Friday, August 28, 2009

Sick Room Boredom: Where're me Comics, then?

I'm facing into my third week of being a temporary invalid due to my wee troubles, and the boredom factor is affecting me. Well, boredom isn't quite the thing -- there's plenty of Internet to look at and television and cat antics -- it's more frustration, I suppose, at having no stamina to get anything done.

There's a back garden could do with some attention, but I'm tired out on about the fifth or sixth clip of the secateurs. As for wheeling in sand to do a bit more of the patio, forget it. I couldn't lift the shovel if I tried. We have a mosaic or three to put together for the garden walls, but I'm short on materials (most especially mosaic mesh) and in no position to go hunt some down.

So, it's mostly sitting at the window looking at the world go by. I'm lucky in that there is a large green with another part of the housing estate beyond that, then the sudden uplift of green hills (we call them mountains, but my American friends think that's hugely funny) before a huge and interesting sky.

When I was a kid, the Kearns boys would drag a trolley of vegetables up from their mother's roadside shop at the bottom of Edmondstown, delivering cabbage or turnip, potatoes and pot herbs for my mother's kitchen. The trolley would be an old crate married to some pram wheels. In the bottom would be a big pile of second hand comics (there were several boys and girls in their family) and I'd swap whatever I had to hand, a number of Warlords, the Dandy, or Beano, for ones I didn't usually get otherwise. I usually got the better deal, at least in my mind, because the sheer quantity they'd hand over would keep me amused for weeks. Mrs Kearns got rid of a heap of waste paper and the boys got some free issues they'd not seen. They were a Godsend when I was laid up with some childhood ailment...

Anyhow, while musing on comics, the doctor interrupted by phoning me and upsetting me over the lack of Potassium in my latest blood sample. It was as low as "one point something" while I was in hospital. They gave me five days worth of pills to boost it and instructions to eat bananas and potato chips like there's no tomorrow (and there might indeed be no tomorrow if the levels don't rise, as it aids in muscle ativity, not least of which includes the ticker). My GP added orange juice to the equation, saying in his phone call that the result was now at the "two point someting" mark. It should be between "three point something and five" to be in the safe range, as far as I understand things.

I'm ascribing the loss to my blood pressure medicine. I'm beginning to swing from light fittings from the amount of bananas I'm taking. I'm eating chicken, beef, salmon, downing packets of crisps, gulping orange juice, the while increasing my body weight, which leads to higher blood pressure, which the blood pressure medication counteracts, which depletes my potassium... I wonder am I in trouble here, or will it swing around to e better level?

Next blood samples in nine or ten days.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Through the glass

"I've got you!"
"No, I've got you!"
"I have your ear!"
"I have your leg!"
"I'll pin you down!"
"I'll spring over you!"
"I'll stand on you!"
"I'll stand on you first!"
"I'll run!"
"I'll catch you!"
"I'll jump up!"
"I'll jump higher!"
"I'll roll over on you!"
"I'll grab your leg again!"
"I'm ignoring my owner now!"
"So am I!"
"It's good to be a dog, isn't it?"
"Yes, it's great...!"
"I've got you!"
"No, I've got you!"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Laying patio slabs, DIY style

We've been engaged in a new project, this time to turn the garden into the little oasis of peace and calm you see in the picture.

The original garden was typical Irish suburban, much like the builders left it 30-odd years ago. A grass lawn, some overgrowth of shrubs (and briars), and a tumbledown shed.

At first the plan was to remove the old shed, perhaps simply pave the area as a barrier against the re-emergence of briars, then replace the structure with another shed. But once we'd taken out the rotten timber, shrubs and weeds, the area was such a natural sun trap that it seemed a pity to give it over to another hostel for unwanted junk. So the idea of a patio was born.

A growth of ivy was taken off the boundary wall and the ground thoroughly dug to eliminate any root systems of this or the troublesome briars. The ground was then roughly levelled to give a firm footing for the structure that would eventually go on top. As the site sloped towards the house, any digging at this end would mean that there would be less as one worked out of the corner (provided, of course, the ground remained firm underfoot, which it did in this case).

Despite the precaution of digging up roots and weeds, these can grow back over time, so to inhibit these a membrane is laid, leaving enough overlap all around. Membranes can be bought by the roll in most DIY or Garden centres and they are pinned to the soil to stop slippage using plastic pegs that can be bought seperately. The membrane is water permeable, so the underlying ground won't dry out, useful if you plan on having plants coming up through it, for example. The roll is about four to five feet in width, so it's necessary to overlap sections and (as in this image) seal the overlaps with gaffer tape.

I proposed enclosing the supporting sand base to the slabs in a ring of concrete blocks. The blocks were laid on a bed of mortar made from sand and cement laid directly onto the membrane. There is no additional digging as I'm relying on the ring of blocks not to move on the already dug and stable ground. I suppose time will test that theory. The membrane is then covered in medium washed sand obtained from a builders' providers.

To fill the first "cell" took about two tonnes of sand. The sand is then screeded with a straight timber so that it can be levelled off. Once any imperfections have been filled or planed with the shovel as necessary, the surface is ready for the slabs to be laid out.

Naturally the cats had to try walking on the surface first to see if it was up to standard.

We bought Indian Quartz slabs from Roadstone and as they came in three different sizes, they were first laid out to test the pattern. The desired effect was a rough surface, and these slabs come with a naturally uneven one. The slabs would ultimately be mortared securely into place, but for now the laying out was simply done dry.

A little water, however, shows you the true colour of the slab.

The slabs were laid with about a two-inch gap between the outer edge and the boundary walls. This eliminated cutting and was the best solution in that the back wall and side walls were not at 90 degrees to one another, so keeping back a bit was best. The gap was filled later using some sand and a topping of beach cobbles for a decorative and pleasing effect. The slabs were also laid with about an inch and a half overhang over the concrete blocks. This produces an image of the patio "hanging" in mid air.

The first cell having been laid out, I decided to press on and add the next piece, which was to make the patio a kind of inverted "L" shape. Again, the soil was dug back to a reasonable level, and blocks laid on membrane to form edges for the cell. This took nearly three tonnes of sand to fill up, being a larger area.

Finally, the slabs were laid in their final positions -- checked by use of a line and, of course, a spirit level -- with a good bed of mortar underneath. There are few shortcuts here: each slab has to be bedded thoroughly, no "five blobs" work will do!

The slabs in the first cell were grouted using a barely-moist mix of sand and cement. I wasn't pleased with the outcome, but felt better when the grout lines were emphasised by dragging a pointed stone along them while still not quite gone off. This caused a more pleasing profile (you'll see a "Before" and "After" photo from the other section later).

With the first cell all but completed, we hung some sheets of water reed on the back wall and along the side. This was attached to the wall on wires strung between eye bolts fixed to the wall with rawlplugs. It hovers about an inch above ground level so that water can run off it.

Patio containers were starting to make their appearance at this stage, as the garden centres were being browsed for bargains... In the foreground are some lavendar plants which had been planted into the soil before we thought of doing the patio. Not wishing to disturb these, I resolved to build around them.

With the slabs laid and the grouting just about finished in the second cell, the grout lines were tidied up by scraping with my trusty pointed stone. The waste was brushed off lightly with a broom to give a satisfactory finish...

The next stage of the job involved tackling the area off the patio. I envisaged this area being gravelled, so we chose some pebble which would complement the colour of the patio.

The first job was the removal of the sod from the area to be gravelled, or pebbled, if you prefer. This took place over the course of a week when it never stopped raining and I didn't expect any work to get done. There was quite a bit of slipping and sliding involved, but it was otherwise straightforward. An old kerbing put in around the lavendar was taken out.

The pebbles arrived when it was raining, but I persevered, quite late in the day, quickly laid out some membrane (cutting slits in it for the existing lavendar plants) and threw down some barrows of stones "just to see"...

This high pink colour of the pebbles was caused by pink sand stuck to it which washed off nicely over the coming days. The pebble is a lighter pink, with some occasional white and black stones.

Looking back towards the house, you can see where I corralled the pebbles in another line of concrete blocks, this time set on edge and in a shallow foundation of sand and cement. Some of the smaller flags made stepping stones through the pebble, and a fountain (the electric pump's cable fed through a conduit under the pebble to prevent wear as the stones move underfoot) added a nice feature whose trickling water adds a restful atmosphere when one is sitting out.

That concludes the work two-thirds of the width of the garden. The other side having a dilapidated wooden fence and hedge it was necessary to have these pulled out and a new garden wall constructed before continuing with the rest of the paving work. I'll post more information on that later project when I can.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My kingdom for...

Gooseberry jam sounded nice, so I had some on my bread and butter (now bread and jam, of course). It tasted somewhat like plum jam and no doubt I shall think up a reason to have more tomorrow.

Then I felt the wee pip wedged in the gap between my left upper canine and the next tooth along whose official name I've not been formally introduced to. We had some cocktail sticks in the kitchen drawer last time I checked, so I went to pressgang one into service as a toothpick.

The first thing I found was a seamstress's measuring tape wrapped around a horse's hoof. Behind the horse's hoof was a ratchet screwdriver and a packet of dried mealy worms. There was a tube containing a springy-out comedy snake. A clown's shoe. Two packets of thumbtacks without the pointy tack bit. A number ten staple gun with a box of number 16 staples. A spray on dressing for burns. A yoke for lifting fried eggs out of frying pans which Herself calls a spatula and I call an egg lifter. A packet of balloons printed with "Happy 1953!". A small yogi, one eye opened irritably as I disturbed his meditations. A chorus of wind chimes that randomly played the theme from a Looney Tunes cartoon when first picked up. A bottle of hair removal lotion. A bottle of hair restoring lotion. A kitchen knife without a blade or a handle. A doorway to a wonderous land filled with fashion-conscious flying snakes. A tyre iron suitable for a JCB excavator. A bottle of nail-polish remover with a false nail stuck to its lid. A single pop sock.

But do you think I could find the cocktail sticks?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Recipe for Saving Willie's Life

Take one letter from the GP, signed with a discouraging comment: "God love you, now."

Select one large dose of panic as the swelling of the tongue is beginning to obstruct the roof of the mouth and will eventually cut off the airway. Set aside and do not inform Herself just yet of exactly how bad things are.

Proceed at 50 miles per hour to the Accident & Emergency Department walking calmly into the hospital as Herself parks the car.

Patiently explain your change of address details to the clerk at the desk for the official record as the seconds tick by. Repeat the details she can't quite make out. Ignore her complaints of hard to read doctor's handwriting.

Rest quietly, adding the coldest water you can find.

Greet Triage Nurse and explain problem. Return to resting quietly. Add more cold water.

Shake hands with A&E doctor. Explain problem. Understand the Ear Nose & Throat specialist on duty is based at another hospital and has to travel. Worry for 15 minutes.

Shake hands with ENT doctor. Agree with absolutely no reluctance that he should begin using a sharp blade to incise a foothold for a probe in the bottom of your open mouth. Weep slightly from right eye as syringe begins extracting fluid from behind the blockage.

Feel relief while A&E doctor asks if anaesthetic was used. (It wasn't). Grin wanly as A&E doctor looks into open mouth and says "You're a brave man."

Spend three days and two nights in hospital, spitting out stones through your unblocked salivary gland duct as antibiotic drips steadily through a tube into your arm.

Argue with pharmacist that yes, this strength antibiotic tablet *is* appropriate.

Return home.


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Now there's a thing...

... on Wednesday a woman got onto the bus at the bus stop, carrying a red fold-up bicycle.
This morning, a man got off the bus in Tallaght carrying a grey, fold-up bicycle, which he proceeded to unfold at the bus stop.
Parked outside my house today is a car with a bicycle rack on the back. Several mornings a week a woman parks here, unloads a bike and cycles off down the road.
Are we a nation of Undecideds....?