Thursday 5 April 2012

The six P's

Anyone who has worked in Logistics and all those time and motion experts we endured will tell you that double handling is bad. The logisticians will be pragmatic and tell you how pissed off they get when some dickhead can’t make his mind up and the poor sods at the sharp end have to dismantle the mountain they sweated to create and re erect it somewhere else. The time and motion people with an air of utter superciliousness will irritate everyone by pointing out just how stupid everyone was.

Well I have just double handled 75 cubic metres of wood.

What these time and motion geeks fail to understand when they consider each problem in isolation and logisticians understand instinctively, is that there are a whole load of other factors that must be taken into consideration when devising the most appropriate course of action in any given situation.

The dominant factor in my case was that the hour rate for an idle truck vastly exceeds the weekly rate for casual labour.

When the truck arrived it was imperative to get it unloaded as fast as possible which meant the wood it contained was extracted and arranged in big stacks, one plank lying on top of another. Now this is not good for the wood. It starts to sweat. The stacks heat up in the middle. A black fungus permeates the wood ruining bits of it. Funny things happen to the wood. Exposed bits dry while other bits swell and what was once a reasonably straight bit of rough cut ready to go through the planer thicknesser twists like Rotini pasta, the planer blades ripping the moist bits and burning the dry bits. There was nothing else for it. I had to restack the lot and separate each layer with wood battens. The three lads working with me were really chuffed at the prospect. Even Marcia gave me a hard, time asking why I hadn’t done it immediately.

Well, I am sorry Marcia, but I had no idea what a forty foot container full of sawn timber looked like spread out and it was six weeks overdue anyway so by the time it arrived in the very early hours of a windy morning, and bereft of a cup of tea, I wasn’t thinking as clearly as perhaps I might have been. As far as the lads were concerned, or as far as I was concerned about what concerned the crew, if they wanted paying before Easter (2013, I have a cash flow problem), they could just do as they were bloody well told and shift the piles again.

The problem was I needed battens. With each stack twenty planks high and each layer requiring five battens, I needed a hundred six foot battens per stack, so six hundred battens in all, nearly a mile of 2”x2” all sawn to the correct length. That’s a lot of wood and I would hate to waste it by chopping it into lengths of limited use in construction. No wonder I was unable to appreciate all this in the early hours of a morning and just had the lot dumped into the Jango.

Now, however, I had a plan. You see when God decided I did not need my thatched cottages, the ones He sent His mighty waves to destroy last month, He also obviously had a plan. Naturally at the time I was a bit upset. I cursed and said all sorts of nasty things and being the sort of retard who would, in any bar, throw a punch at the Louisiana State Penitentiary Heavy Weight Boxing Champion (an institution coincidentally also named Angola) I was dead keen to take Him on as well but since He never showed up for the fight, I got on with salvaging the thatch and also the Bordão, the trimmed and dried central stalk of very long palm fronds endemic to this area and used in indigenous construction and the material I had used for the walls of the huts He had decided I did not need. I am not going to talk about God anymore, too many bloody capital letters.

It (bordão, not God) makes for ideal battens. Not only that, a decent cross cut saw rips through it in seconds.

In one day four of us have restacked and separated on battens all that wood. My back tells me that was three thousand four hundred tonnes and a million saw strokes. At least, ‘cos I wasn’t counting.

You've got to admit, that's a neat bit of stacking...

My view of the sea from my desk is now obscured but this could be a good thing. For the next few days the tide forecasts are ‘very high’ and just to drive the point home, the graphic is painted red. On the positive side (I did mention that in the face of adversity it is better to laugh and be optimistic), the fishing is predicted to be great. The point is that with no negative waves to pollute my psyche, I know that the Atlantic waves can now only pollute the bottom few layers of the stacks because separated on battens as they are, they are twice as high. And they will dry out many times as quick.

Our day’s worth of effort did reveal, however, a surprising harvest. Fresh crabs. There were loads of them concealed in the nooks and crannies of carelessly stacked wood so little Alex hung around under our feet ready to pounce on every crab the hiding place of which was suddenly revealed as we hauled yet another plank to its new position. In no time he had a wash basin full so it looks like a crab supper tonight!

As an aside, and this is a Man thing, the builders scuttled away faster than the crabs every time they turned one up so I accused them of being Volkswagens. In the local patois, this means poufter, i.e. engine in the back. Never mind. So I grabbed a big one by the claw and was quite impressed by the nip it gave me with its free claw but I got it into the basin all the while pretending it didn’t hurt. So Alex had to have a go but I insisted he at least pulled on a pair of industrial gloves. After that there was no stopping him. So the lads, not to be outdone, started grabbing the crabs as well and then the game got really stupid, like how far can you walk with a crab clamped onto your finger before you bottle out and start squealing like a little girl?

I can hardly type, my fingers are like bastard sausages but all the wood is restacked, we have all had one of the best days ever and now we are going to enjoy a crab supper.
I'm sorry, was that a bit hot? It's the new boiler, we still haven't got the hang of the thermostat yet...

Crabs weren't the only things we unearthed. How about this four foot Iguana sunning himself after this morning's rain?
That's an eight inch wide plank he's sitting on...

You see, the Dudes'll be sucking on their spliffs having banged their surf boards upright into the sand and say that this place is unreal. Well, it is real, I mean really real. You should hear the monkeys in the morning and every night when the sun goes down you get the full orchestra, birds and cicadas and all. You should hear the rain bang down on the tin roof at night and the noise the surf makes as it bashes the shore. We found a snake too but even Alex knew it was just an African House Snake so it was a friend and nothing to be stamped on.

I could have planned the wood move and reception better but in a place as cool as this, who gives a shit?


  1. I wondered when you talked of stacking the wood under the Jango then of the rains coming, if you'd need to worry about the boards getting wet.

    One can plan only so much, and there are times where the odd thing that never happens anywhere, to anyone, arrives upon your doorstep, so you give it your best shot and hope it's enough. I'm useless for any sort of thinking first thing in the morning, especially before any tea.

    My story isn't nearly as exciting: we helped to build our first house, and were told to allow six months for the process. Heard all sorts of horror stories about cost overruns and delays. We were living in a flat then, and our lease was due to be up around the time the house was to be ready. The landlord thought us excellent tenents, so said if we needed to stay a bit longer, we could go month to month without a problem.

    "And what if the house gets done early?" i asked, knowing we'd be hardpressed to pay both rent and mortgage.

    He laughed heartily, told me that NEVER happens. But, what if it did? i pressed. He said it would be okay if we needed to break our lease and thanks for the laugh.

    You guessed it--our house was done in 3 months.


  2. Some great pictures to go with that story! How did the iguana taste?

  3. I just feel like the fat kid at school that was never picked for games....
    I am fucking shite with my hands....!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. This probably sounds crazy talk to you but, you know what, I'm envious of you. You are living the real life - not the artificial, smog breathing commuting shit life of people in developed world cities.

    I really envy do you.

    Now I'm 70 years old next month and I've lived a full life with lots of "adventures" - Did 6 months up in the Solomon Islands, Honiara, Guadalcanal, Tulagi on post-hurricane reconstruction of public infra-structure. Hunted and tagged crocodiles in the northern territory. Lived in a tropical tent and fished the tidal mangroves for Mangrove Jacks and Barramundi. I guess, that was as rough and as crude as what you are experiencing now.

    But, I'd love one last crack at doing it again - a final fling. I guess I'll just have to settle for reading your extremely interesting posts!

    Keep up the good work!

  5. John,

    It is guys like you that made me want to go that little bit further. No way I could settle down having read some of the shit you real guys put out. Look how easy it is for guys like me now. I bet when you were tagging crocs you didn't have a mobile phone to ring for help if one of them bit yer balls off or just talk to Mum once in a while?

    Think about it. I am in Africa yet I have internet access and can talk to you in Oz.

    Compared to you I am just a wussie and I bet even at seventy you could kick my sorry arse and I would love to have a beer with you (but not that ozzie poufter lager).

  6. Best Aussie beer is Toohey's Old and if you can't get that try a Cooper's ale or John Squires "Nine Tails"!

  7. Toohey's, Cooper's, John Squire's, you're just trying to piss me off now mate, aren't you? Next you'll be telling me you brush your teeth in Bundaberg. I am going to come over there and kick your flaming fly screens in you old bastard!


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