Locked-down and Armed: one man’s struggle with entropy (7) – Hanging Gardens

It’s an important day… definitely make or break. You arrive early and we have a toasted sandwich washed down with tea. The sun is climbing over the trees, but it’s cool in Salty Pete, and we sense that this will be a very positive period of reconstruction.

We need something upbeat to get us started, so here’s a bit of Abba to set the tone…

We have a big challenge today: to end the constant movement of shed-stuff out from Salty Pete at the start of the day and returning it from the lawn at the end of the day. Despite the recycling corner now containing seventeen large black bags of rubbish, we are still spending at least thirty minutes at the start and end of each day getting enough space to work in.

Our ‘Lucky Bag’ map of the interior is beginning to look very different, though… We are making real progress, and it’s lifting our spirits. The completion of the left wall (squares 1-6) has provided a drill station, the new illuminated workbench for detailed things and given us storage for a host of mid-sized objects like folding chairs and a portable workbench on which I can now cut logs for next winter’s wood for the log-burner. The garden tools storage is mainly complete. I’d say we were about 60% of the way through the whole project.

The big problem we have is the amount of shed-stuff we need to store – even after sorting it. We’ve discussed this and come up with a plan. Salty Pete is a tall structure and it’s high time we used some of the ‘up’.

Its obvious, really… But I don’t know about you, I usually feel decidedly unsafe at the top of a ladder…

The other issue is the bicycles. There are six of them. Two are folding Bromptons, and easy to store. The other four are full-size and take up a lot of room. Finding a solution for them is not going to be trivial. Once again, I looked up for inspiration…

There is a substantial loft space in Salty Pete. We had it built along with the new roof. It’s badly in need of a sort-out, but was constructed to take a lot of weight and, for now, we can make more space up there to solve our problem down here.

The issue is accessing it, safely. At present it needs the skills of a mountaineer to shimmy up the thin steel ladder that came with the property. The ladder – we inherited it – is ugly, thin and bright pink… I’ve never understood why. Bernie hates it with a passion, but it’s strong and doesn’t get in the way… and I have a certain respect for it.

Only part of our problem is up in the air; the other half is how you fix a ladder to a cobbled floor. It could slide away at any moment, or it might jam itself in a gap so that nothing can move it… But we don’t want to gamble on the latter…. And falling onto that stone wouldn’t be trivial.

If we are to stay true to our resolve to spend zero money on the project, we need something that has a miraculous fit to the pink steel ladder. Something that will allow itself to be anchored in a safe part of the ‘up there’.

When we bought The Wharf, I went looking for an unusual chair to complete the fittings in the study. There is a furniture shop in Lytham, (on the Lancashire coast) that specialises in ’used but unusual’ pieces. We often looked in the window. Just before we moved into the new home, we had a run out to walk Tess on the seashore and have a pub lunch. Passing the shop window, I spotted an oversized, overstuffed, American style armchair. It was a wine red and I liked it. I walked around it for a while, then made an emotional decision and bought it.

It looked terrible when we got it home… and wasn’t comfortable, either. Fast forward several years and I managed to get it down and into a skip. As I was manhandling it, one of the steel feet came loose. The feet, themselves, were sturdy (see pic) and I decided to unscrew all four and keep them for possible use. At the time, I had a nagging feeling that I’d just end up throwing them away at the next major sort-out.

But no… The elusive god of ‘told you that would come in handy’ was on my side, for once…

(Above: One of the polished steel feet of the scrapped ‘American’ chair. They live to fight another day – but will the plan work?)

Now, I had an idea that would vindicate their retention…

The problem with using the loft space was safe access. It wasn’t the difficulty of getting shed-stuff up the ladder. The minimalist pink ladder had smooth sides, and it was quite easy to push an object ahead of you, as long as it wasn’t too heavy. If the plan worked, a single session of moving things up there would eliminate the recurring problem… at least for now.

My idea lacked engineering finesse. It was a ‘shoe-in’, but I knew it would work. I would need to locate the fittings carefully, and I would need both drills, working together… I would also need your help in holding the pink ladder very steady while I worked…because it wouldn’t be safe until the end.

The giant timber cross-member, to which I had attached the strip light, is about save the day, again. We move all the shed-stuff in the central squares of 7, 8, 2 and 15 out onto the lawn for what would hopefully be the last return trip. We stand the pink ladder in a variety of locations so that its top rests on the wooden beam. Eventually, two positions stand out as the least likely to obstruct the flow of likely movement: squares 2 and 15.

Fastening my leather tool-belt in place, and sliding the twin drills into their holsters, I climb slowly, skywards… Woof!

You pass me the first of the steel feet from the scrapped chair. They are pre-drilled – to fit the chair, and the holes can be re-used for our project – something critical, given they’re the kind of high tensile steel we’d find difficult to drill through. From my belt I take a pencil and mark the line of the pink ladder’s highest rung. Clinging with one hand, I switch between the two drills to pilot the holes, then secure the re-purposed chair foot so that the ladder top will rest in its ‘U’ shape, keeping me safe up there…

It’s hot work, hanging from a ladder and drilling like that… But, minutes later, I descend and we re-fit the pink ladder into its new (working) home. It rests well. I twist it, savagely – I’d rather find out now that it’s not fit for purpose than when I’m hanging on for dear life, pushing a heavy box upwards. It doesn’t budge. I’m looking smug, again…

(Locked solid by the upcycled steel foot, the infamous pink steel ladder has a secure future…)

Three mugs of steaming tea arrive… with some biscuits. Bernie’s been gardening, and is just as tired as we are. But she’s pleased. She’s impressed with the ‘up there’ approach and agrees to pardon the pink ladder… Result!

After tea, the whole operation with the ladder brackets is repeated on the left side. That goes smoothly and I realise how much this has just solved. For the next half hour, we bring in all the shed-stuff that was on the lawn. This time, anything not needed for our project can go up and stay up there... We will need a second stage of the project to clear out the loft, but that can wait for next year.

Looking upwards at the ladder supports, I smile. Generally, we think in terms of supporting a ladder at the base. But, in terms of it slipping, the top is much more secure – if you have the opportunity. The spirit of spending zero money has driven us to create a solution that is now going to save us an hour each working day.

There’s a lot you can do with an hour…

I remove the pardoned pink ladder to check that it can be put away along the left wall when not needed. It fits. It can.

Our day has gone well. It’s late and you need to head home. I continue for a while to complete an easy stage of the previous day’s work.

In square 19, there is a happy accident waiting to be finished…

(Above: An old set of shelves get a new lease of life)

The ‘long power tools’ – strimmers, hedge trimmers and various others, are of a length that rests nicely along the vertical face of what was one of Peter’s radio shacks. It feels like a long time ago that we took that sledgehammer to them…

For several years, I’ve been collecting ‘hooks’. The label on the large, plastic box says so. In my system, ‘hooks’ are anything from which other things can be hung, once they are fitted to something solid. Hooks come in many forms. The strongest are capable of holding the weight of a bicycle or greater.

I’ve already attached several such bicycle hooks to the top shelf from the old radio shack in square 19. With the exception of the most powerful tool – the Stihl strimmer – they hang beautifully, still allowing the storage shelves behind to be used for related items, such as two-stroke oil in its measuring bottles.

The Stihl strimmer is heavy; but luckily its ‘handlebar’ will rest on the remains of a lower batten – as long as the heavy bit – the engine – is secured above – by its shaft. It’s a curvy item, and tapered, and won’t fit flush to the shelf… but the curve only wants to take it out an inch or so. Thinking laterally, I saw out an enclosure and use a chisel to remove the waste block. I use another, smaller piece of waste, plus a screw, to create a hinged closure for the lateral ingress. The Stihl strimmer slides into place as though made for it. It’s a good feeling.

A quick slap of North Californian Shabby Chic emulsion on the new bits and it’s a tidy job…

(Above: the two Stihl long-handled power tools now hang vertically, – one by its handle; the other by its shaft, releasing more precious floor-space for unfettered movement)

Walking back towards Salty Pete’s door, I realise I am still wearing the holster and the two drills, plus bits. In the far corner, by the door, is a part-assembled shoe rack storage system. The cubes in this plastic and metal unit link together to form large pigeon-holes in which anything that fits and is not too heavy can be stored.

(Above: the ‘shoe-rack’ storage system in action)

We’ve used so many in the house, I could assemble them in my sleep. It’s the work of a few minutes to complete the array – a unit I know will fit into the now-white carcass of the largest of Peter’s radio shacks and rest on the base shelf. What I need to do is to figure out how to lock what is a rather fragile unit into place. Reluctantly, I conclude that long screws and a degree of butchering are the only way.

(Above: the large shelving system created by fitting a modular shoe-rack into the carcass of a former shelf in Peter’s radio shack)

The drills are ready, I’m fired up from the success of the day. Soon, the shoe-racks are in place, and held as best they can be. I’m down five long screws, but the unit is secure and complete… as is the whole wall.. I place the drills into their new working ‘pods’ made from the halved green petrol cans.

(Above: the final addition to the ‘detail work bench’: a pair of ‘pods’ to hold the drills close during active use. The bits rest through the spouts of the old and halved plastic petrol cans. Note the other halves of the petrol cans have been deployed as brush-holders)

It’s a good feeling. The wall is complete. We can step back and look at the full length.

(Above: the full length of the left wall. The garden tools are to the left of where the photo was taken)

The left wall now comprises: garden tools, large and small; liquid storage; vertical storage cubes; detail workbench, floor storage for folding chairs and ladder; drill station and vertical storage for long gardening power tools.

(Above: the far left corner (squares 10, 6 and 19) is now neat and functional. Most importantly, you can walk to it!)

Looking along the walls length and smiling, I note that there is still a lot of ‘up’ we’ve not exploited. Hmm…

To be continued…

Other parts of the Locked Down and Armed series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, Part Six, This is Part Seven

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

©Stephen Tanham 2020

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye School of Consciousness, a not-for-profit teaching school of modern mysticism that helps people find a personal path to a deeper place within their internal and external lives.

The Silent Eye provides home-based, practical courses which are low-cost and personally supervised. The course materials and corresponding supervision are provided month by month without further commitment.

Steve’s personal blog, Sun in Gemini, is at stevetanham.wordpress.com.