Tuesday, 7 March 2006

back on track

‘The true founder of civil society was the first man who fenced in a piece of land, thought of saying “This is mine”, and came across people simple enough to believe him.”


I managed to leave work in reasonable time last night and was back home by about 8.15, had I not bimbled about writing emails I would have been back about an hour earlier. The first thing I noticed after getting off the bus was that is had rained, not much but some at least and it had stirred up a smell of dust in the air, that same smell you get after summer thunder storms. I have been told that the smell is dust that has been picked up on the wind across the Sahara and then dropped with the rain on us. That would make sense as what wind there has been lately has been from the south. This has caused a few problems, I built the lean-to to protect me from the weather that blows in from the north and cunningly placed the fire in front of it. Whilst I am reasonably naturally protected by a hill from the weather that blows in from the south there is still enough of a breeze to blow smoke into the shelter. I sat in smoke all weekend. By the time Monday morning came around I was fed up with the smell of smoke, I got the feeling that the lady sat across the aisle from me on the bus was none too keen on the smell either. It was great to get into work, get a shower and put fresh clothes on.

When I got back to the lean-to I was greeted by the smell of ash and smoke that had somehow managed to linger in the air, this I was not happy with. Some wood smoke smells lovely but this had a distinct smell of the ground about it and had become associated in my mind with being cold, tired, dirty and breathing smoke rather that the nice fresh air that the woods has such a bounty of. The first task in hand was to light a fire and make tea, tea after all is the answer to everything.

Last night I had buried the fire in ash and earth party to extinguish the flames and prevent any more smoke blowing into the lean to as I slept (two nights of breathing smoke as I tried to sleep were quite enough thank you) and partly to make some charcoal. The best thing is that it actually does make charcoal! I remember reading about this being possible in Swallows and Amazons when I was a kid and I was hugely impressed when I discovered it did actually work. Raking through the mound of ash with my folding shovel I was amazed to discover a piece of charcoal as thick as my thumb and as long as my hand that was still glowing on one side. That was why it smelt of smoke, some oxygen was getting in to the embers of last night’s fire and some smoke was getting out. 22 hours after I had buried the fire it was still going. Probably best not to be burying fires in the summer then. Diggings deeper I found another two pieces of reasonably sized charcoal that were still glowing and a number that were still hot. In theory all I would have to do to relight the fire would be to place the three glowing pieces of charcoal together and they would erupt into flames of their own accord. I decided to test this theory and placed the glowing pieces together and then gathered the hot bits together to place on top of them. Then I put the hot bits down again so I had a free hand to replace one of the glowing bits that had fallen in the hole I had dug looking for more charcoal, this process I repeated about three times before solving the problem by filling the hole back in.

So there I was, knelt in the ashes in front of a small pyramid of slightly smoking ever so slightly glowing charcoal no doubt grinning maniacally to myself as I waited for the spontaneous eruption of flame. The grim fades, I shift my weight to a more comfortable position impatience takes over and I lightly blow onto the coals and a small flame briefly appears only to disappear as quickly as it appeared. Encouraged I blow on the coals again, this time with no little enthusiasm and, in between spiting out ash and rubbing clear my eyes, I see a flame a little bigger than the last that burns a little longer before guttering out. A big long slow controlled breath resulted in the three coals erupting into flames as per expectations and licking healthily around the hot charcoal atop them. Raking through the ashes with my fingers I discovered a deep vein of charcoal yielding some lumps the size of my fist, some tiny and some that burnt my fingers. Piling these as best as, and sometimes as quickly as, I could a respectable blaze was soon going and to this a couple of small logs were added to give the thing some longevity. I sat back to admire my handy work well pleased with my self, there is something very nice about a cool winter night, a small fire flickering away and the occasional hoot of an owl. I coughed, stupid smoke.

A Y shaped stick stuck in the ground acts as a support for a longer stick stuck into the ground at 45 degrees with a blackened billy can dangling from it into the flames heating water for tea really enhanced the aesthetic beauty of the scene. Smoke in the eyes from the southerly breeze distracts from the idyll I reasoned and so I quickly put up a temporary wind break so that the smoke would rise about the top of the shelter before getting caught by the wind, it worked! There is a lot to be said for walls, I’m surprised more people don’t have them. Drinking my tea as the remains of the hot water was useded to boil a potato and a parsnip (conservation of effort and energy) it struck me how simplified my life has become and how pleasing this sometimes is.

Boil potato and parsnip until nearly cooked
Bung in a load of shredded Savoy cabbage on top to steam.
Once cooked, drain the water.
Add butter and pepper and stir through.
Heat chilli oil in lid of billy can.
Shape vegetable mix as a kind of potato cake and fry until crispy on the outside.
Serve with tasty cheese and maybe a bit of cold chicken

I got enough sleep last night and it wasn’t bitterly cold so I could concentrate more on being comfortable rather than warm and so I woke as it started to get light at about 5 – 5.30 and happily lay in bed listening to the radio until it was time to run to the bus whilst wishing I hadn’t lain in bed for so long.


kitty said...

Perhaps you need two lean-tos, at right-angles, so that you can choose the one that the wind isn't blowing into on any given night. Although at this rate you will be cutting down trees to build a nice log cabin...!


ODM (Original Ditch Monkey) said...

Ray Mears has a design in his book that is four lean-tos in a square with three of the corners enclosed and the forth being left for the door. This allows sleeping for four people and a fire in the middle. It sound and looks lovely but a bit too civilised for someone who is shunning the happy world of tents.

Juggling Joe said...

Hello there Original Ditch Monkey!

Greetings from Medair in North Uganda (A relief charity I'm working for). I've read all your entry's. People have probably been reading your blog from all around the World! Man, you've really inspired me to try what you're doing; well, maybe when back in the UK, there aren't many trees where I am. Can you do some more spoon type competitions now i've discovered and read through your writings?

Have fun!!

Joe Meering (Juggling Joe)

fjl said...

It's funny you have these survival mechanisms ie tea is the answer to everything.
I have got people commenting :-)
Is that gorgeous smell wafted in from the desert? It's a lovely secure smell that makes you glad to be alive. I don't think it's Sahara imported though. It's just a sort of live damp and warm smell.

Lexa said...

The scientist says... It's ozone, combined with some damp earth. :)