The first literally ground-breaking thing I have ever done

22:04, Jan 29 2013

The digger is turning up on our site tomorrow as I write this. (Today, or yesterday or early 2013 as you read.) Our dangerously steep handkerchief of hillside in Three Kings Auckland is about to have a facelift, or a haircut or a major surgical operation or some other thing. The diggers will remove the grass and weeds and sticks and rubbish that cover the ground now and the trees (a shabby pepper tree, a low loquat, a bushy bush with weird furry red things on it, and a small oak tree) will be taken away. In this picture you can't see the loquat or the oak because they are skulking off to the left out of shot.

Removing trees isn't very green. It is contrary to the spirit of our times. But these ones have to go. I'm trying to find some reasonable way to justify it, but I can't really - apart from they are small, unattractive, they aren't virgin native bushland... The ugly fact is, mainly we just selfishly don't want them there. There's no way to paint it green. 100% Pure New Zealand!

In fact, as a kind commenster said last week in response to the fact that Gemma and I are digging some of the hillside to build the house despite me bemoaning the loss of Auckland's volcanic cones due to quarrying, "I don't think you quite get it, John." Name spelling aside, it's definitely a good point, and a fairly good bet as well. If there is a thing to get, you can almost guarantee that I won't quite get it. I have a long history of not getting it - from organic chemistry to proper hair growth in adolescence to laid to 5+ a Day to the role of the judiciary in the rebuild of the civil structure of Iraq. So, I took a picture of Big King from the west now, before our build.

And then I modified it carefully to show the same volcanic cone after our build.


As I said in my reply, while acknowledging the irony of starting our own little quarry, I'm happy that we aren't making Auckland worse for what we are doing.

I also emailed one of the authors of the brilliant book Volcanoes of Auckland that came out last year. Bruce Hayward is one of the leading experts on the history and geology of Auckland's cones. (Did you know the only one that exploded recently enough to give anyone a fright was Rangitoto?) I was sort of hoping that one of the geologist experts would be dead interested in what was dug out from our excavation hole. I imagined a tweed-coated gentleman, his bespectacled graduate student and me standing beside the digger while geological and historical treasures were scooped from the ground. "Look at that, a Covalent Peptic Inconsistency!" cries the professor above the roar of the digger, "This is the highlight of my freaking career!" Then leaving me with a few gleaming artifacts and volcanifacts, they wish us luck and disappear to write up the discoveries for Nature and Important Volcano Journal. Unfortunately that scene isn't going to happen. This is some of the reply I actually got from the very kind Dr Hayward.

Translation: "Go away, you have a boring hole."

I thanked him. He was nice to reply to my email. (And he was definitely right about one thing: I am extremely unlikely to hit a dike. I make it a rule.)

Just goes to show things are unpredictable when you meet (or email) your heroes. Hey have I told you about the time I met one of my heroes? I ran into a friend in San Francisco airport on the way home from a choice holiday with Gemma last year. Friend said "I just saw Lance Armstrong." and I said "Where did he go?" Friend pointed down the concourse and I said "See you". I ran down the concourse looking for Lance. He wasn't in the Lego shop or the Starbucks, he wasn't buying a giant Toblerone. He wasn't anywhere right up to the security gates I'd just come through. Then I saw a sign pointing to some stairs: "Connecting Flights". I ran down the stairs three at a time. There was a long corridor and at the end a couple of guys disappearing. I sped down the hallway like Jens Voigt catching the breakaway and ran past a security guy just as Lance went through a waist-high one-way barrier. "Lance!" Lance turned around. "I just want to shake your hand." Nobody tells you when you meet your heroes they'll have a pissed-off look on their face, but they do. But to his credit, Lance shook my hand, and disappeared.

Then the security guy I'd run past said in a massive African American voice, "Dude, you can't be here." A blue light above his head was flashing. "Oh, sorry, I was just... " "Get out of here!" I ran back to find Gemma, bursting with excitement. And here's where I can give you some wisdom. Never, after a 10-day holiday with your wife, never, ever meet a man in the airport and then run back and say "That was the best moment of our holiday!" (I really don't get it.)

The next day I sent out a tweeting sentence about it. Here's my tweet and the reply.

In case you are wondering, the revelations of the last weeks and months haven't fazed me. I'm sure he's only pretending to be a self-absorbed calculating bully liar cheaty bumhole. In a couple of weeks he'll go "Na, just kidding" and reveal how he rode his bike so fast he found the cure for cancer or something.

Until then this is the version I prefer to believe:

Now I'd like to introduce a great new feature on this blog. I'm always looking for ways to make your reading more entertaining without actually doing any "research", writing any proper "facts" or putting in any "work". The new feature is a "photograph"!

Every time we go to the section over the course of the build I will take another photo from exactly the same place (which is with the camera (phone) resting against the white line on the telephone pole across the road, with the bottom left of the steps in the bottom left of the frame). The result will be an incredible time lapse which will go down in history, much like this one.

Have a look at this sweet trench.

Although taking credit for the hard work of others is basically my career, I will begin by saying I didn't dig that. Graeme (who sold us the section) did it with his own hands, a shovel and a jackhammer. That's to take the power and telephone for our house and the existing house up the top of our section. Vector will install a "plinth" at the bottom of the steps. This sounds very Egyptian but I'm prepared for the likelihood that it won't be a gleaming obsidian platform - more likely a hole in the ground with some pipes sticking out of it and some wires sticking out of the pipes. However, I do congratulate Telecom or Vector or Mercury or whoever it is on calling it a "plinth" and in doing so reviving a dying species of object. That word was in danger of going extinct. The world needs more plinths, just as it needs more hippodromes and zeppelins.

From what Graeme has so far dug out of the ground, the section seems to contain what the geotech experts predicted - fairly loose scoria - and what Dr Hayward said was possible - some lava bombs.

I think that might be a lava bomb on the left, judging by the way it is more globular rather than holey (these are all technical geology terms, try to keep up). It probably is just a normal scoria rock where the holes are full of dirt. I don't know. The holes in scoria (actually called "vesicules") are formed when gas in the molten magma comes out of solution when the pressure decreases as the magma surfaces. It's a bit like when you take the lid off a bottle of soft drink - the pressure decreases and the bubbles form. Think of it as lethal Schweppervescence. Magma - the Drink that Knows Its Own Name, Then Melts You.

Among what Graeme dug from the trench there is even some of this very fine scoria which is apparently really good useful stuff.

I'm not sure yet what it's useful for. (If this is too much hardcore geology for you guys, just let me know and I'll ease up on the full-on science from now on.)

As I said in last week's blog, if we are lucky the Winstone Aggregates quarry at Three Kings - just over the other side of the hill from our site - will take what is dug from our section for free rather than us paying them to take it. It partly depends on the fill being "clean" rather than contaminated. Our project manager has sent a sample of our hillside to Hamilton, where a lab will test it. Who knows what the results will be, but one thing's for certain - it'll be the only thing ever tested in a Hamilton lab that didn't come out positive for chlamydia. They'll test it twice and be all "Hey Jayden come and have a look at this. Really weird. No chlamydia."

In the next blogging post I'll show pictures of the first day of excavation and reveal what is discovered in the early stages of the digging. Also we've been promised a timetable for the build and I'll report on the schedule so you can book up your social calendar according to when our roof goes on etc.

Of course the part of the schedule we are most keenly anticipating finding out is the end date. Grant and James originally predicted a nine-month schedule, which would have us "repeatedly opening and closing the ranch sliders" sometime in November. But, the other day on site I overheard James tell our new neighbour Bridget that he was expecting "six or seven months". Gemma and I got very excited about that possibility, but we haven't heard officially yet. Maybe he was just trying to downplay the length of time for which the neighbours will have to wave their fists at the noise of hammering. Either way I've certainly jinxed it now.

I don't quite get it, do I?


Purchase Man. 


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