Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Big Project: Big Hole (containing a fiendish revelation about one woman's involvement in building the Great Pyramid at Giza)

If you've been following my tweets over the last two days (and why the hell should you - what's with this twitter thing anyway - I, for one, don't get it), you'll know I've been working on a hole. You don't need to imagine it - it looks like this:

It's not a new hole. In fact, a friend with a JCB started it last year and left it looking like this:

Perhaps I wouldn't have been smiling quite so broadly if I knew about the next few weeks I would spend with a pick and shovel making it the shape it was supposed to be (5m x 5m x 1.10m to be exact) before finding out we couldn't afford the €1,400 of sand and gravel we needed to fill the hole back up again. Which meant leaving it over the winter, and watching the walls collapse a little, and wondering what was going to happen next.

It became one of the Great Unfinished Projects.

What happened next was some excellent news of an inward investment nature. Which meant the Sand Filter (not the Swimming Pool as some guests guessed) could go ahead at last. But before we could fill it with sand and gravel, we needed to know how deep it needed to be. Which meant digging a trench from the sceptic tank...

...and taking a measurement. I then started to level off the bottom of the hole before realising my measurement was 10cm out, and the whole hole had to go that much deeper. Which brings me in a roundabout way to the point I am trying to make about the Great Pyramid at Giza.

When you're digging a Very Big Hole by Hand, you have to minimise the amount of energy expended. I started with the wheelbarrow thuswise...

...hoofing (if I can be technical for a moment) the claysandy soil from 110cm below ground level up into the air to land in the barrow without knocking it over, and without spilling too much outside the barrow which would have to be picked up again.

After a day of this, I thought: Surely it would be better to have the barrow in the hole with me, and have a ramp leading out of the hole. I would expend less energy hoofing the soil through the air and, half-filling the barrow, would possibly save energy in the long run (we're talking about several cubic metres of soil, here). I tried it for a while...

...and realised the ramp would get slippery and dangerous very fast.

Then Her Outdoors suggested knocking a hole through the side of the hole (which needed to be there eventually, for drainage) and driving the wheelbarrow through the wall at ground level. A curiously female and alarmingly sensible idea, which looks like this:

I will never know how long it would have taken for me to arrive at this solution. I was going to go back to the wheelbarrow-on-high and would have sweated and strained until it was time to dig the hole in the wall. Which is why I think a woman must have been involved in building the pyramids.

The first row of stones would have been pretty straightforward, being rolled along the ground in time-honoured style. The next row, I imagine, would have involved dozens of men with some stout hemp rope pulling stones from ground level; straining away, getting awesomely fit in the process. Or maybe someone invented a complex-looking pulley device that struck wonder into visitors from across the known world.

Over dinner, I can picture one woman asking the Chief Engineer why he didn't just build a gentle ramp and roll the stones into place. I know the pause that would have followed this suggestion. I've lived that pause many times.

Fiendishly clever, these women.

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