Preparations for Festival

On the weekend just passed, we packed our first trailer-load of gear for Rowany Festival and took it to the site, which is near Gosford.  Allison correctly calculated that it is only about 3 hours away, somewhat more during actual Easter traffic.

We took Maud (wwoofer) and Craig (SCA newbie) along to help us with the set-up, which was a huge help.

We put up my 2-pole medieval pavilion with ivy-leaves painted over the roof.  This is the grand entry to our campsite, with a (commercial) big plastic marquee behind it as our feasting hall.  We also erected our House Cockatrice big square tent as our kitchen tent, as well as smaller tents for a couple of friends.  My ancient old red pavilion tent (sewn on my mum’s old sewing machine in about 1990) will be used as a shower tent, though we forgot an essential piece on the weekend.

The new tent we have been making has been partly erected, put up for the first time at the site.  As expected, we have to shorten the huge centre pole until it reaches the right height for the walls.  We had a couple of goes at this on the weekend, but will need to do it probably once more before we attach the walls properly.

This tent design does seem to be a good one.  Unfortunately my cunning but obscure design detail for the holes for the side poles didn’t get communicated to Jan, who sewed the valance on, so we had to add some leather squares later, and pierce them.  Looks like it will work anyway.

Whereas Goulburn has gorgeous autumn weather at present, Gosford is still hot and very sticky, with legions of mozzies.  And the traffic each way is unattractive.

But there is something very special about a sea of pavilion tents, and so many of our friends there in medieval garb.

I am not sure when I will get to post again, but there will be some photos.

PS — we had a lot of trouble with the incubator: a blocked valve, a dud sponge, and then we left out the turning tray for 8 days.  So our 40 quail eggs resulted in just 6 babies, tiny little fluffy chicks.  Which will be a useful addition to our stock, but we won’t be eating them any time soon.

Groundhog Day

It’s Groundhog Day at Cockatrice Farm, packed with activity like yesterday and tomorrow.

Yesterday I worked all day, drove home with Allison, and checked in with the wwoofers.

No major farm incidents that day, thank goodness.

So I started doing some of the signwriting on the valance for the new tent: we were about a third through at that point.

The armouring crew were getting busy, and Mitch (a welding apprentice) was using my MIG welder to make some faceplates. Some technical discussion ensued, and the boys got to work. My welder really needs a hired bottle of CO2, which we’ll organise for next week, but Mitch was able to get good results using gasless flux wire. Mitch is a good fellow and calls “EYES!” before the welder lights up, to make sure we look away and avoid flash burn. This gives the workshop an other-worldly ambience.

Suddenly interrupted by Allison, who appears with three ducks that need to be killed and plucked. I gently suggest that she might be better to have all the processing equipment in place first, which earns me a killer glare — she’s having a frantic day too. I quickly offer to supervise the process, and our volunteers Craig and Justin chop the ducks and string them up.

Meanwhile, I set up the plucking area between the houses, and then we get to work on the ducks, with Allison back to help. The hot water is really hot, which helps a lot with the subsequent plucking. What I forgot to do is bring some pliers, which are useful for the smaller pin feathers.

Allison, Craig and Justin then gut the ducks and put them in the freezer for Rowany Festival. I take the opportunity to read through my emails (only 60 today, thank goodness!) and answer the really urgent ones. I’m Chancellor of the Exchequer for the SCA at present, and there are a couple of curly policy questions.

As our visitors have been so helpful, we invite them to stay for dinner. That means stretching the sausages out a bit. Allison makes a rich onion gravy to go with them, and mashed potatoes and peas. I make spicy zucchini and carrot patties (which turn out really delicious). Also some fennel with orange juice and pistachios — actually Allison intended this to be a salad, but I didn’t get that message and sautéed it all in the wwoofer kitchen — very tasty anyway.

Dinner is convivial, with our home-made cider. We get to tell some No-Shit-There-I-Was stories from the SCA, and Allison pulls out her laptop to show off some battles from Pennsic, the big SCA war in America. (Whichever kingdom loses the Pennsic war has to keep the SCA group in Pittsburgh for the year.)

I head back to the workshop, and complete three more words and two horizontal stripes on the valance. That means that it can dry overnight and Tig can move the whole sequence along in the morning. We’re 48% complete now.

More quick emails, then off to bed. We wake up, and it’s Groundhog Day and A&S tonight…

Two Weeks…

It is a truism amongst the SCA that much of the preparation for Rowany Festival occurs in the last two weeks.

We’ve actually been working away at various projects for months, but now we are down to that time and we still have a lot to do.

Allison has been pretty virtuous, having made a list of sewing projects and steadily ticked them off.

Our armourers have been very busy, but each item takes quite some time to make.  In addition to their own gear, the team has made a set of archery armour for Allison, so she’ll be romping around the warfield.  I’m still working on some armour pieces for me, but we’re giving priority to the young fighters of Okewaite so I probably won’t be out there this year.

I have reported before on our project to build a new pavilion tent.  We have had some issues with the sewing machine, but all is going well — partly thanks to our friend Jan who stepped in to sew the walls.

The biggest remaining task on the tent is the valance that goes around the top of the tent.  I chose a Latin motto, a psalm, which some might recognise from the closing anthem of the Kenneth

Branagh film of Shakespeare’s Henry V: Non nobis domine, Domine, non nobis Domine, sed nomine, sed nomine, Tuo da gloriam.  (Not for ourselves, for the glory of Your name.)  Now imagine that in purple and 16.2 metres long.  Tig and I are painting it in excruciating detail, Tig’s lettering is quite exquisite and mine are not too bad either.  I’ll post a photo when the tent is finished.

Allison is running a food fund for Festival, to help out the newcomers, and it’s now close to 40 people.  So the logistics are quite significant.

A fellow from my work is building us some cooking tripods and assorted cooking gear, and we do have the potjie.  For our big Friday-night authentic medieval feast, we’ll be doing pot-roasted lamb and spitted ducks, with a variety of medieval sauces and vegetable dishes.  Followed perhaps by a couple of our famed boil-in-the-bag Christmas puddings.

Into Autumn

In Australia, the official start of autumn is 1 March.

Goulburn has the four distinct seasons, and usually in Goulburn they’re right on cue.  So on the first of March we had to light the fire here at night.

That said, the days are just lovely.  After all the rain, the farm is green everywhere.  In autumn, the weather tends to be very stable, day after day of gorgeous sunny and pleasantly warm weather.

Yesterday morning, there was a patchy mist over the place, and the low golden sunlight made the whole place glow.  Quite magical.

In Canberra, they have massed plantings of trees with autumn colours, so it’s the most beautiful time for that city too.  We’re going there this Saturday for the fireworks.

Winter starts on 1 June, and it will.

A glut

We have a tomato glut at present.  We put in quite a few tomato plants ourselves, and we got volunteer plants from last year’s dropped fruit and seeds in the compost.

If you’re going to have a glut, tomatoes are a pretty good option.  We have made plenty of use of them in pasta and stews.  We have been semi-drying them with our own herbs, which has to be about the most delicious option.  And we’ve given plenty away.

Gluts are a regular hazard when you have a vegetable garden.  In spring, we get buried in chook and duck eggs  — hence lots of quiches.  At other times we have heaps of silverbeet, or warrigal greens, or .. all sorts of things.  A few weeks ago we had lots of eggplants (aubergines) and now we have lots of capsicums (bell peppers).  This year, our zucchinis did badly for various reasons, but our neighbours give us all their giant ones.  We have lots of huge pumpkins on their way, and Allison has just started to harvest the potatoes.

It does mean that there is a certain seasonality about food at Cockatrice Farm, which we think is not a bad thing.  It does give us some drive to try out new recipes, and to find out what our wwoofers from various countries can do with the vegetable.

We have been trying out our potjie (cauldron).  On the first attempt, the fire was too high, and it burned.  Last night, the fire was probably a bit low and the liquid content a bit high.  But we did get to eat our ox-tail stew, with many ingredients from our garden.  Not too bad, but we’re still learning.

A potjie

As mentioned, Monday was a long weekend in Canberra.  Allison and I took the opportunity to go to Sydney.

We said goodbye to Jessica (Ally’s daughter) and baby D, and also to Robin who is heading to a new wwoof assignment on the coast.

We stopped at Birdsall leather for a couple of half hides and lots of buckles, all needed for the armouring effort.

We also picked up a potjie (pronounced “poiki”).  This is a South African cast-iron spherical cauldron on legs, which looks just like one depicted in the Luttrell Psalter in the 1300s.  I gather that the Afrikaans people preserved some very old cooking traditions after they had died out in Europe.  Potjie cooking is kind of like barbecue cooking in South Africa.

Anyway, this is a #4 potjie, able to cook enough for about 20 people.  We would like to get a #6, which is really big — might need two people to carry.  We’ll be using that at the Rowany Festival (Easter).  Our Friday night dinner there will be cooked as absolutely authentically as we can manage.

For a link on potjie cooking, try here.

Lots of quail eggs

We went to the poultry auction on Sunday.  Not many people there, perhaps because it was a long weekend in Canberra.

The only thing we bought were 4 dozen quail eggs, which is two eggs more than will fit in our incubator using the quail tray.

So around about 24 March we should have a large number of baby quail here.

What a group

On Friday Night we went to the Goulburn Club.  The music was by one of the members, Michael Baker.  Comfortable ballads, great for chatting.

Our friend Gretchen did a couple of guest appearances, with her smooth blues voice.  Robin the wwoofer was amazed that Gretchen, a frequent visitor to our house, would have such a skill.

Actually we’re getting rather used to the idea that our Goulburn friends are mostly remarkable.

The one that amuses me is that most of our trainee SCA fighters do circus arts, so they can all juggle and do handstands.  It turns out that Goulburn’s Lieder Theatre always offers school holiday programs in circus acrobatics, and it’s the best option going in town.

Cherrie is a whizz with dragon boats and hockey sticks.  Jan can make or sew just about anything.  Some of the newbies come with really useful trade skills.

It does make for a local SCA group with loads of potential.

The new tent

The Marvellous Miss Maud, with some assistance from Will and Tig, is sewing a new tent for us.

Rowany Festival is looming soon — this is the huge annual Easter camping event north of Sydney.  Our Goulburn medieval group, the Hundred of Okewaite, will be attending in some force, so we need a new tent to help us all fit.

I made a couple of tents many years ago, one of which will be refurbished for Maud herself to stay in.  Like many of the available designs, it’s a bit small unless you’re willing to have a pole through the middle of your bed.  Or use a single bed.

So I have come up with a new design, which makes the best possible use of a roll of canvas, standardised commercial tentpoles, and the like.  The plan is to have room for a queen-sized bed on one side of the central pole, keeping fully half of the tent as a general living space.  That will make our Rowany Festival rather more comfortable.

We have already made a calico mock-up of the conical roof design.  It’s looking good.  So now we’re starting on our tent, as a prototype for this new design.

Some bits get quite complex, like the connection detail between the roof and the valance, and how we will hang the walls from the valance.  We’re still making it up as we go.

This design uses a central pole, and then 10 side poles.  Side poles are an expense and a mixed blessing, but they do reduce the ground space for the tent — which is good when space is tight, like at Festival.  (The alternative is to have ropes attached to the roof with “crows feet” tabs, pegged out much further.)

Assuming it all works, I’ll post a picture of the completed tent, and a downloadable plan.

The materials cost for the tent is going to be about $1500, for a tent 4m tall and 5m in diameter.