We have been working consistently on the brick cleaning, with have had a couple of friends come and give us a hand during the week and that has sped things up quite a bit. Janine and I have been at it every morning for a few hours from 6.30 to 9 or 9.30. We regularly clean our quota of 100 bricks to stay on target of finishing by the end of the month. With the little bit of help from our friends, we are now well ahead of our target. We had 3 friends here yesterday, so knocked off 300 bricks before lunch.This has brought us to about half way through the cleaning job. Ahead of schedule is a good place to be.
On the other days, we only had Gladys and Edna to help us.
We came across a really lovely example of the blue mould on one brick, with some green moss. I sent a photo of it to my friend Warren. He sent back an image of a pile of his bricks that are a stunning example of both the blue mould and bright green moss.
The weather has turned cooler now with a southerly change coming through yesterday. We were out there cleaning bricks again today and we managed to put in 3 hours from 6.30 to 9.30 simply because it is not too hot. We got over 150 bricks done, plus a number of broken bricks, shorter ones, skinny ones, plus the usual halves and quarters.
We have now cleaned up to around 1,000 bricks in all categories. I have separate piles for 1/4’s, 1/2’s, 3/4’s. Then other piles for bricks that were cut to special tapered shape for use over the window arches. There is a whole category of smaller bricks that we excavated from the footings of the old Mittagong Railway Station. These make up about 10% of the total. I stack them separately, because 33 years ago when we were building our extensions onto the Old School building here in Balmoral, The brick layers would often call out for me to find a taper brick, or a small brick, to fit a particular spot in the bond.
The long original pile of bricks that used to continue all along our drive way, is now significantly shorter. We keep moving the bench up to the pile and then, the next day, the pile has receded back further again, as we clean the bricks and stack them at the other end of the driveway. This stack advances, as the old stack recedes.
You can see where we started on the brick pile on the far right of this picture after the red wheel barrow, there is a patch of green grass surrounded by a ring of white lime mortar. This was where the bench was when we started. When I start again, later today, we will move the bench again up closer to the brick pile.
The cleaned brick pile is looking very healthy.
We are so far ahead of my hoped for estimate of 100 bricks a day for 33 days. Getting close to 1000 bricks in 6 days. We are wearing our way through the stock of Scutch combs.
It’s a small but significant measure of our progress.
The other big achievement of yesterday, was the completion of the big arched window. I had the glass delivered just before Xmas, when the glass shop closed for Xmas break. Unfortunately, I had miss-measures one sheet, very slightly over size. It was one of the triangular sheets at the very top. I thought about trying to cut the curved arch end back by 10mm., but decided against it. The glass shop didn’t open again till yesterday, having had 6 weeks off. So I rushed down to Mittagong and got them to cut 1cm. off the curve for me and then brought it home and fitted it.
The window is now complete. An intermittent job that has taken me 11 weeks, but 6 of them waiting for the glass. I’m quite pleased with it, and in particular the fact that I could do it all myself for about $1,000. A massive saving on the cost of having one made. I’m lucky that I have all the skills necessary to be able to do this detailed work for myself. There is a local factory that makes custom made steel framed windows for architects. I was told that the window would be in the region of $20 to 25,000 to have specially commissioned.
I can finally take the scaffolding down now.
I’m really looking forward to seeing this wall bricked up!
We work for a couple of hours every morning from 6 or 6.30 until 8 or 8.30, depending on when we wake up.
We do at least 100 bricks before breakfast. Our brick cleaning tally stands at 600 bricks now. I was thinking at the beginning of this little project that I had over 3,000 bricks to get done. I’m an ageing old man, maybe 100 per day would get them all done in a month. Achievable, without doing myself an injury. So, all in all, I think that we are doing pretty well.
There is a gap between the bench and the brick pile now. That’s progress made tangible.
We were joined this morning, very early on by half a dozen wood ducks, they came wandering past grazing on the grass and made their way up to the front of our land where I planted a patch of clover.
Janine wets the bricks down with some water every now and then to suppress the dust.
Yesterday, I started the day with a new set of scutch combs in the hammers and by the evening they were reduced to being pretty blunt, so I reversed them to get another day out of the the other edge.
Slowly but surely, we will get it all done. The 42 oC temperatures haven’t helped, but we are in for a cool damp change tomorrow, so I might be swapping my home-made Legionaires style, adapted sun hat for a rain coat. At least it will keep the dust down and be so much cooler.
I improvised it by fixing part of an old T shirt to my straw hat with some of Geordie’s old nappy safety pins. Needs will, as needs must.
Janine and I have been getting up early and going out to the brick cleaning bench each day now at around 6-ish. We chip, scrape and clean until we have have 100 done, that takes us about 2 hours. The first day it took us 2 1/2 hours, but we are getting better at it now, so we have knocked half an hour off. We don’t try and do more in the extra time, we just knock off once our quota is filled and then rest our arms and wrists.
We are usually quite hungry after 2 hours of work, so we enjoy our breakfast.
Stopping is good. We don’t want to over-do it early on. After breakfast today Geordie called in with some stuff from a restaurant that he was given and wanted stored. it is starting to look a bit crowded in the new shed already and we haven’t even finished building it yet!
Later in the morning after Geordie left, Janine had a little snooze. The extreme heat makes you tired at our age. I didn’t feel like it so went back out and work for another hour, which was OK after a couple of hours rest. I put up the shade cover thing and did another 100 bricks in just one and a half hours. Maybe I’m getting better at it? Or, maybe I was just working through a pile of bricks that had less lime mortar on them?
When I come to the ones that have cement on them, well, that really slows me down. I have a bit of a go at them, but really, it isn’t worth buggering up my arm muscles on these. I put them aside and I will come back to these in a few days time when there is pile of them built up, and I will get out the diamond saw and just cut the brick, just inside the cement coating, and clean it that way.
Some of the bricks are really pretty.There are a range of colours from red, through orange to yellow, with a few maroon and grey variations. There are also a ring of textures as well. Sandstock bricks have this hand made natural variation in deeply inherent in there making and firing technique.
I found one lovely one that had a blue kind of mossy mould growing on the lime in the mortar. It was quite a pretty blue and a lot of the bricks in one part of the pile had just the right conditions for its to grow. The red brick contrasted well against the blue haze of the mould?, with the rest of the brick having a sooty grey black mould on it.
We only found this in one part of the stack. It obviously had very specific growth conditions.
We are in the middle of a few days of high temperatures now. The real summer heat has set in and the garden is showing it. Everything is looking droopy and tired already at 11.00am, even though we watered everything last night and again this morning. By lunch time it was 42 oC in the shade.
We were up early at 5-ish and were out in the early morning cool to clean our quota of 100 sand stock bricks before breakfast at 8.00am. We knocked off as soon as the sun came up over the pottery roof and took our shade.
Yesterday we had our friends Ami and Kate here for the day to give us inspiration and encouragement. We managed to work most of the day, out under the portable gazebo shade cover, and got 200 bricks cleaned. A good effort for a hot day. We worked slowly and steadily with watering breaks, lunch and finally a treat of ‘Splice’ style ice creams at the end of the day around 4.00.
We now have a very modest pile of 300 bricks in the ‘clean’ pile. Just 10% of the total, but a good start. Thank you Kate and Ami!
After our breakfast this morning, we went back out and watered the garden and picked the produce. We are just past peak tomato. We started the month picking a couple of baskets full each week, then it was every 4 days, then every 2nd day etc.
This first early planting of 8 bushes were planted in September. The second planting of a dozen bushes were put in in November and are just flowering now, so will take over in a few weeks as the older bushes slow down.
Every few days we make a batch of passata. Before I cook dinner, I fill a 5 litre copper boiler with chopped tomatoes after first frying off a brown onion in olive oil with half dozen cloves of our garlic. I add in a sprig or two of fresh herbs from the garden, always a big bunch of sweet basil, but then a couple of bay leaves fresh off the tree and perhaps some thyme or sage, depending on how I feel on the day. Pepper corns and a little salt, just a tea spoon. As I want to keep my salt intake to a minimum.
Sometimes I add in a zucchini, or some artichoke hearts, other batches get a good dose of capsicums, a chilli, whatever we have in excess on the day. Sometimes, it’s all the above.
I simmer this for 20 mins or so until it all softens and then lid on and put it aside while we cook dinner, and leave it to cool overnight. The next day, before dinner. I pass the whole lot through a mouli sieve and then re-heat it to reduce the sauce to concentrate it down to half its volume.
After dinner, we pour the concentrated passata into heated and sterilised bottles straight from the oven and cap straight away while everything is still almost too hot to touch. As the bottles cool, we can hear the lids make a loud ‘POP’ noise. They are then sealed and safe to put away in the pantry for use later in the year.
One 5 litre boiler of fresh tomatoes reduces down to make just three 750 ml. bottles of sauce.
Last nights passata bottles and this mornings pick of zucchini flowers, this will be dinner. Plus baskets of more tomatoes, chilis, capsicums, artichoke hearts and cucumbers.
We’ll be making more passata again tonight as well. Every alternate night and new batch and every other night the simmering and concentrating, then bottling. It’s our summer evening ritual.
Every bug in the garden wants to attack and share our tomatoes, slugs, snails, caterpillars, but as yet no fruit fly. I got in early in the year with half a dozen Dak pots and lures. so have managed to keep them at bay for the time being. Fingers crossed.
Self reliance is a lot of work, but it is the most rewarding work. I wouldn’t work this hard for a boss!
On Wednesday afternoon, my neighbour Mitch called in with his excavator after he had finished work on another job.I had asked him to come when he could just a couple of days earlier. We needed a seepage trench for the pottery sink to be dug 10 metres long and at least 600mm wide and 600 mm. deep. This will be for clay water/grey water seepage.I felt that as the weather is getting hotter and I’m wearing down. I copped out and got the trench dug. But it is money well spent. Mitch dug the trench in just 10 minutes. It would have taken me all day – and then some. 3.5 cu.m. of crushed stone gravel is about 7 tonnes of material.
Yesterday I was in town, as I had a favour to repay and then I was off to Moss Vale to the plumbing supplies to buy all the parts for the seepage trench. Today, with everything in stock, we lined the seepage trench and built the stop ends/access/inspection ports, then filled 5 of the 7 tonnes back in again. A big day in the hot sun. We still have a couple of tonnes left over to deal with.
I’m so glad to see the end of that job. It was over 30 oC here today while we did all this digging. After we finished all the earth works, we watered the garden and I picked all the days garden produce.
I picked tomatos, zuchinnis, capsicum, cucumbers, chillis and artichokes. This will be dinner. Janine cooked a vegetable risotto for dinner, while I made a big 5 litre stock pot full of tomato passata. We had our risotto with a small piece of fish, fresh off the south coast fish truck yesterday.
We have just had our Hyundai Ioniq PHEV (plug-in hybrid electric vehicle) serviced for the second time. It is 2 years old now. We have driven 21,000 kms in that time and most of it has been driven on purely electric energy. All of it from our solar panels. As a plug-in hybrid, it has a petrol engine under the bonnet as well las an electric motor. We hardly ever need to use the petrol engine, as most of our trips fit in the 50 to 70 km range of the battery.
We have been to the petrol station 8 times over the past 2 years, about every two months on average. At first I used to fill the tank, but found that it took us 6 months to use that much fuel ($50). So for the past year I have only been putting $20 in the tank each time, so that the fuel doesn’t go stale. I keep a log book in the glove box and record how much fuel I buy and when, and what the milage is at the time. So far we have spent $350 on fuel in two years, to travel 21,000 km. thats about 0.6 cents per kilometre. That equals $0.60 per 100 km, or 0.5 litres per 100 kms.
The dashboard computer tells me what mileage I’m achieving at at any point in time and provides a summery at the end of the trip when I switch off the engine. Then at the end of each month. I get an email with the monthly averages. During this last year of mostly Covid lockdowns, we have only been travelling locally to the supermarket or hardware shop. So all our travel has been almost exclusively on sunshine from the battery. We have achieved 666 kms per litre one month! That was pretty astounding.
Other months were 550 and 480 kms/litre depending on the month and on whether we drove to Sydney and back, which means returning on petrol. Because its a hybrid, we have no range anxiety. With a full charge and a full tank ($50), the car can go over 1,100 kms.
So far we have not had to use a public charging station. We usually just recharge at home directly off the solar panels, but if we come home late at night, we recharge directly from our stored sunshine in our home battery. It takes about 2.5 hours to recharge, so it is not uncommon to go out in the morning, return home for lunch and plug in, then drive out again in the afternoon with a full charge of live sunshine, then return to recharge on stored sunshine in the afternoon/evening.
Because I only go to the petrol station once every 3 months to put in 20 dollars worth of fuel, my biggest problem that I have encountered with this car is to remember where the switch is for the automatic petrol cap opener below the steering wheel !
As the building of the new pottery shed has progressed in fits and starts, I have been busy on several fronts, working behind the scenes doing several jobs in preparation to keep the build progressing, by making windows and doors etc. Two weeks ago it was the stormwater plumbing and at the end of the week, the Council Building Inspector came out and passed the building up to the frame stage and also passed my underground storm water plumbing.
The last two items to be completed and inspected will be the sink, grease trap and drainage/absorption trench. I asked the inspector if i could do all this work myself and he said yes. I can do it all, I don’t need a plumber to sign off on it. So next week I will attempt to dig an adsorption trench 600mm. x 600mm. x 10 metres long and bury the plastic hoops necessary to create a legal drainage system for the sink. I have done all this before over the years, firstly for the first bathroom at the front of the house in 1980, and then again for there new kitchen/laundry/bathroom extension in 1990. It’s not rocket science. Just grunt.
The last inspection will be the final inspection. This will be after the electricians have been and the shed is lined inside with insulation in the walls and with the brickwork completed on the front wall. This will take some time to get done.
This last week I was hanging doors on the front and side verandahs. This has been one of those little jobs that have been idling along in the back ground for the last couple of months. I collected these couple of old doors years ago, just because they were really beautiful objects, even though I didn’t need them at the time. They were too good to pass up.
These days when I drive past piles of other peoples junk on the foot path, waiting for council clean-up. There is nothing worth taking home and re-cycling. It is all just so much plastic and chip board pulp waiting for land fill. The only lasting thing about Ikea furniture is the allenkey!
I found one of these old doors 20 years ago, in ‘condom ally’ in Darlinghurst, not far from the National Art School. I used to go there because it allowed all day parking for free at time when there was no space in the Art School. Someone had dumped the door on the side of the ally. I don’t know which house it came from, but it must have been posh as the door is massive. 2.1 metres x 1.2 metres and 55mm. thick. All in Australian cedar, but it had had a hard life and was pretty knocked around. The top two wooden in-set panels in the 4 panel door were smashed out. I saw it and put it up on my roof rack straight away. It sat there all day without being stolen back. So I drove home with it that night.
It sat in the wood shed for years and survived the fire last year. Our friend Megan Patey came to volunteer here one day earlier in the year and asked for a suitable job. So Janine and Megan cleared out the years of built up clutter that had made it’s way into the wood shed and Megan dragged out these two doors. That was a couple of months ago, and I have been tinkering away on them ever since.
The other door was collected off the side of the road on a Council Clean-up day. I saw it and stopped. Checked it out. It was dirty and damaged with the glass panes broken and missing, but it still had one small lead light intact on the top left side. The other 4 panes were smashed. I could see that it was made of Californian red wood timber and was massively thick at 65mm thick! It’s the thickest door I’ve ever handled. It was also stored in the back of the wood shed and survived the fire. So now I know why I saved them all those years ago. I would need them for this last pottery building.
I started cleaning them both back, removing decades of built-up dirt and layers of paint. some of it possibly lead based, considering their age. I worked out side and wore a mask and gloves, just in case. The big cedar door didn’t look good after cleaning. it was too far gone. A lot of splits and cracks and weathering. I decided that the best option was to paint it. I filled all the cracks with polyester gap filler mastic and undercoated it.
The other door was quite badly weathered on the outside face, to the extent that the patina of crackled and flaked paint and slightly exposed patches of bare wood had a very subtle ‘wabi-sabi’ feeling about it. This green-yellow-mustard-grey-brown patina of multi layered flaking paint matched some of the old rusted galvanised iron that I had collected. This combination was too good to waste. I decided there and then that this was the gal iron for the verandah where this door would be hung.
I prised the wooden beading out of the frame holding the lead light in place and moved it to the centre position, then got two new plain glass panes to fit the other two spaces where the other lead lights had been smashed. It came together quite well I think.
I decided to paint the massive cedar door bright red and use it as the front door facing the street. It looks good, but strong red needs a little bit of black to contrast against it. So I fitted a very old lock that I scrounged way back in the 70’s. I could never find a place for this lock, as it was just too big for any normal door. Finally it has found its place in life. I see a red door and I want to paint the lock black!
My friend Jack Cookson, and I made a key for it.
I think that it works well with the old cast iron door knob, that came off the side door to the old pottery. I recovered this from the ashes after the fire, along with the old cast iron knocker. Just enough black to off-set and highlight the bright red. A little of the old incorporated into the new.
Where the latch key lock should have been. There was a circular hole in the door, regrettably, much too close to the door frame to fit a standard ‘lockwood’ style lock. So I decided to deal with the hole by filling it. My very good friend Warren recently came to give us a hand for a few days of his Xmas holidays. So generous of him! We got a lot of stormwater plumbing done. Warren came bearing gifts! One of his clients had given him a bottle of French ‘Pol Roger’ Champagne for Xmas and he decided to bring it down and share it with us. It was very nice. I saved the cork. Janine realised that the initials on the cork ‘PR’ was not too dissimilar to the clay stamp that our teacher, good friend and mentor Peter Rushforth used on his work, so I incorporated the cork into the door as a little tribute to Peter and Bobby.
This new pottery now has embedded into its structure a load of references and links to our personal history, and our friends past and present. We are ever so grateful to all of you out there who have turned up to give us a hand along the way on this difficult and trying journey.
Nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect and nothing lasts.
We spent the last week digging 150 metres of trenches. Digging all around the perimeter of the new shed and then down the hill to the big water storage tanks. These water tanks have not had any water flowing into them in 12 months, not since the previously pottery shed burnt down.
Fortunately, Our friends Stu and Robyn Have a half share in a trenching machine and we were able to borrow it for a while to do all the really heavy work, but there is still a lotto getting down on our hands and knees to d the clearing out and lifting difficult flat iron stone rocks that get in the way.
I almost got all the plastic piping installed before a big dump of rain. That put an end to our blur-glue plumbing work for a while. This week I am teaching a Master Class at the Hazelhurst Regional Art Gallery in Sydney, so there will be a weeks wait before I get back to the rather aromatic, acetone based, blue-glue and white plastic plumbing pipes.
Bit by little bit, we make slow progress. we got 120 metres of pipe in the ground before the storm stopped us. I’d have preferred to get it all done before this week-long teaching hiatus interrupted the work. However, I’m very pleased to get the gig. This will be the 8th year straight that I have taught this summer school MasterClass. I’m starting to run out of special techniques that students haven’t been exposed to previously. It has become my way of easing out of Xmas/New Year holiday mode and back in to clay work, but this year it’s more of an interruption to my labouring/building work.
It is strange in the extreme to realise that I have spent a whole year without making a pot. I haven’t touched clay since last years Master Class. This makes me more of a fraud than a master! However, I’m pretty confident that I will have the pottery built and fitted out by the middle of the year, or thereabouts. I’d really like to think that we could have new work for sale by the next ‘Open Studios’ Arts Trail event on the first two weekends of November.
Who knows? It’s a small ambition. But a lot of work to get there. The next step is to get the electricians in to do the first fix wiring. This has to be completed before we can insulate and line al the walls. The insulation and lining has to be completed before we can start to build shelves and benches etc. Then we have to rebuild our kilns…