Hello Blog – long time no see. Let me tell you what I’ve been up to since we last spoke.
You may remember I was painting my house in readiness for sale. Well, it sold, surprisingly within the first week of being placed on the market. My girlfriend was also prettying up her house for the same reason, and it deservedly sold at auction for a good price.
We’ve now joined forces and live together in a beautiful old Tudor-style place set on a hillside on 5 acres. It used to be a bed and breakfast back in the ‘70s, but now it’s just a rambling old house with so much room that we can get lost. We call it “The Chalet” because it reminds us of a lodge we stay in on our occasional ski trips.
The place had been left to fend for itself for the last few years; at least, that’s what we reckon, because it needs a serious re-paint and lots of TLC around the grounds. And that’s why you haven’t heard from me for a while – I’ve spent nearly every day of the last four months moving things, fixing things, and replacing things. While my girlfriend has been slogging away each day at the computer, (she’s fortunate enough to work for an enlightened company that encourages its people to work from home), I’ve been jumping into my overalls first thing in the morning, and not taking them off until after dark, occasionally finding a leech that had fastened onto me while I was ferreting about in the undergrowth. These little tubes of blood and snot seem to be everywhere around here, and on damp days we can’t take a walk without bringing a few back on our boots. By the way, did you know a leech has 32 brains? No? Neither did I, but it’s true – check it out.
When it came to tidying the grounds it became apparent that the previous owner’s dictionary defined “garden” as “the place you hide a shitload of crap”, and that meant I was cast into the role of landscape gardener, labourer, rubbish removalist and tree feller. It’s been a hard slog so far, but supremely enjoyable. Like they say, a bit of hard work never killed anyone.
It’s been interesting and at times dangerous moving some of the rubble though, because hiding in the dark cracks and crevices I’ve so far found 17 female Funnel-Web spiders, none of which was terribly enthusiastic about being exposed. As soon as they were uncovered they reared up and displayed their fangs dripping with venom, warning me not to come too close. After securing them in glass jars I tried to find a place that would take them for milking to make anti-venom, however the nearest place was hours away by car. Now, I haven’t seen the movie “Snakes on a Plane”, but there was no way I was going to star in the sequel “Spiders in a Car”.
In the end my problem was solved when some of the local birds swooped in and ate them, brave little bastards indeed, because the Funnel Web is the most dangerous spider in Australia, and, perhaps, the world.
Some of the things we’ve had to do to the place include having the slate roof inspected for cracks and leaks and repaired, replacing the old wooden garage doors that weighed a ton with modern automatic ones, replacing the flimsy front doors with solid wooden units and replacing both wood fires with new ones.
The existing fireplaces were a disaster waiting to happen, because they had apparently been installed by “Dodgy Brothers Inc”, and to make one of the flues fit they’d simply bashed a hole through the kitchen ceiling and upstairs bedroom floor and run the pipe vertically to the roof. What they’d failed to see was that the flue was resting hard up against a ceiling floor joist and was effectively cooking it. We had the charred remains removed and the whole thing redone properly by a licensed installer, and that lets us go to bed safe in the knowledge that we’re not going to be incinerated in our sleep.
I’ve had to fix some other dodgy things too, such as electric wiring, outdoor lighting, power switches and plumbing. Some of the techniques employed by previous owners were strange indeed. Take for example the range hood over the cooktop. Normally you’d think the switch on the front of the unit turns it on; well not here. The range hood is powered from a light switch near the dining room door, a fact we only discovered after I’d spent two hours clambering through the roof chasing electric wiring. And the driveway lighting, well that’s powered from a switch inside the meter box. Hardly convenient.
Oh, and to fix the leaking shower taps it wasn’t a simple case of unscrewing them from the wall. Nope; here I had to chisel off the flanges which had been glued to the tiles using Liquid Nails. What fun…
We’ve also had to remove the nine interconnected smoke detectors which had started to trigger randomly. We thought it was simply a case of flat batteries but closer inspection revealed they all had an expiry date of 2005. A bit of research showed they were probably faulty and would have been of little use in a real situation. We get new ones next week.
The local fauna is starting to accept us though, helped largely by our efforts at enticing them with tasty offerings, and that’s something we’re both really happy about. We both have a serious love of the native animals and are always on the lookout for a new friend to pat. Our favourite so far has to be the pair of Rainbow Lorikeets who cheekily tap on our kitchen window to announce their presence. The first time they did this we were amazed to watch them hop in as we opened the window and eat sunflower seeds from our hands. They’re obviously well socialised – probably having a number of suckers, erm… people, in the area feeding them. One of the birds has lost its left eye making me wonder how it navigates through the dense forest at flying speeds where depth-perception is paramount. In any event it seems to manage ok. They’re really a cute couple.
One of the best things to come out of all this time working alone in the yard is the discovery of “The 7th Avenue Project” website (http://7thavenueproject.com) and its associated podcasts.
I’ve been listening to different podcasts relating to astronomy, particle physics, cosmology and the like, not because I’m a gargantubrain but because I find the subjects fascinating, and the podcasts created by the host Robert Pollie are so cool. He has a brilliant way of bringing these subjects and many others to life, and his guests are always interesting and erudite. Listening to Leonard Susskind talking about black holes, Sean Carroll discussing time or Jim Holt talking about the mystery of existence makes slogging away in the yard enjoyable, or at least, much less taxing, and the time seems to just fly by. A couple of programmes I especially like are the series “Particle Physics Primer” with physicist Bruce Schumm and “General Relativity for Beginners” with Anthony Aguirre. Interesting stuff indeed.
Robert asks knowledgeable questions when talking to his guests and has an uncanny knack of impressing them with the analogies he uses to get his head around the dizzying topics. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard his interviewees praise him.
After listening to these podcasts for a while I now own many books written by his guests, and spend many hours lost in space.
Another project we decided on was to keep some chickens, and from the building materials I found lying around the place I was able to construct the wonderland known as “The Chook Mahal”. We’re now the proud parents of 5 lovely ladies, all of whom seem to be right at home in their new playground. We’ve even had a couple of eggs from them, so that’s got to be a good sign.
One really fun project was to build a frog pond, something I really enjoyed at my old place. The previous owners had let one small corner of the courtyard languish until it had become a stagnant, muddy swamp covered in thick green algae that had grown to the size of a small tree. We got in there and after only a day or so had transformed it into a tiny billabong, complete with a submerged crocodile (of the rare genus Crocodylus Concretus) and a plastic duck.
The artificial life forms may be a bit tacky but at night the sound of the trickling water dancing about in the small floodlit garden is lovely.
I’ve chopped plenty of firewood and the gardens have been cleared of debris and rubbish. The three days I spent with a high pressure washer has resulted in us having a driveway you can walk on and pavers that resemble pavers. These areas had previously been so covered in green algae and black mould that they were dangerous to walk on.
Kilometres of unnecessary wiring has been removed from the roof void and wall cavities and the non-functional alarm PIRs (about twenty of them) have been unscrewed from the walls and laid to rest in a box downstairs.
The place is starting to feel like home.
There are many other projects to complete, things like painting and landscaping, but for now they’ll have to go on hold. My usual manner of dealing with any task is to proceed at a pace known as “It Must Be Finished Today!”, a pace which requires my ageing body to keep up with an over-ambitious brain. This has seen both of my hands cop a pounding, resulting in a condition known as Stenosing Tenosynovitis, or “Trigger Finger” requiring surgery this week to fix up the buggered tendons. This has forced me to take an unwelcome but necessary break from the tasks at hand (no pun intended).
It’s not all bad news though, because as you can see, the enforced lay off has allowed me to once again join you in cyberspace and update you with the happenings in my little part of the world. I really hope you derive some pleasure from these small essays – they come straight from the heart.
Anyway, I have to go now. My Lady will be home from work soon (which means she’ll walk out of her “Office” and into the living room) and I’d like to get the fire going. It’s bloody cold up here in the mountains this time of year.
I’ll try not to leave it so long next time.