Locked-down and Armed: one man’s struggle with entropy (4) – Push and Twist

I didn’t set out to have three drills…

The posh one, a nice DIY model from DeWALT, was bought because both the batteries for my previous drill failed at the same time, after lying idle in their case for nearly a year… My fault. So, with lockdown looming, we dashed out to Wickes in Morecambe and got a new one.

(Above: the drill… Mr Versatile)

Portable drills have come a long way from the early ‘Black and Decker’ days. Just pressing the trigger on this one and hearing that incredibly potent zzzsweeeesh gives me a rush. I’m a bit odd, Bernie says. But she loves the results.

There’s something about the relationship between man and drill… Women and drills, too, as a growing number of ladies are focussed and proficient DIYers.

You can do with a drill. You can do amazing things that a Leonardo da Vinci could never have envisaged. A simple spinning piece of metal – in various forms – together with that triumph of engineering – the modern screw – can perform miracles… and even transform an interior as hostile as The Saltpetre: Salty Pete’ as we have affectionately come to call it.

(Above: The interior of Salty Pete as a Lucky Bag word square – see previous posts – The green, although, at this stage still space, was beginning to make an impact)

My developing man-cave, is definitely a ‘he’, I thought, that bright morning after the bonfire of Peter’s Pride.

For two hours, and wearing an essential dust mask, I had swept out the cobbles along the entire left side of the emerging space with an industrial brush: squares 1-19 if you’re following this on our ‘lucky bag’ square diagram, above. I dumped the resulting buckets of the black dirt on the compost heap in the lower level of the garden – the ‘U’ shape that used to be the canal basin.

(Above: the compost heap (two bins) can be seen just right of the wall of Salty Pete, at the end of the garden)

I came back to take a deep breath and surveyed the long and narrow corridor in which I intended to construct the first section of our storage – and the new life of Salty Pete.

The requirements were simple: I needed space and functionality for gardening tools, woodworking tools, a woodworking bench (to be made as part of the project), decorating storage, general tools – car, bikes, motorbike and the like.

I also needed space for four pedal bikes. Before getting our Collie dog, we were passionate cyclists – often taking our summer holidays as cycling trips to France, Italy and Croatia. We have Brompton folding bikes, too, so the bike storage was going to have to be cleverly planned.

Then, lawnmowers… three of them. One is my beloved Honda, bought as the main machine for the Wharf’s large lawns. It’s large but not a ‘sit-on’, as I’d kill myself on the slopes that run down to the old canal bed – see photo below.

(Above: a lot of lawn to look after… machinery is essential. You can’t really see it from the photo, but there is a ten foot difference between the upper levels and the old canal bed… It didn’t look like this back in 2010 – see below))

Another is the mower from the previous house, which makes a good standby in the event of the primary being serviced. The third is not actually a mower, it’s a petrol-driven scarifier. Used only a few times a year, it saves days of raking and is an essential tool to get air into the soil and eradicate the winter moss. Lakeland’s wet winters make much moss…

There were other, smaller, categories, but each one was important in its own right. Liquid storage, for example. We needed a whole shelf system, at low level – because liquid is heavy – just to cope with two and four-stroke petrol for the strimmer and lawnmowers, white spirit and rubbing alcohol and the like.

(Above: The old canal bed as it looked when we bought the place, ten years, ago)

Most of these things come in multi-gallon containers that are useful but take up a lot of space. They are also difficult to move around, so this part of the storage had to be close to Salty Pete’s door.

(Above: six of the ‘rough’ DIYer’s best friends: mitre saw with portable bench, visor and gloves, trusty hat, wheelbarrow and giant bulk bags…)

Bernie’s words rang in my ears… “Well, how about not spending any money at all?” It had seemed a fun challenge at the time, but fulfilling the above list of requirements without buying anything new was going take ingenuity… and saws.

Saws are almost as useful as drills. I knew I had a plethora of hand saws… somewhere. My parents spent half their working lives running a greengrocer’s shop along one of the busiest arterial roads in Bolton. When Morrisons supermarket demolished the old factory opposite to build their new superstore, the days of their business were numbered. Mum was near to retirement age and had every intention of, as she put it, ‘not freezing her fingers off, every winter’. Dad didn’t want to stop selling things… he liked it. So he switched the shop’s remit be a to a general gift, handy things and tools shop.

(Above: Dad hadn’t always sold fruit and veg… A De Havilland Mosquito. Source Wikipedia, Public Domain)

Every birthday and Christmas, I’d be given something new with which to re-model the physical world. He was much better at engineering than I was – he’d been an aircraft factory fitter at the local De Havilland factory in his youth. I think he felt that his love and gifting of tools would result in me getting better at using them… Hmmm.

I knew that Salty Pete contained a lot of these tool presents… I just wasn’t sure where. The one thing I had found was the mitre saw. Old by today’s standards, it was clunky and very heavy. But its motor was as strong as an ox. After much physical exertion and grunting, I had dug it out of one of Salty Pete’s corners the day before, before remembering, with sadness that it was broken. The blade had started making noises because it was slowly working its way off the shaft that should have held it rigid. I’d taken a cursory glance at it – even taken it apart – but, when I tried to bolt the deadly blade back in place, it wouldn’t tighten.

It was a shame, because, in its day, I had used it more than anything else he ever bought me (apart from my first motorbike, but that’s another story…) Reluctantly, I took it around to the ‘crash and burn’ tip behind Salty Pete at close of business that day.

But then I had the dream… and in the dream the axle for the blade had a black line along its length. Waking, I remembered the dream, but none of the details. But, sipping my tea, I got a flash of that black line… and knew what to do to fix it. I walked with confidence to the ‘tip’ behind the shed and retrieved it from the old bin. With a small toolkit in hand, I laid it at an angle on the grass to test my theory. Sure enough, the cutting blade was ‘keyed’ and had to be re-fitted along a line that would allow it to sink deeper towards the base of the shaft.

Five minutes later, I had a mitre saw, again, zinging like it was new… and Dad was smiling from somewhere… I know he was.

A mitre saw is wonderful and deadly. The rules are simple: if you’re wearing armoured clothing, including gloves, you can instantly cut anything wooden or plastic that will fit into its jaws..

There were a few sections of pallets that needed the mitre saw treatment, and the clock was ticking.

Sitting on the box, looking at the now plain walls of the left edge of Salty Pete, I knew I needed a ‘quick win’. Two hours from now, our lockdown ‘working day’ would be ending. Bernie would return with the final mug of tea, and I didn’t want the wow factor to fade. Apart from anything else, the emotional effect of getting a pat on the back was of critical importance at this stage of such a big project, with so little to see so far, apart from tearing things down.

(Above: the brutal base structure was never far away!)

One of the raw materials I had plenty of was a pile of well-used pallets on which various gardening deliveries had been dropped off by brave lorry drivers, at the end of our narrow and long lane. The key to their usefulness lay in something that Bernie had said when she started her horticulture course in Penrith–back in 2013.

“Pallets…” She said, arriving home at the end of her first day to lavish attention from me and the Collie dog. “Are magic! Cut them to size and stick the handles of spades into them, with a twist.”

It took me a while to grasp it. In fact, it was only sitting there on my box with cold tea that triggered the need to make it work. But it did… I fired up the mitre saw and grabbed a hand tool or two for the difficult bits… Oh, and the two drills. I forgot to explain why I have three. Better leave that for next time as the hour is late…

I had two hours to get something useful on that wall. I had a working, if ancient, mitre saw. And drills… and those wonderful long screws that will just about join anything to anything else.

(Above: a gift from heaven – a pre-battened wall had emerged beneath the ruins of Peter’s Pride)

The revealed wall behind Peter’s Pride was already battened… That, alone, would save me hours of work. I dragged the best three of the pallets to the saw. Then, like some desperado, I set up the two drills; one with a long narrow bit to cut the pilot holes, and the other to fix the chopped and chosen pallet to the internal skeleton of Salty Pete with a triumph of gusto over accuracy.

It worked.

Two hours later, I wheeled the motorbike and large mower back into Salty Pete, looking for all the world as though I had been through another day of drudge. Bernie was coming up the drive with that final mug of tea.

“Better call it a day,” she said, consolingly, “Another one tomorrow… make more progress, then”

I nodded, taking the tea, gratefully, and looking over her shoulder to what she hadn’t yet seen.

“Push and twist… the handles?” I asked, cryptically.

She turned, then smiled. It was a moment I will remember for a long time.

“Oh, yes!”

Salty Pete now contained an organised storage system for our long-handles garden tools. Squares 1 and 14. Something was real. Something was done… and it hadn’t cost a penny.

To be continued…

Other parts of the Locked Down and Armed series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three, this is Part Four

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

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.

Locked-down and Armed: one man’s struggle with entropy (3) – Two Peters…

(Continued from Part two)

Everything was quiet…

Several hours after I began swinging the sledgehammer, there was finally peace from the destruction. I pulled up a wooden box and sat on it, wiping the congealed sweat from my forehead onto my arm.

The Lucky Bag ‘number square’ idea from the last post seems to have caught the imagination, so I’ve updated it, below, to reflect the actual dimensions of the Saltpetre – or ‘Salty Pete’ as we have come to know it.

(Above: The ‘Lucky Bag’ map of the Saltpetre was getting greener. The motorbike and lawnmower normally take up squares 20 and 9, but they were parked on the gravel drive, leaving squares 2 and 15 from which to swing the mighty sledgehammer)

My wooden box/seat was located at 2.

I was sitting, gazing at three mountains of shattered and fragmented red pegboard, broken spars of ancient wood, and the surprisingly intact skeleton of an old wall cupboard. This pile of re-organised carbon took up squares 1, 14 and 11.

Hearing the temporary cessation of the apocalypse, Bernie had taken pity and brought me a large mug of steaming tea. I sipped it gratefully and looked around at the remains of Peter’s Pride…

“Wow,” she said, leaving hastily, before the tall red pile could begin sliding towards her.

(Above: The Wharf just after we bought it, in the spring of 2010. Phone cameras have come a long way, since!)

Peter’s Pride: I had better explain… We bought ‘The Wharf’, as the property is named, in December 2009, during one of the coldest winters on record. On December 23rd, we literally slid along the pavements in Kendal to collect the keys from the seller’s estate agents, keen to, at least, take possession of what would be our new home – once we had thrown our life savings into rebuilding it.

I clearly remember coming back to open our own front door for the first time. The property was a 1960s single storey bungalow with a large plot of land, the plot running along the line of the old Preston-Kendal canal. The canal had been drained in 1958, but the waterway had been unused for decades before that. A man named Peter and his wife had built the house, and brought up their children there. Their son, Richard, still lives in a cottage next door, gifted, by his mother, to him and his wife before, sadly widowed, she moved south to live with her daughter in Cheshire.

The Wharf was left to its own devices, eventually being bought by an ‘investor’ and becoming a rental cottage. It was overgrown, run-down and had a poor bathroom. The place soon got a bad name in the holiday trade market.

On the Sunday when we deliberately got ourselves lost in the car and inched down the tiny lane with the ‘For Sale by Auction’ sign, we found a very dilapidated house on a large and potentially beautiful plot of Lakeland soil, just outside Kendal. The house was behind a huge stockade fence and unoccupied.

As we approached in the car, a man came out of the adjacent cottage, looking a little hostile. We didn’t know him, but it was Peter’s son, Richard. Seeing we were genuinely interested he spent a few minutes telling us the history of the place. He was eager to have someone ‘real’ take over the property that had been so important in his life. Ironically, the house had failed to sell that very weekend. A local builder had been interested but wasn’t prepared to pay the ‘Investor’s’ asking price. For the sake of about ten thousand pounds, the deal had fallen through. Later, we found that the ‘Investor’ had money problems…

(Above: The Wharf in the spring of 2010, just before work began on its partial demolition and re-making)

The run-down ‘Wharf’ had potential, but you had to have a lot of imagination to see what it could become. Bernie and I got back in the car for a chat. After a long discussion lasting six minutes, we decided it was our big chance to have our own ‘Grand Designs’… On the following morning, we made an offer, subject to survey… and waited.

Several weeks later, the deal was done. It was two days before Christmas when we entered our new house. It was freezing – the heating had failed – something it did all the time, according to the holiday lettings company. We made some tea with the supplies we had brought and explored, with that lovely feeling that we finally had a Lakeland home – no matter how much needed doing to it!

We didn’t need to stay, as we still had Bernie’s house in Chorley to go back to. But we wanted to have good look round what would one day be our dream home. As darkness was falling, we managed to reset the boiler before we left, wishing our new home-to-be a happy Christmas.

Just before driving off, I said to Bernie that I wanted to stick my head into the old outbuilding. We had no idea, at that time, of its importance in the village’s industrial history. It wasn’t a listed building; we could have just knocked it down… but something said, “No…. wait and see.”

(Above: The Saltpetre, as it looked in the spring after we bought the plot. A sad and neglected outbuilding with a leaking roof, no driveway and a jammed door!)

The old door was rusted and hanging off. I managed to prise it open and stuck my head in. It looked to be full of rubbish, but when I peered into the gloom, I could see that all the rubbish on the left side of the building was a faded red colour.

There was no power, so I had to switch on my phone light to take another look. As my eyes got used to the gloom, I could see what looked like a string of cubicles made of red pegboard and hung together with an assortment of cast-off timbers. Months later, I was to find out that Peter – the father of the man next door, who had sadly died five years prior, was a keen radio-ham. The ‘cubicles’ were his radio-shacks, and had been connected to a complex arial system. Each of the huts had a specialised function, but they had fallen into disuse a long time ago. Even his son, Richard, had no idea what they did.

(Above: the entire length of the left wall, and the first square around the corner, had been freed up by the destruction of the ‘radio-shacks’. Now we could begin the work of reconstruction and organisation)

At that point none of this was known. I knew that, whatever the red cubicles were, I would one day have to knock them down. Now, ten years later and sitting on my wooden box, sipping tea, I looked with satisfaction at what the necessary destruction had wrought. The entire length of the radio-huts had been reduced to rubble, and there was an emotional feeling that the ghost of the second Peter had been finally ‘freed’ from the place.

There would be a bonfire that evening. The shattered bits of the old radio shacks would burn brightly in the canal basin. Later, in the smoke-kissed morning, I would have the luxury of the entire left wall to begin my ‘organic reorganisation’ of Salty Pete. Even at this stage, I could feel the place beginning to breathe… though it was still laughing at me. “There’s only so much you can do with a hammer, little man,” it seemed to say.

Giant hammers, I mused–thinking of my boyhood love of the Norse tales–are mighty things. But they are not the only tools in the box…

To be continued…

Other parts of the Locked Down and Armed series:

Part One, Part Two, This is Part Three.

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

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.

Locked-down and Armed: one man’s struggle with entropy (2) – ‘If I had a hammer..’

“If I had a hammer…” The words rang out in my head. Peter, Paul and Mary giving it their all with one of the most memorable protest songs of the 1960’s. Now, I did have a hammer – a rather big one – and I was striding up the garden path towards an unsuspecting ‘Saltpetre’ with a hefty degree of intent…

(Above: Oh, yes, do I have a hammer!)

Bernie’s words rang in my ears… “Well, how about not spending any money at all?” The challenge, designed to inject some humour and purpose into the Covid-19 lockdown period, had been accepted over one too many white wines the previous evening in the amber light of the sunset.

I was about to begin the work… but where to begin?

The problem was one of space… To deal with the jam-packed interior of an old and dank stone building (built in 1820 as a gunpowder store for the canal that used to be half our garden) required working space… and that was precisely the problem: there was no space left, inside. Aside, that is, from the tailored holes that remained when you wheeled out either the lawnmower or my motorcycle.

(Above: The ‘Saltpetre” – a former gunpowder store from 1820, known in those times as an ‘Expense Magazine’. It had seen me fail, before. But this time I had intent…. and a big hammer… A kind of High Noon, but it was ten in the morning)

When it comes to tidying, I have what Bernie calls an ‘organic method’. You would have to study her facial expression when she says this to understand the subtlety of the remark. She will approach a similar task with a mental fork-lift truck, wearing battle fatigues and brandishing a couple of litres of bleach wired to the end of a long mop… But me, I prefer to get close and personal and work around the space I’m in.

I don’t mind getting down and dirty… the dark and dubiously-speckled detritus washing off my body in the shower at the end of such a day is all the testimonial I need that it has, indeed, been well spent.

When it comes to working within a confined space, I’ve developed a nimble and strength-inducing set of arm movements that simulate an octopus. In fact, when armed with one of my favourite drills, I can guarantee that…

But we’ll get to drills later. Drills rule, drills are killer-diller old school tech modernised with freedom-bestowing, long-life batteries.

(Above: the drill, the mighty, finger-lickin’ drill… stay tuned)

Ok, later then… I say (in the now) to the sequence-loving muse on my shoulder as I type. I’m all right now… Back in the story, I unlock Salty Pete, as we have come to know it. Later in the story it will come to have another name, earned in the battle of the drills… Ok, I know, I know…

(Above: Salty Pete leers down at us. “Oh yeah?” it seems to say…)

The newly funded door swings up and in. Don’t let it fool you: what’s inside isn’t related to such efficiency. The dark interior sneers at us. “Oh, yeah,” it seems to say. Clearly, we’ve been here, before. But never with a hammer this big. You’ll note I’ve switched to the present tense. I’m taking you with me… kindly buckle up! Those of delicate sensibilities better leave now, I drawl, nodding at the side door and sounding Welsh rather than Texan. It’s the fault of Tommy Lee Jones, always wanted to be able to do his voice at moments like this… Never works, but you’ve got to keep trying…

(Above: the Saltpetre’s side door. “Last chance to leave,” says Tommy Lee Jones)

The only accessible space is occupied by the lawnmower and the motorbike. So, as two of the most precious objects in here, we wheel them carefully, backwards, to stand on the garden path, where they will be safe from everything but Cumbria’s dubious climate. Later in the project, the supportive neighbour who’s so adept at DIY he’s just fitted a galvanised roof on his shed, confesses that he knew ‘something was up’ when I did this. One object ‘on the lawn’ he could understand; two meant business…

The effect is electric. Even sneering Salty Pete is considering his options. It’s the hammer in the right hand… Great track here (Jackson Browne) about how the ‘hammer shapes the hand’. It’s dark work, but somebody’s got to do it…

(Above: The ‘Lucky Bag’ number square – undoubtedly toxic and one of a nastiest devices ever inflicted on children. Source Pinterest)

Your childhood may well have been later than mine, but one of the little toys we used to be able to get for sixpence was a ‘Lucky Bag’. Apart from dodgy sweets, they sometimes contained a plastic square of numbers or letters that you needed to slide into new positions to make, say, a chosen word or to allow a line to add to a specific total. It was an intensely frustrating experience, because the initial state of the square had only one blank. Play with it in your head and you’ll see the problem.

We’ve just created two squares… Two squares of space makes all the difference in the world. No wonder Salty Pete has fallen silent.

I pick up the huge sledgehammer and brace my legs across both squares. “I’m comin’ for ya!” Tommy Lee Jones says. It’s getting better… at least it’s not Welsh this time.

We swing the mighty hammer. No going back now… The colossal head arcs, neatly, through the old and dusty air… towards a tall target selected in the dying light of the previous day.

They’re not laughing now, as the comedian Bob Monkhouse used to say…

To be continued…

Other parts of the Locked Down and Armed series:

Part One, this is Part Two

©Copyright Stephen Tanham

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.