Grab a cuppa or a tinnie – whatever floats your boat – and settle back, this is gunna be a long one.
I’ve mentioned, from time to time, that doing a tree change and renovating a crumbling cottage is a bit of a five steps forward and four steps back affair. Nothing is ever quite straightforward. Nothing ever goes quite as you planned.
The first thing about doing a tree change is that you deliberately go and live near trees. As trees are a real estate developers natural enemy, you have to leave urban areas. Cities have lots and lots of real estate developers. Living far away from everything complicates pretty much everything. Those of you who live rurally may be thinking; “Aw diddums. Toughen up princess.” But you see, people who have been living rurally for a couple of years have everything sorted out. They have their routines. They know how to manage everything and have their contingency plans already tried and tested.
Let me give you an example; when the power goes out around here, dozens of homes and farm houses go dark – briefly. Then somebody wanders over to the shed with the generator and starts it up. Most will be muttering colorfully, I admit, but they will have power after a relatively small amount of hassle.
But. If you’re new to living in the bush, it’s just possible that you won’t know that you need a generator. As a newbie, you won’t realize that power companies don’t really ‘prioritize’ rural supply. We’re far away from the power company offices, there aren’t a lot of us living here, and the really big factor is that we’re spread out and our power lines are hundreds of kilometers long. Consequently, blackouts here can last a couple of weeks.
Tradesmen and government services are the same. When something goes ‘ppffffttt’, the rural resident generally has to find a temporary solution themselves. If you’re new to all of this, the solution will involve a trip to town. It will also involve spending money that you weren’t expecting to spend.
I started my renovation and tree change knowing that my property wasn’t connected to the power grid. So I had the generator from the get go. Shame I didn’t know how to service the blasted thing. There are four dead generators in one of my sheds. None of them work. Why? Because I didn’t know what I was doing. One of them accidentally got a teeny tiny amount of water in the fuel. One of them wasn’t serviced regularly enough or properly – it might be recoverable, but the jury is still out on that. One of them was simply misused. The fourth one? I still don’t know why it died. I might be able to fix it, don’t know yet. One day I will take them all apart and see what I can jury rig.
I am not an astoundingly stupid person. I have skills. I have abilities. If you need a 60,000 word thesis proof read, I’m your guy. If you need some powerpoint slides whipped up that are chocker block with snazzy maps and graphics; look no further. If you need an insanely complex spreadsheet thrown together for an analysis of whatever; I can have that for you in under a couple of hours. Unfortunately, no volume of powerpoint presentations festooned with pretty pictures will coax a water flooded generator to do anything other than rust. Which it was going to do anyway. Because it was flooded (Some people might observe that only an astoundingly stupid person would allow water to have gotten into a fuel can and then into a generator… well… once I come up with a snappy riposte, I will post it!).
Moving on from the generator, my chainsaw won’t work. There is a safety lock, a kind of reverse clutch on chainsaws that make them merely hellaciously dangerous. If the clutch safety lock thingy doesn’t engage, then as soon as you start it, it starts wanting to rip huge chunks out of things. I am fond of my spleen and my knees and my elbows. They do various wondrous and nifty things. I’d notice if I suddenly didn’t have them anymore. Being around a chainsaw that doesn’t have a safety lock clutch doodad is, I suspect, somewhat like lathering yourself up with barbecue sauce and then jumping in to swim with the sharks. After stenciling the word ‘CHUM’ on your forehead. With bacon.
I don’t know how to fix it. I want to cut up some old logs, but my chainsaw will try to kill me. I don’t know how to fix it. I could google it, but lately i have come to the conclusion that its just easier and faster and much more reliable to ask one of my neighbours. I am convinced that my neighbours know more than the internet. The world wide web has only been humming along since about 1980, my neighbours have been around way longer than that.
There is another frequent fly in the ointment. Another kind of calamity. Nothing is ever as easy as it looks. Running lots of pipe and hoses and whatnot from water tanks to faucets sounds fairly straightforward, but the blasted things leak. You don’t lay out the pipes and hoses, hook them up, put water through, identify the leaks, fix the leaks, move on to the next job.
No. You start to lay the pipes and hoses out, discover a couple of awkward obstacles that you have to either go around, under, over, or through, then (after much hacking and hewing with axe, spade, or dynamite – your choice), you lay out the hoses and pipes and start to hook them up.
That’s when you discover that you have the wrong gauge connector for at least one pipe to a hose or some such, so you spend ages sifting through what odds and ends you do have to see if there is any combination that can be daisy chained to solve the problem. Eventually you discover that there is not, so you drive to the nearest hardware store to get what’s missing (unfortunately, that takes almost three hours – what with the rather long bit of driving),
When you get back, you hook everything up and run water through the system. After you have frantically sprinted to the tank to shut the water off so that it will stop cascading forth from about 40% of the connectors, you wander around with some tools and little rolls of white plumbers tape and try and ‘fix those leaks’. Then you try the water again. Then you sprint again. Then you go back to the old leaks and tweak them some more and then you go to the new leaks and swear at them for not having leaked before. Once you have tightened and taped and tweaked everything (Including a cat who got too close while you were really focused), you try the water. Again.
Okay. This is when you decide to get serious. Every connection, and I mean every connection is taken apart, cleaned, beautifully taped, and then carefully (but firmly) tightened to within an inch of its life. Every hose and pipe is checked. Everything is thoroughly scrutinized and made as good as is theoretically possible. No step has been ignored. No sloppy bodge job tolerated. This is meticulous craftsmanship and care of the finest calibre. This time, it’s right. You put water through the system. Then you sprint to shut it off. You console yourself that as it’s winter, the weekly rains will probably refill the tank faster than the leaks can empty it. Probably.
Oh… how I wish that I was exaggerating.
But, here’s the thing. My neighbours don’t have any where near this kind of hassle. They are well equipped and provisioned for unpredictable eventualities. When something goes pear shaped, they have the tools, the plan, and the experience to resolve it – at least temporarily. They still have a long way to travel when they go to town, but they make a day of it. They sort out 12 – 15 issues with each trip. When I go to town, I sort out about 3.
That’s the trick. Learning. Getting a handle on how to deal with things when they go awry, building up the tool chest and spare materials to deal with come what may. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. But you’re only racing against yourself. No Olympic Medals are on offer. Just a lifestyle.
My neighbours are unfailingly friendly. Always helpful. I am sure that they are highly amused by my bumbling incompetence… but I think that they have noticed that I’m still here. I think that they’ve noticed that I’m still trudging along getting the crumbling cottage on the hill sorted out. Five steps forward, four steps back. You still get there in the end.
Hail and well met, one and all.
I have a brand spanking new thing-to-get-excited-about; its a 500 gallon plastic rainwater tank. It has a regular garden tap and a largish 1 1/2 inch agricultural tap. Unlike my other four tanks, it doesn’t leak like a colander. Unlike my other four tanks, water that goes into it isn’t instantly turned a carcinogenic reddish hue. Water from my new tank sloshes, it doesn’t gloop.
I kinda like my new tank. I am not so fond of my other tanks. I plan to take an angle grinder to them. The plan is to cut them up and use them as raised garden beds. Each bed will be about 3 feet high. This should cut down on the tedious bending and should give my back an altogether more desirable break than the one I gave it last year. I should also be able to put small ‘greenhouse’ covers over them. The plan is to have different soil types and light coverage options. That way I can grow what I want.
But the angle grinding festival of fun will be later in the year. Right now, I am just making Errol (my new tank) feel comfortable and appreciated. I have already put him to work, too, but more on that in a moment. Mustn’t get ahead of myself.
When I arranged delivery, the chap who sold me the tank was confident that they’d be able to deliver the tank up my hill and close to where it would eventually be sited. Then the rains came. I believe that I described my driveway (in a previous post) as a slippery fun slide of mud… Or something to that effect.
This, sadly, is not one of my ‘exaggerated-for-humorous-effect’ metaphors. When the driveway is properly wet, you cannot walk on it, much less drive. I have seen one of my cats slide uncontrollably down half it’s length (when he finally stopped careening wildly out of control, he acted nonchalantly as though everything had gone quite as he’d intended. Then he wandered back up the hill via the yard and back into the caravan… And onto my bed… While not entirely de-mudded).
When Errol arrived, he was deposited at the start of my access road. The access road isn’t terribly long, only 50 yards or so. Unfortunately, it is at the base of the hill. Clearly the tank delivery man was leery about trying to go up my drive. Trucks that deliver tanks in rural tasmania tend to be great big grunty things with lots of ‘go anywhere’ sensibilities. NW Tasmania is kinda hilly. The roads are usually insanely twisty and frequently just a bit of gravel and dirt. Sometimes, in NW Tassie, you only know that you’re on a road because there aren’t any trees and bushes on it and because a fully laden logging truck just nearly ran you over. Okay, that last part was one of my ‘exaggerated-for-humorous-effect’ descriptions, but only just a little bit.
So. Errol was on the access road. The driveway of death was in its full muddy treachery mood. More rain was forecast. Fortunately for me, I have the niftiest neighbour in The world. He saw Errol, decided that either I would try to move the tank up the hill with my tractor or before that, some bastard would nick it and I would be without my new tank. The short version of the story is that my neighbour used his hill basher of a tractor to move the tank for me… But… That doesn’t convey the scene. Doesn’t do it justice.
Doing that particular job safely on that hill and in those conditions was fascinating to watch. He went up the hill through a rough paddock that was overgrown with bracken and heather. The imminent rain was spitting to herald its arrival. Small corrections here and there as he crabbed the tractor up the slope… I have been using a tractor a fair bit, lately, so it was seriously cool to watch someone who is really good at it do something that was very tricky.
Anyway, in the end, Errol was in place. All I needed now was some rain and to hook up a couple zillion feet of hoses and fasteners to plumb the cottage and the caravan. On offer was the chance to be able to turn on a faucet and get clean potable water. If I didn’t get it right, I would still have to lug water everywhere. After a year of having one of my daily chores being to sort out the days water supply… Well, let’s just say that I keen to modernize.
Before I could do any plumbing, I needed to remove a water heater that came with the caravan. I don’t know where or why, but there is an electrical fault with that heater… So having it in there is pointless and inconvenient. by removing it, I could replumb the caravan for cold water only and remove the useless shower cubicle. This meant that I would get quite a lot of space freed up (which is highly desireble in a small caravan).
Ripping out the shower and the water tank was fiddly. Wires and pipes had to be isolated and removed. Seals checked, holes plugged, swear words uttered whenever I found a new way to maim myself. It was a busy day.
The next day, I was able to go and get the attachments for the hoses and pipes and finish off the heater removal. Then I and a friend hooked everything up. The big moment came. The washing machine in the house was loaded and ready to go. In the caravan, I had a sink full of dishes that needed washing. Water was needed in both places. We opened the big tap and crossed our fingers. There was a lot of sucking and whooshing and gurgling. Then crystal clear water flowed. Both to the house and the caravan. Good pressure, steady stream. Everything worked. Okay, I will admit that some of the connections might be inclined to leak. But that’s just a temporary impediment. A couple of hours with some tools and gas fitters tape will sort that out.
As I look at this, I can only imagine how dreadfully dull this must seem. So prosaic. A guy gets a tank and hooks it up to some stuff with hoses. Yawn. But… When we think of the amenities that we expect in a house, running water is a given. I haven’t had that for over a year. It’s one of those big things. Sure, the cottage needs proper plumbing and an actual toilet and a hot water heater and all that… But that will come. For now, I can go over to my sink and turn the tap and fill the kettle. For now I can wash my clothes without filling the washing machine with 9 buckets of water carried from outside and across the yard.
I may have mentioned that this treechange of mine seems to be a five steps forwards, four steps back kind of thing. Nothing is ever straightforward. There’s usually $50-$100 that needs to be spent and a fair bit of crawling around underneath or over something. Carrying heavy and cumbersome items items up and down slopes seems to feature a lot, too. When you read my posts, this is the one. This is the post that attempts to convey what the day to day experience is. Pecking away at hundreds and thousands of little jobs. Tomorrow I plan to change an oil filter and some spark plugs on my truck. I also have some hooks to hang in the kitchen. I need to take a couple of truckloads of rubbish to the tip, and I should probably rearrange the caravan to take advantage of the extra space that I have now that the shower cubicle is gone. I have also promised to make some apple turnovers for a friend. Oh… And my plumbing has some vexing leaks that need attention. Hmmm… I wonder which of those things will lead to my next adventure?
Okay. It’s time for a bit of a rant. Let’s start this with an admission; I am quite an addict for the British series ‘Grand Design’. I like the way the build (or renovation) is revealed as a story. There are characters, there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. There are usually a smattering of mini-catastrophes. There are usually compromises that must be painfully made. I dive into it and lap it up. Sometimes I am inspired, sometimes I am aghast. I am never bored.
Now… What’s this got to do with the tree change and this specific rant? Well, I just watched a 15th century barn conversion episode. I think that the resulting assemblage of buildings is… well… meh. the soul and charm of the place was excised. It sounds as though a combination of council requirements and the owner’s desire for ‘modern elegance and functionality’ were the primary culprits. Sigh.
Which brings me to why I am babbling about this topic. Several friends (some locals) have urged me to tear down my little cottage on a hill and put up something new. In rural tassie, if there is a remnant of a building intact, the council is hard pressed to deny you the right to build a new building. As a consequence, there are many, many old crumbling buildings scattered throughout these valleys and hills. It’s very picturesque.
So… With wizened heads possessed of far more sense than mine suggesting that I tear down and rebuild with new, why am I making life difficult for myself?
Conservation restoration/renovation isn’t (to me) about making the structure exactly the same as it was 100 years ago. It’s not about having the bits and bobs being period authentic and all of the craftsmanship being a ‘feature’: it’s about the span of the buildings existence. It’s about strengthening and clarifying the character and spirit of the structure. And – equally important to me, It’s about the lives that played out within its walls being faintly visible – like footprints in a snow storm.
Concerning the character and spirit of the building, I want the age of building to be apparent. Mutton dressed as lamb is rarely a good look, and just as I prefer not to have garnishing trying (and failing) to conceal something (or someone’s) true age in other matters, I don’t want to see a building trying to look like something other than it is.
My cottage is a building hewn and crafted with axes and adzes. From time to time, conveniences were wedged into its identity as the technology and wherewithal permitted. It was originally built almost 120 years ago (or thereabouts). So it has been young and new. It had its period of being solid, sensible, and middle aged. Now it’s starting to be… well… Old. I want it to wear its century old, slightly wonky, worn down by lots of feet, floorboards with pride and gusto. I want the interior doors to be some planks that were nailed together god knows when. I want the simple weatherboard cladding.
But then we get to the other point… The lives that lived within it. People were born there. People had dramas, had laughs, had dreams, wondered what the bloody cats had dragged in now (though that might be more a current theme, rather than a historic one). I want to know who lived and visited the cottage on the hill. I want the footprints in the snow to still be faintly visible.
In some ways, this cottage being restored is a lot like a badger’s tree change. The character and spirit of both are being examined. The good and worthwhile points are being strengthened and clarified. Garnishing – plastic or otherwise – is being ripped out. The lives lived are being considered; remembered.
Mind you, it’s just occurred to me; my next blog is likely to be about the new water tank and the plumbing… So let’s not take this ‘cottage renovation’ and ‘badger’s tree change’ simile too much further, eh?
Rightio. I’ve had my rant. You’ve heard my ethos for the renovation. As i plod along with this, there will be dramas and laughs and dreams. Sigh… And very likely things dragged in by the cats. As it progresses, I expect that at times I will find myself inspired, at other times I will be aghast… But I doubt very much that I will ever be bored. Eventually it will be done. the final reveal will – inevitably – be that the cottage on the hill is magically made into… A cottage on the hill (mind you, one with fewer birds nests in the living room… Oh and plumbing).
Till then, the tree change continues.
Have you ever met someone and just instantly clicked? I am not simply talking about whether you liked them, I am talking about that communication short cut where you just get what they mean pretty much immediately. You understand their point of view and their raison d’être (while I like the concept of raisin d’être, I can’t help but think of those little raisin filled pies whenever I hear the phrase). Usually there is a bit of overlap in interests, but usually, there is more a sense of the same kind of energy.
WARNING: Badger neglected to bring ‘the funny’, today. Having one’s cat cough up a fur ball right in the middle of a fresh home made pizza does tend to lead to a mirth light sort of blog post. You may be thinking that a mirth light blog post is like light beer; kinda ‘what’s the point of that?’ Well, I had a peanut butter sandwich for dinner and am feeling quite okay with you lot being left grumbling and muttering in grizzled dissatisfaction. :)
So. Back to where I left off. I am increasingly inclined to think of people who I meet that I really connect with as being of my tribe. Being around people of your own tribe is intoxicating. Having a synergy in your perceptions and ambitions is a heady thing. If you look around through the calendar pages of history, you’ll find instances of many individuals of the same tribe getting together and doing amazing things. The Algonquin Round Table is such an example. Perhaps, too, the Manhattan Project (just because something is awful doesn’t mean that it can’t amaze). Music scholars could cite examples as could entrepreneurs, engineers, artists, etc.
I think that there is a coterie of same tribe folks who have found each other and are doing some pretty nifty stuff in new media. Members of this group include Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Felicia Day (creator of The Guild), Wil Wheaton (yes, I know he was Wesley Crusher, but he was an actor, he was given his lines, he didn’t write them. Read some of what he writes, then gauge the mettle of the man). Where was I? Oh yeah, there are several others to mention, Sandeep Parikh, Jed Whedon, Maurissa Tancharoen, and probably a bunch of others who I am unaware of. As individuals and in occasional collaboration, these people have used the Internet as a delivery mechanism for their material and have redefined how things have to work in terms of television, movies, and even music. They are creating hugely successful shows without big studios or networks being involved.
To get a sense of what I mean, download Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and check out geek and sundry at http://geekandsundry.com/
But there’s a yin to this yang. What happens when you don’t find other members of your tribe? For my part, I am an expression-geek. A slightly curmudgeonly one, I admit, but an expression-geek nonetheless. I fiddle with words and graphics and play around with computers and games. I gravitate towards science fiction and fantasy like a moth to a flame. I revel in communication in all of its forms and manifestations. If I wasn’t so abysmally ill suited to graceful motion, I’d be cheerfully willing to do an interpretive dance routine to get a point across. Fortunately, I am self aware enough to know that all I would manage to communicate with Dance would be the concept of lumbering clumsiness (bad luck for any witnesses come the day that I find myself wanting to convey the concept of lumbering clumsiness).
There aren’t any other expression-geeks in my neck of the woods. I have friends, very good ones. Some are even geeks, too. But there aren’t any other expression-geeks (yes, I made up that term, but it suits. Geeks are normally somewhat socially… out of step. Expression-geeks can talk to anyone. That said, we’re still geeks). So. Do you have a sense of being the only one of you’re particular tribe in your neck of the woods? When you’re a soloist looking for a choir, do you sing your choral part in isolation? Or do you belt out a mildly satisfying solo number and just get on with it?
I’m afraid that I don’t have an answer for that. I am in the right place at the time that I need to be here. But doing that solo singing bit isn’t my little raisin filled pie. So I guess I will do my choral bit in isolation (slightly off key, I’m sure, but in no way involving interpretive lurching) and I will keep being a slightly curmudgeonly moth about science fiction and fantasy. That said, I am interested to know what you think. What are your thoughts and experiences in terms of tribe.
My guess is that the normal style of badger blithering will resume with the next post. At the very least, I can promise to endeavor to do my blog post before I make a pizza for my cat to contaminate.
There are people who vehemently assert that they NEED the new(ish) 4WD Porsche Cayenne (or whatever it’s called) simply because they quite frequently need to park their car on their lawn, or because thereare an awful lot of leaves and branches on the lane that they live on. Or worse still… because they have a gravel drive. <Cue gasp of horror>.
Look, sunny jim. Unless your driveway is frequently a slurry of mud, clay, and free running water, AND is so steep that you keep having Sherpa guides enquiring if there are any positions vacant, then you don’t get to claim that you need a 4WD because of your driveway.
My driveway is steep. It also turns into a clay soupy fun slide whenever it rains… which in NW Tasmania is somewhat frequently. There have been times when I have been out and about and come home and known that somebody has visited. Not because they left a note, but rather it was the huge churned up slide channels in the lower part of my driveway (Henceforth referred to as the swampy bit). It’s mildly amusing, actually. I usually hop out of my truck and have a quick look to see how close they came to the neighbour’s fence and to wiping out the world’s most pointless shed.
I can claim ownership of the title ‘World’s Most Pointless Shed’ because the shed has no doors. I don’t mean that the builders did three walls and a roof and then thought ‘bugger it, that’ll do.’ No. They did four walls and a roof. Why they didn’t put in a door isn’t the big question, though. The big question is why they put 20 bales of hay and half of a shower cubicle into the shed while they were building it. Seriously. 20 bales of hay and half a shower cubicle. Then they finished walling it all off.
Perhaps it’s the One Shower. Sauron’s ablutionary furnishing walled off (with some hay) to protect the people of Middle Earth. I meain, something had to be used to wash the crack of doom, it just stands to reason.
So the World’s Most Pointless Shed sits amid the swampy bit at the end of the Driveway of Death. So. I have to figure out how to deal with all of this. The One Shower (and the hay, though I have promised my mum a couple of bales for her chooks), the swampy bit, and the Driveway of Death. I have taken the first step already. I and a friend went all barbarian beserker on the Most Pointless Shed in the World and tore off a wall.
It’s amazing. Suddenly I care if visitors smash into the shed while careening wildly out of control. Fancy that. A simple point of egress and the structure is magically transformed. I have also been scraping and cleaning up the driveway with my tractor, it’s mildly less homicidal, now. Soon I will put a couple of truck loads of gravel on it so that it doesn’t get so infernally muddy. Gosh. A gravel drive. Good thing I have a 4WD.
Okay, I admit it. I am a Geek. I can knowledgeably explain what Role Playing Games are, and my explanation won’t include anything about ice cubes, handcuffs, sexy nurse outfits, or any of the paraphernalia that one might find with a certain type of role playing (Unfortunately). Sadly, the equipment that I can wax lyrical about are dice and which kind of graph or hex paper is best for which kind of adventure map. Sigh. I was in my late 20s before I even knew that there was a kind of role playing that didn’t involve sitting around a table with a bunch of other guys and pretending to be a hobbit. Man, did I choose the wrong kind of role playing, or what?
Anyway, I can also probably deal with most common IT issues, have owned a vast collection of SF films and TV series since before I knew that there were even better kinds of Role Playing, and I even learned some Klingon back in the dark dim past. I am a Geek.
To be honest, I am not embarrassed or ashamed by this. There wasn’t a lot of point. It was kind of massively inevitable. I have always gravitated towards the stuff that pushed your brain and your imagination. Games like soccer are just not… well… complex enough. Kick ball into box made of sea net. Got it. Don’t touch ball with hands. Check. If an opponent comes within three feet of you fall over clutching your leg as if your shin has been shattered. Noted. That’s just… well… boring. Plus, most sports seem to take place when it is cold and wet outside… or when a really cool movie is on.
It’s not that I am bad at sports, it’s just that the sports I really enjoy are… well… geeky. Fencing and Badminton. Done a lot of both over the years and loved them.
So. Geek. Wordy geek who is obsessed with language and expression. Moves to a remote country hamlet. The only work in this region is either farming, raising cattle, or cutting down trees. When you go to the little general store in the nearby hamlet, there WILL be several trucks out the front. Because trucks are what farmers drive. It is the only practical solution out here. I have one, too. I use it a lot.
But my background is academic research, technical writing, IT support and training. Not a lot of cattle clamoring for me to write some documentation for them. Not many sheep asking for me to do a quick content analysis series for some research they are undertaking.
When you have spent most of your working life at a keyboard, being faced with the reality of a bent steel fencepost that is in desperate need of being ripped out and replaced… well… there’s no app for that at the Apple Store. When you mention your dilemma to your highly amused neighbour, they are likely to chuckle and explain that you just need a fencepost remover. “Great! Excellent…. umm…what’s that?”
Street cred is really hard to get when you have no frickin clue what you are doing. Not knowing how to lay a gravel road or weld together a new gate, or wield a chainsaw without painting the surrounding terrain red… well… being ignorant of these kinds of things is – apparently – just a bit gay.
All over the world Geeks are coming into their own. Knowledge is power, particularly in the information age… and we geeks know a lot about a lot of things. Names like Jobs and Gates are HUGE. Being an uber geek now means being worth millions or even billions of dollars.So what do I do? I move to a place where they don’t really even have a concept of Geek.All of my skills are – frankly – useless. Mind you, if I work really hard and learn a zillion things, I might one day manage to be the village idiot.
But y’know? I’ve never had this much fun in my life. :)
It seems that anywhere you go these days will have a fleet of slightly harrowed looking mothers navigating the streets and avenues in their own ‘Good Ship SUV’. These monsters are generally mildly enormous. They are virtually impossible to park and I am quite sure that they set off earthquake alarms whenever they go over a bump. They are ghastly vehicles and they serve little or no purpose.
That said, I do have a 4WD truck. But here’s the difference; my driveway is unmanageable even with a 4WD for several days of the year. I also have about 20 acres of overgrown paddock. I also tend to need to move a ton of this or that at least once or twice a month. My 4WD is a workhorse. It doesn’t have ‘climate control’ (Well, okay… it has windows), its seats don’t massage ones buttocks. I don’t have cinema like dolby surround sound. It does have an absurdly monstrous bull bar which is great for ensuring that when some daft pillock fails to take a corner in their idiotic SUV, their SUV is going to be much worse off than my truck.
I also have a little Mazda 121. It’s small and zippy. Comfortable to drive, great handling, great brakes, great fuel economy. It’s also over 20 years old and still steadfastly reliable. It, however, can not get up my driveway for most of the year.
Musing on my vehicles led me to rant about SUVs (done that bit) and to ponder how my various vehicles and tools and gadgets have shaped my tree change experience. So I thought it might be a good idea to mention the shining stars. If you’re contemplating a tree or sea change of your own, then mayhaps some of my experiences will be of use to you.
Number One – Big fancy rechargeable LED lantern. It’s great. It can be charged off the mains, by a generator, or from a car’s cigarette lighter socket. It has the ability to break into two different lanterns. It is highly water resistant. It’s incredibly rugged. Its inbuilt power pack lasts for hours. You can comfortably read a book by its light. Given my lack of electricity for the first year or so, this gadget made an ENORMOUS difference. So. Choose a really good torch and a really good lantern. Don’t go with an el cheapo. This is one of those areas where you want to get the one you like the best and ignore the cost. Stumbling around in the dark is a bummer. Having a nice illuminating beacon ready to bathe you in reassuring not-dark-and-creepiness just seems to make the world a nicer place.
Number Two – Okay. I admit it… there’s a bit of potty humour coming. It IS the second best thing to arm oneself with… and well… I couldn’t resist. Number two is my portable toilet. Basically it has a tank for effluence and a tank for flushing with. It looks like a gray box. I call it the bucket of shame simply because I ALWAYS vow to empty and clean it long before it is burstingly full. When it is full, it is much harder to empty and clean. Emptying and cleaning it are NOT fun. Unfortunately, I always put it off to the last minute. This often means that I have to do the chore in the rain and while feeling miserable. At those times my language is not very polite. Oh. One thing. If you have one of these nifty portable toilet things, be sure to put it on a level surface. A LEVEL SURFACE. Very important. Don’t forget. LEVEL. Moving right along.
Number Three – Ooh… gets tricky, now. I am going to go with the little 2 stroke generator. Basically these things will produce about 700 – 800 watts. Plenty of energy for recharging phones, computers, running a handful of lights, maybe running a CD player. DO NOT TRY TO HEAT OR REFRIGERATE. One thing nobody mentioned to me is that the wattage on an appliance does NOT include the start up. Some appliances will use ten times their running wattage just at start up before settling down. Using a generator that is not rated for such a drain will kinda kill your generator. So don’t do it. Keep the wattage usage really low.
You can of course get a much larger generator. They produce more power, but use more fuel. For me, the little 2 strokes did what I actually NEEDED. They also did it with a minimum of fuss. Servicing them was easy. That said, I have been here a year and I have gone through 4 generators. The two more expensive ones didn’t really outperform the cheap 2 strokes… but they cost a lot more. It may be that I will be able to repair a couple of the generators. Being mechanically ignorant to an astonishing degree means that I am kinda chuffed at knowing how to clean and change spark plugs. But I will persevere. One day, I will get one of these sods working again!
Number Four – My tractor. It is seriously cool. Basically, when I looked at the property, I realized that there was a LOT of work to be done on the land. thistles, bracken, irish heath, etc. all needed slashing. A dirt road would be needed to afford access to the more remote parts of the property, and the area around the house needed extensive earth moving and cleaning up. Back of the napkin calculations indicated that I was looking at 30 – 40k in earth moving costs. Being rather poor, I couldn’t afford that. I spent some time thinking about it and then started looking into possible alternatives. What I found was a flatpack tractor. Basically you buy it and they send it to you as bits in boxes. You then assemble it yourself. This struck me as wonderfully cheap and an outstanding opportunity to reduce my level of mechanical ignorance. Then I had a bit of a motor accident and for a variety of reasons paid a few hundred dollars to have the distributor assemble it for me.
By this time next year I will have completely amortized the cost of the tractor just with earth moving… and I will still have the tractor. I have not made the kind of progress that I would have liked in the last year… but that’s not because I didn’t have the tool for the job. If you are looking after 10 acres or more – particularly if you have some earth moving projects scheduled, seriously consider getting yourself a small tractor. They are amazingly nifty things to have around.
Number Five – Netbook/iPad. My sanity was preserved by my netbook. Basically I could read or write, play computer games, watch DVDs, listen to music. A desktop wouldn’t have cut it. It would have taken up far too much room and couldn’t have readily been run by a little generator. Now I have a second hand iPad. It’s nifty, too. Smaller and a bit more rugged. It serves most of my internet and writing needs. I can also take it around the block with me to check diagrams or work plans. I like it very much. Mind you… I am a geek, so a computer was bound to be in the top 5 no matter what. :)
So there you have it. My five essential must have necessities (Yes, that’s a tautology, but I don’t care. If you want me to care about dangling modifiers, tautologies, spelling, grammar, etc. pay me to edit, proof read or write something… it’s my blog and I’ll blither illiterately if I want to!)… okay… now I have forgotten what I was going to say. Oh, yes. These are some of the things that I HAD to have. Without these items, doing the tree change probably wouldn’t have worked for me. While settlers in the 1800s made do with an axe and a steely gaze, they were made of sterner stuff than I. Mind you, soft I may be, but at least I don’t think that I need an SUV so that I can whip round to do the weekly shopping.
G’day, what follows is about writing… the inertia that opposes writing to be more specific. I had originally started to write something on how emergent technology affects renovations of century old buildings…. then there was going to be this nifty bit on useful equipment.Then the iPad I was fiddling with gobbled my text… that led to a bit of stream of consciousness blather. Rather than delete it and spare the world, I have decided to put this explanatory paragraph here and consider you warned. I will – from time to time – ramble about something unrelated to… well, anything. Sometimes writing – like life – goes to unexpected destinations.
Bother. The bloody thing just deleted half a page. Oh well, it was hardly timeless prose. I suppose I should explain why it doesn’t particularly perturb me to lose half a page. You see, the challenge for a writer is to find a story that wants telling. Most stories don’t, you know. Want telling, I mean. So us writer types tap away at our keyboards or scribble with our pens. We put one letter after another till we have a word, then a sentence, then a paragraph. Usually we end up with several paragraphs or pages of some nicely crafted word play… But no real story.
Real stories are messy things. Meaningless bits of mundane action, large slabs of dialogue that don’t advance the plot, and pages and pages of characters doing things in settings that are irrelevant to anything much other than paying the bills or ensuring that there are clean socks. Writers have to wade through quite a lot of prosaic to get to the prose.
Then there are the words. Nifty things; words. Humpty dumpty said something along the lines of: ‘When I use a word,’ … ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’ I like the sentiment very much. It is particularly soothing when I mangle harmless sentences or try to use words that are simply innocent of the expression that I try and foist upon them.
I don’t mean sentences like: “I’ll be sure to get that to you tomorrow.” When I say that, it’s just a lie. But when I try describe where I live, I tend to trot out things like ‘very pretty’ or ‘wonderfully relaxing’. Those words really don’t do the setting justice. I could rely on hyperbole or wax poetic in metaphor, but even then the words only rarely convey the full measure of the scene.
With extraneous material obscuring the simple thing that we are hoping to express and even the words we use sometimes resisting being where and what we need them to be, it can be difficult to produce a story that wants telling.
So with this blog and with my other writing, I’ll just go on putting one letter after another and hope that I somehow manage to craft that rarest of gems; something where the detritus has been cleared, the right words found and placed just so. A complete and true accounting; a real story.
The view that greets me in the morning. It’s very pretty and wonderfully relaxing.