Category Archives: Smoko

Smoko – Why I Don’t Turn Off Lights For Earth Hour

I meant to write this about a week ago.  It’s a bit late now, but hey ho, something for you to think about for next year.

There are some reasons why I don’t participate in the Earth Hour ‘movement’.

To get the obvious ones out of the way:

1.       Our home is powered by a stand-alone solar system, and fossil fuels don’t power our lights. At least not so directly as from a power station (they do have to make solar panels and batteries from something though, and it aint woven palm leaves).

2.       We live in a secluded valley.  No-one but ourselves can see the lights from our house.  So as far as making gestures goes, to perhaps influence some masses into sudden revolution by turning off our porch light, for example, it would be a pretty ineffectual one.

And then anyway,

3.       As far as making gestures goes, Earth Hour is a pretty ineffectual one full stop, in my opinion.  In fact it’s worse than ineffectual, it’s counterproductive. One would think that a world-wide movement against climate change would actually do something to address climate change, rather than add to the problem.

You see, when everyone on a mains electricity grid suddenly switches off the power, the grids don’t immediately, magically, stop burning fossil fuels.  The turbines don’t cease to turn for an hour while people light up their room full of Chinese-produced, imported candles.  I fact the opposite occurs.

Until the moment of Earth Hour, people are drawing power normally (and let’s face it, many will continue to do so throughout the entire 60 minutes and beyond), and power stations are burning and turning to meet that demand.  When, at 8.30 (was it?), everyone turns out their lights (and perhaps their other appliances? Or is it just lights?), the power stations experience a sudden drop in demand, which causes a lot of the power they are producing to be suddenly not needed and therefore dumped off / released off as heat, gases, through power surges, etc, and all the things we don’t really want happening.

Then, because it takes a fair bit of time to get enormous power generating turbines turning, the power stations not only don’t stop them for the hour, but also have to anticipate that, in 60 minutes, half of Australia is going to turn it’s lights, aircons, tvs, dishwashers, coffee machines, phone chargers, laptops, etc back on again.  This causes a sudden, enormous, power demand on the system, akin to ‘peak hour’ (dinner time, when every family gets home from work/school and switches on every appliance in the house simultaneously).  Power stations, as with peak hour, have to gear up the system to meet that demand when it occurs, meaning they have to burn more fuel and ‘rev up the engines’.  In short, power stations burn, and waste, more fossil fuels during and immediately around Earth Hour than would otherwise happen on your normal, average climate-change-causing evening.

Sydney, a few minutes before Earth Hour
Sydney, about half way through Earth Hour
Sydney, about half way through Earth Hour
Aaaand...Sydney 1 minute after Earth Hour
Aaaand…Sydney 1 minute after Earth Hour

A more worthwhile gesture, if you like, would be to invest in renewable sources of energy for your power needs.  Another would be permanently cutting your power consumption.  Yet another good gesture would be throwing away your multitude of electronic goods, keeping only those you actually really need, if you must, and turning off your stuff when you’re not using it (if you really must use it – btw, anyone selling a working old typewriter by any chance?).

Or are those not gestures, but actions?  Yes, I think that’s it!  Actions are where it is at. Gestures only gesture, but actions speak louder than words. Vote with your lifestyle, not your finger (the light-switching one, not the middle, though both of these will cause about as much positive change in the world as the other).

So I for one never have and never will, as it stands now, turn off my lights because it is Earth Hour.  Lights aren’t the problem people.

That said, it’s well past 8.30 here, and it’s time to turn off the light, turn off the sole remaining appliances (excepting fridge) that are on (this computer and that modem) and go to bed. Not because it will influence climate change, but because I am very tired.

Support action on climate change, and ACT yourself, but don’t think that turning your lights off for an hour in any way constitutes this.

One love J


Smoko – In Praise Of Pallets

Apologies for the lack of posts in recent times. We’re very busy these days; T with her PhD, me with planning, building, and organising some events in Brisbane, and both of us with the little lad, who gets less little and more laddish every day.

But, given the massive amounts of rain we’ve had recently, which has put a stop to a lot of building projects (even the indoor jobs get put on hold as we don’t run powertools when the solar isn’t charging), I thought I’d write a quick blog, in praise of pallets.

We’ve gone a bit pallet crazy round here recently (and woe betide anyone who goes to town and doesn’t bring at least a couple back without a good excuse), having discovered a myriad of ways online to recycle (or upcycle) them.

Here are some different shelf units I’ve knocked up recently. We also made a bed for T’s mum, but she’s in it right now so I can’t take a picture. Well, not a publishable one any way… 😉

This is the second or third unit I built, to clean up the veranda a bit. (Incidentally, it also houses most of our new sound system, which more than adequately solves all the problems I wrote about in a previous post. I’d tried running an 18” (like the bottom one in the pic) at my house some years ago, while living in Brisbane, but the police came. Out here, I can crank it as hard as our little amp will allow (pretty bloody loud) and no neighbours can hear. Gotta love the bush!):


Office bookcase:

Already overused tool shelves. It has, as I said, been raining ridiculously heavily for days, so it’s a wee bit messier than usual, but probably only a wee bit:

And today’s effort, a new spice rack, freeing up some much needed bench space. Now I’ve discovered how to efficiently strip pallets apart (a reciprocating saw and a trade quality 12” blade…beats the hell out of (but doesn’t totally eliminate the need for) a mallet and crowbar) things can get a little less chunky when needs be:

I also will be using pallets bolted together as a stud wall frame in the new shed/annexe we’re putting up on the east side of the house (to hold the tool and materials overflow), and there’s a good chance they’ll feature heavily in the fittings of the new guest room / office.  Will try to blog about it when it’s done!

Cheers! J


Smoko – flying off the handle

Quality – it aint what it used to be.

And not just the obvious stuff either, like cars that are designed to last a few years, phones that last less than one, shoes that give you six months. No, I’m talking about things that are touted as tough, durable, authentic or state-of-the-art. Things that cost ridiculous amounts of money, that one buys in the belief that the price is worth the lifetime of use one will get from the thing.

We have a frying pan that we bought with a very generous wedding gift voucher, plus some money on top, from a top end shop (okay, Myers), that I’m sure came with a lifetime guarantee, though I’m buggered if I can find it. It’s not the sort of thing you keep is it, frying pan receipts? This thing is supposed to be bullet proof – cook anywhere there’s heat: stoves, ovens, fires, 6 inches in front of Tony Abbotts face. And it’s Italian. I figure if it’s got a lifetime guarantee, is made from metal…you get the idea…what’s gonna go wrong?

But the handle fell off it, about 6 months ago. Well part of it anyway, enough to spill dinner on the floor. We still use the pan, but it does have a tendency to slip sideways at inopportune moments. And so I decided to call the company and ask for a new one. But I hadn’t quite got round to it yet.

We also have another piece of cookware, also very expensive, also a wedding gift. German this one, I think. This thing has in-built temperature gauges in the lid, a multi-layered, multi-metalled base, you can cook without oil or water (and without burning)…a lovely reassuring weight…it’s everything you’d expect from high quality 21st century cookware. In fact it’s so damn classy, it must have a couple of lifetime warranties on it. But, coincidently, the handle fell off it, about 4 months ago.

This got me pretty irritated. 2 pans in 2 months? And both on the handles? Is it something we’re doing wrong? Maybe we’re not supposed to pick pans up by the handles but no-one ever told us. Are pan handles purely decorative? But no, I’ve worked in enough kitchens in my time to have seen pans cop major abuse without breaking (as many a brain-damaged, previously lippy waiter can testify), and I’m damn sure Giovanni’s didn’t spend $400 per pan, so what’s the deal? I added the fancy pot to the list under the frying pan, and even made it as far as pulling up the respective company websites for the phone numbers, but once I’d done so I didn’t have the heart to ring them, pretty much because it was a nice day, and nothing ruins nice days quicker than talking to service reps.

And I know whereof I speak as, 2 days ago now, our almost brand new, energy efficient (solar-friendly), most excellent SAMSUNG (beware, beware!) fridge suddenly started blowing warm air instead of cold, which of course we didn’t realise until everything in the freezer had defrosted. This one I addressed immediately, and have spent one day on the phone, another waiting for the phone to ring back, but so far to no avail. The best I’ve wrung out of them to date is that they will try to find a service technician in our area within a week, and then try and book them in, and then they’ll access it…

I’m normally very good at getting people moving, even service companies. If there’s ever a problem that needs addressing in our household that requires someone getting eloquently fucking furious on the phone, I’m the man for the job. It brings out the best in me! But this time…I found I just couldn’t be bothered to spend hours on hold, going up and up the Samsung food chain, repeating myself again and again to someone who doesn’t understand me. I’ve got better things to do. Like, er, running to town for ice for one, but other stuff too. So for now (tonight) I’ll think of other things, tomorrow I’ll call them back and get cross, and so despite the broken fridge having reminded me of the bastard pans, which I really will get on to now soon, right now I shall think of other things.

That’s what I was thinking, about an hour ago. Think of constructive things to do, I thunk, like tightening those screws on the chair that the kid got himself stuck in the other day that I had to dismantle in order to free him.

So I go and get my screwdriver, just now, before I started writing this – a very nice Kincrome screwdriver that came in a set about a year ago. Funny thing about this screwdriver is that it’s a flathead screwdriver – a big chunky one – and one of two that came with the spanners. I’d never used it before…and who has? No-one uses flathead screws anymore. But I had to use it the other night to free my 3 year old, who’d managed to squeeze his bum through the 4 inch gap between backrest and seat on the chair and got completely stuck. I got my toolbox to free him, drills and everything, but the whole flaming chair is put together with flathead screws! Lord above. It took me about half an hour to find the flathead driver, in the dark, at the bottom of a tool box up at the shed site while the poor little fella was stuck in a chair on the veranda with the wallabies closing in. (I thought about taking him to a neighbour’s for the tool at one point, when I couldn’t find mine, but I couldn’t work out how to get him in the car – sideways? The boot? Should I strap in the chair or just him?).

Anyway, to get back on point (and wrap this up cos it’s bedtime), I did find the driver, and I did free him, but just now when I came to check the screws are tight, I put the screwdriver in the slot and turned the first screw, and guess what…..the fucking handle fell off!

Smoko #something-or-other

So I’ve been writing a blog post since around Christmas about some of the challenges we’re facing at the moment (various systems in need of upgrading or fixing, buildings we need but don’t have, etc), but it’s turning into a thesis and opening it this morning made my head swim and it all seem too much.

So I thought I’d take some good advice I got (not for the first time in my life) last night, and try and be in the moment.  This moment.  Or at least write about it.

The cicadas have all but gone, and the deafening noise we’ve had for the last couple of months has been replaced by birdsong and a faint background noise of the creek, slightly higher now after recent rain. The basil and parsley (and an acre of weeds), flowering just off the veranda are filled with bees of every sort, from big bumbling ones to our lovely little native stingless ones, buzzing their little heads off.

The grape arbour, still in need of cross wires but with baling twine temporarily doing the job, now has a grape vine on one side starting its way over the roof.  It grew up there in record time, and though only currently covering about 5% of the roof space, we expect a fair bit more growth before the weather cools off.  Sadly the vine planted on the other side of the arbour died, but a random pumpkin vine that grew out of the worm castings in the potting mix is putting the grapes to shame, having covered nearly half one side and a similar portion of roof.

The sweet potatoes are powering, the arrowroot and comfrey we planted in July are in the process of being split and replanted in various spots, the tomatoes should keep producing for quite a while and we dug up our first harvest of potatoes the other day.

A chicken has been sitting on a dozen eggs for almost 3 weeks now so we’re hoping to shortly have some new additions to the family.  We’ve had her separated from the other chooks since she started sitting, and yesterday knocked up a small run for her to help keep the chicks (and mum) safe from the multitudes of things that like to eat them.  Like this little fella that spent a day and half the night trying to find a way in.


Hopefully he’ll find a way into the house roof and take out some of the antechinus and friends hiding there.

All things considered, “the moment”, right now, is fairly peaceful, pleasantly warm with a cool breeze, aesthetically very beautiful to look at, and full of things living.  There’s also a smell of bbq wafting through the air, which means lunch must be nearly ready.

And honestly, being in the moment is a good thing and something I think we should all try to do more, but finding a way of being in the moment while planning the future is something that eludes me. And there’s lots of planning to be done. And I’m being asked to supervise sausage cooking. So I shall leave this moment here for posterity – to remind myself at least that there are moments of calm amidst the chaos – and get back into it.  Cheers.

Basil, strawberries, garlic chives, luffas and severly henpecked chilli
Sweet potatoes, arrowroot
Comfrey, arrowroot, lemongrass, artichokes
The wine vine doing fine
And a pumpin’ pumpkin

Smoko #6

So we decided we needed more shade around the house.  The veranda is in need of insulating as it gets roasting hot during the day, and sometimes it feels like there’s nowhere to go to escape the heat.  (Okay, there IS the creek, rainforest, abundant trees and so forth…but they’re not immediately by the house, and when I want to, say, sit and write a blog, cup of tea and smoke at hand, I want somewhere cool, shady and flat, preferably with a power point nearby).

So – we decided to build a grape arbor off one side of the veranda, which once grown over with grape vines will provide us with shade in summer when the leaves are out, and sun in winter when the leaves drop off, as well as, of course, grapes.  This is how we did it (click on the pictures to view full size):

First, take one wife, one wwoofer and a couple of big poles, introduce them to each other, and get 2 of them to carry the others up the hill.


While they did that, I dug a couple of post holes

A post hole yesterday

and as I was finishing the second, right on dusk, T and the wwoofer were carrying one of the poles up the steps, so we dropped it straight in the hole.  Unfortunately, I should have measured the pole and hole first as, on putting the tape on it after setting it in the ground, I realised it hadn’t quite touched the bottom of the hole, and far too much was still sticking out.


So, next morning, we dig


And then try tying rope handles on the pole to pull it out


And dig some more


And then eventually tie it to the car (using a passing goanna to make up the shortfall in rope)…


And haul it out.  Tore up a big chunk of ground around it, but job done, and at least we could now make sure the pole fit the hole.


…unfortunately, though I already knew this, I should have measured the pole and the hole first, as, having spent bloody hours getting it back out of the hole, I discovered that, in fact, it was simply a longer pole than I thought, and had been touching the bottom all along.  What a wally.

So we drop it back in the ground along with another pole


Put on a horizontal support (probably not permanent though, as I’m now envisioning a bar (think drinks in the afternoon) between the two poles), and called it a day.


Meanwhile, work had been progressing on the planter boxes to put our grape vines in.  I simply got a bit of colourbond tin we picked up at the tip, cut it in half, bent the two pieces around and riveted them together. A length of hosepipe slit lengthways provoides a nice rim and prevents cutting your fingers off on the sharp tin edge.  Then we dug them slightly into the ground, put 20 or 30cm of gravel in the bottom, and filled it up with a nice soil mix.  One grape vine, lots of mulch, a bit of a fence to stop the [wallabies, bandicoots, chickens, assorted marsupials, young children] from trashing it before it can grow up, and Bob’s your uncle! (Interestingly, my uncle is, in fact, called Bob, so it must be true).




Back to the arbor, I next cut the crossbeams (I apologise – I can never actually remember what any of the various terms of timber and what different cuts [etc] are called, and tend to use any word I know that sounds right at the time.  “Nice beams” I say…”They’re rafters mate”, etc.  Anyway, these may well actually BE crossbeams, otherwise they’re the bits that go up high above your head, running from one pole to another.  Okay, moving on…).  Then I chiselled a mitre cut into it (see above disclaimer), bored a hole for the bolt to go through (with my 120 year old hand drill.  I eventually upgraded and purchased the most expensive drill bit I’ve ever bought to get a 15mm hole through the steel veranda poles)…


And up went the first crossbeam/rafter mate/whatever.


On the pole on the other side, I cut a seat for the crossbeam, using the time honoured technique of standing on the 2nd top step of a step ladder with a chainsaw while absent but wiser friends and family screamed at me in my minds’ ear.


Yesterday I got the other side up, although I did stop for a cuppa when a storm rolled in.  I’d persevered for a while, but brandishing a chisel up in the air on a very precariously balanced step ladder (I console myself that, having some understanding of health and safety standards on the workplace, I am therefore more qualified to break them, as I know exactly what the dangers are… Actually, to digress, it was exactly this kind of enlightened thinking that lead to T and I setting fire to our tent while we were in it years ago, but that’s another story), while the lightning was flashing close by proved too much for my nerve and I waited it out.  Which was good, ‘cos the hail would have made the step ladder slippery ha ha.


Anyway, the other side is now up, and all that remains is to run some wires or thin poles or bamboo between the crossbeams for the vine to grow over.  Given it will take a while to grow and give us lovely summer shade, for this year we will rig up some shadecloth over it, and, with luck, lay hands on (or figure out how to cut without buying a mill) some slabs to make the bar.  Picture it – a nice slab bar with some tall tree trunk stools, sipping on our home made wine (we planted 2 vines, a table grape and a wine grape) under our cool, shady, leafy roof.  Bloody fantastic mate, whatever word you wanna use!


Smoko #5

It’s a long time since the last blog post. Probably it feels longer than it was too since so much seems to be happening in quite short amounts of time around here, but I thought an update is in order for those who want to know what we’re up to.  And this one has pictures at the bottom.

We decided to forego the bulldozer for clearing in the end – it is much better for us to wait a year or two before getting any earthworks done, to allow time to observe the land, where water runs, where the sun is in different seasons, etc. But immediate clearing still had to be done to provide garden spaces, fire safety, house and people safety and so on, as well as allowing midday sun to reach our solar panels. So in the end we did it with a chainsaw, axe, machete, bush saw and clippers, and though there is still an enormous amount of clearing to be done down the track (house site, paddocks, sheds, etc), we now have garden spaces and chook shed, other areas we can squeeze a man-shed (as T calls the most essential building we will ever need) in, and are making steady-ish progress with clearing for fire prevention (brushy under-storey, long grass and weeds).

The solar system is powering a treat – since installation we have only had to run the generator twice, for a couple of hours each time, to recharge the batteries after a few days of rain. As it goes we have only had about 30mm of rain in the last 3 months, most of that in one day, so we’ve power coming out the cloaca, enough to run whatever we like, save the electric woodchipper and my beloved sound system.

We have critter-proofed (fenced 1.6-1.8m high and 100mm down in the ground with a 200mm right angle out to prevent bandicoots digging under) an 8x7m garden area that is currently being built up and planted in by T and our current WWOOFer (both off collecting cow shit from the neighbour’s farm for compost and raised beds right now). With the recently but quickly warming weather the gardens are really starting to take off (though we still need to plant a lot more but can’t keep up with bed space as yet – as soon as we build a bed we fill it, and bed building takes time), and the stuff in the ground, some of it in since winter, is starting to pump. Off the top of my head, we have growing: potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, tomatoes, silverbeet, pumpkins, rhubarb, comfrey, lemongrass, arrowroot, beans, peas, zuchinnies, melons, various herbs, green manures, dragon fruit, chillis, beetroot….there’s more but T is the garden virtuoso around here and knows every seed so she can update on that another time, probably with pictures!

Work has also begun on an outdoor cooking/eating area with fireplace, camp oven pits and eventually a wood pizza/bread oven, guest room(s) and general party area. It just needs, like everywhere, more materials bringing in or scavenged from the block to continue work. Our biggest problem is not having a ute. Our beloved van has finally been retired, and is halfway through being converted into a guest room, and so we currently have almost no means of moving stuff from one place to another, at least not building materials. The roof rack on the wagon can carry a bit, but it’s limited. So while we search (and save pennies) for a 4×4 ute (holla if you’re selling one cheap!) we have to make do with bringing one or two rocks up from the creek each time we go down, or a couple of tin offcuts in the back of the wagon when we visit the tip. It’s a bit frustrating, because there are so many jobs that need doing that really need the ute to get done, but on the other hand there are plenty of other jobs that don’t require it, and so at least we are forced in deciding which things to tackle first – this can be a great thing when the list of jobs seems endless and one is unsure where to begin.

We have joined WWOOF as hosts and have so far had two very willing workers helping out, which has made life a bit easier, particularly since the last 5 months of hard work has finally taken its toll and last week I put my back out quite badly. Hence having time to write enormous blog posts! I’ve been pretty much laid up since then in quite a lot of pain, but living on this here community revealed yet another benefit after a community meeting on Monday. We have, amongst our neighbours, a masseuse, a cranio-sacral therapist and a physiotherapist/acupuncturist. The latter took me to her house after the meeting and gave me a massage and some acupuncture, which I’ve never had before and didn’t particularly enjoy, but which did noticeably reduce the pain. Still, I am pretty much bed/chair/floor-bound for a while, with the occasional foray out to supervise a task with the WWOOFer, so am keeping busy with other things.

I recently finished doing a video for one of the recent songs to come out of a Champion Sound workshop (Champion Sound is a youth and community focused organisation I co-founded in 2007 and continue to work with in various capacities) as well as a new website for the organisation. Check them out!

I hope my back shall soon be recovered enough to get back in amongst the big jobs (not to mention enough to pick up my kid), but there’s a fair chance I’ll get a blog post or two done between then and now. Stay tuned!

Some pictures of our new garden area development (click on the pictures to view full size):

Bringing logs in for raised bed garden borders.  Couple of fence posts in shot too.
Bringing logs in for raised bed garden borders. Couple of fence posts in shot too.
Marking the garden beds
Bed borders mostly ready and fence starting to go up
More fencing
Fence pretty much done
Filling in the garden beds with layers of sheet mulch, cow manure, a soil mix made from soil harvested elsewhere, worm castings and other nice ingredients as needed, plus a whole heap of mulch
And finally getting to plant out
Our original garden beds are coming along very nicely
And finally, a view from the house. I’ll have to find a “before” shot to match it with…suffice to say it is MUCH clearer than it was when we arrived.

And, last but far from least, the Billycan Creek Crew would like to wish my Grandmother a very, very happy 97th birthday.  97!!  The queen will soon be warming up her telegram machine… xxx Love you Gran

Smoko #4

That little red head chick finally became a ‘woman’ today.  She’s younger than the other girls and has always copped a fair bit of flak from them, plus the odd minor beating. Nothing serious – a kick or scratch now and again and a tongue lashing – but more concerning to us was that she was always being left out or chased off into a corner somewhere, or they’d all be playing nicely and then as soon as Red turned her back they’d all leg it somewhere else and leave her on her own.

But today Red became one of them, and you should have heard the fuss.  Red screeching about it like she wanted the world to know and all the girls fussing around her, showing her the ropes and whatever else it is they show each other in such times.  And then they spent the day together, very nicely, no fighting or arguing, just 3 girls together showing the fellas what’s what.

It was really very nice, and quite exciting for all concerned, but I don’t really get what all the commotion was about.  It’s not as if a chicken never laid an egg before. Anyway, good on ya Red, welcome to the family and thanks for breakfast.

Smoko #3

Solar power: I do love solar power. It’s good stuff. It runs our fridge, lights, washing machine, computer, TV and all that stuff with a minimum of fossil fuels involved. But it has limits, detrimental to my well being and in need of resolving.

Bass: I do love bass. In Brisbane, I own half of a 12kW, bass heavy, UK style reggae sound system along with Champion Sound director and Dubwise Productions producer Chris Jay (look up  We use it for running events and parties.  It has limits too, but mostly imposed by authorities rather than technicalities…police don’t love a bassline.

Solar vs Bass: Our entire solar system is only about 2kW and so would be flat out (and probably incapable of) running even a 6th of that sound system for any amount of time – the batteries would be flat in minutes. (Monkey Marc I believe owns a solar powered sound system (for events), but I assume he has $100k worth of batteries backing it up).  And herein lies the problem.  With not enough power, how am I to get some bass ina the place?  I don’t have an answer yet (comments/suggestions?), but what I do finally have is a record player.  Since April I have not had one and my records have been staring at me, through the cupboard door, with hurt and sulky expressions.  So today we found one in a 2nd hand shop.  It is probably a 1960s model and has 2 tinny arse speakers hard wired into it – nary an output socket in sight – but for $45 we figured it was worth it.  And it is, but barely.  Got to hear some music, and did rejoice, but boy was it tinny.  It’s obviously a high-end 1960’s player: it has separate bass and treble knobs and everything…but I don’t think they’re actually connected to anything. Sly and Robbie sounded like a string quartet, though if I turned the bass right up and treble right down the bass violin got a bit of an echo to it that perhaps in the 60s would bring the coppers running, but out here just makes the kookaburras laugh.

Anyway, it’s a bit of a come down from 12kW to 20w, and I know some people who may read this will be laughing at me.  But I figure the solar can handle 100w or so (mostly plenty for home use), so we’ll be on the lookout for an amp and another record player (one with phono leads) down the track…and maybe a big fat 20kva generator for musical emergencies.

One of my sound systems
My other sound system

Smoko #2

Whoever invented the whistling kettle was goddamn genius. Having had an electric kettle for the last 10 years I had forgotten how good the whistler is.  Not only does it whistle to let you know the things is boiling so you don’t boil the kettle dry, but it also whistles to let you know the thing is boiling so you remember you put it on in the first place and actually make your cup of tea.

So many times in the last decade I have put on the jug and then gone to do something while it boils and forgotten all about it, only to come back half an hour later and have to re-boil it…sometimes several times.  Not only is that a huge waste of power, it also means I’m not drinking enough tea.

I just googled it… Sholom Borgelman, a London sheetmetal worker invented the whistling kettle just after the first world war.  Presumably due to complaints from the trenches from soldiers who’d popped the kettle on and then gone off to do a bit of over-the-walling while they waited and forgotten all about it.

Sholom, I shalute you.

Your classic whistler

Smoko #1

Blogs and chainsaws

I find blogs a bit odd.  Everyone has opinions, ideas, stories and what have you, but does that make them worth reading?  The descendents of Narcissus gaze at their reflection in their monitors and fall in love with their own witticisms.  Stuff their friends took the piss out of for weeks last time they said it suddenly becomes immortalised, and to a lesser-informed reader may appear even wise, influencing an entire generation who get all their information via google towards who knows what madness.

Sounds right up my alley, don’t know why I haven’t started one before.

Of course, I’m not starting one now either.  But T said I should do a guest blog for her page, and it’s time for a cup of tea anyway.  And the kettle is on the potbelly which I only just lit, so I might be waiting a few minutes, so what the hell.

Let me tell you about my chainsaw.  Every man should use a chainsaw at least once.  It’s what makes you a man. That and chopping off chicken’s heads for dinner.

Okay, that’s not true, there’s probably more manly things out there, but there’s nothing for making you feel simultaneously tough as nails and utterly shit scared than working with something that can take your head off in the blink of an eye.  It gives you an adrenalin rush that’s second to none when the tree starts dropping, no joke.  When I turn the saw off all I can hear is my blood pumping.

So, I bought a chainsaw a few weeks ago, to start clearing all the trees that block our winter sun from our solar system (and us).  I have used a chainsaw before but only for chopping firewood and not for about 13 years, so taking down 15-to-25 meter high trees is a wee bit scary.  I read the manual cover to cover, looked up a few tutorials online on How To Cut Down Trees, drank a cup of tea and went chopping.

I started with a couple of small ones to get a feel for the saw, and the way trees want to fall.  There are a couple of tricks you can use to estimate where a tree will fall (or rather more importantly, land).  One is to stand at 90 degrees to the intended tree fall path and hold up a pencil.  Walk backwards or forwards until the pencil covers the tree in your line of sight, and then move the pencil to the horizontal, one end touching the tree, and where the other end is should be where your tree top ends up.  Another method is to stand in the path of where you want the tree to fall and hold up an axe at arm’s length.  Walk backwards or forwards until the axe covers the tree, and then where you are standing is where the tree should fall.

I couldn’t get a clean pencil shot, so I used the axe method.  Except my axe was all the way up at the shed, so I used an imaginary axe instead.   I sized up one of the sun-blockers, held up my “axe”, established the drop point, and declared myself satisfied.  Then I chopped the bastard down and nearly took out the house.  Verandah full of leaves.  Slightly bent gutter.  Broke the bird on the ‘hope’ sculpture.  Made Isaac cry.  Job well done!

There’s no hope

In fairness, or at least defence, I have used an axe a lot more than a chainsaw and have a pretty good imagination!  4 foot out on a 60-odd foot tree – what’s that, about 3mm of an axe handle?! – not a bad estimate really.  But we’ve agreed to let a bulldozer take care of the other trees in the house vicinity all the same.  The one I took wasn’t the biggest and, much as it might make for a more interesting blog entry, we’ve not been here long enough to flatten the joint just yet.  Besides, there’s plenty more trees out there that need removing, I won’t be suffering adrenaline withdrawals just yet.