Tricky setup on Suffolk coast

So, there we were at Saxmundham, setting up for a wedding display. Superficially a warm, sunny day, but high winds on the beach actually made it feel cold!

There was absolutely no open vehicular access to the beach, so my idea of getting my truck down there and saving everyone the effort of lugging it all down a path and across the flint shingle was for nought.

This show was for a friend, so we really wanted to lay on some spectacle. Hence the predominance of aerial shells, including a 7″ strobe at the end.

I’ve never had the experience of whacking wooden stakes into a stone-laden beach, but it was actually rather easy and they all held well. Somehow, hammering into a large mass of round pebbles has the dual effect of making displacement easy and offering sufficient mass to hold the stake in place.

Pete, the groom, who also owns his own pyrotechnics firm, took time to come down and see us and had his picture taken with the finale shell. The couple also very kindly sent us a crate of Bud for after the display.

Nearing the end of what was a very challenging rig. Foiling over the tubes is a good way to prevent flashover (accidental ignition from one item to another) and keep the weather out. It didn’t rain, but you never know in Britain and especially not by the sea.

Thankfully, the wind had dropped a good bit by this point.

My son said I “looked tired and pissed off” when I sent him this. I was actually tired and in pain, but not at all fed up. Me and my fag are a long, long way from anything flammable in this shot, by the way.

And so, it kicks off. About 10.10 p.m. and after a countdown from the crowd, standing a long way off at the top of the hill/cliff/whatever, but lubricated with enough drink to be heard from where we were, down by the control box.

There were three sites in this display; a common setup in pro displays. This was the centre one. My lens wasn’t wide angle, so I couldn’t capture all three at the same time.

A gorgeous golden mine effect, topped with blue stars and some red ones from another item (possibly from the right-hand site).

Strobe shell finale. One 7″ and two sixes. The photo does not do them justice. They were astonishingly nice.

 

Taurus completed

Finally, it’s done. The Taurus M66 in 44 Magnum that I was polishing (and improving internally) is complete.

It took a couple of weeks of polishing and minor gunsmithing work, then off to our good pals at Shooting Shed for an 11-degree recrown, a new ejector rod and counterweight and a polish of the forcing cone.

Finally, I added some unusual Hogue grips in laminated hardwood.

I won’t waffle on. I’d rather let the photos speak for themselves…

 

New anti-shooting legislation

The shooting sports in Britain are facing yet another random assault by officialdom. Based on no actual evidence at all, there are moves afoot to ban 50 cal rifles out of “fears for public safety” and MARS/lever-release rifles on the grounds that they are “rapid fire”. Unfortunately, the draft “Offensive Weapons Bill” is sufficiently vague in its wording to make future arbitrary bans quite easy.

If you shoot, be it shotguns, rifles or in any other discipline in the UK, you should write to your MP as soon as possible, before the Bill gets it Second Reading and voice your concerns. Please, I urge you, be polite, rational and succint. Make reference to the NRA’s letter to the Home Office and the government’s own assurances that changes to existing gun laws must be evidence-based. Many MPs are in agreement with us that this law is illiberal and a step backwards. We do have friends in parliament; we just need to remind them we need their help with this Bill.

Incidentally, this is not a uniquely British phenomenon. Other nations who share our outlook on sensibly regulated shooting have adopted this mindset. Canada is currently undergoing similar trials with the passage of Bill C71 through its Parliament. Over there, the Liberal government has rubbished the previous Conservative government’s policy of common-sense firearms regulation and, again on no real grounds at all, decided to introduce a welter of paperwork, making sports shooting much more difficult for the law-abiding.

It’s over to us, the law-abiding shooters. We are the most closely regulated bunch of sportsmen out there and we need to become much more vocal or we will just go on losing more and more shooting disciplines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

NEWSFLASH – exciting new lines on offer

I’m truly delighted to announce that JDR GUNS has been offered the chance to deal in goods from Highland Outdoors, the UK’s wholesaler of Howa, Rossi, Webley & Scott and Lithgow rifles, Sig Sauer and Nikko Stirling optics, Sierra and Nosler projectiles, Aimsport and Sonic suppressors and myriad other brands.

It might not seem much. Retailers get trade accounts with wholesalers every day of the week all over the world but, same as when we were accepted by Raytrade (wholesalers of Marlin, Remington, Barnes and much else besides), this opens up a whole new world of opportunity to bring quality goods to our customers and I am very pumped about it all. It means I can take the business in new directions which weren’t possible a year ago. It also means there’s one more name on the map supplying this range of shooting goods in the UK.

I won’t be adding every single item available to us on the JDR GUNS website, so please remember that we can now offer:

  • Howa rifles, combos, rifle actions and accessories
  • Rossi rifles
  • Lithgow rifles
  • Armsan shotguns
  • Webley & Scott rifles, shotguns and air guns
  • GRS rifle stocks
  • Aimsport and Sonic sound moderators
  • Nikko Stirling optics
  • Sig Sauer optics
  • Australian Munitions
  • Sierra and Nosler projectiles
  • Buffalo River cabinets
  • Buffalo River knives and accessories

Incidentally, we’ve just installed a large Buffalo River gun safe and I can vouch for them being well worth the candle.

We’re based in west Norfolk, near Fakenham and customers can visit by appointment.

Jon

A sky full of magic

I’ve just spent a very interesting few days with a professional fireworks company down in Oxfordshire, Illusion Fireworks.

Some fan slices doing their thing for the crowd.

I’ve been doing fireworks displays with various people on and off for quite a few years but, compared to some of the seasoned pros at Illusion, I’m really just a rookie and there was a massive amount to learn. So, I went down to Wallingford to attend Illusion’s company training day and then help out on the display.

The newer members, learning all about fuse.

It was a boiling hot weekend; almost ideal weather conditions for pyrotechnics. On the Saturday, we split into two groups with the more experienced people learning about the electronic firing system and the newer people like me going through the basics of how to rig and de-rig the Illusion way.

A beer outside, after the training.

We learned all about fusing and tools and equipment we would need. We also got to see what happens when fireworks malfunction and the rigourous measures that are in place to ensure everybody is safe should anything go wrong.

Watching demonstrations of various effects.

In the evening, we had an absolutely fantastic meal at Anokhi Indian Restaurant in Wallingford. It was, quite simply, the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted and the hospitality was superb. I’m hoping we’ll go there many more times in the future as a group.

Hooray for Indian grub! This was the best.

Illusion is a member of BPA, the British Pyrotechnists’ Association and provides displays all over the country. Like I said, I’ve worked with a few in the past but Illusion’s standards are incredibly high and its director, Karl Mitchell-Shead, puts heart and soul into his work designing truly memorable displays.

 

Karl, kneeling before the firing site 😀

It might not seem like it, standing in the audience, but professional fireworks displays take an awful lot of preparation and even for relatively small shows, the crew will normally be on site for most of the afternoon prior.

Looking clapped out after raking up.

In the best of traditions, rookies usually get handed the mundane jobs to do. So, I pre-empted this by volunteering to rake up dry grass on the firing site. This meant we didn’t end up taking bags of grass home with our firework debris.

Dorney Court, one of the oldest houses in the country.

The evening display was at Dorney Court, a popular venue for couples getting married. This particular evening, we were putting on a demo night so that they could see one of our pyromusicals and hopefully book up both at Dorney Court and with Illusion.

And we’re off. The demo night begins.

I was fortunate enough to get pretty much a ringside seat. I and another chap were asked to keep an eye on the dry grass so that the lawn didn’t get singed. Thus, we sat relatively close to the action, at a safe distance but out of sight of the crowd.

Gorgeous red crossettes fill the sky.

One thing I can say after that weekend is that I must have got two years’ worth of exercise in about three days! There is an awful lot of lugging about of equipment, hammering in stakes, fusing, running wires and cleaning up to be done. But it’s all worth it at the end when you hear the “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowd.

OST – original soundtrack

For most of my life, I’ve been a keen collector and appreciator of film soundtrack music.

Yeah baby! It’s Thunderball

There was this slow dawning, as I went into my mid-teens that, while other kids were following the charts and raving about David Bowie, Hot Chocolate and the Bay City Rollers (I know), I had my head in the scores to Thunderball , Close Encounters, Earthquake  and  The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.

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Saturday Night Fever

Don’t get me wrong; I liked the popular hits too. I liked all sorts of bands, but they were something entirely apart from the film scores. Incidentally, I’ve been a big ELO fan for most of my life. Jeff Lynne’s work has been a bright spot for me over the years; but that’s the subject of another post.

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Jeff Lynne

Something that used to bug the hell out of me was the way soundtrack LPs (yeah, back in the days when vinyl reigned) often seemed to use cues that didn’t sound the way they had at the cinema. I later learned that scores were often re-recorded for an LP release. This allowed them to iron out any bugs or perhaps to fatten up the arrangements and make them “more listenable”. At this point, there was still some snootiness  amongst musos about the validity of film music.

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John Williams

I was lucky enough to be around when some of the greatest names in film music history were working their magic. I’d find myself reading that fine print they put on movie posters, to see who’d done the score. If it was James Bond, it would most often be John Barry. If it was a disaster film, John Williams (the American composer, not the Australian guitarist). If it was sci-fi, then Jerry Goldsmith. Films about WWII always sounded great if Ron Goodwin had done them (Where Eagles Dare anyone?). And Hitchcock was always best when backed by Bernard Herrmann (check out North by Northwest!).

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Ron Goodwin
Bernard Herrmann. He of the shrieking violins in Psycho

It wasn’t until the 1990s that filmmakers realised there was an audience out there who wanted to hear exactly what they’d heard on the big screen and not some mocked-up version of it. There was also a burgeoning realisation that  film music was a good thing in and of itself; that it had a valid place in musical history and was something people wanted to hear.

Yoda conducts the LSO with his midget lightsabre

The soundtrack market exploded and I was in heaven. All of a sudden, there were re-releases of film scores going back into the 1950s and 60s. Gone were the CD releases which just carried the limited selection of the vinyl release. A CD could hold twice as much material, so in most cases you could get every single cue from a film in there.

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Jerry Goldsmith at work

I still collect soundtracks, but am quite selective about which ones. Contemporary films seem to be pervaded by generic-sounding cues which you could transfer from one film to another and never know the difference. This is because the turnaround time is much shorter now and it’s harder for composers to catch and express that original sound which travels with the audience as they leave the cinema.

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John Barry

For me that’s the hook. A film needs its own special sound and you can’t achieve that by just vomiting off-the-peg musical cliches all over it. John Barry always used to build his work around two or three themes and you’d get fragments of them woven into the whole film. It made the story cohesive and provided an emotional ground upon which to stand and view the images before you.

Indecent Proposal. A real balancing act for composer John Barry

There are those who still put out work with strong themes; themes you can hum and remember. Michael Giaccino’s work on Jurassic World was something else. Not only did he work in John Williams’ themes from the Jurassic Park series, he added stirring motifs of his own and produced something wonderful in the process.

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Jurassic World

Another superb modern film composer is Alexandre Desplat (Girl with a Pearl Earring, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I and II and Zero Dark Thirty). Desplat is probably one of my modern favourites. He never turns in anything shoddy or without merit.

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Alexandre Desplat

The list of available film composers is massive now. There are university courses in scoring for film and it has almost become institutionalised as an art form. For me though, the names which really shine are the ones whose style you can recognise and who counterpoint the action or tell you something about what’s going on inside a character’s head without flagging it up too obviously. It’s a delicate balance and not everyone can do it. That’s what separates the men from the boys in film composition.

 

Edge of Darkness (1985)

Over the last couple of evenings, I’ve revisited the BBC’s excellent 1985 miniseries, Edge of Darkness. This six-parter was the work of writer Troy Kennedy Martin (Z-Cars, The Italian Job, Kelly’s Heroes) and director Martin Campbell (who would go on to introduce two new James Bonds to us – Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye and Daniel Craig in Casino Royale).

If you haven’t seen it before, or have only seen the lesser film version with Mel Gibson (again, directed by Martin Campbell), then I would recommend this series. One caveat – it’s not easy viewing…


 Bob Peck – he’s got a teddy bear and a gun. Not a man to be trifled with.

In the first three parts, the action centres on Ronnie Craven, a policeman whose 21 year-old daughter, Emma, is gunned down in front of him on the steps to their house. Craven is no stranger to pain; a few years before, he watched his wife fade away from cancer. Now, the one remaining light in his life is snuffed out, but Craven soon discovers that Emma was neck-deep in some very sinister stuff.


Joanne Whalley as Emma Craven, murdered environmental activist. Official cause of death, gunshot wounds. But why is her body radioactive?

The series certainly looks and feels “of its time”, anchored as it is in the deep political divisions of the Thatcher era and presented in the old 4:3 format. However, this makes no odds in a powerful and at times surreal Cold War drama.

Edge of Darkness carries a pervading menace and doom. After I’d seen it back to back, I really felt like I needed a breather. Like all good drama, there’s no one thing that creates the atmosphere. In part, it’s the score by Michael Kamen and Eric Clapton (as I write this, I am into my second full day of that bloody guitar line going round and round and round in my head!) There’s also a highly intense performance by Bob Peck as the grieving father. Then there’s the underhandedness of powerful antagonists, portrayed by a superb supporting cast. And finally, the mystery of just what the hell went on at Northmoor.

Oh and then there’s Darius Jedburgh.

 Joe Don Baker as loose-cannon black-ops man, Darius Jedburgh

We first find Jedburgh in London. It’s closing time at a restaurant, and there he is with two American military pals. All are mullered, having spent the evening celebrating their return from doing God-knows-what, God-knows-where. Jedburgh is just sober enough to badger Craven out of his hotel room for a drink and from there, an already intriguing plot gets really engrossing.

Jedburgh’s a Langley man alright, but quite the oddball. He’s uncompromising and dangerous, but enjoys Come Dancing with childish glee and wears a poncho to breakfast.

A favourite scene is when, returning from El Salvador, Jedburgh empties out his golf bag. Out tumble golf clubs, tees, clothing, shoes, several empty bottles and an AR-15. Jedburgh draws Craven deeper into the looming mystery of what happened to Craven’s daughter and her organisation, Gaia.


“Millions of years ago when the Earth was cold, it looked like life on the planet would cease to exist. But black flowers began to grow, multiplying across the landscape until the entire surface was covered in blooms…” Emma explains it all to her dad. 

Edge of Darkness is a real one-off. It’s environmental activism (as it was in the 80s), blended with spy mystery, highly focused personal drama and revenge thriller.

It all leads miles underground, to a secret facility called Northmoor. In the film version, Northmoor was just an American corporation with dirty secrets. In the TV series, it’s much more sinister – a massive underground complex, known only to a few powerful people and hiding an ugly secret. There’s something about the way the characters get drawn into this grim, irradiated chasm that harks back to Dr Who of the 1970s or Quatermass before it.

Northmoor. Not exactly the place for a great night out… or is it?

Craven and Jedburgh retrace Emma’s steps and find their way to the heart of what’s going on. It’s a tough scramble down into the bowels of the earth and you find yourself sharing Craven’s astonishment at the secrets his recently deceased daughter must have been keeping. “This is the most dangerous business in England run by the most dangerous men”, Craven remonstrates with Emma’s ghost.

Yes, Emma’s ghost. That’s another element of this series; the enigmatic and supernatural side. Is she really appearing to him? Is he just imagining it due to grief? Is it prophetic?

Lobster omelette, asparagus tips, a cellar of the best vintages AND its own stash of weapons-grade plutonium. Northmoor – book now!

From then on, there is a tragic inevitability to the action, but it’s never predictable. All sides want a piece of what lurks deep in the caves under northern England but the truth can never be allowed out.

When it was first shown, Edge of Darkness aired on BBC2. Within days, it was rerun on BBC1 and quickly became a massive hit. To this day, it’s regarded as one of the most outstanding and influential pieces of TV ever broadcast and has influenced countless other productions.

The atmosphere of this series is so strong that I think it may be some time before I revisit it. It’s well-crafted, well-acted TV drama, but by heck it’s potent.

Kral Puncher Breaker 22 air rifle (FAC version)

A quick look at two of the Kral Puncher Breaker range…

And some stills:

Walnut blued (top) and Marine synthetic (bottom). These are excellent value guns and come with two mags each, a single-shot adapter, a built-in scope rail and (in the synthetic stocks) a storage space for the second mag.

The Marine variant with synthetic stock. This was the one I went for. It has a slightly shorter and more curved stock and I found it much easier to set up a scope the way I wanted.

Walnut blued variant. These air rifles are pretty much half the price of competing bullpup guns and yet the quality is excellent. The walnut is good quality with a sculpted and slightly futuristic look.

The Marine with a scope on top of a riser and a torch attached for night shooting.

Taurus shine-up

This is a UK-legal Taurus long-barrelled revolver, or LBR. The configuration you see here, with 12″ barrel and peculiar “dough paddle” at the rear, is the only lawful remainder of centrefire pistol shooting in this country.

Made in Brazil, these revolvers have been a staple of British LBR shooting for decades.

There are other types of LBR out there, such as Alphas and, very rarely, converted Smith & Wessons, but most long-barrel shooters go for a Taurus. This is because there are quite a few in circulation and, although expensive, they aren’t as cripplingly so as the other makes.

The only trouble is, Taurus has stopped making LBRs for the British market, so prices have spiralled upwards.

Another major issue is the finishing, the quality of which varies a lot, especially internally. The Model 66 and Model 980, on which our LBRs are based have a couple of besetting issues to do with their cylinders and, if these aren’t slicked out, owning a Taurus can become an exercise in frustration.

Then there’s spares. Taurus parts are not easy to come by in the UK. 

All that said, you can take one of these revolvers and turn it into something really pretty to look at and you can make them work.

This is mine:

It’s the 44 Magnum version. I sold this gun to someone who got it all sorted out and was intending to keep it. Then he changed his mind and sold it to a friend of mine and I eventually bought it back.

Just recently, I got handed another 44 Mag Taurus. This one had only seen light usage and for very good reasons. Nothing worked smoothly and the cylinder was barely rotating. Not good for a nearly-new gun.

I decided to give this revolver the makeover of its lifetime and sort out its rotational problems.

Here it is:

All stripped down and ready to be sorted out.

The sideplate was a pig to remove, because it hadn’t been finished well and was way too tight. A sideplate should be a snug fit, but shouldn’t require a sledgehammer and dynamite to remove.

These guns are always supplied in a brushed finish. That has charms of its own, but is poorly set-off by the uninspiring rubber grips that come with the gun. They’re narrow too, which means they transfer a lot of nasty recoil to the web of your hand.

The cylinder. Meh.

The ejector (the odd-looking angular thing sticking out) was so stiff it was barely operating. The centre pin (which pokes out the centre of the ejector and locks the cylinder into the frame) was stuck in its hole and couldn’t do its job. Dreadful!

Day one. I was still considering how far to go with this revolver when curiosity got the better of me and I polished the top of the vent to see how hard it would be to get it mirror-bright.

Damn. That’s torn it. Now I’ve got to do the rest of it!

OK… here goes.

Really getting stuck in now. No turning back.

By now, I had sorted out the grotty cylinder release problems and that ejector. All working smooth as butter.

This first bit went more quickly than I had anticipated. I refined my technique as I went along; learning  how far to go with polishing before calling it done.

Not totally done yet – still some scuffs and lines to get out, but we’re nearly there!

Internally, I had got to grips with the poorly-fitting sideplate. I’d made it snug, but without the nasty peening at its leading edge resulting from over-tight initial fitting at the factory. Unfortunately, the sideplate is on the opposite side to this photo.

And that’s Jenga.

Some crud and oil on the gun make the bit around my thumb look duller than it really is.

The revolver is now away having some finishing touches added by my good friend David at Shooting Shed. Click the link for David’s journal.

This was a labour of love, initially to see how long it would take (about 2 weeks on and off), but I now think there could be a new lease of life waiting for dozens more Tauruses out there.

Once I have it back and new grips on (those may take some while to get), I will post an update.

The Limehouse Golem

I haven’t said much about films lately, but not because I haven’t seen any. In fact, if anything, I’ve been watching quite a few but I tend to only pick out ones which have really made an impression to talk about on here.

Let me say right away that I’m no big fan of murder mysteries/whodunnits (or Victorian period pieces) but The Limehouse Golem (2016) sticks out as an extremely well-made piece of drama with a solid evocation of the period.

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I won’t spoil the story for you, but this film recreates the seedy world of Victorian East End London so well that you won’t have to suspend disbelief.

If you’re the kind of viewer who grew up devouring Agatha Christie and enjoys second-guessing mystery dramas, then you may work out what’s actually afoot in this film. I can never be bothered to puzzle it out. I just like to sit back and enjoy,  so for me this was a solid 105 minutes’ entertainment.

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The film centres on the goings-on in and around a popular London music hall company. A string of grisly murders takes place, pre-empting Jack the Ripper’s infamous doings and so horrible that the killer is nicknamed the Golem; a legendary creature of dark and murky origins.

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The narrative is ever so slightly non-linear, at least in the beginning, but the threads are skilfully woven together by director Juan Carlos Medina, who also elicits some terrific performances from Bill Nighy,  Douglas Booth and especially rising star, Olivia Cooke.

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Not for the squeamish and definitely not for young children, The Limehouse Golem is a little bit like the Sherlock Holmes films with Robert Downey, but minus the daft contrivances and laugh-aloud gags.

Bill Nighy is Inspector John Kildare, a very clever and capable policeman whose career progression has been quietly capped, owing to bitchy rumours about his sexuality. Olivia Cooke is the young actress married to a cruel and domineering man. Her career has also been stunted, because of her husband’s interfering.

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There isn’t a wasted talent in this picture. All the supporting cast turn in fine work and the story zips along nicely. For nearly two hours, you’ll feel transported to the Limehouse of the late 19th Century.