Today I didn’t clean any bricks. We had an almost full day yesterday when 2 friends came and gave us a hand for most of the day. Janine and I did our ‘normal’ shift from 6.30am till 9.30, then our friends came at 11.00 am and left at almost 7.00 pm.
We did have a long lunch, but it was still a big day on the tools. So today is a designated day off from brick cleaning. Our first
The electricians turned up, so that was good. It’s nice to see some progress. I spent the morning helping them by digging out the old pottery 3 phase cables down to 750mm. deep and exposing the horizontal run of the orange conduit. The sparkies then joined on a longer section of cable and ran it up the outside wall of the Gallery room, and then along to the new main sub-board inside.
My next job was then to fill it all back in again, after laying a sheet of orange ‘warning-electrical cables’ plastic safety strip along the trench, half way up. By doing these mindless labouring jobs myself, it saves paying the high hourly rate to the sparkies, for something so dull and time consuming and saving me some money.
I will need to make some new corner flashing out of gal steel sheet to cover this conduit and make it safe and weatherproof.
The sparkies continued on inside wiring the rest of the building.
Progress in fits and starts. I’m grateful for every little bit of it.
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.
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.
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.
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…
We are only 10 days into summer and we already have both our first tomatoes and now our first peaches. We’ve been picking zucchinis and cucumbers for weeks already. Nothing quite like the flavours, tastes and aromas of the summer garden. Although this all sounds idyllic, it’s possible because of the worlds unabated consumption of carbon based energy. With global heating racing away, unabated like it is and coupled with an embarrassing total lack of political will here in Australia. We also have to accept the changing weather patterns associated with all this heat, like catastrophic bush fires and massive storms. From someone who has lived through a catastrophic fire event. I can clearly say that I’d rather not have to experience it again and the early tomatoes are not worth it.
Back in the garden, the pumpkins that I planted on the 12th of September are now 3 months old and taking over the bottom of the garden.
Strangely, we are just harvesting our citrus crop now almost half a year out of seasonal sync. We should be picking them in the winter. Everything has been dislocated by the extreme weather and the catastrophic fire event. All the citrus got burnt, some very badly, such that we lost half of the trees facing the pottery as it burnt. The citrus grove was planted next to, and on the north side of the pottery, using the building to protect the trees from the worst of the winter’s southerly winds. Sheilded in this way and facing the north winter sun, they were in a bit of a sun trap and it suited them very well. We had good crops.
After the fire we watered them well for the first few weeks, whenever we could find the time during the clean-up. Sometimes this meant in the dark before dinner at 9.00pm. The result was that they all re-shot leaves, some only on half the tree that wasn’t so badly burnt. They went on to flower again as if it was a new year, but totally out of sync. We got the strange out of season crop and they then flowered again out of sync, such that we are now harvesting again in summer and not winter.
Apart from the strangeness of it all. They are probably suffering from PTCD. Post Traumatic Citrus Disorder! Also, when the fruit is ready, it isn’t the usual colour. For instance, the tangelos are pale yellow like lemons instead of bright orange. While the lemonades are green like limes instead of yellow. Strange times. I assume that they will slowly revert to the normal seasonal flowering and fruiting regime over time?
All the peach trees were burnt in the stone fruit orchard, but just before the fire. I had lifted two of the smaller trees that were doing very badly in the draught, as I couldn’t keep enough water up to them. I put one of them into a big plastic tub that was hanging around and the other into a large synthetic plastic fibre plant bag that someone had given us. I placed them in the veggie garden where I could water them better, just to see if they would survive. They had recovered well and are now ready to plant out again, but because they had flowered and set fruit, we thought it better to let the fruit ripen and plant them out next winter when they will be dormant.
The out come is that we have a dozen small peaches ripening. Amazing!
The out come is that we have a dozen small peaches ripening. Amazing! And so unexpected. Janine also picked the first apricot off one of the newly planted stone fruit orchard trees. Where the trees were doing well and growing strongly, I left one piece of fruit on each tree that I thought could cope with a ripening fruit and still grow well. That applied to one apricot, one almond and two apple trees. I just couldn’t resist the temptation of seeing and tasting the new fruit varieties.
The pottery shed is slowly progressing. Today the builders are putting the roof on the pottery studio. That is really good to see. It was ready to roof yesterday, but it was windy and slightly foggy and damp, making it too slippery and too difficult to roll out the silver roofing insulation in the wind. Today is calm and overcast but not wet, so it’s all go on the roof. I can hardly wait to get inside and see how the light is in there. We now have two roofs on. the kiln room and the creative studio.
I spent a long time working out how to get the best light, at the lowest cost, but not interfering with the structural strength, allowing for enough metal strap ‘X’ bracing, covered with corrugated sheeting to provide sufficient structural wind resistance strength. I’m no engineer, but the shed company’s computer program allowed me to input different options, increasing the glass area until the ‘Computer says No!’
I then worked backwards from there, to find the biggest size of standard ‘off-the-shelf’ cheap aluminium windows that would fit the space. No use in paying double to get a custom window made that is only 100mm larger. So I back-tracked down to the best available size. We ended up with 4 windows that are 2.4m. x 1.2m. (8 feet x 4 feet) plus a sliding glass door that is 2.4m x 2.4m.
It will end up darker inside when it is lined and not so oppressively metallic and shiny.
I’ve spent the last few weeks working on an arch window for the new pottery workshop. I want to make a window that reflects the existing window in the house opposite to the new pottery. I have a plan to brick up the external west and south walls of the new pottery building, those that face the street and the house. We have a lot of leftover sand stock bricks from when we built the house. We put in a large arched window in the north face of the new kitchen. It worked well and I’m very happy with it. I built that window out of western red cedar. I taught my self to steam wood so that I could bend the sections to make the arch window. I want to reflect this architectural conceit in the new pottery. My idea is to have the 2 windows facing each other.
There is a slight problem with the original idea and that is that a cedar wood window might be quite flammable. I want to try and build this new pottery with a fire resistance rating ‘BAL40’. 50 being the highest possible rating. One way to do this is to make the window frame out of metal. I decided to give it a go using aluminium, as most of the other windows in the pottery will be black aluminium framed. One of the benefits of aluminium is that it can be obtained in extruded forms like hollow sections, ‘T’ sections and angles. It is also very light and not too expensive compared to ‘merbau’ timber. I was able to buy a series of sections that I could weld together to make a complex frame that could be both light and strong – and fire resistant!
The other important issue is that aluminium is tricky to weld, but fortunately I taught myself to weld it years ago when I was building electric potters kilns, as marine aluminium is one of the longest lasting kiln frame materials for electric kilns. So the welding problem was not a problem. The difficult part in welding a big window of this size, 4 metres by 2 metres, is that aluminium expands and contracts a lot with heat, so it can very quickly warp our of shape. I usually clamp aluminium down onto my steel welding bench to keep it straight. However, in this case, the window is bigger than my bench, more than twice as big, so I had to weld it on the floor. This meant that I couldn’t clamp it down. So I have had to weld it intermittently with long gaps to allow the window to cool dawn so that it would remain flat and straight. This is why it has taken me so long, with just two welding sessions each day.
I made a wooden former to shape the arch
In order to bend the hollow section, I needed to make some cuts in the metal so that I could bend it round in an arc. I worked out that the difference between the inner and outer circumferences of a two metre arc was about 80mm. So I made 80 equally spaced cuts into the frame with a hacksaw, these were about 1mm across. It ought to have worked, but it didn’t. It wasn’t enough, the bend was too difficult to make by hand. I decided that I needed to make another cut with a thin blade angle grinder of about 1.5 mm wide. I made this cut just about 6 mm deep. The combination of the two allowed me to bend the arc easily by hand. I then clamped it to a plywood form, so that it would stay put while it expanded and contracted during welding. I welded the cuts back together. The whole section is now just as strong as it was before it was cut.
There are rolling machines that do this sort of thing easily, but I don’t know of any here in the Highlands. Besides, I am happy to do all the work myself in my own way, finding my own solutions. Using what I know and using what i have at hand. This is self reliance.
I tacked the arc onto the square section and it started to look like a window. Once the box sections were assembled, I needed to add the ‘T’ sections on top and an angle section around the edges. These are essentially the glazing bars. The rectangular hollow section is just a supporting frame to resist the wind pressure. These ‘T’ sections needed a little bit of fine cutting and filing to get to fit nicely, but it worked out OK. Clamping everything all the time is essential to keep it all flat and straight during welding.
Its taken many hours of thinking, measuring, cutting, fitting, clamping, tacking, cooling and then welding to get to this stage.
So far I have used over 50 metres of filler rod in all the tacks and box section welds. It’s a slow business, I’m hoping that it will work. each of these little butt-end rods was once a metre long.
In this image, the structure is complete, but it’s not a window yet, however, I started to think that it just might work. There is still a way to go at this stage. I still have to fit the architrave around it and then a fixing fin, but it’s almost there.
The builders finally turned up months late. We paid our deposit on the first of July, straight after the Council passed our DA. They told us that it would take 5 weeks for the kit to be delivered, There was some sort of stuff-up and the kit eventually took 12 weeks to be delivered. That was 2 months ago on the 23rd of September.
The builders have eventually arrived.
On the positive side. All the waiting around gave us the time to work on the yard and the clean-up, the orchard and the garden.
So the beginnings of a frame have appeared. Certainly enough to fit my big arch window in the end wall.
With any luck, we might be at lock-up stage before Xmas?
The mulberries are still holding up against the marauding birds. I guess that this is because there are so few of them that have survived the catastrophic bush fires. We have 2 bower birds and friarbird in the tree fairly constantly, The crop has been very good because of the rains, so There is still some to go around.
I made my 5th attempt at the mulberry tart. I’m getting better at it and faster now with practice.
I’ve abandoned the lattice top, but added ‘lemonade’ lemon juice and zest to the recipe.
I’ve settled into a reliable recipe of
500g de-stemmed mulberries
40g plain flour
A shake of cinnamon powder and a dash of vanilla essence.
Juice and pulp of half a large lemon or all of a small one, plus grated zest, also juice of one small ‘lemonade’ lemon and zest of the skin.
Mix all these together in a mixing bowl. Blind bake the crust, add filling, and bake for 25 mins at 180oC. It seems to be fairly reliable. And delicious!
Serve on a beautiful hand made, ash glazed, wood fired platter.
We are now half way through spring, and have been harvesting broad beans for a couple of weeks now. We start with the early little beans eaten raw to savour that unique broaden flavour that we haven’t tasted for 11 months. Broad beans have a short season, but that makes them all the more special. We pick the small immature bean pods and cook them whole, then as they mature, we pick the larger pods and shell them for the beans inside. They are really delicious at every stage.
We use broad beans in many ways, but they best in my opinion just lightly fried very quickly in olive oil, so that they are just warmed through and sprinkled with dried sweet basil and some cracked pepper. I take them off the heat as soon as the outer shell starts to split open.
I served them with a few fish cakes that Janine made.
We also made a broad bean risotto with Mushrooms, garlic and chilli.
I add the broad beans late in the cooking so that they don’t over cook.
We had a visit from some old friends for lunch. People who hadn’t been here since before the fire, so I cooked a small batch of Flatolli for them. Flatolli is my lazy flat version of Italian Canolli, without the deep-fried pastry tubes, hard boiled in lard. The filling is the same however. Ricotta and/or mascarpone filled with dried fruits soaked in liqueur.
I pre-baked the little pastry sections with beans to weigh them down, then filled them with a creamy desert filling. Easy! And very yummy.
I also attempted to make a pear, ricotta and almond flan or tart. I pre-simmered the quartered pear sections in a sugar syrup with a cinnamon stick, then placed the finely sliced poached sections on the almond/ricotta filling. This turned out very well indeed.
No one complained!
I’m trying to find ways to be useful and creative while we wait for our eternally slow builders to turn up. After we finalise our plans in June, paid our deposit on the first of August, we originally thought that we would have the building up to ‘lock-up’ stage by the end of September. Three months for a tin shed didn’t seem too unrealistic. But now we learn that the builders are saying end of November, from our current experience with them, we will most likely get to lock-up by mid December or even Xmas.I certainly hope that it is done in this calendar year!It’s a challenge to stay positive. In the meantime Janine and I are working on the gabian wall. I hope to finish that job by the weekend. We had a small group of our ex pottery students – who have become good friends, turn up to help finish the tall metal framework in front of the house and start to fill the gabian enclosure with crushed, recycled, concrete building material.
In a small personal sacrifice, I smashed up the last of our broken terracotta garden pots. It’s somehow comforting to get to find a positive and creative use for all these ‘dead’ terracotta planters. I couldn’t just trash them. So this down-sizeing to rubble, but up-scaleing to art is a suitable solution. Turning this disaster into something positive is a constant challenge. The final terracotta pot to go into the wall was a large cylindrical pot that was a ‘second’ grade reject from the Parliament House project in Canberra that I worked on with Cam Williams back in 1986. This pot was the very first piece made for the parliament and was fired here in Balmoral in our old kiln to test the body, slip and firing technique that we planned to use to do the rest of the job. As 250 pots were commissioned in total, we needed to rent a factory space and set up a very big kiln to get the job done on time. This first pot was the big test. It sat next to the old wood kiln chimney for the past 34 years, As it was broken into several pieces, it no longer had any real value, other than sentimental. It did however represent one year of my creative life. I thought that it was best up-cycled into the last bit of our new wall. Now, I will always know where it is.
We still have two other examples of these big cylindrical pots in our garden, just 2nds with minor cracks that happened during the 2 year project. One is still intact, but the other was smashed by the tree loppers when they were clearing up the mess here in our yard straight after the fire. One of the workers drove into it with the bobcat loader.Janine and I re-constructed it with wire strapping just to preserve it until I have the time to do a full kintsugi repair. It will take a lot of gold!
We also have 1 of the 5 massive, extra-large pots made for the New Parliament House Building out in our garden. There were only 4 of these 1.5 dia x 1.5 metre high monsters ordered for the project. The first one that we fired got a hair line crack, so we had to make another one. I got to keep the ‘spare’ one in the garden.
From black to green, from down to up, from negative to positive, from rubble to art. Nothing lasts, nothing is ever finished, nothing is perfect. I’m grateful to be still alive to be able to re-build a creative and beautiful environment.