Thursday, September 25, 2014

roundhouse straw bale walling

No, not another holiday trip, though it has been quite a change of scenery.  I have been helping my friend Matty with his roundhouse.  It’s already something rather special and is going to be stunning when finished.  He has built it all by hand, mostly on his own, with the help of a few knowledgeable friends and that is where I come in.  He asked me, a month or so ago, if I’d be available to give him a hand with placing the bale walls.  I jumped at the opportunity to learn more as it will stand me in good stead for my own construction project and it’s always good to give someone a hand when possible.

Hence, for the last ten days we’ve been flat out preparing for and building the walls to his roundhouse, I think the photos explain most of what we’ve been doing, though not life around where we are building.... read the next post
Matty arriving with the first of many bales

foundation wall and baseplate for straw bale walls

spikes to hold bales in position next to doorway

second row of bales in position, window frames installed

hand made window frames

view from outside through one of the windows to the domed rooflight 

straw bale walls from the inside

initial straw bale work completed.  what a team

possibility of electricity

I am still without electricity or phone, so communication with the outside world is by mobile phone or the occasional email flurry when I visit somewhere with internet access or send time at the local cafe, which isn’t often.

A representative from ERDF, the company that deals with the supply of electricity came to measure up for a quote to prepare for connection last week.  He wasn’t that impressed with what his colleagues had done, as their positioning of a new post to carry the cables for next door has not been put in a place that makes it easy for my property to be reconnected even though it was supplied before the work was done.  Unfortunately that means that I now have to go through the whole process of instillation.  ERDF install a supply junction box, I then request an electricity selling company to sell me power, they then decide which connection I need, depending on requirements and install a meter in a box next to the supply junction box.  I then probably have to pay someone else to connect the two together, although I won’t be allowed to do so until all my instillations have been checked and verified correct and to standard.  It may well take some time.  In the mean time I think I may well be investing in a solar panel, battery and inverter so that I can charge my drill and computer without visiting the neighbours for favours constantly.

Insulation of the cabin roof was a fairly simple yet extremely dusty and itchy affair.  Pierre helped me and we got it done in two half days, for the rest of his short visit we cut down trees and started my log pile.  Since then, with my new metal strimmer blade, I have made inroads into several bramble thickets in preparation for autumn fruit tree planting, moved all my affairs into the cabin from the tent and most of the items stored down the road at Sue and Leafs’, taken down the tent, built shelves and gotten myself nicely settled in.  I needed to secure everything a bit more, mainly against bad weather rather than anything else as I have not been on site for the last couple of weeks.

My camera is sulking and refuses to take photos for now, so you’ll have to do with text only posts till I work out what is wrong.......

well, let's have a look

The last task I did with Peter and Dad before dropping them at the airport  was to open the well for the first time, just to see what it was all about.  The top was enormously heavy, I was glad to have waited for help, there was no blast of icy air or calls for help from below, just a dark hole.  As we peered into the darkness a tiny circle of light appeared way down below us. it was the reflection of light on the water, miles away.  I fetched a tin cup and lowered it down on my thirty metre tape, hoping to be able to capture a drop or two of water.  The tape unrolled and unrolled till nearly the end, I checked to see that it was well attached to the reel as I didn’t fancy loosing it, then carried on letting out more.  Eventually it stopped and the sound of mug hitting water echoed up the eery darkness to our expectant ears.  Twenty nine metres and seventy centimetres to the water.  I had no more tape to go deeper so we brought the cup to the surface to see what we had caught.  Just a little water, crystal clear and without odor.  Dad and I tasted it and decided it was fine.  I will, of course, get it tested before I drink any quantity, but it was good to see and know this much.  Time was pressing on, so we closed the top without further investigation and headed off to the airport.
is that a look of surprise or.......

MMmmm, that looks deep

29.7m to the surface of the water.  That's gonna need some pump.

one solid well cover

we holidayed as well

We dined with my new neighbours, spent a morning browsing an antiques and collectibles fair, had a mini trip to Spain through the Pyrenees to stock up on cheap wine and food with a tapas lunch.  A night back at Chalet Lou Rider courtesy of my friend Pierre who is now caretaker for the new owners, with a gentle stroll in the mountains where we picnicked and enjoyed a stupendous view in the sunshine. 

As Peter leaves, the major build is complete, leaving me roof insulation to figure out a few bits of trim and then the instillation of woodburning stove.  All projects that I can attack on my own.  It’s been brilliant to have him here to help, we’ve got on fabulously, as ever and enjoyed getting things done.  Dad too has kept us on the ball, helping as much as he could and adding his suggestions and advice throughout the build.  It’s been great having them here and after the initial shock everything went wonderfully well, Dad taking everything in his stride.  What an excellent ten days.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

chalet/shed construction

tyre pillars and weed suppressant ready construction

my foundation platform nearing completion

creating a more comfortable toilet seat!!

getting things organised

lots of wood, no instructions

up it goes

right to the roof

discussing progress

me (with the hat on) and my bro

The cabin, chalet, shed, whatever it’s going to be called, progressed at an astounding rate.  We constructed my foundations then started on the huge parcels of wood that had been delivered.  The instructions were scant to say the least so we guessed and tested as we went.  Thankfully the engineering was brilliant.  The vast majority of parts fitted together without forcing, snugly and without difficulty, the planks were well finished and the walls went up like a dream.  We guessed with the door and window instillation, leaving me with a bit of post construction snagging, especially on the additional window opening for which there were no instructions whatsoever, but overall it was a great experience.  


It all worked out rather well.  For sleeping arrangements Dad took the bed in the tent, Peter joined me in Percy.  I continued with my meals as planned to compliments from all sides, I quite surprised myself with how tasty and interesting some of the meals were, my exploration of sprouted seeds was in full swing and the garden had started to provide quite bountifully.  Cucumbers, courgettes, green and yellow beans, spinach, swiss chard, the occasional beetroot leaves, lettuce, nasturtium leaves and flowers, even a few tomatoes - despite the blight, all made their way to the table.  A few plums remained on one of the trees after a ferocious storm and a neighbour kindly offered me a bag of Mirabelle, a tiny plum like fruit the size of a cherry, sweet and juicy, we ate them whole, spitting the tiny stones out wherever.  Perhaps I should have planted them, maybe next year when life is a little more organised.

I supplemented garden supplies with frequent trips to the local markets, a good opportunity to get out and about to see the surroundings and show off the area that I have decided to make my home for the forseeable future.  Both were suitable impressed even though the weather was unseasonable cold and cloudy.  The old folk of the village can’t recall a summer so cold or wet in living memory, usually by now the fields and lawns are parched and brown and the gardens watered every day.  I haven’t touched my hosepipe in over three weeks and the countryside is as lush and green as Devon or west Wales would be at this time of year.  

My guests and I experienced an impressive storm one night.  The wind howled, the rain came lashing down, the trees thrashing about and the van rocking violently for several hours.  Life in the tent was reportedly noisy to say the least with rain, twigs and leaves falling on the canvas and the wind billowing and buffeting the structure.  In the morning Dad emerged from his internal cocoon unscathed, the weather calmed and we continued none the worse.  Two neighbours appeared during the morning, concerned that we had been blown away and offering alternative accommodation should it be required.

surprise visit

I arrived at Toulouse early to do some shopping and do a bit of scavanging.  I needed pallets to sort the wood for the new build onto and to keep it dry whilst it was being built.  I was lucky and fair filled the van with nearly as many as I could, something stopped me from filling the back completely, though I was close to doing so.  I reached the airport to collect Peter in good time, the plane was slightly delayed, so I had time to park up and go inside to meet him.  He was waiting for his luggage and suggested that he catch up with me in the car park so as to minimise the time that I waited.  As he was arranging his luggage in the back of the van I prepared to head off, conscious that I was in a limited parking zone and every minute counted.  As he started to close the door, a voice asked “Room for another one?”  I swung round to see who it was, half recognising the voice, to see my Dad standing there with a big grin on his face.  Momentarily I was mortified.  How was it going to work?  Where was he going to sleep?  How was he going to cope with my minimal lifestyle?  (No electricity, no hot water, no proper toilet, no real facilities?) I was stressed enough as it was with the preparations for receiving my brother, let alone an 85 year old.  I forced the practicalities and logistics out of my mind and focussed on the fact that my father was there, completely unannounced and it was wonderful to see him.  I had planned to be a bit further on before he visited, but from that moment I had no choice, he was there and was coming with us.  I was dumbstruck as we left the airport, trying to make conversation, whilst my mind raced on what changes I would have to make and wondering how the next ten days were to pan out. My neighbours had offered a room. There was a B & B just down the road, I wondered if they had a room and how much it would cost.  What would my Dad do every day?  Would I have chance to really spend time with my brother?  Would he be comfortable? warm enough? cool enough? How would my alternative (nearing vegan) diet be appreciated? Would he manage with the terrain? Could we still manage the trips I had planned?  My mind whirred with a thousand questions whilst on the surface I tried to chat about the journey, how the flight was, and what had been going on since we had last spoken.

Peter sat in the back, almost squashed by pallets, relishing every moment.  I had surprised him several times in the past with unannounced visits and this was payback time.  There he was, in view via the rear view mirror, watching as I came to terms with this new arrangement finding it all rather amusing.  I negotiated the urban motorway system out of Toulouse without fault, my mind going nineteen to the dozen, pointing out things that might be interesting, trying to plan ahead, deciding what to do.  We journeyed back to Vieuzos stopping en route to do a bit of last minute shopping, disappointingly there was no view of the mountains, just a band of hazy cloud in the distance.  They had no idea how spectacular that view could be.  Something they would hopefully discover on a clearer day.