My stone wall is finished and building it, with help from Ian the qualified stonemason, was a real learning experience. The final part of the wall construction was to select the coping stones for the top of the wall. Although I may have had enough sandstone to put more of the stones used to build the wall on the top to act as coping stones, we decided to have flat coping stones, so that we could sit on the wall or put plants in pots on the top of the wall. Photos 1 and 2 show the completed wall. After the coping stones were laid, the wall, in order to be finished, had to be pointed. Pointing a stone wall is both art and science. As Ian the expert told me, good pointing can improve a poorly constructed wall and bad pointing can spoil a well constructed wall. The first aspect to get right is the mix for the pointing and this has to be exact, as you may not finish pointing the wall in one day, although we did. We used a child’s beach pail to measure out the sand, cement and lime. Using lime gives the finished wall a light grey colour which shows off the stone. We used pointing trowels to apply the mix in between the stone. The art of pointing is leaving the applied mortar (aka compo or composite material) to dry slightly and then using a brush (or sponge) to provide a smooth finish. There is however, debate about how smooth the finish should be. So, this was an education in how to build a stone wall. My next challenge is to build one all by myself. I’m reading Americanah by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, whose Half of a Yellow Sun I really enjoyed for the quality of its writing and storytelling. Americanah has similar qualities and its heroine Ifemelu is a Nigerian woman who is brought up in Nigeria and then goes to study and work in the USA. This is a many faceted tale – of place, of identity, of family, of sex, of travel and of attitudes. I am only at page 161 of 477 but the quality of writing shines through from the start. Adiche is an accomplished storyteller, who effortlessly brings in characters, who we recognise as real people. She also has a facility to write sentences and phrases that most writers would give their right arm to write. She describes her childhood friend’s house as having “an undisturbed air of well being”. I wonder if, when she wrote that phrase, Adiche sat back and admired it. Yesterday’s reading included a section of Ifelemu being in a college library in the USA as a student – “She spent her free hours in the library, so wondrously well lit; the sweep of computers, the large, clean, airy reading spaces, the welcoming brightness of it all, seemed like a sinful decadence”. The “sinful decadence” (another enviable phrase) comes from her background in Nigeria, where books were scarce. Given my background in teaching librarianship for many years, I am always interested to see how libraries are portrayed. Yesterday, before spending time reading Americanah, I went out for a long and hilly cycle. First challenge is up Starvation Brae (brae=hill in Scots) which has 3 corners and you take them one at a time. From there, on to Elmscleugh where ” there’s a climb of 174 metres to the top of the hill” – in fact there are two steep climbs here, and you are glad to see the concrete windmills at your own level at last. Thence to the Whiteadder Dam (pr Whittadder) which is very picturesque, before and after you climb an extremely steep hill. Getting to the top of hills like this requires strong legs, strong lungs and above all, a strong head, as near the top, you have your positive head, which tells you to get up this hill and your negative head, which says that, well, if you get off now, nothing much will have changed in the world. My positive head won this time. From there, a few more climbs – shorter and less steep – on to the bonnie village of Gifford, and back home (another 13 miles) on a flat route. Pretty tired out when I got home, but a sense of achievement – I need C N Adiche here to provide a telling phrase for how I felt getting off the bike.
Stone wall, Americanah and big hills