Cake Houses, Stone Barns, Prickly Tents

Can plans change any faster? I suppose its to be expected that in a naturally developing (non) planned house build they will change frequently, and its good as it shows we are considering all angles to ensure we do the right thing at the right time, not so much a change of plan, more a change of route.

After visiting friends the other morning with their roundhouse still in working progress we have decided to build exactly that (it was stunning to see!) still as planned but not rush to do it before winter, or before anytime really, just to build it and let it develop as it should, taking our time, as and when we have the money and importantly after the first rains have come. When it rains here, it rains, so we can see how the land fairs when they first hit and ensure our chosen spot is good.

Once this is done we will flatten the spot and slowly, slowly start with the frame. When you are juggling feeding a new baby, stopping dogs from getting lost, horses from escaping, a 5 year old who deserves as much attention as possible after the last six months he’s had, (soon to be) rain/punishing heat, eating and sleeping it leaves us with about 10 minutes 45 seconds to build per day, so we might be some time….

In the meantime we are going to do a quick conversion on the stone barn, at 10m x 5m it is bigger than the 2 bed house-sit we are living happily in anyway and at least gives us the head start with new roof and solid walls… It has an earth floor, no water and no electricity of course, but once the solar is running, and the pump is pumping water from up the hill it’ll be ok, and with a mezzanine bedroom and a window knocked out will be a lovely space, it also is at the very easiest part of our land to access so no need to spend time building roads yet either. All in all, much better and much less pressure. We have found a slate supplier who can cover the entire floor for 140€ which is a bargain and will be perfectly in keeping with the space, we then will make a bathroom with partition wall, and will make two window frames to fill the holes which have been slated over, it will be a basic conversion as we don’t want to spend money on something that just needs to protect us from the elements, we don’t want to be too comfy or we will never get on with the ‘real’ build. Once we have moved out, we can add some finishing touches, render the walls etc and it will be a stunning holiday let for spring/summer and workshop space. It’s very exciting, I’ve always wanted to build and design our very own ‘tiny house’ and it looks like we have the added bonus of now doing so!

The plans for there ‘big house’ are looking great too, thanks to the huge patience, ideas and love given by a soul sister friend who works on planning projects for Eco builds we are getting more confident that the plans we had in our head will work as hoped, currently to save it from sounding so daunting and technical she and I are using cakes as ways to describe the effects on a house or ways to see structures… Like a battenburg we will only have windows and doors on either pink or yellow squares, but not both… Like a cheesecake we will ensure the ground is level and tampered down solid… Cakes and house design should be applied together much more often, as should cakes mechanics, I would learn so much faster!

So with pressure off it means we can really enjoy the build and not stress, we will be building a stable area still for the horses and to store the things which are currently in the barn in for winter, tools etc etc and while the digger is there we will be building an experimental dew pond for water collection and for the horses to drink/wade in on hot days, I’ve always wanted to try one, so now is as good a time as any and it means we can use it as an example of what/what not to do for one of the workshops next spring, with current world unrest it feels more important than ever to be examining methods of water collection without using more typical rainwater harvesting methods which are already becoming illegal in some US states.

I digress…We have found a place which sells old telegraph poles very cheaply, these will form the henge part of the roundhouse, we have to go and chainsaw them and then move them ourselves…in Portugal you can’t carry anything which is longer than your vehicle legally, meaning we need a trailer or a long vehicle to carry the 4 metre lengths which we need for the build but I’m sure we will overcome this soon enough… You can have an electrical power cable 2ft off the ground in a children’s park, inviting them to (as Tom did) to swing off it (thankfully it was insulated with thin plastic along all but a foot either end of it so he’s still alive today… but safety first, you can not carry things longer than the car, because that, would be dangerous. We also need some long length poles cut and delivered for the roof poles, we can get Douglas Fir here and eucalyptus in abundance of course, but it all takes time… Unlike in the UK, where you pop along to a huge depot which sells everything you need under one roof, or you call and order a delivery in for the next day, in Portugal its like going back in time, you order sand and cement from the builders yard, maybe tiles and bricks if you are lucky, or they will be somewhere up the road with someone else, then you go to the woodman, tell him what you need, a tree is chosen and (if they remember) that week it’ll be cut and processed and then delivered the following week, then you go along the road again to the fence post place and order these, they all come with delivery generally but it means you’re at the mercy of people remembering, and when you have accounted for the fact that everywhere shuts for their 3 hour daily lunch break and you have no address for delivery anyway its a fairly lengthy process to undertake. Here like in ‘the good old days’ people don’t call on the phone (most don’t answer or have such a crap phone line it’s not worth it) you drive to and visit the person who’s services you need, it’s wonderful, much more meaningful than placing faceless phone orders, but takes much, much more time… Luckily the relaxed attitude in west Cornwall and the even more relaxed approach from most of the tipi material suppliers means we are well versed in this coming Tuesday meaning next Friday without any warning at all.

So for now, we continue our cake/house design and we will be making the barn habitable ASAP. The long term plan is to have a round house with living space, kitchen, sitting area and dining room, connecting via a glass walkway to the courtyard and a second straw bale, cob wall hallway to a second roundhouse which will be the bedrooms. The cob wall walkway will be north facing and will be pantry and boot room and the glass walkway will be south facing and will heat the house in winter and will be another growing space. It’ll be wonderful to see it take shape over the course of winter and spring!

In the meantime today we have had more of our stuff arrive today and have been getting ready for the official move tomorrow. The horses will be loaded at 8am all being well thanks to a lovely new friend carol who has a trailer and is happy to help us with the two hour round trip, they can then get to work shortening the horrible spiky dry grass which cuts your feet as you walk through the field. As our short-short term accommodation we have set up a bug 5m bell tent and will create an outdoor kitchen and shower and loo sometime tomorrow, along with setting the well pump up (once we have the 200metres of pipe needed and something to pump the water too) and getting the solar power sorted.

In other events this week, life is settling down, we are getting used to the heat, its still mid 30’s most days, but we hide from the heat in the afternoon. We have been to see friends for the last few evenings, and had a lovely time, we are socialising more now than since I was about 25, and love every second. There is talk of Pygmy goats, Estrela dogs and fluffy kittens on the horizon, we have pretty much already agreed to take in a lovely little cat who is currently a few hours up the road after being rescued from the streets by a friend…the zoo is taking shape :) – It feels weird to have been here nearly three weeks and only just be going ‘home’ needless to say, we can not wait though, we are desperate to watch the sunrise and set and be nearer to the people we have grown to know and already love!

Here below are pics of the short temporary home, before the medium temporary home is finished. I shall take regular pics of the progress, hoping we can have this building ready in the next two weeks, which is incredibly ambitious but it wouldn’t be us if we didn’t set stupid deadlines for things!!!

The campsite temporary home before the temporary barn home.

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Our shade thanks to a big old olive tree

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Preparing the ground for the tent

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Setting up camp

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Spiky grass

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Home for a while

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Oily Paper Circles

THAT’S IT!!!!!!!! Done! Finished! Nothing more to do!!!! Despite being 3 days away from 9 months pregnant and with only a few hours sleep last night, I sluggishly started sewing around late morning, and found myself a few hours in having almost finished everything, so I pressed on and here I am FINISHED!!! Wahooooooooooo!

Now…it’s time for me to tell you how the machine continued for so long without its usual weekly mental breakdown. Yes the all singing, all dancing brand spanking new steed which was sold to us as ‘the best machine ever’ (hence the £1500 exchange of paper notes for it) by Fred the snake salesman….after just over a year of ownership and close to £1000 in repairs, several gallons of tears, at least a bucket and a half of blood, and enough swear words to keep the neighbours kids going until they are well into their late teens, we were sent details of a man in Truro by lovely Lizzie Cornish, and upon hearing my plea around a month ago he dutifully drove on down the next day and came to take a look.

A lovely squashy, huggable man he was, Cornish through and through, and just like my much loved fabric supplier Brian with his Somerset tones and warm smile, Cornish David came in calmly and asked to have ten minutes to just take a look and see what was happening… Within the time it took to boil a kettle and make him a cuppa he shut his tool box and said….’all done! I don’t need to do anything really!’ Upon seeing my baffled and disappointed expression he pulled a little piece of folded lined paper out from one of his huge tweed pockets, and laid it on the sewing bench, he took a pair of scissors and cut a rounded corner off one side of the paper, following the shape of the end of his thumb, he then snipped off the pointy part of the shape he had left and opened it out, to make a perfect circle with a hole in the middle, the right size to fit in the bobbin case, he dabbed a little machine oil on it, a fitted it in and said ‘THAT….will be all you need to solve the problem here’ I started sewing and the expectation of the clatter, clunk and then jammed machine didn’t happen, he stood and sipped his tea while I continued and then once the cup was finished he went on his merry way, charging only £50 and refusing my request to cover his fuel bill….

And he was right, absolutely right, not once has the machine broken or threatened to jam in the way that makes £100 a pop Fred appear, by now the machine would have broken a dozen times at least, by my calculations, depending on the day it chose to break on we would have spent £900 more on repairs and I’d have had no hope of ever finishing work before the baby arrives! I shall not lie, knowing that the slithery one would have certainly known the issue causing the problem, and still continued to fix it and charge us for the pleasure has made me twitch a little… Though money is money, and it’ll come back to us in one form or another as all these things do…

But!!! To think that of all the things needed to fix this metal lump of clattering spindles, needles, cogs and pedals was a piece of paper leaves me more than a little dumbstruck!!! So thank you Cornish David, for your good humour, your honesty and your knowledge… Thanks to you, I can start to rest a little, and can start to focus on thing other than canvas! I will still be making the little mytipi minis for those who want them, shall upload some pics to the website soon, but I am thrilled and relieved that I can finally stop worrying about going into labour anytime soon with a pile of sewing staring at the from the corner of the room!

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Keep It Clean

For once I thought I’d post less of a tale and more of an informative post – all is happening full throttle here at Monson HQ a van load of junk has been removed this morning, meaning the house is groaning less and less, wardrobes, cabinets and drawers left last night, we now have only two beds, a dining table, a chair and some benches left in the house. Tipi work is finally starting to become more of a slope than a mountain to climb and I’m hopeful that as long as the machine (and I) hold out it will all be finished within the next week or less! Must say I can’t wait!

All of this means that focus can be made on the logistics of the move and the reality of landing in 40degree weather and moving to a piece of land with nothing more than a well, a bucket, some trees and (currently) a fire risk covering the entire area. We have a small solar panel which will run two low energy bulbs, so we have some light to get us started. We will be buying a water pump when we get there which means we should be able to extract water from the well up the hill to a holding tank which will provide us with gravity fed taps and shower, and we need now to sort out a small generator which will be enough to power the sewing machine and some back up batteries when we first arrive. Of course, moving with a new baby, and washable nappies means one glaring issue….. Washing machines!!!!

We know we can’t power a machine on the meagre supply of solar panels we will be starting with, even in the summer, I had toyed with the idea of hand washing, then quickly abandoned it, and we were originally planning on taking over a bike or trike and making a pedal powered machine out of an old drum and some belts…logistically it’s proved a problem and it will still need setting up upon arrival so it’s not much use really, we will still be making one for the campsite guests, and times when we feel we want to keep fitter but in the meantime we have found a perfect happy medium, in the form of a twin tub! Low energy (because it doesn’t heat the water) and cycles which can be 1 minute to 15 minutes long, with a separate tub for spinning for up to five minutes, of course you can wash once or twice and rinse a few times too, more importantly the spin dry gets clothes as dry as they ever came out of our old machine! We have now been using the machine for 2 weeks and it is coping brilliantly with the washing demand we put upon it, once in Portugal we will use a black container to heat our water in summer, at the moment it’s a little tiresome heating water on the stove to wash and rinse in, so we are in the middle of putting together a quick 16 brick ‘rocket stove’ so we can heat kettles in super fast time. There is a hose attachment which means when we have a house and can hook up to a tap we will just turn on the tap to fill it up when washing (height of luxury!) which will be much less messy, but it’s no great chore for now and not waiting around for an unnecessary 40minute ‘Eco’ cycle certainly is worth a few buckets of water being carried from the kitchen to the garage where the machine finds her temporary home!

There are a few options of sizes of these machines, some as small as 2.5kg, I’m glad we opted for a larger 4.5kg one though as we already have to split the wash into threes or fours to enable to spinner to spin efficiently, once we have moved we will probably buy a mangle still for large bedding and thick towels which the spinner might not cope with too well, but that’s no biggie.

Energy output is fantastically low, and will hopefully mean we can use the machine through the summer and winter! :) on a wash it uses 200 watts and on spin it uses 120 watts which in comparison to the average machine somewhere between 700 and 1200 watts means we feel very happy indeed! It also means we can do tiny washes of just one or two items with a bowl of water which would never have been an option with our old machine!

Shall follow up more on the dodgy ‘rocket stove’ with pics and instructions ASAP :)

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