Thursday 21 June 2012

Concreting the Aprons

A big day yesterday when we finally got enough of a break in the weather to do the concreting of the aprons; those 'paths' around the sides of the house which shed water away from the walls and help prevent damp. The forecast had Wednesday 20th as the best day this week. It was NEARLY good enough, but read on. The experts today were Mike the Concrete again, he who came to set up the shuttering almost 2 weeks ago now, and today his mate was Declan, Sean-y being tied up on another job
 They were here on site and ready when the ENORMOUS concrete mixer lorry arrived from Grogan's of Ballyhaunis, a town about 15 minutes away. We only needed 3 cubic metres of concrete which is normally less than they'll bother with, but they were slack and Mike is a mate and frequent customer of theirs. The driver managed to reverse the lorry up the drive and thread it through our side gate. He was a good man, both skilled and very co-operative and helpful.
 These guys can be only interested in dumping their load and getting out, if they are inclined but ours was prepared not only to move the lorry around to the various bits of the job, but also to despatch the mix down the chute at manage-able speed, even a barrow load at a time so that the three of us, working quickly and hard, admittedly, were able to spread it roughly into the aprons without double handling any. The driver even turned the lorry right round in our 'car-park' bit so that he could drop the left over bit onto what will be the caravan bay in the former hay-barn and even hosed our barrows out with his wash hose when he'd done washing the chute and drum of his mixer. What a hero! Grogan's should give him a pay rise! Dad gave him a decent tip.

 This concrete laying lark is quite a caper and the two guys were veritable artists at the job. You don't just pour it into the hole(s) and spread it flat. These guys smeared and sloshed it about to get it fairly flat using shovels and the rake. Then they level it to the levels already set up 2 weeks ago between the expansion joints by drawing a plank back and forth, and settle it by slapping it with the plank edge. Next a smooth surface is created with a wooden hand held float. Then you leave it a while to start to 'cook'. This is best done by drinking tea on the front terrace as provided by Mum from the posh teapot and accompanied by biscuits while you gossip and yarn.
Refreshed by tea you can now go over the already smooth surface of the concrete again with a metal hand held float but also a big, wind-surfer sized float on a twist-able pole, the twist action enabling you to slope the float slightly towards or away from you to give a good action which does not cut up the stuff you just smoothed. Then you go round the edges with a "bull-nose" float which puts that last 4 or 5 inches wide smooth edge and the curved 'nose' instead of a sharp corner. Finally you use a 12 inch wide 'diamond roller', a heavy-ish roller with waffle-iron diamonds in its face, which puts a pretty imprint onto the concrete in stripes, to give a non-skid, attractive finish.

There you are! You didn't know concreting was so complicated, did you? Nor did we. The concrete 'cooks' fairly fast, so if you can get about 2 hours from the end of doing the diamond roller-ing with no disturbances and no rain, then it's 'Happy Days', job done. New concrete, though, does not like heavy rain. The rain washes the concrete powder down off the top layer of sand and grit, breaking up your nice glossy, smooth (and bull nosed and diamond-patterned, in this case) "skin". As we got towards that crucial point, ominous black clouds were gathering. The boys were joking with Mum that she should say a Rosary, get down on her knees and even (they tell us some "Good Catholics" do this) deploy an icon. Mum, smiling, produced an "Infant of Prague" fridge magnet (Diamond would be proud of us!) and the boys told her to put it on the wall overlooking the apron! I felt sorry for them though, when the rain suddenly hammered down, breaking up the beautiful skin as described.

When it stops and the sun comes out, you can work the concrete again, smearing the exposed grit back down into the mix and giving yourself another smear of cement, which the guys did, but you can only do this once. The concrete is now cooking well and 'going off' and will quickly become too hard to work. So with all the 'pretty' stuff repeated and more dark clouds gathering, the guys rushed to cover their work with handy bits of corrugated sheeting, plastic sheet and wood and just about managed to protect it all before the rain comes down again. At this point, Mike and Declan can do no more. They go home, with Mike promising to return today to check up on whether we got away with it. "You can't odds it" he said, philosophically. "No good getting excited about it; These things 'appen"

It looks OK this morning, peering under the sheeting, but we'll leave all the protection down till Mike tells us we can lift it.


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