From the Horrabridge Times

 A page from


Bit short on staffing this week, so The Shed @ Horrabridge needs to dig into the leftovers file …


A few weeks ago, we reported on new rules which look likely to put up the price of stoves and solid fuel –

The point is to stop people burning damp fuel and polluting the air with big particles. No arguing with the growing evidence of illness caused by air pollution. But we did wonder if there was any evidence that people were actually burning damp logs on any scale and if a few farmers were, did it really matter.

In short, what proof is there that smoke from the edge of Dartmoor is drifting to Plymouth or Exeter or anywhere else it is not blown away to nothing?

It is not an unreasonable question. Air quality and air movements are measured all the time. And unless there is significant drift from rural areas to urban, there is not much point in an elaborate bureaucratic exercise to control the quality of logs outside existing smoke control areas.

The Deparment for Food, Environment & Rural Affairs, spent some weeks referring us to leaflets and inspirational slogans which failed to answer the question. Eventually a ministerial aide wrote to say: “A key driver for our action to encourage householders to burn cleaner fuels whether, urban or rural, is for the benefit of their own health as well as that of their neighbours.

“However, we do know that the harmful particulate matter produced by burning solid fuels can travel through the atmosphere, meaning that pollution in one area can have an effect far away.”

In other words, all this effort might achieve something but nobody is sure.


Real Shed project of the year in The Shed at Horrabridge has been reviving old petrol lighters.

This produced a diary of frustration with a 1920 Thorens Single Claw at

There is now a PS to this article. A friend took the lighter away for a while and returned it with a new Zippo wick inserted – still refusing to light.

We returned to discussion of the purpose of the fine copper wire woven into a Zippo wick. It makes the wick more durable, for sure. But in terms of performance, the only advantage we have seen suggested is the conduction of heat down into the fuel store to mprove the capillary action. But that can only apply when the wick is already lit. Up to that point, we have come to believe, the wiring must inhibit the drawing and evaporation of fuel to a very small extent.

The Shed decided to try one more rebuild.

This time, we got hold of some original Imco wicks. Imco is an Austrian make which set the standard for cheap, simple and reliable, before Zippo. They sold a billion.

Our old Imco will run quite happily with a Zippo wick; Zippo wicks are the universal solution; and Imco has gone out of business. But there are some of its old wicks still around – six inches of 3mm cotton braid attached to a bit of steel wire to assist the threading. We got a dozen IMCO Wired Wicks for 9 US dollars including postage, from a home business in Colorado Springs – http://www.thunderhawk

For the Thorens, the wire threading guide was not a lot of help. It made it easy to go through the chimney cap but it was not long enough to push out through the filler hole at the bottom. Had to cut it off and use a bent paperclip to hook the bottom of the wick itself, so it could be held in place while we repacked around it with cotton wool.

But the result was spectacular, at least for a while. Bang, bang, bang – the lighter performed beautifully. Much better than it did before, with a similar-looking cotton braid from a lamp wick supplier in the UK. Possibly the Imco is treated in some way. Possibly it is just optimum diameter.

It burns away more quickly than Zippo wick. You have to keep pulling it up and trimming it. However, it will be a while before we try anything else in this machine at least.

The breakthrough happened around the end of this summer’s heatwave and The Clawed Lovely has gone a bit surly again since. She will light but she will not light always. A bit of TLC is required for a start. The ticket pocket in a pair of Levis is not actually a ticket pocket, we have come to realise. It is a lighter pocket, for keeping your machine with you and primed to body heat.

We might try an ultrasonic clean, especially of the spark wheel, to see if it makes the machine more consistent. More later.

Meanwhile, all lighters are currently running on lawnmower petrol – £5 a litre compared to £2 for 100 mills of lighter fluid. However, Newport fluid, made in the UK, is still our choice for best performance – and for friendly help on some technicalities. Trying to talk to Zippo is like trying to buy a drink for a robot.


The truth often gets condemned from all sides and so it was when the chairman of Barclays, John McFarlane, pointed out that while condemning greed in his trade, the rest of us have spent the past 15 years conniving in a giant swindle in the form of compensation claims for payment protection insurance we forgot we had ever had.

Some of our nieces and nephews may have had jobs in the telesales pump houses which oversold the product. Since then, they have switched to selling compensation claims on behalf of any of us prepared to declare that our lives were ruined by the £5 a month we got conned out of back in 1990 or something.

McFarlane said: “The percentage of fraudulent claims is enormous. We have turned portions of Britain into fraudsters.”

He said the government had allowed the avalanche of PPI claims because it was in their interests …

“Consumer spending rose and it weakened the banks. This is stimulation of the economy by buying flat-screen televisions.”


The Shed has appointed Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, as its favourite billionaire, on the basis of a story he told against himself in a talk to Princeton students.

Bezos spent a lot of his childhood with his grandparents, farming on a little ranch in Texas. He worshipped them but his grandma was a chain smoker and Bezos was a zealous teenager, absorbing anti-smoking adverts which said every puff took two minutes off your life.

On a road trip one day, he counted his granny’s intake, did some sums in his head, tapped her on the shoulder and announced she had taken nine years off her life so far.

He remembered: “While my grandmother sat crying, my grandfather pulled over. He got out of the car and came around and opened my door and waited for me to follow. He had never said a harsh word to me. We stopped beside the trailer. My grandfather looked at me and after a bit of silence, he gently and calmly said: Jeff, one day you’ll understand that it’s harder to be kind than clever.


On our reading list, although not yet read, is Outside Time, a history of prison farming and gardening, by Hannah Wright.

Until most of it was closed down about 20 years ago, Her Majesty’s Prison Service ran one of the largest farming operations in the country. And the start of it all was at HMP Princetown in 1852.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has written: “This book is an unexpected pleasure – well-written, fascinating and full of heart. But above all it’s a vital testament to the extraordinary power of gardening and growing food to heal broken lives. The prison service and the Department of Justice should take note.”

The author reminds us …

Dartmoor prison farm operated from 1852-2004.

“2500 people came to the Dartmoor prison farm auction in 2004. The sale included 200 cattle, 700 sheep, 3 tractors, 2 shire horses plus other farm machinery. The sale raised £250k. The prison service retained 28 acres and returned the rest to the Duchy.

“Historically, Dartmoor prison developed activities that were already operating in the area, particularly quarrying and farming. The farmland attached to Dartmoor prison (like much of the land farmed by prisons across England and Wales) was low grade, so not very viable. But farming provided meaningful work for prisoners. It was outside in fresh air, it required regular commitment (training for work) and working with animals required care, empathy and understanding. The ‘Farms and Gardens’ department (now called Land-Based Activities) was an early adopter of NVQs and able to offer prisoners qualifications in agriculture, horticulture and related areas such as fork-lift truck driving which helped people secure work on release.

“Dartmoor prison farm had livestock: a milking herd, beef cattle, sheep, pigs. The prison grew vegetables for the prison kitchen plus all the crops, like tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce that you can grow in polytunnels and greenhouses. They had a mill for making their own animal feed and a machine for drying grass to make hay (because it is difficult to make hay on Dartmoor as it rains so much). The prison also managed a forest which provided wood for fences etc. There was also a machinery repair workshop where prisoners were trained to fix tractors, mowing machines etc.

“Although Dartmoor prison no longer operates a commercial farm it is involved in commercial horticulture. It has installed a small market garden on what was an area of tarmac. They have 6-7 large polytunnels & a lot of raised beds in which they grow vegetables and salad crops to supply the prison kitchen and offer offenders the opportunity to do an NVQ in Horticulture.”

More about all that in the book, which can be ordered at

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