Monday, 18 July 2011

Attack of the Cyclones: Episode 3 - Storm Troopers

All hands to the pump! We’re working outside, and we could be some time...

The pile holes may be waterlogged, but the day dawns sunny and full of promise.
Monday’s weather was, of course, atrocious. The westerly gales continued to shriek and dump vast amounts of rainwater all over the country, so I went to work after all. This worked out for the best as various different circumstances meant that my manager would have been there alone all day if I hadn’t!
The following day dawned windy – but sunny, with vast expanses of blue sky. Dean made the call for us to proceed and made preparations for the cement truck to arrive before noon. We then spent the morning getting rid of as much water from the site as possible - something I had already spent a couple of hours doing on Sunday afternoon, only to have them all filled up again yesterday. The main part of the problem wasn’t rain, but the fact that the water table was at an all time high and ground water would eventually seep back into the holes after we’d emptied them.

By this point small omens that the day wasn’t going to go well were beginning to manifest themselves. The pump which Dean had borrowed to remove some water proved unequal to the task, so he had to rush into town to hire one. This worked brilliantly until suddenly and inexplicably, it didn’t anymore, and he had to rush back to Hire World to get a replacement. Meanwhile, Rose called to inform us that a major storm was working its way up the country. Undaunted, we felt confident in finishing before it arrived and the abundance of sunshine seemed to back this up.
We managed to get rid of the site’s surface water, empty the shallower holes with the pump and position the piles just as Dean’s fiancée Kate arrived with two thermos’s of soup, so we sat in her car and waited for the cement truck. At this point the only concern seemed to be that the wind was bowing the survey lines which criss-crossed the site very slightly, but Dean felt he could compensate for this.

The sun is still shining brightly as we lay out the piles beside their holes.
The cement truck’s arrival coincided almost exactly with a sudden darkening of the sky and the onset of cold, driving southerly rain. The weather gods must have been in a particularly sadistic frame of mind – the truck’s presence meant that there could be no turning back; we were committed to finishing the job even if it killed us. And I think it nearly did. The South-west squall increased it’s intensity over this unhappy afternoon until we could barely see for the rain in our eyes, or stand because of the strength of the wind. The only thing audible above the storm was the constant and enthusiastic swearing from Dean as he vented his justified frustration at every re-filling pile hole and wildly bowing line. Kate stayed to help try to keep the pile holes empty of water, and she was an absolute trooper; constantly smiling as the storm blasted her, mud splattered her from head to foot and she filled and emptied just as many heavy bucket-loads of water as I did. Dean was so right when he remarked earlier that Kate "Only looked like a Princess".

The concrete truck times its arrival to coincide with storm perfectly.
She and I also did our best to stay out of his way; Dean’s raging by now almost matching the storm in ferocity. I didn’t blame him, it had been a difficult call to make, and it seemed criminally unfair that the conditions now literally couldn’t have been worse for what should be a precise, steady and crucially important procedure (unless it was going to start snowing, which didn’t seem unlikely).
For my part, I think I’ve had karate gradings which were less demanding than constantly propelling a wheelbarrow full of wet cement back and forth through an unrelenting gale and increasingly slippery mud. And just when we thought the weather couldn’t get worse, with every passing minute the wind and rain seemed to get stronger and colder.
But somehow, the 65 piles were gradually finding their new homes, snugly wrapped in cement and standing as straight as they needed to be. Kate was ‘sent home’, where I only hope she got straight into a hot shower, while Dean and I then tackled the much-longer anchor piles. The system here was for me use the pump to empty the 900mm holes as quickly as possible, jumping back while Dean instantly poured the cement before the hole could refill. This seemed to work until we reached the final hole, and in a spectacular explosion of profanity, Dean realised that we would be about 3 barrow loads of cement short to finish. Looking at the prohibitive option of getting the truck to return, we managed instead to scrape the last few loads of cement from around some of the slightly over-filled pile holes (and I have to accept some blame for this). But it worked. The final post was in and the cement truck dismissed.
Dean took care of some final adjustments while I tidied up the site. Feeling bad about it but convinced it was necessary to keep a record, I also took the shots which you see here.

Pronouncing this as one of the worst three days he’s ever had as a builder, Dean headed for home and a well-deserved rest. I made my way inside, ravenous and chilled to the point that I could barely get my fingers to work as I struggled out of four layers of saturated clothing. Naturally, the rain had by now stopped, and I drove to the Barton’s to beg for a life-saving hot shower. Wonderful people that they are, Roger and Barbie also threw a meal and a relaxing night in front of the telly into the bargain, which was accepted with unseemly haste.
It’s tempting to label this a day from hell, but that just wouldn’t be true – like the photographer on Sunday the worst conditions in the world once again haven’t held back a professional from doing their job. Dean has successfully got all the house piles in and that’s a major milestone on the way to our new home.

But the worst conditions in the world don't stop Dean getting
the piles into their holes, and perfectly aligned.

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