New Projects!

I’m not much good at finishing stuff. It’s just so easy to say ‘YEAH, I’ve got a few spare weekends! I’ll learn guitar!’ or ‘Four weeks off? Maybe I should restore my mums old car to greatness! I’ll get a free car!’

I blame Hollywood. You’re forever seeing films in which a talented-but-untapped fellow/femme simultaneously overcomes both physical trials and boredom to become the best ballet dancer/spymaster/hot dog speed eating champion in history, through the simple medium of a two-minute montage. We watch this and think: wonderful. Now I too can unleash my inner concert pianist in the fifteen minutes before breakfast, which leaves time for becoming a professional photographer-cum-flamenco guitarist by lunchtime!

You’ve probably figured out that this is a weakness of mine. I’d just love to be really good at something and be able to say ‘this was not innate – I taught myself this, I have succeeded in doing so, and turned it into a genuinely useful part of my life.’ Occasionally I manage to pull this off, but the usual pattern is a vurst of enthusiasm followed by a slow fading into obscurity and random odds and ends kicking about the house. Success, however, is a subjective topic and is best judged by another than I. As such, without further ado, I give you….a list of projects, started by yours truly, and the results thereof *thunderous applause*.

Spring 2008: Learn photography. I was given a bundle of money by an elderly relative and, inspired by my ex-girlfriend current-best friend I bought myself my camera. Since then I have taken manymanymany photos, and I’ve really enjoyed using it. I’ve only just realised, however, that I need to be less cowardly about breaking it/having it walk away with someone else – as such, I’ve resolved that it will come with me everywhere interesting I go from now on. As for the decent photos, I’m still pretty critical of my results. Judge for yourself, but at least I’m enjoying the ride.


Spring 2009: Grow a vegetable bed. I was staring out of the kitchen window one fine March morning at the weedbed that is my garden at university. I glanced down at my hands and noted a peculiar green tint to several of my fingers. Thusly inspired, I rocked down to B&Q, bought a spade and some seeds, and planted all sorts of obscure vegetables. They grew, and I built them a trellis (for the climbing ones) and bought them water and food and de-aphidifying spray. The plants grew mighty and strong, and provided a bounty of free food, but sadly I’d forgotten that we were subletting the house over the summer holiday so I didn’t see much of the harvest. I did, however, get the privilege of bringing home not one, not two, but NINE whole cucumbers in one day. RATING: MOSTLY SUCCESSFUL

Summer 2009: Learn piano. I’ve now got a piano in my room, but I’ve not played it much this year. I can play about 4-5 songs from memory. I still can’t sight read anything. I am still crap at piano. RATING: FAILED (but in progress!)

January 2010: Buy a cheap bike and make it good. Admittedly this project originally started life as a rather-simpler ‘buy a cheap bike’. I achieved this with such enthusiasm that bits began falling off my bike within a month of purchase. The ‘make it good’ part was then something of a necessity and the bike now has new wheels, brakes, gears, chain, cranks, pedals, front cogs, front derailleur, rear cassette, rear derailleur, and handlebar ends. The front derailleur doesn’t work, and I’ve taken the front brakes off because the front wheel moves of its own accord and hence violently adjusts the brakes while in motion (fault the original frame! point fingers at cheap manufacturing!). The bike, however, works and has taken me many many miles. RATING: MOSTLY SUCCESSFUL

September 2010: Build a wooden music-book holder. My piano music sits under my piano in an unsightly box of random paper and books. The idea was to purchase a saw and some wood and make one of those magazine-style holders to take all of my music books. I drew up a very simple, very well-drawn design, bought wood, a saw, a tri-square and some sandpaper, and subsequently never achieved anything. It’s all still in a box under my bed. RATING: FAILED

November 2010: Create a rope rug. Old climbing ropes can be turned into rugs, and I have an old climbing rope. Being in fouth year and having more time than anyone should ever reasonably be forced to have, I figured I’d create a nice simple spiral rug to accessorise my uni room. Not only does the rope still resemble a rope rather than a comforting floor surface, I’m now moving out of the university room I’d’ve put it in to boot. RESULT: CATASTROPHICALLY FAILED

Conclusion: 3 failures including one epic fail, set against three partial successes. Not what Hollywood had planned for the film of my life, I’m certain, but nevertheless they have variously kept me entertained, frustrated, or forgetful throughout the last few years.  There have doubtless been numerous things that I have forgotten to add, either due to accidentally misplaced memories or traumatic obliteration of the same, but I’m sure the trend speaks for itself. This is why I am cautious about my latest surge of enthusiasm for two separate, all-new, complicated projects. One is so major I am afraid to start it (but the rewards are high), the other less so, and potentially moneymaking if I can do it right.

NEW PROJECT #1: Restore my mother’s old Volvo 480. It failed its MoT Test this year on front suspension, which needs replacing. This in itself shouldn’t be too tricky and would cost circa £150 in parts, but the advisory list of things that will come up in the next years MoT is extensive and would be potentially much more costly (although if I can do it myself, it would be cheaper). The car itself still runs beautifully and is actually a lot of fun to drive – although I have no idea how much insurance it would be.

– I get a car for next year.
– I learn a bit about cars and fixing them beyond ‘changing the tyre, checking the oil’
– Did I mention I get a car for next year?
– The Volvo is so old it cannot possibly depreciate, so it is theoretically cheap to run.
– Parts won’t be cheap, and I am definitely no expert.
– Next years advisory list might cripple the car anyway/be tres expensive to fix.
– It probably uses about as much fuel to drive to the shops as NASA uses to launch a space shuttle.

NEW PROJECT #2: Restore old manual-focus lenses to greatness by cleaning out fungus from optics and attempting to fix mechanical problems, then either use them or sell them back to eBay at a profit. Unsurprisingly broken manual focus lenses are darn cheap and how hard can it be right?

– Optics I can use I’d get at a fraction of the price of new or even functional old lenses.
– A genuinely interesting thing to be able to understand. Old lenses are wonderful.
– Profit margins if I can fix a lens could be anything up from £20-£50 each.
– Little initial investment required.
– Lenses are built in a specific order in a column. How hard can it be?! (naivete not a crime [although I am very logical and so are lenses])
– You get a blog entry detailing what I did and how much harder it was than anything I’ve ever done ever.
– Optics are extremely precise, specialised units and while I am not clumsy, that doesn’t make up for not knowing what I’m doing.
– Some lenses are damaged beyond repair, even if I could strip and clean them.
– Some lenses will need their focus reset, and this probably requires that I build something to hold the lens at a perfect 90 degree angle to a ground glass screen at a very specific distance. It’s that, or trust that my SLR viewfinder is perfect and use that.

I’m pretty keen on trying at least one lens for project #2 – the investment will be about £10 for the lens and some isopropyl alcohol so I don’t mind that. What, though, is the reckoning for project #1?


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