Finally, seasonal weather. A crisp Sunday, with an exciting dusting of snow, was a perfect setting for a family dander through the Pan Handle (intriguingly named suburban play park, cycle path and dog walkers’ paradise).

Pan Handle trees

Regrettably, there was not enough snow to make the igloo requested by our eldest. However, there was plenty to deck lightly the trees, swings and rooftops. Also, no matter how light the covering, you will always get keen groups out massing for snowbattle. We witnessed a minor snowball skirmish, which the three runners in the pic below were scampering to join. Such enthusiasm has to be applauded. One boy kept throwing himself to the ground shouting ‘Take cover!’, even when there was clearly no incoming.

Boys keep slinging

Other kids followed different agendas. This huge ball was being exported across country somewhere, to form part of some sort of snowhenge:

Big plans

No, really – a good half mile up the path we passed the builder, who turned out to be a very cheery soul called Sam. He agreed to let us capture his Sisyphean endeavour for posterity, before rolling the increasingly leafy sphere off round the corner and on to who knows where.

sam-sisyphus

By the time we came back from the shop the temperature had risen enough to melt the ground layer of snow, but as we ambled, a light breeze sent showers of flakes from the trees on to the path ahead.

We cracked ice shards against the tarmac before heading home to wassail the apple tree in the garden.

The continuing story of the construction of The Best Little Henhouse In Ryedale*

The start of summer 2014 brought a number of opportunities to relax. Six day weeks over, close to two months off. Time to kick back and wind down.

Yet I was on edge – and it was a poorly bevelled edge. My first attempt at a serious piece of woodworkery, putting together a henhouse, and for the first few weeks in July, all I was building was a carpentry anxiety complex.

To start with, I distracted myself with a lot of cosmetic stuff. It was pretty straightforward, wood treatment things. There were a number of sections taken apart from a hutch donated by neighbours mentioned in Fowl Play Part 1. They hadn’t had chickens in it for a while, so it wouldn’t have been cleaned, and it had become foxed.

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Note the clag, the bits of chaff and sawdust and dirt… As well as sanding the boards clean, I realised, I would have to completely re-treat the wood to make it weatherproof. The approach would be to sand it down, and paint it up, as I would sing to myself, to the tune of ‘Rip it up’ by Orange Juice as I worked. The 3 signifies me trying to be as organised as possible. Unscrewing each section, keeping a log of which bits went where, to help piece important bits back together accurately. I mean, this was sort of useful, although where the pieces went was kind of obvious even to an amateur armed only with enthusiasm and a blue permanent marker.

A lot of the older chicken manuals we used for our supporting material suggested creosote. The smell of creosote is very familiar and reassuring in a nostalgic sense. But best not savour too deeply on the inhale, Cletus! The Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) rating for creosote is so high that you can’t actually buy creosote any more in the UK. You have to get a ‘creosotesque’ substance. Despite being less volatile, it is still nostril-wateringly bad for you, for the environment, and crucially for any poultry that might happen to be pecking at the timbers.

I went for a big tub of water repellent product, illustrated here:

quack!

quack!

It was VOC rating 2 (“Low”) , which may be painty sciencey make-you-feel-good meaningless woo, but it was the same price as the creosotish product, and I didn’t get the spins every time I levered off the lid.

‘Autumn Gold’ looked like neon orange when it was first applied. J joined in the neighbourly heckling on seeing the colour slapping on.

‘Dear me, you’ll be able to see it from across the valley. “Mimi’s: the best little henhouse in Ryedale.”‘.

‘Balls! Imagine it with late summer light playing across it,’ I rejoined, although secretly I was a bit worried. In those early stages of painting, even I had to admit it made everything look like Tom Jones’ towels.

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I was confident though. Weeks passed. The colour matched the existing pine sections as it dried, and we were having some extra nice weather… note how well the grass is mowed?  Yeah, takes a special kind of prevarication to get a lawn that baize-like. Slowly, though, the different sections of the coop got their coats of waterproof paint.  I was also getting into the whole DIY thing. As you can see above, I put together an impromptu trestle. Check me, the great handyman. And if I say ‘Handyman’ into a mirror five times, do I appear behind myself holding a power tool?

I digress. The bit being painted here is the laying box. Once I had all the bits of wood painted, it was time to start sawing. I got hardware from a number of different establishments, based on how well I could accentuate a confused amateur demeanour. You’d be surprised how willing some establishments can be to offer trade prices to someone non-trade who has mistakenly wandered in off the street with cash in hand and screws to buy.

Things I had to buy in:

Box of screws

Tenon saw

8 2×2 joists

 

Then I finally got sawing. I figured out (and if this is obvious to people who cut bits of wood up all the time, forgive my childlike wonder at the realisation) that I should splice the joints.

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I believe the technical term is a “half lap splice”, and I was pretty proud to have figured this out without recourse to manuals. Okay, the finishing is a little wobbly, and probably makes it a “3/8 lip spluce” or something.  I’m sure there might well be people looking at this and shaking their heads going ‘Nope, what you’ve got there – if it has a name – is simply an affront to carpentry.’ Whatevs… it’s still standing.

 

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The clamps were another loan from Brian, the actual joiner next door. He has tools over 60 years old that are still in perfect working order, some of which I got to borrow. Some, he actually let me have, as he’d replaced them with something nicer. Look at this:

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Purty! It looked a bit worse for wear when Bri handed it over, but a bit of light sandpapering and magic sponge and it was lovingly restored to this shiny glory. It was one of a succession of moments on this project where the full appeal of joinery, the whole ‘DIY’ ethic, was revealed. If I’d had a miter saw a couple of days earlier in the project, I might have avoided some of the more intriguing mathematical anomalies in the brackets…

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…although I managed the first few corners with only me new tenon saw, a smattering of elemental geometry, and many cheerful thanks about the square on the hypotenuse, the mitered ones were much better.

The mostly finished frame looked like this:

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…and finally we were ready to start attaching those orangey sides.

Next episode: Short back and sides, something waterproof on top…

*The Best Little Henhouse in Ryedale… ironic nickname coined by J, based on the garish colours, and prompted also by a succession of increasingly elaborate and lavish designs abstracting into fantasies of a spiralling, onion-domed, rococo ostentation, frequented by periwigg’d poultry clucking approvingly in heroic couplets. Which sort of happened.

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.

Hard copies!

hard copies

Written letters,
got letters,
inserted photos
recorded things, made covers for them,
sent through the mails.
Made tapes for lovers and friends –
compilations relating the state of the nation
back in whenever it was –
or right now,
how you’re feeling right now,
holding the envelope in your hands
having run a finger under the flap,
slit open the paper,
pulled out the letter,
put the photo on the fridge door where you can see it,
placed the tape in old equipment
(pick up thy Walkman…),
played songs,
some you half know, some you don’t know…
and you love them all.

Something like that, anyway. More to follow on the Castrato Attack Group CD, which is available at Memoirs of an Aesthete but for now suffice to say: heaviosity.

Regards the tape and other pressies, thanks be to JCG at Ten Minutes Hate (proper letter coming at you, obvs). The cassette seems to be a compilation of songs with a ‘walking’ theme, which made me chuckle as I did, in fact, play it in a Walkman.

When I was in the classroom and had a free period and put on the tape, this was the first track, and with the massive rumble of orchestral thunder, louring Yorkshire clouds threw rain against the window.

And the sun shone at the same time. It was, let me assure you, a moment quite far out.

Happy days!