Avatar Woodworking: working with wood

My birthday present this year was a two-day workshop using traditional woodworking tools to turn some freshly cut logs into a beautifully finished stool, complete with a hand-carved saddle seat. Yesterday I had the first day of the workshop, which was enormously enjoyable and satisfying. I’m going back next week to finish my masterpiece.

I sustained a number of blisters while using an axe, making these the most manly injuries of my life.

Anyway, I thought you would enjoy learning about some of the traditional woodworking tools that I used to work the wood.

Froe

This is a long blunt metal blade on the bottom of a big stick. You place it on a log and then smash it with a huge wooden club. Several such macho whackings will force it through the log and split it in two. This is highly enjoyable. If hammering your froe isn’t sufficiently noisy you can cast it aside and use an axe and a metal lumphammer instead, which will cause everyone’s ears to ring.

Axe

This is a sharp thing on a stick and you’ve seen one before. By putting a bit of wood on a block, and holding on to it with one hand, you can swing the axe at alarming speed towards the wood, and your fingers, causing bits to splinter off in all directions. If you are the sort of sturdy gung-ho chap who runs a woodworking course, you will do this with unbelievable force and precision, turning a log into a chair leg in a matter of seconds. If you are me you will spend ten minutes ineffectually chipping away at it while giving yourself blisters.

Shaving horse

For obvious reasons the mention of this device terrified me, but once I had been coaxed back into the room I discovered that it is a wooden apparatus, sometimes called a woodland vice, that you sit on. By bracing your feet against a footplate, you pivot a bar down onto your piece of wood, holding it in place while leaving both hands free to tinker with it. The wood can be released, moved and held down again with great speed by using your legs. I much preferred this device to both normal vices and normal horses.

Drawblade

This item has a name in two parts. “Draw” refers to the action of pulling it towards you. It has two handles, so you can grip it in both hands, and you pull it forcefully towards your stomach. “Blade” refers to the fact that, mounted between the handles, is a foot-long very sharp blade which, as mentioned, you are pulling forcefully towards your stomach. You can use this to shave slices off a piece of wood, turning an ineffectually chipped-at log into something resembling a chair leg.

Spokeshave

Once you’ve drawn your drawblade enough, you will have a roughly shaped piece of wood. To finesse its shape you can use a spokeshave, which is a little bit of wood, big enough to grip in both hands, with a razorblade mounted in the bottom. You use it in the same way, but get a much finer slice, enabling precision smoothing. It can also be used across the end grain to produce a surface as smooth as if you’d spent all day sanding it. I achieved a state of zen mindfulness while using this tool.

Adze

These tools vary between terrifying and precise. The axe was, for me, at the terrifying end of the spectrum until I met the adze. It’s like an axe, but with a longer handle, and its blade is curved and at right angles to the handle. You use it to carve curved shapes out of a piece of wood, and you do this by standing on the wood with your legs apart and then swinging the adze, with as much speed and force as you can muster, between your legs. Ideally you will hack lumps out of the wood without damaging your shoes or removing your own toenails.


Also this week, I used a hand drill to put a one-inch drill bit through a solid piece of ash. Next week I will have my first encounter with a travisher, which I expect will be used for extensive amounts of travishing, and I will then form a mortise and tenon joint using means I cannot yet explain.

I will, assuming I am successful, allow you to sit on the stool, and I will repeat to you the story about getting blisters.

Avatar Twenty one years on

A year ago, when it was twenty years on from the founding of Zyurisizia, I wrote a post about the fledgling nation that Ian and I helped to birth, and we had a short conversation about what its flag looked like.

My contribution was only that I had “a feeling it involved triangles”. Ian dredged up slightly more detail, recalling “triangles and a red circle, a bit like the Chinese flag”, though in what way that resembled the flag of China, which has no triangles and no red circle, I don’t know. We then recalled that territory was claimed by fastening the flag to the longest pole we could find, and planting that in the ground in various places.

Luckily I have now found my Office Memorabilia CD, so after a year of impatient waiting, you’ll be pleased to know the answer is now with us.

The capital city, which was the Office, was claimed with a hand-drawn flag on a 30cm ruler.

We then moved on to claim the Wildlife Area a few days later, by which point we had a more professional flag on a metre ruler.

I haven’t visited the Scholars Gate housing development to check, but I assume the flag is still prominently flying there somewhere.

For your peace of mind, this is probably all the Zyurisizia nostalgia there is to be had, so next year you’re probably safe from a “twenty two years on” type post. Still, lots of fun was had by all concerned.

Avatar ‘Iansurance’

Modern life sucks. We all know this and it’s reached the point now where there’s no point saying it because everyone knows it. We all need a little humour in our lives to raise the spirits and keep the home fires burning. Given the recent decline in the state of the country, doctors are prescribing laughter more and more for curing most common ailments. I rubbed a chuckle on a bruise the other day and felt much better.

I have been toying around with ideas for sitcoms for years now. Chris and I even challenged each other to write pilots for sitcoms in unlikely places (remember that?) way way way back in the day. Now that I have taken the leap into a brand new place of employment it’s only right to use my skills to aid the rest of the human race. I need to show the world that even though things are pretty pants right now you can forget all your troubles for around 24/25 minutes each week with my sitcom, ‘Iansurance’.

The main character is some berk called Ian. He works as a service agent at the Clifford Makin Insurance company. He’s on the phone most days and, boy, does he get into some hysterical comical scrapes. The thing is that Ian daydreams so the time between phone calls his mind drifts into bizarre places: sometimes he’s a horse flying through the sky, sometimes he’s a clown handing out leaflets to cats about making sure they have a mouse pension for when they retire and sometimes he imagines that every time he speaks rainbows shoot out of his mouth and they explode into chocolate muffins when they collide with solid objects.

His boss, Gloria Cookiesnatcher, doesn’t know about Ian’s daydreaming and continually praises him as the best on his team even though he’s the most lackadaisical of the bunch. The times when he suddenly wakes up to take a call saying, “Eugh, I didn’t know peach trees were flammable!” are laughed off as part of his quirky personality. Tsk tsk, there goes Ian again, he’s such a zany character.

As a strange twist, the love interest is the coffee machine. Ian loves coffee a lot. It’s what powers him, gets him through the day, fuels his imagination. The machine in the corner of the kitchen area doesn’t have a name but he refers to her as Susan with two e’s i.e., Sueesan. He doesn’t remember why he started calling her that nor why he assigned gender to an inanimate object. Ian professes his love to Susan each and every morning for handing him the wake-up juice. She responds by handing him said wake-up juice.

We’ll fill the rest of the roster with some wacky office types, a snidely cleaner, a religious man, two cats that we can hear the thoughts of and, I don’t know, a wise old woman who lives in a cupboard.

I am in the process of writing the first few scripts and expect a lot of attention when I’m done. Best jump on the golden gravy train trip now, guys.

Avatar Gaming Historian

Look at me and be inspired. What have I done for the last 38 years of my life? Good question. Next please.

What I have done is devoted my life to the very simple practice of picking up a thing and playing an imaginary thing on it. Some people have chosen to call these ‘video games’. I refuse to adopt this because I do not believe it accurately describes the thing. I call them ‘gamebopolies’. Only the most hard-core and committed members of the gaming community follow my lead because, yes, I am a leader.

Today’s topic is something close to my heart. As a child I would spend hours upon hours upon more hours playing gamebopolies on this most sacred of systems. What am I talking about? Why, young scamps, of course I’m referring to the Gamestation. Pull up a Tiktok and I’ll spin you a tale:

Photos of the console itself are not permitted under the Geneva Convention

The Gamestation was released in April 1995 by the Icelandic tech giant, Pony. The Pony Gamestation was released as a direct competitor to Shintendo’s upcoming Shintendo 54 and Trega’s Shattern consoles. Nobody expected Iceland to be capable of manufacturing such a complicated piece of electrical equipment as prior to this they were only known for ice, ice cubes and the DNA double helix (both the physical structure that exists in the human body that contains the information for creating and operating living systems and also the bitchin’ sound system capable of producing 100 decibels of might that has caused the hospitalisation of over one hundred and fifty people).

The Gamestation hit hard. The games were cheap to produce as they used playing cards for games instead of cartridges tat the previous generations had adtoped. For example, if you placed an ace of clubs, you would be greeted with ‘Grand Theft Auto’ whereas a simple three of hearts farted ‘Bubsy 3D’ in your general direction. Shintendo’s choices during this era of gamebopolies was noted as being a little short-sighted and they lost the war for the moment. They would have to wait ten years before they regained the momentum of the previous decade. Trega had already been losing ground for months prior and the Shattern did nothing to persuade the casual gamers of the age to set sail from Pony’s hallowed lake of sweet, sweet goodness.

PC gaming at the time was expensive. Only billionaires could afford a PC and therefore what little gamebopolies were released could only be played by Bill Gates and whatever other billionaires existed back in the mid-nineties. Hugh Heffner? Yeah him. And the two women from the ‘Philadelphia’ adverts, they must have had a giant wad. For example, Doom II on the PC only sold fifteen copies. It was a brilliant game by all standards: brooding, dark, quick of pace and maliciously violent. The only way little Jimmy was playing some Doom II though was if his older brother was a rich Texan oil baron.

I remember coming home from school and reaching straight for my Gamestation control nodule. I would be lost in the realistic 3D graphics, amazing music and tight controls and gameplay. Sometimes my friend Chevin would come round and we’d play two player deathmatch on the Gamestation’s flagship title, ‘Carmageddon’, where you scored points for mowing down civilians and blowing stuff up. Occasionally we’d play ‘Grand Theft Auto’ where you scored points for moving down civilians and blowing stuff up. It’s a shame ‘Postal’ was never released on the Gamestation because it was so wildly different from everything else on the system at the time; you scored points for only moving down civilians, you couldn’t blow anything up.

It was a wonderful time in my life. If you have memories of these gamebopolies or any others, then do let us know. Let’s share and be together as one giant community (with me as the leader).

Avatar A Question of Biology – what exactly is Ian?

The burning question that has been on all your lips since the beginning of the series is about to be answered. You know all Ian, you’ve seen him, smelt him (sadly, usually against your wishes), shook his hand and then wiped it on a towel afterwards for fear of what you may have picked up. He is a thing that exists, and you know this because he’s persistently annoyed you with stretchy pyjama trouser and fish mystery-based shenanigans for over half of your adult lives.

What is he though? What makes up an ‘Ian’ and how can we stop it happening again?

With the help of a team of scientists and through furious, various and meticulous scientific study, with the approval of the man himself, we finally have an answer. It would have been nice to display everything in a pie chart however that wasn’t in the budget (we blew the last of the money on a dash cam for Derek’s mother-in-law) so here’s a lovely list instead:

Components of the being known as ‘Ian’

43% – Castoreum
15% – Bells
12% – Sawdust
9% – Blood
6% – Laughter
5% – An inability to balance a spoon on his nose
3% – Teeth
3% – Beanbags
2% – Figs
1% – Jazz hands
1% – Cochineal Beetles

As you can see, here is conclusive proof that a lot of Ian is mostly filled with bits and bobs. His biology is a marvel to behold because, really, he shouldn’t still be alive given that the majority of his body is beaver sac excretions, wood remnants and hollow metal objects typically in the shape of a deep inverted cup widening at the lip that sounds a clear musical note when struck.

Further studies are encouraged and once we raise the funding via Stefan’s onlyfans page we should be set. His ‘NSFW Autumnal’ photo set is providing very popular with the usual internet weirdoes.

Avatar More London convenience

After meeting a terrific vending machine earlier this year, I was delighted to find another incredibly convenient retail experience in London’s bustling West End.

It has everything for the world of today: a cash machine, tobacco, something to do with medicine or adding numbers together, mobile phones, vaping supplies, and Internet Explorer.

Naturally, I went straight in, withdrew some cash, and spent it on an ounce of snuff, some medicine and/or maths, having a SIM card unlocked, a pint of blueberry sherbet vape juice, and a crap browser from 20 years ago. If you need me to pick up any of that for you, just shout.

Avatar The last of the tang

I am a hoarder by nature.

I refuse to let go when others would be quite happy to throw those things away. I know this and in my own way I am doing my best to try and be a twenty-first century Womble of sorts.

There are times though when even I am powerless.

I wanted to finish it, I really did. I was going to get some custard and finish it off with dignity. In the end all it did was take up space in my freezer and now, many months later, if I tried to defrost and eat it then it would taste weird and probably give me some kind of stomach cramps.

Nonny no nay in my mouth-ay

I am sorry that I let you all down. I do like it tangy.

Avatar The Pernickety Dickhead turns a new leaf

Past Chris was demonstrably a nightmare: see his previous exploits, part 1 and part 2. But he wasn’t all bad. By 2007, there were emerging signs that he might have started to mend his pernickety ways.

On 26 July that year, Past Chris was disappointed to find a foreign object in a tin of custard, but – not being particularly annoyed about it, and his mood being positively influenced by exposure to custard – wanted only to help prevent any future customer from suffering the same fate. With that in mind he wrote what amounts to a downright friendly letter to Ambrosia, manufacturers of custard.

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to express my disappointment in finding something unexpected in my custard.

I was nearing the end of a can of Ambrosia custard – in fact, I should confess, I had given up trying to find something to pour it on and I was just finishing the last quarter on its own straight from the tin – when my spoon emerged with a small brown object visible as part of its cargo.

It looks to me like a flake of brown paint, though I haven’t investigated it in any great detail. I have looked at where the can was kept, before and after opening, and I can only conclude it was already in there before I opened it. In any case, I have taped it to some card and included it here so that you might be able to work out where it came from and stop something similar landing in somebody else’s dessert.

I have not included the can itself, but the date stamp on the lid reads “04/2009 18:30 7 107 D”. It is the full-fat, maximum enjoyment variety.

Yours faithfully,

Chris Marshall

For his troubles, Past Chris received a £5 voucher to spend on more custard. It pays to be nice. Past Chris was a changed man, pernickety no more.