Monday, 5 October 2015

Big Boys' Toys?

A digger of distinction!
I've heard it said that little boys don't ever really grow up; their toys just get bigger. It may well be true. I was certainly like a kid in a toy shop this weekend when invited over to the previously mentioned rebuild job in County Sligo to "help move some gravel". I knew they were getting 2 loads of 20 tonnes delivered into heaps near the entrance (the lorry drivers don't trust the ground to hold the weight of the lorry and release them at the end!) but I assumed we would be back on the shovels and barrows. Wrong again - the main man has now had an olde yellow digger he bought shipped over there (well, low-loader'd anyway) and enough drive has been laid to allow that to move about and make life easier for the gravel movers.

Old but pretty servicable back actor on the Massey Ferguson
My job was to learn to use the digger to dig buckets of the gravel up with the "back actor" (rear bucket/arm) and decant them accurately into two waiting wheel barrows without spilling too much gravel on the nice drive, damaging the barrows or killing anyone. The main man was then going to keep up with me running these barrows away to the footings we were creating for a 20' square extension out back of the house. Easy! What could possibly go wrong? Well, only that I have never driven a digger before in my life and I had six levers to twiddle in front of me (never mind all the normal dashboard stuff 'behind' me (you sit backwards for this), the throttle, front bucket and so on)

6 levers to co-ordinate. 
Left to right as you sit (right to left in this photo), if you will imagine the back actor as a human arm, we have a lever for that side's stabiliser leg/foot, then upper arm up/down, whole arm swing left/right, 'elbow' extend/flex and 'wrist' extend/flex. Finally the stabiliser leg/foot that side. The legs you can pretty much ignore once you have set yourself up spirit-level flat, back wheels off the ground and front end raised by flooring the front bucket. You just play with the 4 arm levers. All good clean fun. I was at it for 3 hours Saturday morning and 3 more Sunday morning. I started off, as you'd expect on 'Skill Level = Rubbish/Dangerous' but by the end I was getting some begrudging OKs from the training department.

'804' gravel going everywhere. 
Whilst 'rubbish' I managed to drop the whole bucket onto my own wheel barrow (ooops! Had to be bent back straight by hefty builders' boots) and almost brained the boss with a wrong-direction sideways swoop of the arm. I was also dropping gravel everywhere and plenty of it at the handle end of the barrows, rather than over the barrow wheel. "You're breaking my back here!" Never mind we hit all the safety targets (no deaths!) and moved an awful lot of gravel between us and I did not get the sack. As I understand it, modern digger drivers look back on those Massey Ferguson "council" diggers with affection (They were a grand machine in their day - I LEARNED the trade on one of them etc) but now have it a bit more hi-tech with just 2 joysticks to twiddle so that they can make the bucket move in an accurate circle if they need to.

The log store is full. 
When not playing digger-driver, I was hard at work with the chain saw and/or axe cutting up enough logs and wood to finish filling the log store. As you can see from this picture, I even went a bit silly towards the end and tried my hand at log-store art which I had seen done (very well) in some pictures on the internet - people have created owls, trees, axe-wielding foresters and so on using the mosaic effect of different shapes and colours of log-ends.

My 'sun' of spruce and hawthorn.
I must admit that some of them are very intricate and must have taken hours even if only in the planning, choosing and shaping wood and deciding how you'd build it from the bottom up. Mine is a lot simpler. It was inspired by an artist friend who saw a pic of it half-filled where I had commented that the dark grey wood bottom left was actually ash, so was meant to be bright white but had been kicked around in the mud by the pigs like muddy footballs. The triangle of grey and a stripe of dark wood in the back layer (now hidden) reminded the artist of a mountain and a cloud so I wondered if I could chop up a big disk of spruce but keep the bits in the right order to re-assemble the disk at the store as a 'sun'.

To give it more definition I cut some small hawthorn which I knew would cut bright gold/orange when fresh. It was a fairly easy job to create a semi-circle dip in the existing front row, line it with hawthorn and drop on the big spruce disc bits. Then to 'bury' it under more hawthron and wedges and smaller rounds of spruce to complete my 'sky'. So, Philippa, will you give me "Sunshine on the Mountain"?

Are these pork slices or smoked bacon rashers? Thank you
Rob for an epic bacon-sarnie experience!
Our friends Sue and Rob have been getting into the cold-smoking. Rob has created a cold smoker out of recycled bits and pieces. Sue was more amused than angry when he stole the rake and sawed off 2/3 of the handle to make a pole from which to hang meat. She had found the much shortened rake and wondered if this was the one for the Little People to use. I was gifted a lovely chunk of (I think) shoulder and advised to cut rashers off it. They truly were the meatiest, most delicious bacon sandwiches I have had in a long time. It was a very filling breakfast which weighed me down onto the digger seat and kept me going till way past dinner time.

When you've eaten a bacon sarnie like this you KNOW
you've had a breakfast. 
When not working my little socks off, I have got lately quite into the reading. I have long since worked my way through the house 'library' of old favourites (Terry Pratchett, Jasper Fforde, Walter Macken, Eudora Welty, Andrea Levy) and sniffed around a few of Liz's treasures, I then grabbed up a history book Liz had been using to prepare lessons for her student. This was no history tome as I would know from school - all dates, Kings, Queens, battles, but a book about what you'd find if you could go 'there', in this case to the 14th Century.

Old wooden turf barrow. There are still plenty about and
some still being used. 
"The Time-Traveller's Guide to Medieval England" by Ian Mortimer (pub Vintage 2009) has me gripped. It has you arriving at various locations and getting involved in local life - crime and punishment, social structure and rank, travelling, pilgrimages, being a guest in peasant houses, Monasteries and big-nob's Halls, describing clothes, jobs and work, health and medical support, fairs and entertainments, reading books and so on. I was facinated by the bits about food and high status dining and amazed to find that for each type of food there was a special way of carving it to serve it to the Lords and Ladies and their guests. Kitchen boys would be expected to know how to 'unbrace' a mallard, 'spoil' a hen, 'dismember' a heron, 'unlace' a coney (rabbit), 'sauce' a capon or, indeed, a plaice, 'break' a deer, 'display' a crane, 'barb' a lobster, 'splat' a pike (I love that!), 'culpon' a trout or 'tranche' a sturgeon. I am quite pleased I just have a bit of bacon to go in a risotto tonight. Think I'll just 'smite that into gobbets'.

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