I’m awake before dawn. There isn’t even a hint of light through the place where I know the window is. It’s drizzling or raining lightly, because I can hear the drip of the rain on our bedrooms’ tin roof. I reach for my phone in the dark, it’s just 6 minutes before the alarm is due to go off. How do we do this? What sort of clock do we have in our heads that can measure by dead reckoning to within 6 minutes over 8 hours. If I tell myself to wake up at a certain early hour, I usually do it. I just don’t know how. I trained my self when I was a teenager, to wake up every two hours through the night, when I was firing my first gas fired kilns, so that I could turn the gas up, to get a steady temperature rise. That knack has stayed with me it seems.
I walk down to the pottery shed in the pitch dark. No stars tonight. Total cloud cover with some light drizzle. No need for a torch. I’ve walked this path so many times in my life. I know the way by heart. I turn at the corner of the orchard fence. I can’t see it, but I know that it’s there. I know that I’m in the shed now and reach for the light switch and suddenly, It’s all real instead of imagined.
The kiln is packed and was preheated last night. The wood is all split and stacked neatly along the far wall. Everything is ready. I light the match and the kindling crackles into life. I love the smell of the fresh cut and split wood, the smell of the smoke as the fire is slow to catch. I’ve learnt to light a small fire in the base of the chimney to get the chimney hotter quickly to establish the draught. It’s been a few months since I last fired this kiln and the chimney is cold and damp. It has sat idle over the hottest months of the summer, waiting for this day. The first day of Autumn and the official end to the fire bans. We waste no time in getting going. This is the start of the kiln firing season.
I have spent the last few days cutting, splitting and stacking the wood for these firings. Then carting and re-stacking the logs in the kiln shed. We have had a very wet summer, so we could probably have done a few firings on the wettest days, but I was fully busy making and installing kilns for other potters over the summer. I had plenty of orders, so I sold my soul for the mighty dollar. Paid work has been a bit thin on the ground these last few years, because of the closure of the art schools.
Because of all this wet weather, the wood is still pretty wet inside. It hasn’t dried out much over the summer. So now I have a shed full of wood that won’t get any wetter and will start to dry out a lot faster now that it is under cover. I really need an open walled wood shed over near the wood pile site, where I can safely store the split wood to allow it to season without risk of fire danger to the house or pottery. I was given about 60 or 70 tonnes of logs last year, 8 or 9 tip-truck loads. Enough wood for quite a few years. It all came from a building site in a near-by village.
Splitting wood can become quite boring over several hours. I manage to roll a few logs onto my shins during the day. I’m already wearing hard boots, ear muffs, face shield and gloves. It seems that I’ll now have to go out and get some shin-pads as well.
During the dull moments, I worked out that I had cut and split over 500 pieces of wood by the end of the day, then picked them up and stacked them onto the trailer, then unloaded them and re-stacked them in the kiln shed. That’s 1500 wood movements. No wonder that I’m feeling old.
We have spent a few days in the pottery throwing some of the fresh new porcelain stone bodies that I made over the summer months. It’s throwing quite well for something that is principally ground rock paste, with an addition of around 15% of plastic clay. It really has made a big difference to the workability. Now it throws more like fresh ricotta rather than wet putty.
We have a few tests of these new bodies in this firing. We also have the back of the kiln filled with our latest batch of home-made firebricks. These are all larger size blocks 230mm x 150mm x 150mm.
I will use them as door blocks. As the door of this current kiln is quite wide. Using larger blocks will make for faster door bricking-up. I am already using quite a few of these large blocks in the door, but not enough to fill the entire door. After this firing I will have enough and a few spares.
As the firing progresses into high temperatures, There isn’t a lot to do. While I wait between stokes. I sit and shell dried radish seeds. liberating them from their sticky pods. It takes an inordinately long time to do. It is so very fiddly and tedious. I’m a fool. I don’t know why I don’t just go to the shop and buy a packet of seeds. Well, actually I do know. I want to be a self reliant fool. These are seeds that I have grown and dried myself. They are mine and true to type. They are not hybridised or treated with poisonous anti-fungal treatments. Home-grown, organic and clean. The stuff of real life.
It’s a great big new experiment. A new firebox, new wood, new fire brick load, new porcelain bodies and new-season radish seeds.
Best wishes from A Pair April Fools