The lorry came back with sand for the sand filter:

I wonder what the French is for déjà vu.

OK, so I haven’t been keeping you up to date.

Some of it’s been illness (note to self – expect to be ill for about a week in mid-Jan – that’s two years in a row now).

Some of it’s been the gripping Millennium series of books I finished last night (finished reading, sadly, not writing).

Some of it’s been that I haven’t had the energy to blog, after a hard day in the sand filter.

Then there’s the distraction of having someone turn up out of the blue to tell us about a new French law banning (yes, banning, on pain of destruction in 48 hours) people from living in yurts, caravans, mobile homes etc., that prompted a meeting with the mayor to find out where we stand and to tell her that we always intended to build a house and would she support our planning application, to which she replied that the new law didn’t really apply to us and was aimed at people camping on land illegally but that she would support our planning application.

And a load of other stuff.

But I can tell you that this lorry arrived on Friday…

To deliver this pile of gravel…

That we can put in this hole…

The spoil for which has made this pond…

All before the end of February.

This week, Her Outdoors has been adding to the clay oven, which had a door cut into the side of it (at the regulation 63% of interior height measurement) and a new layer of clay, this time mixed with straw. Right now it looks like this:

Slightly OCD readers will be alarmed that the image on the Sand Filter Cam has not changed all week. This has been due to a technical fault genuinely beyond our control and – besides – it rained at the weekend and the mud has been too treacherous to dig out. Happily, it’s dry enough to move now. Unhappily, it’s going to start raining again in the next couple of hours.

But I’ve kept myself busy clearing a space for the pond the sand filter will run into, turning some overstood chestnut into firewood for next winter, at the same time (and this really is exciting) creating our first coppiced area of managed woodland. It looks a bit devastated at the moment, but will spring back to life in the appropriately named season.

While felling these largely dead and dying trees, I did spend time thinking about the current UK government’s idea about selling off half the nation’s forests. I didn’t come to any conclusions, but think they should have the decency to call a snap election and give everyone a chance to kick them into touch. Buffoons.

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.