Wednesday, April 21, 2010

HelpX on Barnace Farm

There is so much to say about my experience here. It started with singing in the kitchen, learning green building and sleeping in a tipi, while it ended with spewing outside in the cold, an accidental chicken massacre and an escape. You can catch me in person for the gruesomer details, but for now we'll start from the top.

I left Gulli and Ollie's on April 3rd and caught the Wirrel line to Bidston, where I was greeted at the station by Russell, one of my hosts. We arrived at the farm where I was instructed to deposit my bags in "The Build". I walked into the kitchen to Helen and her kids singing to a Scouting for Girls song, before being sat down with the only other helper there at the moment, Hayley, from Australia whom I had tea with while Russell explained a bit about their property.

A really shitty picture of "The Build". That is, the house we helped build. It's the one on the right behind the trees. To the left is their pool, also used for guests and their kitchen, living room and laundry area.

The path we needed to walk on to get from The Build to the tipi and caravan. Misstep and you're headed for some big mud puddles that never seem to dry up. Even the goat got the hang of it, though I still needed to work on my balance by the time I left...

The short story is that Russell, Helen and their four children have lived on this site for 8 years. Originally in a run-down house that they eventually demolished, they've built two cottages (also with helpers like myself from HelpX) that they rent out to guests and have been living in caravans for 2 and a half years while waiting to finish their house. Thus, most of my time at Barnacre Farm was dedicated to helping build their house, using all green materials.

We were there during Easter, so as we were building the kids were on an epic Easter Egg Hunt around the property. Here's one of 'em on the 2nd floor beams in search of a clue. Basically an unfinished house is the best playground ever. Screw that modern plastic shit, a playground is only good if you can fall and break your head open. You know I'm right.

Oh yeah, we made beer and wine. It was easier than I expected. In fact, the hardest part for me was staying sterile. I had to wash my hands with special sterilization stuff 5 billion times because I kept petting the dog or something, forgetting I was supposed to be, well, sterile. I could never be a surgeon.

They had a windmill! It was broken while I was there, but once it works they'll be completely self-sufficient as far as energy is concerned.

I had barely rammed a nail with a hammer before this, negating vague remnants of TV-shaped "piggy" banks made in my 8th grade Technology class, so the fact that Russell can take all of us amateurs and convert us into green builders was a pretty impressive feat, even if I grew tired of being covered in recycled class shards and harecliff by the end of it. At the point of the project we were there for, we were mostly installing insulation to the indoor walls and roof to prepare for lime plastering. I also learned how to wire electrical sockets and lights, which was pretty cool (and useful!). I came at the end of the house building process and for that I am greatful, I feel bad for the poor suckers who were there during the winter with no heat and no insulation installed whatsoever.

Suited up and ready for Death Bunny!

After wiring all the electrical sockets for the house and beginning on the lights, I basically wanted to do anything but wire shit. So clearly it was time for a photo shoot! When my host almost walked in on me I had to very quickly pretend I wasn't a freak that takes pictures of herself with light fixtures. Urm. Yeah.

My days were spent putting up and climbing on scaffolding, hoping not to fall to my death, almost falling to my death a few times, eating biscuits, trying to be warm, inhaling glass shards and sometimes putting them into the walls. The insulation, which I termed "Death Bunny" because it looked fluffy and warm like a bunny, but was really made from recycled glass shards, definitely took a toll on me. I couldn't wear contacts the entire time because it just ripped them to shreds in a day while they were in my eyes and it took a couple days after I left to stop feeling itchy. Oops! It was novel for awhile though.

Laura got stuck in the harecliff! The buildin' life is tough!

Screwin'. Yeah, you got it. But really, I was screwing the harecliff into batons that were nailed into the beams, covering up the insulation.

Did I mention the tipi? Oh yeah, we slept in a tipi. It was massive and apparently from Germany (because Germans are really excited about Native American things, according to my host...I'm a bit skeptical). Inside there was a stove that we were dependent on for warm, with a wood fire we were eternally trying to keep going without smoking us to our deaths, and a platform covered in blankets and pillows where we all slept. Our host told us 12 people fit in there comfortably once, but I don't buy it. Four was very warm and cosy, but when we hit 7 it got a bit cramped. Luckily there was a caravan for the helpers where we ate breakfast and room for 3 people to sleep there. Hayley, Laura (another helper from NY) and I moved to the caravan the night we started spewing everywhere and stayed there. Though much colder than the tipi, with lots of warm blankets it wasn't so bad.

The tipi! Spewing aside, at least this experience has given me the chance to say I've slept in a tipi.

Inside where we slept. Sort of opium den-ish? Perhaps. Sadly, there was no opium.

Demonstrating how to sleep in the tipi. Lesson One: Steal all the blankets before anyone else so you don't freeze.

I just have to talk about the spewing for a minute. Imagine three girls in a caravan with no bathroom. The night went as follows: I lay in bed as long as I can trying to convince myself I'm not going to puke again. This is always too long, so I bust out of my room like an animal, trampling anything in my way to get outside so I don't vomit on anything important. On my right is a giant spew pile from Hayley, but Hayley has given up on trying to make it outside and has resorted to the small metal kitchen sink while whispering "Heeeelppp Meeee!" to herself. When I'm done and heading back inside, Laura starts puking in a bag so I hand her a saucepan to vom in. While it was traumatic that night, it sure is a ridiculous scene to look back on.

At the highest point there were 7 of us. Myself, Hayley (Australia), Laura (America), Dustin (Germany), Kadri (Estonia) and Mette (Denmark) and Keren (Israel). Quite a diverse group, I must say, so not only was that cool, but I got to learn how to say "I want to bang your body like a bongo" in Hebrew. If you're reading this Kt Green, I hope you appreciate the throw back.

When cleaning one of the cottages we found some leftover toffee syrup (thanks guests). Why not combine it with shortcake? Laura at tea time with this concoction.

Dustin working his savvy Deutsch culinary skillzz.

Hayley trying not to faceplant in the mud and get pooped on by a goat. This is how we spent a large part of the day. I like to think my balance has improved.

What else can I say? Oh, the chickens. Our hosts left us to house-sit for 2 days and one night on our days off. At the time, they had about 35 chickens and 5 ducks. There is a chicken house and a duck house and they both had to be closed at night. Unfortunately, due to some miscommunication the chicken house was left open overnight and roughly 15 of the chickens got killed by foxes. We realized something was wrong when some chickens were wandering around in the morning before we'd let them out. Oh, and the chicken corpse on the ground without a head was a big clue that something went awry. To our credit, we were a bunch of amateurs left to manage a big, relatively unfamiliar farm, but we still felt really freaking guilty about it and basically shat ourselves all day before our hosts' return, until Laura had the balls to call our host to let him in on the news.

The chicken bonfire. Is it inappropriate to take photos of a kid's dead chicken fire when you've helped cause the death? Maybe. But f'realz it was an experience.

The worst part was that the chickens were basically the son, Sam's chickens, who was about 10. The first thing he did upon arriving home, to Hayley and my's horror, was find the beheaded chicken and light it on fire before feeding it to the other chickens. I usually just buried my dead hamsters and such in my backyard, but that works too! Anyway, mostly you're here for the animal pictures, so here you go:

Which came first? The chocolate Easter egg or the chicken?

The goat wanted to come in the caravan and play. He was very persistent.

In case you ever wanted to know what ducksex looks like...basically the guy duck chased the girl duck around, pinned her down, bit her head, then finished up in approximately 10 seconds. Sounds about right. I should work for effing National Geographic for this action shot.

Same dude, different lady. What a balla'. This was basically my sole entertainment. I wish I got a picture when this happened in the water.

But even better than ducks (perhaps my favorite animal) are...DUCKLINGS! They were always covered in poop, and thus got me covered in poop, but I loved them.

It was peeing. I am mature.

Needless to say, after the chicken massacre by foxes and the horrible spewing virus, Hayley and I never quite recovered. Especially because we were supposed to work 8 hours a day and still didn't feel quite well a few days after getting sick, we hastily planned our escape and left on April 15th to go couchsurf in Liverpool for a few nights before heading back to Chester for a bit.

As Hayley and I were leaving, "You know, someone should get a picture of me now because this is really what I spend most of my time doing while traveling..." To which Hayley replies, "Lugging your bags across a rough trail?"

That about sums it up.


  1. "I came at the end of the house building process and for that I am greatful, I feel bad for the poor suckers who were there during the winter with no heat and no insulation installed whatsoever."

    Thanks! I was one of them!!! XD!

  2. @Anonymous July 5th 2014 - Ah, that is so cool that you were there too! I would love to see what it looks like now!! When were you there?