netkingcol

thinking outside the tank

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Uluru from the air

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Written by netkingcol

February 12, 2014 at 5:41 pm

Flemish Bond – Bricks and Blood

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You have to admire the quality of Belgian bricklaying; it’s so neat and smart in the modern buildings. We have just returned from Brugge, having learnt not to call it Bruges, and the houses in the suburbs are a delight. I think the slightly smaller size of brick than one normally sees in the UK adds to their charm and the subtly different design features like the pitch of the roofs and shapes of the first-floor windows are appealing for their novelty. This is coming from someone whose previous knowledge of Belgium was drawn largely from Asterix chez les Belges and Caesar’s The Conquest of Gaul; both sources a little out of date.wBruggeSteppedGables
It’s in the largely unspoilt mediaeval centre of Brugge that the senses get their main treat. The buildings are tall and narrow by modern standards, their steep roofs typically terminated by a stepped gable. The cobbled streets resound to the clip-clop of horse-drawn carriages and the sunlight glints off the pretty little canals that weave between the streets and under fine arched bridges. Step across the threshold of any chocolatier and your sense of smell is satisfied. This is literally and metaphorically a chocolate-box town.
Where the brickwork is not rendered you can see at least four different styles of bricklaying. The diagram below shows three common ways of laying bricks. The cheapest option is to use what is termed Stretcher Bond. This is the technique of laying courses of bricks one above the other so that only the long sides or stretchers are visible. Each course is laid so that the joint between two adjacent bricks falls in the centre of the brick below, preserving the strength and support of the structure. This is relatively cheap because a wall can be built which is only one half-brick thick. This is alright for cladding a breeze-block or timber-frame building for decorative purposes, but wouldn’t be used for load-bearing in a building of any significant height. 
Brick Bonds
In the English Bond, a course of stretchers is succeeded by a course of ends, followed by the next course of stretchers. Successive courses are arranged so that the joint between two bricks never lines up with a joint in the row above or below.
The Flemish Bond is slightly different and essentially comprises a repeating pattern of one and a half bricks. Again, The same rule governing the alignment of joints is followed; you never have one joint immediately above another.
With the English and Flemish Bonds, a double thickness of wall can be built as each brick presenting its end to the world can stretch across to an adjacent course.
The fourth pattern that can be seen in the old buildings of Brugge comprises an erratic mixture of the previous three described here.
We were a little surprised to see that the English Bond was more frequently used than the Flemish Bond. For instance, the magnificent church of Notre Dame, which houses the only Michelangelo Madonna and Child outside Italy, makes extensive use of English Bond.
There are buildings using Flemish Bond in Brugge, but it wasn’t until Day 3 of our short break in Flanders when we visited Ieper (or Ypres in the French) that we saw the most striking and painstaking expression of Flemish Bond. This was in the Menin Gate, a lovingly built and maintained memorial to the British and Empire men who were missing or lost in action during The Great War. A small example of the brickwork is shown here:
 FlemishBondMeninGate

In Ieper, Flemish Bond takes on a new meaning. The extreme madness of the First World War is evident everywhere, in the trenches of Sanctuary Wood, on Hill 62, in the museum inside the Cloth Hall of Ieper, and in the city itself which was completely destroyed and rebuilt. 

Ieper Market Square

One cannot help but be moved by the 60,000 names carved into the marble of the Menin Gate and by the 12,000 headstones in Tyne Cot cemetery, especially if you imagine each soldier to be standing there in uniform with full kit. I’m not taking sides; German youth was also squandered in the power struggle between the old empires. But I did, somehow, feel the bond between Britain and Belgium, created by the mingling of spilt blood in a common cause. TyneCot It happened in a strange way. I was standing under the arch of the Menin Gate, looking across the road, when a girl in her late teens came cycling quickly and happily through – it’s downhill into town. She probably does this every day and I wondered at that moment how often she thought about the meaning of the memorial. For less than a second our eyes met, and I could see she asked herself why I was there and I could tell that she knew. Instantaneously, we shared the thought, as those men had shared the trenches and the cigarettes and the dying. Flemish Bond is sometimes made with bricks and sometimes it’s made with blood.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2009

There is a blue hill quite close by

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Thick pinkish moss-clad curling flakes of ancient bark form the skin of a stout sycamore extruding buds to honour the imminent contract to shade the bluebells at its feet; the solid, stable, full expression of a tree. As eagerly awaited as any golden Vermont autumn, the bluebell flower-burst marks the progress of the Wansfell spring and answers the wintry question: why is it called Blue Hill Wood?

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst 2009

Written by netkingcol

March 29, 2009 at 12:27 pm

The First Cuckoo of Spring

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I live in Ambleside in the English Lake District at the head of a cul-de-sac on the lower slopes of Wansfell from which there is no public access to the fells. Today I can report that we had our first metaphorical cuckoo of the spring, by which I mean the first ramblers trying to make their way out of the village and into the hills – and failing the first test of their navigational skills. They reach my house and look around in confusion and bewilderment.

As surely as a lame-duck president is followed by a dream-ticket and the cold wind of recession is followed by the green shoots of recovery, the couple I met today will be followed by a steady stream of the cartographically challenged. They are almost worthy of classification as one of David Attenborough’s Great Events of Nature, the migration reaching its peak in the summer holidays.

Mostly these visitors clutch a printed sheet of instructions telling them, clearly in insufficient detail or in ambiguous terms, how to get from A to B. Some of them are completely kitted-out with map, compass, emergency rations, and two walking poles; the couple today had a GPS – but it wasn’t doing its job because ‘there was only one satellite so he couldn’t triangulate’.

I consider it a service to tourism to help them get where they want to be and I hope they will remember fondly the friendly face that guided them, though sometimes I feel a terrible responsibility. After all, I’m showing them where exactly they can get into the mountains and start to get really lost. I imagine the conversation they will have with the mountain rescue team, trying to describe their position after dialling 999. Maybe this year I will set up a lemonade stall at the end of my drive or, even better, write my own leaflet and hand it out to those who turn up at my door.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst 2009

Written by netkingcol

March 15, 2009 at 8:28 pm

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