Friday 24 March 2023

Sleeping Benchy

One of our oldest pals had an interesting father: republican, volunteer, musician, journalist, and history buff. He's dead these last 15 years and his children are scattered: like so many families who came of age in the 1980s; then there no jobs, not even jobs for the boys. From somewhere, shortly after the funeral the idea materialized that it would be a grand thing to have a place to sit and look up at some rolling Irish hills and, if so inclined, say a small prayer for this man. The action items were:

  • fence off a corner of one of our fields; with such a view complemented by a soundscape of water: tinkling, babbling or roaring according to the season
  • source a suitable seat: preferably a bench because two is company
  • lift a few of the paving stones from the old chap's yard
  • clean out the brambles, gorse and ferns
  • plant a little holm oak Quercus ilex to frame the view
  • add a handsome flat-topped boulder for, like, the tea tray
  • . . . and don't forget some brack

And it was so. Enda's Corner was a bit of work but I liked the outcome, and counted the project as a Win. But it was as far from our kitchen as it was possible to be; heck it was almost in the next county and so that bench was rarely used. I suspect that the longest the seat was occupied was a couple of Summer hours when I sat with another friend, also now dead, while we talked about teenage daughters, the joys and tribulations of raising such cr'atures.

This Spring, the daughter of the hero of our tale, our pal, announced that she planned to come home from foreign and would like to come visit with us on a whistle-stop tour of friends and relations.
[aside:We had another couple of friends in the early 90s: He - also dead and far too young - from County Clare via London, She from Canada via Scotland. Shortly after they became an item, he took her to visit his extended and extensive family in The Banner County. Jaysus, she confessed later, it was like she'd tapped into the motherlode of mouse-trottable tea with ham & salad sandwiches . . . and don't forget some brack].

Naturally we went down to visit with Enda in anticipation of the visit and were disturbed to find that 10 years of neglect, and exclusion of sheep, can reduce a comfortable and inviting coin de sejour into a prop from Sleeping Beauty. Our fairy-tale briars had been so feisty that the bench, let alone the paving stones, were entirely invisible from even a short distance. It was almost as much work to restore the corner to a semblance of its former state as it was to carve out the paradise from the wilderness in the first place. The bench, indeed, sadly under-engineered for two monstrous wide Dad-bottoms in the first flush of its youth, was reduced to fritters by 15 years of sturm und drang. So 'elp me guv'nor, the thing came apart in my hands when I tried to pick it up:

The holm oak o.t.o.h. was doing princely; having long out-grown its supporting stake and now 2.5m tall and thriving. The gorse had also grown back strong as ever but the fence posts were rotten through. Setting to, we generated some 5 cu.m. of brambles, gorse, twigs, and ferns and tucked this detritus under the nearest hedge . . . to mulch down . . . for habitat.

The redoubtable Dau.II resolved to reduce the bench to its component parts, discard the cheap and feeble slats and replace them with some naturally distressed 2 x 1s [18mm x 36mm] that had already seen service as a rabbit proof fence. From an early age, Dau.II has been interested in making things; but 8 years living in an 4th floor apartment in a city got her out of the habit of wielding a cordless drill and a handsaw. We soon realised that reuse, recycle, refurb is the worst of all construction projects.

  • The original bench came as a flat-pack kit: the ends in cast iron with pre-drilled bolt-holes; 8 wooden laths all precision cut to the same length, holes pre-drilled; the bolts and screws all the same, appropriate, size in two little plastic bags. Idiotsäkert as they say in Ikea.
  • A from-scratch bench made from wood and screws has enormous tolerance and is susceptible to any amount of bodging. I've made several of these from scaffolding planks and/or pallet-wood for the cost of the screws.
  • The refurb job o.t.o.h. is constrained by the interface between the, effectively unalterable, cast-iron end-pieces and the timber. There is for example a gutter [R above] to receive the ends of each lath which limits the thickness of the timber - especially where the gutter is curved. These gutters are cast to different widths on the left and right arms! And ensure a rather feeble depth in all of the (bottom-supporting) planks.

Now a good pair of hands, a materials person, would have no problems with such a job. But Dau.II and I were spavined by lack of handy tools like clamps; and my best wood-saw was awol; and some of the 2 x 1s were too fat and needed to be chamfered to slot into the gutters; and some of the 8 laths were a few mm longer than the others (?!?); and I only have one cordless to both drill pilot holes and drive the screws. But we persevered! And with some puffing and blowing assembled a working bench, rather more robust than the original, which should be good for 2   3   6! years. I'm hopeless at this sort of thing: so many times have I swapped out a light-fitting only to find the protective cap in my pocket after I've re-done all the wiring. The first iteration of the bench proved to have a significant list to port when set upon its feet - but some assertive horizontal shear force ironed most of that out. And here's the finished product, with one coat of Danish oil. Yes, it is 150mm more cosy than the original 1200mm length. Bonus: bucket of kindling from the punky original laths.

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