Friday, 30 July 2010

How to build stone steps / Como fazer as escadas em pedra

Driven nuts by uploading pictures one by unbelievably slow one onto this blogging thing, never having the time, etc. has meant I rarely post anything anymore.  So here in video format, though it's hardly saved time!!

So here, in pictures that move together our story of chopping up vast chunks of stone that were nicely available right next to where we needed some steps and something done about the eroding hillside.
Fortunate we have been (and grateful we are) to have had Gary over these weeks to teach us the confidence to just go ahead and start, and to understand the main things we have to get right.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A talk about community at Andanças festival

Plastering weekend at Miriem's house, Galicia, with our
"community" of growers
Honoured, I am, to be asked to talk, to give a talk, at a festival in the North of Portugal called Andanças.  An incredible event in its own right, an entirely voluntary event, set in the same community each year in a small village just South of Porto in the North-ish of Portugal.

I had been contacted following a description of a weekend get together and work I had with a bunch of local friends from Galicia and Portugal.

My family, in Scotland. A community of us, that I only really
appreciate when I see them from afar... Kim missing:(

So I will talk about what we are doing in this "community" or group of friends, but I also want to relate to my history of work and life in all those places I have worked until now in humanitarian disasters.  A life that seems to have been left behind, swept away by the present, the urgency of now, the next bit of building we have to complete, and so on.  But I find it is creeping up on me, this past. It has defined me after all. I travelled and worked as an aid or development worker from the age of 20 till that of 40, with spells of other things here and there.  The people and communities I worked with in crisis fill me with a great sense of being, of living. Of being alive and proud to have contributed in a major way. I think I need to start writing about these stories, these moments and these people.  Andanças will be a start, albeit a talk.

So here is a summary of the talk I have put together, that I'll give with no photos or electronic slidage and all that. Just talk. I need to work on my Portuguese, and an outline of what to say.  Or maybe I'll just think about it and fire from the hip...

Andanças 2010
Palestra on Community

I will talk about a community that shares an international landmark, the river Minho. Here, friends and acquaintances from Southern Galicia and Northern Portugal gather to help each other build our houses, or to create gardens for local schools, or just to talk and plan a future that is less dependent on industrialsed products and globalised trade, and more reliant on local economies. A future where buildings are made from natural, local materials, that require a fraction of the energy to keep warm , where food comes from nearby valleys and is free from toxins and chemicals.

But what drives communities to change, adopt new and unfamiliar techniques? How can we find cohesion in a modern Europe surrounded by the distraction of television, internet, computer games, cheap energy and food in supermarkets that come from lands beyond our horizons.

I will tell of my work in communities affected by war and natural disaster, from the confilcts in Bosnia and Burundi, Eritrea and Liberia; to recovery from tsunami in Aceh and the Maldives. How in these situations, as an aid worker, I found moments of incredible community unity, strengh, determination. Under desperate circumstances such as these, I found people were able to create great changes, achieve unthinkable progress, adopt new practices and skills.

Attempting to unite these two different strands in the knowledge of modern threats and challenges faced by people around the world I will discuss community as I find it now, in my new home in the Vale do Minho, the advantages and challenges of peace and prosperity, and the urgency for us all to find solutions to global climate, energy and ecological crises.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Making lime putty for building

Guest post by Paulo
(edits where I couldn't resist:)

Today a truck full of bags of quicklime arrived at Casa Felix and we began the process of filling our lime pit to make lime putty. We will use this yoghurt-type stuff to make plaster in a couple of months when (notice I said when not if) the strawbale walls are completed.
For now it needs to be mixed with water and “slaked”. This is where quicklime and water meet, and will bubble and boil and get really hot, and then mellow out. This is where ye old English drinking phrase to 'slake your thirst' comes from. Many of you
who have been to the UK will at some point probably have had a pint or two at an English pub called “The Lime Kiln” – there are hundreds scattered across the country, mainly because every town used to have one as lime was essential for building before cement came along (and ruined everything). And after mixing lime, you really feel like a drink!So what's going on here? Perhaps a quick chemistry lesson is in order.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

New terrace building - learning the art of the ancients

Gary comes from the Northwest of England, the "Black-country" he calls it. He arrived with us after 4,000 km around Europe and North Africa - on his bike. Bicycle, I might add.
Along with some impressive camping gear and an indomitable spirit, Gary brought the skills of dry stane dyking: building walls without mortar.

I'd been trying to figure out how we were going to build our retaining walls for countless tonnes of earth we'd moved from the main house ages ago. And I wanted to build a new terrace for bamboo experimentation...

Back in December last year Aljo helped me build a ramp and a temporary wall, but the Spring rains turned this into a muddy rout, and we lost most of the soil we had surfed down the ramp.

Ali and Thea arrived at the same time (from the Wwoofer volunteer network) and Gary took charge and led an impressive 2 week course-in-practice of the art of walling. Ali became an avid student, jumping up from a hasty lunch to get back onto those stones, "like a 3D puzzle" he delighted. (Later he would have energy for couple of sets of doubles on our newly found village tennis court which has to fill in the slot of an evening surf at the end of a hard day).

Gary is fiercely principled about walls and walling. In fact he says that if you stick to the main Principles your wall will work. Here, from memory, is what I think they are

Princple 1 - every stone needs two good faces :) (:!
No not smiley ones but hey. One face is external, is that which is seen and perhaps brings a smile - or at least deters a grimace with accompanying complaint "Jeez, how foul the frontage of that there stone, how bulbous, out of place". Actually, it seems to be only other wall-makers who actually notice wall quality, stone and face selection (I too have become an obsessive).
The other face we need to think about is the top, which offers itself to the stone above. This should be as flat and horizontal as possible. If both these faces don't cut it, then find another.

Principle 2 - Drive the rain out.
If possible, the external face should be angled so that rain is directed outward, rather than allowed to pour back into the wall. Like tiles on a roof I suppose.

Principle 3 - Two on one, one on Two.
Obvious right? (each stone should rest on at least two others and it in turn is pinned by two others above it). Thus stones are anchored on a couple, and weight of the many bare down upon the one. A more solid base. It might be obvious, but until now we hadn't twigged.

Principle 4 - Follow the line.
Each course has to stick to a determined direction, or line, between two points, but it also has to be slightly leaning inwards to counteract the force of gravity pushing down. Each time you start a new course of stones remember where the front edge of the next course of stones above will sit. So, if you have a stone with a curved front edge, push it out further than you would expect, so that the stone above can "keep the line" above it, otherwise the higher one will have to sit back too far, which has to be recovered later with more difficulty.

I'm sure I've missed out loads, and I didn't even have time to participate in the wall shown here, but I did on the next one...

Overall, it's been incredible to see how we can actually change the space around us, forge whole new faces onto the mountain our land inhabits.

OK, photo upload has gone haywire on this post, so will need to send them to an online album or something.