Saturday, September 25, 2010

Still Damned Tired

I feel like I haven't actually stopped since about a week before we took off to Borneo. I mean -- first there was all the prep and packing, and all the taking care of loose ends. And then there was three weeks with three children in a couple of very foreign countries. It was a lovely holiday, yes, but not what I'd call 'restful' by any means.

Then I got back, and I had a week to catch up. That included re-reading the four novel-length MS which the ROR writers sent me for our meet in Melbourne, and of course, editing the eight-of-ten scenes from the libretto piece into shape. As well as taking up home duties of cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc again.

Then it was off to Melbourne, for the ROR meeting and WorldCon. As you know, I combined regular Dad duties with irregular Flinthart stuff by bringing Jake to the WorldCon, so that wasn't exactly a cup of tea either. (Big tip o' the hat to Barnesm and his Weapon Against Society for easing the trek both for me, and young Jake.)

Returning from Melbourne, it was school holiday time. Kids underfoot. But of course, I was also trying to get through a bunch of things, as usual. Trying to edit video from the holidays into a shape useful for the boys at school. (The 'Food' section will be going on display at Younger Son's class this Friday, accompanied by yours truly cooking a version of Nyonya Chicken with steamed rice, followed by the classic street-drink/dessert 'ABC'. A dose of seriously foreign foodiness for a class of rural Tasmanian kids. Should be fun, no?)

One of the projects that really ate some time was the removal and replacement of the old wood-fired kachelofen stove thing. A German-designed wood heater, the kachelofen was a nice piece of work... but it had been bricked into position over twenty years previously, and no thought had been given to potential needs of maintenance. As a result, rusted and sprung seams in the cast iron system were pouring smoke into the house every time we tried to use the bastard.

In the space of a week and a half, I pulled down the entire brick structure with the aid of a hammer and a small crowbar. I carefully deconstructed the heavy iron oven, pulling it into its component pieces, undoing screws and bolts last touched maybe a quarter-century of regular heating and cooling ago. I broke down mortar, cracked bricks, swept, vacuumed, chiselled, swept and vacuumed some more, until I was down to the bare concrete foundation slab.

I was working against time, because Natalie had a fiddle gathering planned for this weekend, including a lovely chap from Melbourne by the name of Ken Maher, and his two lads. Mainlanders. You have to keep the house warm for them, apparently...

So. Friday a week or so back, I picked up a bunch of slate tiles, cut them to size, and stuck them round the bottom of the concrete slab with enough overhang at the top to create a space that I could fill with tile bedding. And of course, on Monday I went and got a small load of crusher-dust to mix into a proper tile bed. Except, of course, it's impossible to get a 'small' load, so I wound up with roughly a tonne and a half of wet crusher dust in my little trailer.

Of that trailer-load, I needed about five decent buckets, so I hauled out the cement mixer, made up the tile bed, put it in place and screeded it flat. Then, armed with my trusty wheelbarrow and spade, I shoveled the remaining tonne-and-a-half or so of wet crusher dust into various places on the driveway deemed to be in need.

Late Tuesday, the tile bed was dry, so I mixed a bunch of tile adhesive and put the slates on top. I had to cut the row closest to the wall down to make 'em fit, but being slates, I wasn't too worried about absolute precision. That rustic, rough-edged look is helpful.

Wednesday afternoon I decided the slates were settled enough, and I put the grouting into place. (Then I did the usual three-hour martial arts stint.)

Thursday, I drove into Launceston and collected a Jindabyne wood heater, pictured somewhere below. Weighing in at 90kg disassembled in its sturdy cardboard box, it was a bit of a bastard to manhandle into the house, but with determination and a bit of help from Natalie, I succeeded. Assembled the thing. Cut the flue and the flue-shield to fit with the old flue sticking out of the wall. Inserted appropriate insulating ropy stuff. And built a little kindling fire - the first of two required to 'set up' the enamel on the stove properly.

Then I drove back to Launceston, and failed at sword training when I realised that I'd managed to strain my left elbow rather badly - probably when I tried to catch 90kg of stove-in-a-box that was sliding down my makeshift ramp off the back of the car. (I did, in fact, catch the thing successfully, and left-handed. Shoulda realised I wouldn't be waving a sword around much that night...)

Friday: I drove back into Launceston and had a meeting with my MA supervisor. He wants me to work on the fiction before the exegesis. Okay, sez I. Why not? So I'm off and running there, or at least I will be soon's I give 'em duly certified proof of citizenship. (I love paperwork. Really.)

Also on Friday: Natalie used the Hyundai to collect Ken and his lot from the Airport. Or she would have, if she hadn't crossed up the car alarm and thus invoked the Evil Genie of the Engine Immobiliser. RACT eventually fixed that problem for her by disconnecting and reconnecting the battery... but now the car stereo believes it has been stolen, and refuses to function. I think it's waiting for some kind of clever code to be entered by the Rightful Owners (us) but since Nat and I have no idea what kind of code it wants, the car no longer sings to us. Must remember to phone the dealership on Monday for help... not that I expect a lot of help. When I rang them to talk about the car not starting after Natalie's alarm problems, their service manager promptly told me that there was no way the alarm system could stop the engine, oh my, dear me no. I'd forgotten the term 'engine immobiliser'. Had to look it up online, call back, tear a few strips off the service people... and they still couldn't help. So I'll be pleasantly surprised if we don't actually have to replace the whole fucking stereo..

However. In the end, it was done. Oven in place. Fiddler and kids fetched. And eventually, even my own boys were brought back from orchestra practice.

So, Saturday. Lots of fiddlers and musos all over the house.

That there is artist and Irish music legend Brian Mooney. A nicer chap you couldn't hope for; still going strong at 80 or thereabouts.

The sun room, full of musicians. Ken's at the far left, in the greenish shirt.

There's Younger Son, crouched happily in front of the shiny new wood heater. I'm pleased to say the thing works a treat. Heats up faster than the old kachelofen, though without the brick box around it, the heat also fades faster. But it burns very efficiently, and the glass front lets you watch the fire, which is very nice.

I've still got to clean up the back wall, maybe add a few more slates to frame the brick mantle behind... clean up the grouting and the seams (I ran out of grout) down the front there. But it works, and one can hardly ask for better.

And what did I do while the musos were doing their thing? I hung out in the kitchen, cooking for many, drinking beer, and listening to the music. It was very good, thank you kindly.

Now I have to go and pull my slow-baked lamb shanks out of the oven...