Whitham's blog 4Fri, 07 Jan 2011
We all like to save a shilling if we can, especially these days, but sometimes, doing a job yourself, cutting corners and generally grubbing round being tight fisted actually ends up costing you more money than biting the bullet and putting your hand a bit deeper into your pocket to get a proper job done. The problem is, I come from a long line of, erm, frugal Yorkshire b####rds going back generations, and I seem to be hardwired as a bit of a skinflint.
My dad, although never actually short of money, that I could remember, didn’t like spending it. Preferring to call himself “careful” rather than miserly, to him, every penny was a prisoner. Just one example of this was his attitude towards food . . . and in particular the introduction in the late seventies of “sell by” dates. Normal people will naturally go for the item on the shelf with the longest time left before the sell by date . . . . not Pa’ Whitham ! . . . he would actively root through the shelves to find the packs that were out, or nearly out of date and then go and make a bid for his basket full of stale food at the till, telling the poor, confused check-out staff he was doing them a favour coz they were only going to have to throw it away soon anyway . . . for the most part they didn’t have a clue what was going on . . . they normally ended up calling security . . embarrassing doesn’t come close !
He also had a deal going with the local transport café where he went for breakfast most mornings. He’d noticed that, in all the time he’d been going there he’d never once been given the crust off the loaf to accompany his full English. Joe, the café owner, even though his was an establishment where your feet stuck to the lino, and the fluorescent light fittings were half full of dead flies, apparently felt that serving the crusts would lower the tone of the place (?) . . . So father got the cook, instead of throwing them away to put all the crusts back in a bag and save them for him. . . . when he brought them home he convinced us that the crusts were the best part of the loaf and that he’d bought these specially for us as a little treat each week ! . . . Until I was 13 years old I thought it was possible to buy from your local shop a complete loaf of crusts !
My mum was little better. I once came home from school and told her that “everybody” was wearing “Wrangler” or “Levi” jeans and that it wasn’t fair that I didn’t have any (you know how it is when you’re ten and trying to fit in) I wish I’d kept my gob shut . . . . The next morning outside school she got out of the car and inspected a pair of wranglers being worn by my mate Andy. . . . . and promptly announced that there was “nothing to ‘em” and she’d make me some . . . . oh dear God . . . . let the bullying commence ! . . . . . The finished articles were perfectly wearable and without doubt strong . . . . and to be fair to the lass she’d tried hard to make ‘em look the part, even down to the spurious “W” she’d stitched into the back pockets . . . but they were just a bit wrong in every respect . . . . and at that age it seemed a big deal.
Anyhoo, I’m wandering off the plot a bit here, but you get the idea, I don’t like chuckin my brass away. Last winter when it snowed properly for the first time in years, it happened that my wife Andrea, also for the first time in years wasn’t running some kind 4x4 as her everyday vehicle. She’s had allsorts, a Merc ML, a freelander, a couple of discoveries, and Mitsubishi pick-up thing. Anyway, for that two weeks in early 2010 we struggled without one, and after constant griping from her, I promised Andrea I’d “sort something out” in case it happened again. Our respective ideas of “sorting something out” turned out to be slightly different. I’m sure she thought I’d go out and buy her a nice new 4x4 to drive . . . but me being a tight-wad trawled Ebay through summer for something that was cheap but would go in the snow. I ended up buying a couple of “spares or repair” Kawasaki Mules. I knew she’d hate the idea of going off to the shops or school on one of these things, apparently driving a twenty year old, brush-painted farm vehicle to your local Waitrose is embarrassing, but I was rather banking on it not snowing this winter and therefore it never becoming an issue.
One of the mules was a real basket case chassis wise but had a good motor, and the other was in reasonable overall condition but had a blown motor and a knackered front diff. So, in true Jack Spratt fashion I spent a week or so in my shed during autumn and set about making one good one out of the two . . never actually thinking it’d ever get used for anything other than playing round the field on.
I was at the NEC show when 18 inches of the white stuff fell on West Yorkshire. Andrea called me early on the Monday morning in a rage and said the whole of Huddersfield had ground to a halt, obviously blaming me for the arctic weather ‘coz I hadn’t bought a proper 4x4. Nothing was moving on the roads but the school was open and she’d like to get Ruby in if she could. I talked her through the start-up technique of the mule while she seethed on the other end of the phone and sat back to wait for her to initiate divorce proceedings ! . . . . To my surprise she called back half an hour later and said although cold, she’d really enjoyed driving it, and that it was the best thing ever at getting through the snow. By the second day of the cold snap the girls had decorated it with tinsel and Christmas decorations . . . . by day three Andrea was doing a circular route to school and picking three of Ruby’s mates up on the way through ! . . . . this became known as “the Polar Express”. . .
All that said, when I think about it, if I take into account how long I spent on Ebay, how much I spent picking them up, how much I spent making one of them run . . . and how much time I spent titting about with the things, I could’ve probably gone out and bought a nice little 4x4 as cheap!
Oh, and if you have a Sherco trials bike don’t leave the fuel tap turned on and then leave the bike in your garage for two months like I did. I got it out to go for a play to find the motor completely full of fuel, crank-cases the lot . . . . . . Mint !
By James Whitham
See also: How to wheelie ten tonnes of Z1300, 2011 ZX-10R onboard lap.. worked out nice, Kawasaki Z1R..