2004-10 (OCTOBER, 2004)

Yet Another Weekend At 'Dogwood' - NSW, Australia

Apologies in advance to anyone who is bored of hearing about these seemingly endless trips up to Dave & Jenny's gaff - there will be several more packed in to the coming months before we head off to New Zealand to live, too! ;-)

Andy & I hired a car in Sydney and braved the three-day-weekend traffic on Friday evening. Thanks to a newly discovered back-road short-cut (courtesy of a work colleague) we were out onto the freeway north of Sydney a good 40 minutes sooner than normal and up to 'Dogwood' in record time despite the heavy traffic and even heavier rain. Andy went to bed soon after our arrival and left the boys to sample the latest batch of home-brew and watch a great little DVD documentary, "Around Cape Horn" narrated by Captain Irving Johnson. Our traditional Friday evening catch up wound up around 01:45.

We were up at a respectable hour on Saturday morning and began with a fry-up that included eggs we had collected minutes before - yum! The first activity for our weekend was a forage around the local Saturday morning markets and 'Antique' shops. Andy found some great old, glass power-line insulators in various shades of purple that will make magic candle holders, as well as other glass treasures. Dave picked some up for Jenny, too. I came away empty handed (as a capitalist consumer I am such a disappointment). Back home Andy washed her new treasures and broke two of them (thick glass object + hot water = bits of thick glass object). Dave and I spent the afternoon selecting and felling one of two trees required to span the posts on either outer wall of the UberShed. This was a comedy of errors from start to finish. We got our selected tree stuck in another tree when it was coming down; I jammed it between three tree stumps once we'd got it to the ground and were positioning it to drag out; we couldn't get the Suzuki within 30 metres of it once it had been unjammed, etc., etc. Basically it took two city blokes the rest of the day to do what one country bloke (e.g. Jenny's brother-in-law, Trevor) could have done in under an hour. By the end of our labours Dave was beginning to feel pretty ill - he'd had a cold threatening for a few days and the exertion had brought it on. The boys completed their day with an attempt to make a bow and arrow capable of taking out the invading Indian Myna birds (part two of our project to halt the invasion of this non-native pest). The results were even less successful than our previous efforts - over an hour of carefully shaping a wooden bow that broke when we tried to string it. Andy cooked us corned beef, mashed potato, fresh peas and carrots for dinner. Double yum! Dave retired early to see if he could shake his cold.

Which he couldn't. By Sunday morning he was in a bad way and all further progress on the UberShed was postponed for the day (I went out and de-barked the 12-metre pole we had obtained the day before, however). Instead, Andy and I were forced to read books in the dappled shade of the grotto in front of the house, occasionally stirring to bring each other food and drink - one hard day, I can tell you. Andy cooked us all a roast pork with crackling for dinner, but Dave was too ill to eat.

On Monday Dave was feeling a little better and so, after breakfast, we made our way down to the UberShed site to see about hoisting our new header pole into position. Our first task was to level the tops of the vertical poles with the chain saw. This could have gone horribly wrong, but Dave is a bit of a master with the chain saw by now and this bit went without a hitch. The second job was to scarf out the header pole so that it had some flat spots to rest on the pole tops. Next we had to rotate the header pole so the flat spots were underneath - this was easier said than done and was only marginally successful. To lift the header pole into position we attached a five-to-one pulley rig to one end. The other end of the pulley rig was lashed to the top of a long, thin pole that was in turn secured to the vertical pole at one end of the shed. Because the top of the pulley rig reached above the top of the vertical pole, winching up the header pole dropped it perfectly into place as soon as it crested the vertical pole 📷. We tied the header pole into place with rope and then repeated the process with the other end. With a bit of shoving lengthways the scarfs and the pole tops were aligned 📷. Our only problem was that the scarfs were 90° around from the pole tops (i.e. the header needed to be rotated in place by 90°). We had no plan for this bit and were pleasantly surprised when our hack at this worked first time (we put a nail into the top of the pole, wrapped a rope around the pole, hooked it on to the nail and pulled). And we were done! The header pole was aloft, level, perfectly aligned and it was all achieved by two city blokes and a set of pulleys - we didn't even resort to using the Suzuki 📷📷📷! Needless to say we were both very chuffed with our efforts 📷📷.

Unfortunately we had little time to bask in the glory of a job well done as Andy & I had to get on the road back to Sydney - Andy had a flight to Melbourne to catch and the traffic returning to Sydney was going to be heavier than normal. Our journey was uneventful and only involved one hour in five of traffic jam crawling. I'm looking forward to the next trip already - we have a second header pole to loft 📷!

More 'Dogwood' High Jinks - NSW, Australia

Andy & I did the hire-car-thing again which, combined with our newly discovered short-cut out of Sydney, had us up at 'Dogwood' by 21:15. The boys were thirsty and we tucked away a pair of each of the full Leffe beer range by the time we finished up for the night (around 03:00).

The start on Saturday was unsurprisingly sluggish. Our goal for the weekend was to finish raising and securing the horizontal beams on the UberShed. The first task was to drop a second tree. I stepped up to do this and made an as-per-usual gash job of it - jammed the chainsaw in the back cut and had to put a rope up the tree to drag it in the desired direction. Dave and I de-barked the trunk together and had it all done in no time at all (ever noticed that two people can sometimes do a job more than twice as fast than one person?). After a spot of manoeuvring with the Suzuki our new beam was in position on the ground beside the as-yet-uncapped row of wall posts. At this point we broke for lunch. Upon returning to the building site we refocused our attention back onto the horizontal beam that we had raised on my last visit to 'Dogwood'. In order to retrieve the rope and tackle from the first beam we needed to secure it to the top of the posts it was resting on. We use the biggest drill bit I'd ever seen to drill holes through the beam and down the shaft of each pole and banged a huge galvanized steel bolt into each. With the beam secured we recovered the gear needed to lift the second beam, but by this time the light was failing and we decided to call it a day (Dave came a cropper by tripping on something in the half-light, so it was all getting too dangerous to continue). Jenny prepared a fine repast for dinner and we all retired very early (a late finish the night before coupled with a hard days labour conspired against a repeat 'beer & chat' session).

The boys were up with the sparrows on Sunday. We had the second set of wall posts topped level with the chainsaw and the second beam chamfered & planed before breakfast. Suitably bolstered with a hearty German egg dish (courtesy of Chef Jenny) and toasted home-made bread, we rigged each end post with the gear required to hoist the beam into position. The 'light' end of the pole was aloft in no time flat, but the 'heavy' end proved more problematic. On first lift the pulley got wedged under the knot securing the top of our lifting rig. With the beam back on the ground, we relocated the offending knot and tried again. This time the pulleys 'kissed' before the beam topped the posts, so we had to lower it again and relocate the top pulley further up our lifting rig. On the third lift all went well, but we were knackered (we had stubbornly refused to use the Suzuki to assist in lofting the beam - this was to be a man-power-only effort!). Lunch beckoned. Back down at the shed site again we secured the second beam as we had done the first and then secured a strap of hoop iron over each corner beam-post junction (probably not required, but "to-be-sure, to-be-sure") 📷. And thus the second milestone in the UberShed project was reached 📷📷📷📷 - next up, the centre-top beam and rafters (all to be fashioned from shop-bought timber for ease of handling and fitting)! The rest of our afternoon was spent relaxing and eating cake. Andy & I were on the road back to Sydney by 17:00 and pulling up outside the house by 20:45 - not a bad time for a difficult, rain-lashed return journey.

Last Trip Up To 'Dogwood' For A While - NSW, Australia

This weekend I made my last trip up to 'Dogwood' for the year - our imminent emigration to New Zealand will mean no more visits until the new year.

I caught the train up after work on Friday with a suitcase full of Leffe beer and not much else. The plan was to work on the piers that will support the floor of the UberShed, with Trevor, Jenny's brother-in-law, and his son, Daniel, giving us a hand. We were very lucky to have Trev involved - Dave and I would have made a mess of this bit without his experienced hand guiding our efforts. First up was the digging of 24 holes, each 45x45x45cm in size - that's a lot of dirt! After a couple of hour's effort we decided to reign in our plans and to restrict ourselves to the 10 perimeter holes. Next each hole was part filled with gravel and then a layer of cement. It was here that Trev worked his first bit of magic by getting us to limit the amount of concrete in each hole to a whole number of brick thicknesses below floor level (instead of just any old level, as Dave and I would have done). This meant that the brick piers we built on top would all rise exactly to floor height without requiring any height adjustment on top. Smart man, that Trev. We concluded our Saturday on the building site with a wee bash at brick laying. After watching Trev do the first one 📷, Dave and I each chose our corner and set to work. "Pigs arse" is probably the best way to describe our first efforts 📷📷 - so bad, in fact, that Trev made us knock them down and start again. Our respective second attempts weren't much better, but we were let off due to failing light. We retreated to the BBQ and bonfire to chat and drink beer and wine and more beer.

Our Sunday start copped a double-wammy set back - daylight savings and sore heads. Once we were finally back on site we discovered that the string line that Trev and I had been working to was attached to the wrong set of nails, so we each had to redo our bricking from the night before. Jenny had been scoffing at our complaining about how difficult brick laying was, and so was handed a trowel and told to do better. Which she did. Bugger. She was summarily ejected from the building site and told not to return. By the time we had completed a few more piers, Dave and I were getting a better handle on what to do (no doubt spurred on by the humiliation that had been visited upon us by Jenny). Trev left us to finish off, but progress soon ground to a halt 📷. We found some other jobs to do instead (e.g. moving the new water tank into position 📷) before I had to pack up and head back to the train station. The train was delayed for an hour (they had forgotten about daylight savings, too) and Dave and I sat and ate ice cream beside the river while we waited. The journey home was uneventful. A fine 'last weekend'.