Contains moderate hedge and bird peril.

Half term holiday. The last one of the year, in advance of the bigger holiday in the middle. The half term lengths that Summer had been preposterous, making a mockery of mathematics with a seven/three split. Staff and students alike finished the last week of the seven in a state of wide-eyed exhaustion. Next week, he thought, we return to a nothingy three week session, to be packed with last minute exam revision for those students that just realised this isn’t a drill, gimmicky distraction projects for the lower years, and assorted frantic loose end set text conclusion… all this in between preparing for next year, school trips and celebration assemblies.

Yeah, quite enjoyable,really, but a lot to do. I love having conversations about this with a particular pal of mine, as all he hears is “I have another week off now, then in three weeks I have another long holiday”. It supports his comically reductive line that teachers start at 9am and finish at 3.30 five days a week, sit down to enjoy lavish vacations for months on end, and generally live a cosseted Life of Reilly in the Land of the Cushy Numbers, unlike people with proper jobs. \n

Of course, his pose is marred somewhat by a role as a freelance graphic designer, whose social media updates speak of a life permanently plugged in, yet with ample time to draft epic responses, including well-chosen gif accompaniments; where working from home means every day is by default a day off; his whole calendar a matter of choice, dictated only by how much time one feels like spending on resizing pictures of cartoon teachers to fit the page.

Tee hee! Soon, though, I will in fact be luxuriating in the time-riches of a quite extensive holiday, yes, to be fair. And that means time to get at the garden. There are lots of little jobs becoming bigger jobs by the day: clusters of weeds emboldened by neglect, piles of wood accumulating with no firm designs for their future… and The Hedge.

[FX: Dramatic chords]

The so-called week off so far has been spent locked in combat with an extensive thicket round the perimeter. As regular readers may recall, we rent, but devote care and attention to our fortunate-to-have-it outside space. This hedge, though. 30-odd metres of privet. I am told it was originally maintained at about chest height, but since those fabled times it has transmuted into cyclopean ramparts the like of which might send a rational mind into a fever dream of unutterable intensity. F’tagen. It is my bête vert.

It is also about nine feet high, at least two feet higher than it should be. So shockingly high that I have switched measurement systems in my bewilderment. Most of April and May has been a write-off for good gardening weather, and many of the plants we put in at the start of the year are kind of wheezing their way out of the ground. Two feet of shadow on the hedge side is no help.

Effecting this trim is easier said than done, though. Some of the inner branches are the thickness of the base of my thumbs. Even the electric clippers’ battery has had enough, sending me pithy commentary on the process when it should be charging.

Still, it was progressing… but then, aaagh, I inadvertently exposed a nest with two baby sparrows in it. Rapidly-downed tools, hasty re-covering action, and a rethink. An important gardening lesson learned there: know your local birds’ mating seasons and nesting habits, and check foliage carefully before commencing any pruning.

I’ve started again from the top end, away from the entrance. And, happy ending: the parent birds returned within 20 minutes of the privet toupee being pushed into place.

Time off also means a bit more opportunity to attend to things like writing. The Pomera caught my eye last week, via the Offscreen Dispatch newsletter.

An E-ink Typewriter, a distraction-free composition tool, the spec on Kickstarter says it does calendar and spreadsheets, etc, has lengthy battery life, and comes with spiffy folding keyboard for portability.

It has a pleasingly retro appearance: bit clunky looking and partially techy; portable and does the jobbish? A Psion organiser sort of scenario. They have been available in Japan for 10 years, also a retrograde quality (for people in the west, at least, with notions along the lines of “Ah, Japan! Land of the Near Future!” etc). The kit is priced at an ‘early days of video’ level – something that seems stratospherically high for what it can actually do. The price point for the English version is about £300, which has something of the super keen, well-off early adopters-only about it.

This kind of put me off a little entire amount.

In the skint teacherish absence of shiny fresh toys, then, I’m writing this on a decrepit Asus Aspire One. Eight years old. Intel Atom inside (TM, etc). Weeeell… It’s good for typing on? I can even do spreadsheets, but if I start asking it to do other stuff one might take for granted from even a half-decent smartphone in 2018, it starts freaking out and seizing up, like a middle aged man in the throes of a back spasm. By “other stuff”, I mean run a web browser, for example. An attempted update of Firefox made it wander off into another room to forget what it was doing there for about forty minutes. Chrome fared even worse (still out looking for its car in a neighbouring street, I think). It’s probably for the best. So, here I am using WriteMonkey, which the Acer at least seems able to handle without waving a hand frantically and gesturing vaguely over its shoulder.

This week’s sunny weather and border landscaping saw outside basking prioritised over content consumption anyway. I note with interest that Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger is up for the Golden Booker prize. The Booker of All Bookers (whatever) is to be announced on 8th July, which gives me time to read the version I have hidden in a box somewhere beforehand, and maybe Midnight’s Children as well, which also sits awaiting interest.

Shelves. I’ve fallen into a nice rhythm with bits of the KonMari Method. “You’ve got to have a system!” (H.Hill) Originally, I had confidently expected the process to be done in a couple of weeks, scoffing at the slow six months suggested in the supporting literature (gleaned from a cursory skim through the website, I mean).

Yet, faced with boxes opened, looked through, deemed essential, re-lidded, then re-opened and re-appraised in fits of ‘No, come on, seriously…’ I have come to appreciate the *extended project-ness* of it all.

A lifetime habit of accumulating tat will require more than a simple act of abandonment, much as I enjoy those. I keep finding books from old flames and forgotten friends, and all those need to be attended to properly. Marie Kondo’s concept of resacralising is an interesting aspect, but, as Edgar Poe suggested, whenever people talk about the supernal oneness, there’s never a word said about the infernal twoness. I’ve found there’s an element of exorcism to undergo as well. Thankfully short on pea soup projectile vomiting, though, at least so far. This is probably because I’ve started with the “papers” bit of “books and papers”, in a somewhat craven act of alphabetical chicanery.

Finally for this week, I’m publishing *just about* in time to share my annual appreciation of the high and windy genius that is The Paragons, “Riding High on a Windy Day”.


Rock never came any steadier. I wear a smile upon my face, anyway.

This year, we decided to keep chickens. Fowl Play is the terrible pullet pun titled tale of How the Coop Was Made, and the Chickens What Went In It.

Beginning

Here is a pic of the south-west corner of our back garden, taken at the beginning of summer.

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We’re quite lucky, really. I work at a boarding school. The college owns various properties, and we rent this one.

Waking up to this sort of view is a total privilege.

The field behind us is farmed. It was wheat this year, oats the year before that, but the bit you can see just over the fence is too small for tractors, so we have lots of nettles, and somewhere to tip the grass from the lawn. The tree is in the garden. It’s somewhat gnarly, but the apples are pretty good, as eaters and cookers.

We wanted to make the most of the space, so decided earlier in 2014 that we should get some chickens. And this summer holidays gone by was when it was Going to Happen.

Lay of the Land

The various fence posts you can see are the remnants of a previous occupant’s attempts at keeping hens. It didn’t really work out for them (the occupants or the fowls), and there was all sorts of junk behind the wire that was attached to the posts. They had a series of fires there (the occupants, not the fowls, although it’s an appealing image), getting rid of bottles, mattresses, all sorts of incongruous items. You can just about make out the fence post in the middle is charred, and there’s a bare spot on the ground just in front of that. This photo is after the initial clean-up. Getting rid of the giant thistles and Triffid-esque nettle network took quite a bit of slash and fork. I dug down a fair way, but the chickens now in place are still scratching up singed bits of battery, bolts, hooks, plastic toys.

Once I’d cleared out most of the debris and ill-placed flowers (aka weeds), the Grand Designs project was under way.

Material World

The intention was to try and build a shed from as near scratch as possible, and re-use as much material as possible. I wish I could tell you I’d kept an account of all the spending, but I’m just not that organised. I will give approximations, at least.

Starting from the base up… this large section of wood had been part of some sort of gazebo outhouse structure built along the fence, further up to the left from the view above. It was fixed to the perimeter fence with gigantic nails that took ages to prise out.
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So, free, but unwieldy. It sat in the garage for ages, awaiting sanding and painting…

… awaiting…

...later that summer...

…later that summer…

Our neighbour on the other side of the garden meanwhile offered eight of these sets of wooden panels. I think the panels didn’t pass the fire regulations wherever they used to be, and had to come out.

"...get it knocked together in an hour no bother..." - A Local Former Carpenter

“…get it knocked together in an hour no bother…” – A Local Former Carpenter

The neighbour, Brian, was a carpenter at the school for 50-odd years, so I had a fair bit of barracking and plane-speaking banter to put up with across the fence all summer. He was really sweet, actually, lending tools and offering hints when I asked… but he also took the piss quite a lot.

Taking the time to procure some A3 graph paper online, when that came I tried my best to measure and plan the whole thing. Informed by Brian’s suggestions (if unconvinced of his assertion that it could be completed in 60 minutes), I had a vague notion of making a sort of box out of the different bits, using one panel as a roof.

v rough sketch

 

I mean, I just bashed this pic out now rather than scanning the originals, but you get the idea. The process of measuring everything out properly, on the graph paper, with a ruler, was crucial. Clarifying the actual requirements into manageable sections, generating lists of other stuff we’d need to get, etc.

 The image above is sort of what ended up happening, with a few tweaks. I found a great deal of helpful info on various chicken keeper forums, and I’ll post some proper links to those later, but if you’re here looking for actual technical guidance, I must be honest and acknowledge that my construction skills are about on a par with my ‘free hand drawing in Paint using a knackered mouse pad’ abilities. Architecture and mathematics are not particularly my portfolio, as evidenced by some of the Escher-esque angles in the finished building.

It all really came into focus about halfway into July, at the start of the holidays. I heard some neighbours from down the lane were moving house and divesting themselves of all manner of stuff. I knew they had a coop in the garden. While I was too late for the fencing  – an earlier bird neighbour from the other way swooped faster – and knowing the family from school, I went round to see if I could “help their moving process” by taking any unwanted chicken fittings off their hands.
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As you may be able to discern, there was a nesting box, side panels, bits of mesh, doorways, and all sorts.  Despite me asking pointedly a number of times, all payment was turned down. I even managed to press gang the students into carrying the bits up the road to my house. Quite a result – thanks, former neighbours!

Putting these bits and pieces together with my existing supplies, the project was underway in earnest. A trip to B&Q for some lengths of 2×2 timber frame, sundry exterior paints and items, proved a decisive motion. After that, construction proceeded rapidly.

Well, construction of the frame started to be begun, at least. I wasn’t in a rush. I had a summer holiday to fill.

Next edition: Construction begins on “Mimi’s”: the Best Little Henhouse in Ryedale.