More pouring…..

15 06 2017

The owner builder gods have been smiling upon me…… since expressing concern about maybe having missed the boat with further concreting and Tasmania’s fickle weather, the frosty and rainy weather went on holidays long enough that I decided to persevere, and it’s all paid off….

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shower grates

Mind you, it wasn’t without the odd thing going wrong. As Glenda and I reinvented the bathroom layouts, I had to wait for several days for the new grates we are going to use in the shower area before I was able to finish the second spider (see above link). I ended up buying two of these online for $200, while Bunnings were selling them for $300 each…… always shop around!

While waiting, I made three of the four pipes that run into the riser. The riser was in its position, in the middle of the bathroom mockup in the shed, ready to go; once the fourth pipe was carefully glued together, I assembled the spider, only to discover later that the riser had been sitting for days on the floor upside down……… Sacré bleu! I thought I’d worked a way to get away with it, even dragging it up to the house site for installation, until I realised that the riser is moulded in such a way that all those pipes fall to the fitting (it’s only a two degree fall, but it’s important!) and that now all those pipes were going uphill…… and as we all know, water does not run uphill!

I really hate stuffing things up, but I had to go and buy another fitting (50km return trip and $35 later..), destroy the original one, and refit the entire thing properly. I’m getting really good at problem solving.

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waterproof membrane in place

I re-hired Caleb to do my heavy lifting and unload another couple of tons of crusher dust off the ute to cover up all those bare dirt patches between the trenches while I went to work putting them together.

There’s a lot to think about. I almost forgot to glue the outlet pipe from the second bathroom, and had to dig it up, by hand. No major drama this time, but there you go. These outlets also have to be lagged with 40mm of foam where they penetrate the footing in case the highly reactive soil I seem to continually build on make the concrete move and break the pipes. It pays to know how

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lagged outlet pipe

to read an engineer’s drawings!

Once all the crusher dust was in place, we covered it with the thick plastic moisture proof membrane my supplier sold me, and before you know it, I was ordering another ten cubic metres of concrete.

On the day, I was training Caleb on how I wanted him to rake the concrete towards himself while he stood on the first footing and I inserted the concrete vibrator into the pile of the wet stuff that would land in the middle of the trench. To my amazement, and Caleb’s visible delight, as soon as the vibrator started doing its thing, the concrete came to the end of the trench all by itself, like water in a flash flood……  I tell you, that device is worth its weight in gold! It easily does the work of at least one other man, and maybe more. Mind you, I also had to deal with the end of the machine vibrating itself off, and having to work out the thread was mysteriously left hand – very odd, as left hand threads are usually used to stop things vibrating off! No pressure….  I only had a concrete truck waiting for me to get going again…….

We had two truck loads of concrete in place within just forty-five minutes……. and I had expected it to take twice this long with only two of us on the job!

Now all I have to do is pour a perfectly level and perfectly flat slab on top of the whole thing (after I return from another trip to Queensland to celebrate our fortieth wedding anniversary!), and we can start BUILDING! I really can’t wait to be past this stage; I didn’t want to do this in the first place, but I am saving so much money, it will all be worth it. And to be honest, it’s all turned out even better than I expected, and I am justifiably proud of my handy work……  watch this space.

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Making spiders……

30 05 2017

It’s wet and cold, the building site’s a quagmire, and I feel like writing a story……

I seem to make a habit of one thing leading to another when it comes to building. Just prior to moving to the Huon in ute I,  I decided to see if I could buy a bidet or two on eBay. I really like the idea of going toilet paper free, as much as possible… Sure enough, I found quite a few, in Melbourne. Not just any old bidets it turned out, but high end Italian designer models! And they were $19 each – no, not a typo – which must have been less than 10% of their normal cost….. I told the sellerImage result for hatria you and me bidet double handbasin I was moving to Tasmania, and I’d pick them up on my way through, and he was cool about holding onto them until I arrived.

Little did I know the seller was a large business that bought out other firms going under. They would buy their entire stock for an agreed sum, and anything a bit slow to move, was sold off dirt cheap. Like bidets. When I arrived, I was gobsmacked to find a huge warehouse, easily 20 times the size of my large shed, full of building goodies; not least same brand double handbasins that matched my bidets, and they too were a bargain at $35…. They are quite unusual,Image result for hatria you and me bidet double handbasin being circular in design. I even bought all the taps I need for a song. I recently saw handbasins for $500 that weren’t half as nice as these….

Then one day, while watching Grand Designs on TV, I saw a circular bathtub. I’d never ever seen one like that before, and it got me thinking that maybe we could get one to match the rest of the bathroom fittings I had already bought. Sure enough, I found some, not cheap though…… from around $1500 to ‘the sky is the limit’ kind of designer prices.

Then when I drove down from Queensland in ute III (the 4WD one), I had another look, and found something in Sydney I could pick up on the way down. Luckily, as it turns out, they were out of stock, and so arrived in Geeveston empty-handed. Six months later, Matt next door was going to Melbourne to pick up a new ute, and he suggested that if I needed anything picked up there, he’d bring it back for me. And you guessed it….. I found someone who manufactured fibreglass Japanese Plunge Baths, for half the price of the one I missed out on in Sydney…….. some things are just meant to happen! Even better, the factory was two streets from where Matt was picking up his ute! You couldn’t make this stuff up……

Of course, our original drawings don’t show any of these things, and as I’m now contemplating pouring the house slab, I have to bury all the waste plumbing underneath, and so the bathrooms have to be planned properly. Once the slab is poured, the bathroom layout is literally cast in concrete. Obviously, Glenda wants to have a say in how this all pans out, and spent several days drawing 1:50 plans on graph paper and sending them electronically. She could not be convinced it would all fit in the allocated space, until that is, I came up with the brilliant idea of making a full-scale mockup of the bathroom with the bath in the shed.

20170518_122523Using the form ply that came out of the footing pour, I laid out the bathroom outline on the shed floor. I then brought all the fittings from the container down to the shed on the back of a ute, and methodically laid it out on the floor.

Because our ensuite bathrooms are ‘walk through’, like a corridor between the living space and bedrooms, the layout has to allow free flow of movement….. and after moving things around to both suit Glenda’s sense of aesthetics and my needs to make the plumbing practical, we agreed on something. One good thing about technology, is that pictures are easily and conveniently sent now, facilitating decision-making no end… There’s no way we could do this 2,500km apart without smart phones!

Now that I had the bathroom all laid out in front of me, it became obvious that I had a golden opportunity to set out and put together the underslab plumbing right there and then…. No plumber would ever go to this much trouble to get it ‘perfect’; last time we did this, our plumber just ‘roughed it in’, and the pipes were not where I wanted them, requiring a lot of ‘fudging’ to solve issues………20170528_154853

Modern plastic plumbing fittings make this sort of work a cinch. It’s not rocket science either, all you need to remember is that water flows downhill! If you ever do anything like this, make sure you do it properly and use primer before gluing, because once it’s all buried in concrete, there’s no going back to fixing leaks!

Once finished, the whole thing looked like a spider…… and I carried it in one piece to the house site where I dug the shallow trenches in the gloop to drop the whole assembly to its correct level where it will be buried with crusher dust to within 100mm of the top of the slab that will go over the whole thing. Eventually.

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I say eventually, because I now fear I have missed the boat when it comes to the weather… as you can see in the above photo, there’s water in my trenches, but worse, it’s getting cold with winter looming, and pouring concrete and cold don’t mix…..

Cold weather concrete can be classified as a period of more than three days where some specific conditions occur under certain temperatures. The American Concrete Institute under ACI 306 defines that concrete will be exposed to cold weather when the following conditions exist:

  • The average daily air temperature is less than 5°C and,

  • The air temperature is not greater than 10°C for more than one-half of any 24 hour period.

  • Fresh concrete frozen during the first 24 hours can lose 50% of its potential 28-day strength!

This is not something you have to concern yourself with in Queensland, but here…….? coordinating the weather, a concretor, and the concrete trucks all together on the same day where the above conditions don’t occur could be very tricky. I may have to resign myself to having to wait until at least october……. which doesn’t exactly fill me with glee, but there you go, the owner builder’s lot is not known to be simple. I’ve watched enough Grand Designs to know this!





Playing with gloop

14 05 2017

I’m often asked – and I often ask myself – why do I own three utes?  Well dear reader, I just worked it out! At very short notice, I got a text message from Matt next door that Steve could start cutting the trenches that have to be the foundations for our house’s slab on Friday afternoon, and Saturday norning if necessary to finish the job. Typically for Tasmania, the weather forecast went from fine weather to calamitous……. thunderstorms and minor flooding for the North of the island was predicted, and this fortunately did not eventuate, but as luck would have it, we in the South ended up copping some.

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Ready for action

Because the trenches are too far from the embankment where I want the earth moved to, it would all need to be moved with a vehicle, so I hunted around for a small tip truck, and found one, but as usual, the locals let me down again. I sometimes wonder how they stay in business…..

 

So I set up all three utes like a train, and lined Caleb to come back, hopefully with a mate, to do all the hard yakka. The mate could not make it on the day, so the pair of us worked our arses off, shoveling and 20170512_135641shoving and shuttling utes around trying to keep up with the digger. Which we largely managed to achieve…… but as luck would have it, as soon as the first ute (the 4WD one) was loaded and ready for moving, it refused to start. Luckily it has a very strong battery, and I actually managed to reverse it, with a ton of mud on the back, with the starter motor, to get it out of the way and reverse another ute in its place…. not a great start.

20170513_083021Amazingly – and very fortunately it eventually turned out – the 4WD started first kick a couple of hours later, just as the rain started….. I say fortunately, because 2WD utes don’t do gloop…!

Eventually, having finished the main trench down the front wall, we called it a day. Overnight, we got just over 6mm of rain, and in the morning, the site was really starting to look like quagmire, and the clay was getting heavier and stickier, making it largely impossible to shovel by hand. With only one ute able to get up the hill with a load (yes, it started again!), slip sliding all the way to the unloading site, it was decided that it would be more efficient, and certainly easier on us with the shovels, for Steve to move the excavator up the hill and scrape all the clay with the mud bucket off the tray….  Aah, the power of fossil fuels!20170513_091727

It was eventually all done, though where the lateral trenches came out through the edge of the main one, so sticky was the clay that a lot of earth came off the corners. The odd rock didn’t help either, and everywhere excess dirt is removed, more concrete will have to replace it, costing both me and the environment. Some things just can’t be helped, one has to deal with the situation at hand….20170513_100748

Caleb and I even had to stand in the trench to lift, mostly by hand, large clumps of sticky clay into Steve’s bucket so it could be lifted on the back of the ute and moved uphill. Let me tell you, I really look forward to the day this stage is over!

To put into perspective how bloody sticky the gloop was, I’ll leave you with a shot of the 4WD’s foot well that I will have fun cleaning up one day…. I even found the rubber pad off the brake pedal in the grass later, where it had obviously been so stuck to my boot, I pulled it off the metal pedal to get out the car! Pure luck it came off my boot right where I stepped off……20170513_110907

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House slab update

3 05 2017

Nico has left. Boy, I will miss him…..  Since pouring the footing for the retaining wall, he and I quickly laid out the drainage behind the footing, and not a moment too early, because over the past couple of days, we’ve had 15mm of rain, turning the

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Sloping gravel ramp

entire site into a quagmire which will put an end to more work for at least two days. Or however long it takes to dry out. I was hoping to cut the last lot of trenches this coming weekend, but that simply won’t happen now……

The drain has to have a 1 in 100 fall to work effectively, so the first thing we did was, after removing the formwork, mark out this slope on the new concrete…. which was smoother than the proverbial baby’s bum, a testament to the effectiveness of the concrete vibrator. It looked like polished concrete!

The drain being 300mm deep, and the pipe 100mm in diameter, I decided to install the top of the pipe at the pointy end of the back of the building at basically footing level, while having it at the bottom of the drain at the other end, 20m away…. an exact 1:100 slope.

The way the drain works is that as water falls into it, the water level rises up through the gravel until it reaches the perforated pipe, filling it up. The water then follows the path of least resistance, which is down the pipe. The ‘sock’ around the pipe filters out any silt that may dissolve from the clay, stopping it from entering the pipe and clogging it. In theory it works, and I have to say I have seen it work in real life in Cooran where I did something similar, though not as high……

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Nico backfilling the drain

The drain was then filled at that slope with 20mm gravel to the marks laid on the concrete every 2.5m, and voila, one accurate slope all made ready for the drain pipes.

The engineer’s drawings call for one pipe, but having seen how much water can come down that slope, I went for two. $200 is cheap insurance, the last thing I want is water in the house!

Once the pipes were laid out, the rest of the trench was backfilled with more gravel – 5 tons of it, all unloaded from the utes by hand -, entirely covering the pipes. More hard work and expense that will totally disappear, never to be seen ever again…. and speaking of utes, they have really been earning their keep lately, with both of them simultaneously loaded with one and a quarter tons of gravel…

Having done this, we then went about on the following day – when the darn rain started – leveling the corner cleanout blocks that will be the formwork for the rear of the slab. This is critical work to ensure the slab turns out dead level. It took us half a day with rain interruptions to lay just six blocks (with waterproofing added to the mortar), but I now have cemented in starter blocks that I can use to string out the rest of them, and that shouldn’t take me more than a day if I can get Caleb back to help me mix mud. The levels were achieved using age old technology in the form of a water level, the design of which I got from Geoff Capper, an old peaknik friend who lives in Northern Tassie. It worked a treat, and even Nico who had never seen one before was impressed.

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At left, Nico leveling what is literally the foundation stone, the highest point on the footing. At right using the water level to ensure that block at the opposite end of the 20170501_143507house is at exactly the same height as the first. The front of the house will be on the visible stringline, and 200mm higher than the footing lifting the whole house about ground level.

We would have laid more blocks, but the rain renders that Dolerite clay into gloop that persistently sticks to your boots making just walking around really unpleasant and even difficult….. in any case, it’s not recommended to either mix or lay mortar in the rain.

We did however spend time between showers cleaning up left over concrete and gravel off the mud in an attempt to alleviate the piercing of the plastic membrane that will be eventually laid down under the slab, weather permitting. And I really want to get this done before the real rainy season starts in the next couple of weeks or so……. I just hope I’m not too late already!

Glenda also wants to rearrange the bathroom layout, and that has to be all finalised so we can pour over the underslab plumbing, which once done cannot be undone!





A good Friday’s pouring…..

22 04 2017

If after finishing digging up the trenches for the retaining wall on Good Friday you had told me they would be full of concrete within a week…. I would have told you that you had sawdust for brains. Yet that is exactly what happened, but you need all your stars lining up.

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My first four bars…..

The day after the big dig, I excitedly started laying steel bars in the trench, only to quickly realise there was no way known I could do this on my own. I’d lift one end of a 6m long bar to sit it on a chair, then walk to the other end to do the same, and the first end would fall off, entailing walking back and forth so many times that I reckon I’d walked over 150m just to set four bars down! Then, trying to tie the L shaped bars that reinforce the wall to those bars on my own simply proved nigh impossible, I would at least need one person to just hold the bar while I tied….. and being Easter, the chances of anyone helping were very slim indeed….. I started thinking that this job would easily take me a month, and I better get used to the idea.

 

Monday morning, Caleb, a friend’s teenaged son who lives locally and could use some spare cash, came to help me. Then, out of the blue, this American wwoofer who had contacted me some weeks before but didn’t know when he’d be in Tasmania rings me up, all excited and wanting to get stuck into some construction work…. “Your timing could not be better” I told him, and he was here by lunch time keen and eager. Best of all, he had way more concreting experience than I ever had, and he literally took over, becoming my project manager!

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Caleb and Nico hard at work tying bars…..

Nico is not only a great concretor, he’s also amazing company, and we’ve been chewing the fat every night over a well-earned cider. How this guy came into my life so unexpectedly just blows me away. Sometimes you’ve just got to get lucky……

Retaining walls work a bit like you standing in a strong wind…… think ‘back to the wind’, and your feet on the ground stopping you falling over. The pressure on your back wants to topple you over, but your toes strain against the wind’s force, all you need is a heel and toe joined to strong enough calf muscles to make sure the whole leg is stiff enough to avoid the embarrassment….. that’s exactly what the L bars do, and the concrete is the muscle.

I then came up with what I can only describe as a brilliant idea. The top of the footing has to have a layer of mesh no more than 50mm from the top surface. How to set this up so you can place it while busily pouring wet concrete? My solution was to tie it to the bars at the right height, and in just three places at the top so that one of us could just run around behind the formwork, cut those ties, and drop the mesh at its lower ‘hinge’. Then all I’d have to do is sink it into the concrete with the vibrator. Worked a treat…..

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Formwork in place

Once all the steel was in, the formwork to stop the concrete falling into the drain area had to be put up. I had bought 8’x4′ sheets of formply to cut into 300mm high boards and made a load of pointy timber stakes to hold them up with, but the stakes refused to penetrate the hard clay…  what to do? Nico said, ‘in the states we use metal form spikes’, but I’d never heard of them here. So I rang Nubco where I bought the steel, and they suggested 600mm star pickets that Bunnings sell. Sure enough, Bunnings had a whole lot in store at $5.80 each. I wasn’t keen on either driving that far let alone patronising Bunnings, so as we were approaching Huonville in the ute, I suggested Nico ring Mitre 10 there to see if they had some…. and they did. Not only that, they were on sale for $3.95 each (I needed 60 of them!), and I walked out with a bunch of screws, a new level and heavy hammer for less than what the pickets would have cost at Bunnings.  I’m on a roll!

 

Before we knew it, it looked very close to the job being finished, and I rang the concrete crowd and ordered the runny stuff…. I still can’t believe it all went so fast.

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Dawn on pouring day……. what a gorgeous start!

We spent Friday morning finishing the formwork, tying up loose ends, adding chairs where necessary, and cleaning all the loose rubbish out of the trenches, which we finished nearly an hour and a half before the first truck arrived..

The whole West wing of the footing was poured from the first truck. The new concrete vibrator I bought myself worked a treat, most of the concrete finding its own level from being quite violently shaken.

The second truck arrived to pour the ‘pointy bit’ in the middle of the house, and that’s where the work on the hottest April day in over 50 years started in earnest….. because the chute was too short to reach, and poor old Nico had to rake and shovel the stuff into the corner while Caleb barrowed concrete from the truck to the edge of the trench, almost losing the wheelbarrow one time when he got too close, and the wheel fell into the wet concrete! Much frantic pulling and pushing from the three of us (while the truck driver never even lifted a finger) got the wheelbarrow back out again, but let me tell you we were all sweating! Swinging the heavy petrol powered vibrator at full arms length was hard yakka, but concrete waits for no man, and there was no stopping. And passing out wasn’t an option either….!

After it was all over, Nico said to me that sometimes you buy something, and you think to yourself, that was a good purchase….. but that concrete vibrator must be the best thing I ever bought according to him!

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All done…… what a job!

Needless to say, $3700 later it all ended well…… but we were all exhausted, and the entire affair reminded me of why I swore I’d never do it again after the last time.

In my last post where I mentioned this, I stated that if I didn’t save myself $10,000 by doing it myself I’d eat my hat. Well, at this stage it looks like I may well save closer to $20,000. Of course we still have to pour the slab over the top of all this work, but it’s hard to imagine how concretors can pay themselves as well as they do all the same…..

Time for a couple of days rest now…….





A good Friday’s digging……

16 04 2017

There must be something in Tasmania’s water that doesn’t agree with the building industry….. I’ve wasted so much time waiting for people to do things for me, it beggars belief. All along, I said that this time, 15 years older and wiser, I would not undertake to do my own concreting at Mon Abri MkII. So I contacted this local contractor, whom everyone around here seems to think is the bee’s knees. He came out, sighted the house site, and the plans, a copy of which he left with. I explained to him what was needed, that I had already ordered the reinforcing, and that all I needed was someone to put it all together……

About a week later, the reo had arrived, and still no quote; so I texted him to tell him the steel was here and asking for his quote. The next day, he rang back with an over the phone quote of $30,000, which I’m almost sure he said included building the block wall… I’m a bit hard of hearing these days, so maybe I got that wrong. In any case, thirty grand being such a very round number, I asked for a written quote. Which took another two weeks. And when it arrived, it was way over the top, with no break down of how much the labour was, or the concrete pumping, earthworks, or anything for that matter, it just lumped everything together, including the steel I already had….. and the quote was now $32,000……. plus $26,000 to build the wall!

I almost fell off my chair…..

That wall building quote works out at $12 a block, which I established was four times the normal rate. So he must have included the cost of the blocks (which set me back $17,000…!) Thirty pallets of blocks is sort of hard to not see….. so what on earth was he thinking about?

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String profiles in place

Then to top it off, I visited my friend Dave who’s building a greenhouse up the hill, and the same contractor stuffed the footings up; they weren’t level, causing the block layer to have to trim as much as an inch off the blocks to make the top of the first course level…… By that stage, there was no doubt I was going to have do the job myself, any confidence I might have had at the start of the process had by now vanished. If I don’t save $10,000 by doing it myself, I’ll eat my (very sweaty) hat…..

Having discussed this with Matt next door – who owns his own excavator – we walked over my site with Steve, a very experienced excavator and crane driver who works in Antarctica – I don’t think they hire dodgy people to work there at great expense – and settled on Good Friday to start digging the retaining wall footings.

I had almost (another) month to psych myself up on how we would do this, set the

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Depth/Width gauge

profiles up to accurately arrive at the house’s footprint, and eventually started painting lines in the dirt. I also made myself a gauge to measure both the depth and the width of the trenches.

Because the previous excavator driver decided to dig a hole in the wrong place last time, and had to refill it to remedy the error, that part of the bank had collapsed in the heavy rain last year, actually making it impossible to place the profiles where I wanted them. So that had to be fixed first, because a whole pile of dirt and rocks was actually right on top of where we had to dig.

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Fixing Trev’s boo boo

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earthmoving ute

 

 

 

 

Then, because the digger was too far from the bank when digging the small trench under the living space, the spoil had to be put on the ute, which I then had to move and manually unload the two tonnes of dirt with shovel and rake. Like I say, this project will either keep me fit, or kill me..!

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the next pizza oven base..!

There was also a huge rock that had to come out where the slab will be, because the top of it was actually higher than floor level. Trev (the last operator) reckoned his machine couldn’t pull it out, but Matt’s excavator is a newer and better device, and Steve had it out in no time…. it might not look like much in the photo, but it has to weigh close to 500kg, and it’s a great find actually, because it’s (almost) big enough to make the base of the next pizza oven on its own, and it’s nice and flat!

The rest of the digging went well, even though working so close to the embankment made things difficult for Steve, who did a great job. It’s so nice to work with professionals, let me tell you…. Now all I have to do is fill the hole with steel and concrete….

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Fanny Farm update….

13 01 2017

It’s raining again, and too wet for fencing… so I’ll keep my faithful readers up on what’s been happening for the past few days.

Firstly, my amazing neighbour who had the most unfortunate accident that caused his expensive ute to be written off (nobody got hurt, which I have to tell you was pretty amazing…), flew to Melbourne the other day to pick up a replacement. japanesebathHe offered to pick stuff up there for me, and lo and behold, I discovered that someone in Melbourne manufactured round Japanese plunge baths that would finish the circular theme of our new bathroom. Sometimes, things are just meant to happen…. I’ve been looking for something like this for ages, but they were either unavailable, or just plain too expensive.

It turns out, this one was made by the bloke who sold it to me, and, wait for it, his factory was just two streets away from where Matt picked up his new car…!

Now I just need a house to put it in…. like the toilets, the bidets, the handbasins, the kitchen sink, the taps, I have accumulated a lot of stuff for this house already.

The same day the bath arrived, all the reinforcing steel was also delivered. On a very large truck, that the driver had to reverse the entire 400m back out to the main road…

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Then yesterday, as part of the rezoning of this block of land, Julia and Matt, my current wwoofers from America and I moved the entire composting system from where I first sited it a year ago to where it will be needed, next to the market garden.

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20170112_153212No mean feat it turns out, I had way more compost than I realised, almost enough to fill the ute…. It was also a good opportunity to teach young people how to make compost, because it turns out they had no idea…… In fact, it may be an American thing, or maybe they’ve led sheltered lives, but they know very little about what’s going on in the world, particularly when compared to the young French people I’ve had here who have actually impressed me with what they already knew……

On the downside, my new pump is driving me insane…… it pumps when it feels like it, and when it won’t, I cannot get my head around why not. I’ve spent so much time flushing out the suction line, even wading out into the muddy bottom of the dam several times… I’ve modified the footvalve assembly to ensure it can’t suck air – and now it CAN’T because it’s anchored underwater permanently – but it still refuses to pressurise my sprinkler for more than three to five minutes….. my understanding of pumps is that they should work, or not work at all, but not this…..