time, as the Air Bridge from the UAE to the UK closed a couple of days ago; the cases in the UAE are rising steeply, and of course the cases (and deaths) in the UK are embarassingly, tragically, criminally bad. All that and Brexit food shortages too. Sheesh.
At this point I’d like to make a mention of an old friend who died of Covid-19 a couple of days ago. Derek Robins was an old-school Rhodesian, ex- Rhodesian SAS Signals, an adventurer with a rumbling laugh and a ready smile. He and I grew to be friends when he ran the British Club in the area of Cairo where I lived from 2010-2016, and he retired back to the UK shortly after I left Egypt to come here. We were only exchanging messages in late December (about the Rhodesian LRDG) – shortly after that he contracted the virus – shortly after that he died. If there’s a pub in Heaven, Derek will be running it. Probably with an LRDG crest over the bar, as there was in Cairo. See you at the final RV mate.
Life here in the UAE potters on. The land border to Oman is currently open and I’ve been plotting a trip south (more anon) but the news is that due to the current Covid spike in Dubai (caused, in all likelihood, by partying Brits coming over and spreading the new fast variant) they are closing the land border at the weekend. This kinda stuffs up my plan, as I have a new Land Rover waiting in Muscat – a Discovery 3, which I’m itching to bring back north to my current home base here in Fujairah.
The as-yet unnamed Beast In Question
I must admit I’m slightly wary of the Disco 3 – they are the vehicle with which Land Rover truly made the step away from “utilitarian” (not counting Range Rovers of course) and towards a more “consumer-orientated” luxury vehicle (I hate the term “SUV”). They however are superb offroad. I was in Tunisia in 2007 and saw a Disco 3, on road tyres, climb a steep dune that the Bedouin guides with their Landcruisers (on desert tyres) wouldn’t go near. Equally, they are known for their hoofing weight (a bit like me during current lockdown, annoyingly). They are the Land Rover That Ate All The Pies. Big old beasts, and the best part of three tons. But they can’t half shift, and they can certainly deal with awful terrain with nonchalant ease – think Daniel Craig’s James Bond in Skyfall dropping through the roof of a devastated train – but pausing to shoot his cuffs on landing.
So it’s not the weight that worries me – its the electronics. The oldest D3s are now approaching 20 years old, and they are perhaps the first Land Rovers about which an owner might NOT think “I’m keeping that for the rest of my life”. Certainly I see no reason why my Disco 2, Tusker, won’t outlive me. This D3…hmm. Not sure. Anyway. I need to go get her at some point. With the border closing again, plans are up in the air. Watch this space.
Otherwise, life with Bumblebee, my Camel Disco, has been pretty good, despite her being off the road for October and November. 24 years old, her engine needed some TLC, and a valve issue developed as September waned. I took her to my mechanic in the village of Al Hayl who said the valves she had were probably the originals she left Lode Lane with, and he replaced them and partly rebuilt the Head whilst he was at it. He did a really good job. However he didn’t have an old-school stroboscopic timing gun to reset the timing. Nobody in Fujairah did, it turns out. So he suggested I take her to Dubai, where a Land Rover specialist would.
No worries, suggested a Land Rover-loving acquaintance of mine in Umm Al Qawain, I’ll fix that, he went on. I’ve a timing gun. I left her with him. A week or so later, a phone call. Timing is fine, but you’ve no compression on six of the eight cylinders. OK…… would you be able to have a go at fixing it? Hmmm yes, but a sleeve may have slipped….. etc etc.
Time passed. It continued to pass. Subsequently, more time passed. Christmas was approaching. I got on the ‘phone, eventually. No worries, no worries, my contact said. I’ll sort it this week. Seven days WLR (Without Land Rover) passed. ‘Phone again. Excuses. I lost patience. I retrieved the Land Rover, ignominiously on a flatbed. Took her back to my Indian mechanic, and by this time I’d ordered a timing gun from the UK. which I presented to the mechanic.
With me standing over them, they tested the compression. All eight cylinders had perfectly fine compression. The timing however was very much out. Up to 20 degrees. My (British, sort of) contact in Umm Al Qawain had basically fed me a pack of lies. I swore quite a bit. But then, thanks to Indian industry, Bumblebee was fixed up and renewed in short order. A couple of shakedown desert trips sorted a loose wire or two, and now she’s back to her rumbling best. High praise to the honesty and ability of Mr Lal who runs Famous Auto in Al Hayl.
New Year’s Day 2021
You live and learn. Anyway, as you can see, New Year was spent in the local mountains with Bumblebee. I deliberately went alone – I wanted some headspace. It’s the first New Year for 25 years I’ve not been in the Highlands – apart from 2013/14 when I was in the Sudan being shot at. But Bumblebee was a good companion, and the imported (by me) haggis, venison, black pudding and cranachan (not to mention a selection of Scots beer) at least brought back memories of snowy Glen Coe and happier times.
And so, as we lurch towards mid-January, things potter along. The three trucks in the UK are in fine fettle. I extended Elsa’s garage to take account of her extra two feet in length and extra four inches in height, and all three wagons are under cover as a snowy winter hits Yorkshire. The Black Pearl, sitting in Bulawayo, is being fettled as I type, ready to drive north. I’m planning to get vaccinated soon (hopefully Pfizer, but who knows) and plans this year are Zimbabwe and the UK in March/April and then drive the Pearl at least part of the way back home to Britain. Possibly to Nairobi, possibly as far as Cairo. But, with Burns Night coming up on the 25th, its appropriate to quote Robert Burns “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley” – and they’ve been ganging pretty bloody agley for the last year now. We will see…… stay safe, all.