Straw bale on the BBC

It’s always good to see any news on straw bale building, but it’s normally resigned to the likes of Grand Designs or YouTube channels, so when I first heard the report on Radio 4 and then read further on the BBC website about a couple of straw bale houses going up for sale in Bristol (UK) I just had to read more and spread the news. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31156579

Now I know that there are a lot of enthusiasts and traditionalists out there that may ridicule the construction methods and declare that this isn’t really a straw bale house, but I would argue that this is indeed the future f straw bale.

If straw bale is ever going to become mainstream then it has to adopt to modern techniques and technology, rather than trying to adapt old methods to meet todays exacting standards.

Of course I would never even consider building a house based on this new modular and factory fabricated methodology, but then I’m an enthusiast not a builder and I like curvy walls 🙂 I like the aesthetics and the fact that our timber frame and infill method was very accessible for someone with no building experience to tackle. For the brave you could even try the Nebraska load bearing method, but for us the additional skills, uncertainty  and possible problems with planning were things that we decided to avoid.

The point is that the new technique still ticks most of the boxes that people who decide on straw bale say they ticked when asked why they decided on this method of build. It’s environmentally friendly in the materials it uses in comparison to the other modern building systems. The high insulation properties mean that the running costs leave a small carbon foot print over a long period of time and it creates a healthy living environment free of harmful toxins that may otherwise exist in synthetic buildings.

It’s just not curvy!

It may not be as accessible to people who want to self build on a budget, stick to the niche books and websites like this, but it is most definitely the future of straw bale and for that I’m happy to shout about it.

All that remains to be done is to invent a usable composting toilet system that people are happy to use 🙂

A picture post

 As the title implies my camera and computer bumped into each other after a short time apart, so it was nice to catch up.

Alcoholic constipation

A condition that many people suffered from in their late teens and early twenties, especially in the UK in the late 1980’s early 90’s; where the cultural consumption of alcohol seemed to explode as the nations disposable income increased and even if it didn’t for you, then having a pint seemed like a good way to console yourself! Alcoholic constipation was born – the inability to pass a pub – without stopping off for a pint!

It was around this time, whilst down on my luck, that I bumped into a chap called Victor Budris, oddly enough in a bookies, in Scarborough. He explained to me that he was heading off to Jersey to pick potatoes to fund his lager lifestyle. The rest as they say, especially if you have read my past post, is history.

A Young Persons Railcard, the key to a half price train and ferry ticket to Jersey, was all I needed to head off into the glaring sun as I headed south.  About 20 hours after setting off I arrived in the land of plenty. Unfortunately my meagre savings and the recent expense of travel left me with less than £5 in my pocket and the prospect of a pint was still over 7 miles (12 Km) away. I later learned that we couldn’t have found a more distant pub in the Island from our starting location, but the calling of a tax free beverage and the possibility of gaining employment was the only incentive I needed to make the hike.

Why the long walk for a pint? Victor explained to me that if we arrived at the pub (the La Ralais de Mielles) around tea time then all the farmers would be popping in for a pint after a hard days toil in the fields; this would be an ideal time to say those immortal words ‘gizza job’ and thus find gainful employment as tuber excavators. As a plan it seemed a bit loose, but Victor had three seasons under his belt so I went along with him; what did I have to lose other than my remaining £5 and some boot leather.

Of course the plan worked, my pint cost me less than 50p and we both had jobs within 20 minutes of walking into the pub, not to mention accommodation which, although basic, covered the essentials for survival in a distant southern Island.

For the season of ‘87 The Ralais, our shortened version of La Ralais de Mielles, became a second home, along with The Bell Tap, The Marina, Sands, The Forge, The Watersplash and Les Sables d’Or; yes you guessed it I had started to suffer from alcoholic constipation, and as I returned to Jersey again for my winter break I thought I would visit some of the old dispensaries.

As is often the case in this modern world of finance, the developers have moved in and little remains of the hostelries that I used to frequent; still the pictures are a god introduction of the countryside and architecture of this wartime German stronghold; more of which on another post.

 

 

June, or is it July already

It seems like an age since I last posted and sure enough it’s three weeks! We have had such a busy time with volunteers arriving, working and leaving, not to mention the on going work schedule which they have contributed to beyond my expectations. I almost don’t know where to start, so I’ll go back to the post I started to write about ten days ago over a pre-breakfast breakfast of Marmite (my last jar!) on toast. And with todays schedule full of family events the update may arrive in a couple of parts; who knows.

24th –27th June: With the impending arrival of our first volunteers (updated 14th July)  we changed focus from the terrace to improving the facilities, number one on my list was to finish off the second composting toilet which I started work on over a month ago; when I say started work on I mean I had thought about it a lot and poured some foundations! Three days later, in amongst other jobs that seemed to crop up, the toilet was completed. Gosia took charge of getting the house in order and we even managed to lay a concrete floor in the boiler room in preparation for the installation of a water tank; one step closer to the elusive tap.

DSC07583

Thursday evening saw us taking a trip to Tarnow to pick up Iulia and Alexandra, volunteers from Romania who have recently qualified as architects and wanted to get some hands on experience. We soon discovered that they had been on quite an adventure staying in France, Spain and Italy over the last couple of months; we hoped that they would not be too shocked with their new home for the next week or so.

28th June: After walking the dogs, having breakfast, tending to the vegetable garden and pottering around in general until about 9am we came to the conclusion that our newly arrived help had decided to call a taxi in the middle of the night to escape the medieval living conditions that had been presented to them the night before.

Or, as was the case, they simply had a lie in 🙂

29th June to 2nd July: Alexandra and Iulia seemed to love the place and where eager to help out, the perfect volunteers, so we offered them the task of painting the part built terrace with the boiled linseed oil that we are using as a preservative. A job well done and completed in a couple of days.

The evenings have started to liven up as friends and neighbours pop in to meet someone crazy enough to want to work for free; beer and bimber keep spirits high, not to mention Gosias cooking, which as ever brings a smile to everyone’s face and a roundness to the belly 🙂

Fresh ideas are bounced around and the observant eyes of our visiting architects spot a potential problem with our windows, or should I say the surrounds. Recent study of French design mean the we knock back the clay and start again to offer a wider angle for light to enter the building. Gold stars awarded and a new task is offered to our willing volunteers.

……..to be continued…..

By the way I have put a few new pics on the volunteers page, but I hope to continue and catch up soon; good night 🙂

Knitting with nails

I just love hearing some of the stories of how people used to cope when they lived under communism, todays tale of a women who learnt how to knit with nails, as knitting needles weren’t available, put a smile on my face. It also spurred me on to write a post; although I’ll probably have to go off subject!

As the snow has started to melt with the rising temperatures of the last few days I decided to take the dogs on an alternative walk and take a few photos of the nearby palace, or fortification as it is referred to on Wikipedia, before the snow and ice completely disappear.

The palace is just behind Gosias parents house and I would be able to see it from our window if it weren’t for the trees; it was recently renovated for the reputed cost of five million zloty (about a million quid). Its worth taking a look at the Wikipedia photo for the contrast, although I have just looked through my archives and found a couple from 2007, which gives you a good idea how things have changed. Money well spent I think, although its a shame that its not open to the public; instead the new owners have decided to fill up the moat that encircles the property and erected a fence to enclose the extensive patch of land that comes with the dwelling. I can’t blame them, but I had to laugh when I saw that the local kids had found a way in and where happily sledging down the embankments that surrounds the house.

The surrounding area of land is a public park, with a school and other educational facilities nearby. Gosia said that she could get out of bed and be at school in under 5 minutes if she just happened to sleep in. The gate in the fence at the back of the house is still used by the local children as a shortcut to the school; a number of them even park their bikes in the garden before morning registration.

Whilst the school has seen recently development and appears to be in a good state of repair there are a number of other buildings that could do with a cash injection; the one below, in particular, seems ripe for renovation and I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before someone puts up the money; as long as they don’t end up fencing it off.

In amongst all of this history you still find the occasional sign of the old communist Poland which I find just as fascinating and I wish Gosia were here to help me out with the explanations of what things were in the past. My favourite if the old mill that used to process the grain for the surrounding area. I’m sure much more went on than just milling grain, but all it is now is a derelict shell; very reminiscent of the textile mills back in Yorkshire. There is a rumour going around that the owner of the palace has his eye on the place and is looking to develop a hydro electric plant, so who knows what it will look like in a few years.

Progress is already leaving its mark on the area, which is one of the reasons I don’t often take this walk anymore, not because of  the renovation or the fact that they have resurfaced the old track and they even make an attempt to keep the area tidy once a year; no something more subtle than that. With progress comes control and as the recently erected signs clearly state (if you can read Polish) dog shit will not be tolerated! Sorry, but I left my poo bags back in the UK.