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How to dig your own hole (or become an expert in anything) in 10 steps


I’m digging a trench. Not only that, but a trench through ground which is more stone than soil. I’ve been digging, hacking and thinking… about the nature of expertise. First, here are my 10 steps to a successful trench experience:

  1. Gather together a pick axe, a shovel with a point, some work gloves & a large bottle of water.
  2. How wide is your trench? If it is going to be any deeper than a shovel handle it will need to be the width of your body so that you can get into the thing.
  3. Use a rope to peg out the trench (it is very easy to make a wonky trench, and difficult to set straight).
  4. Remove the turf or otherwise mark the layout of the trench. Don’t use rope as this will get in the way if you leave it there.
  5. Start digging. Do not dig downwards. If you dig straight down, it will then be difficult to dig along the trench and the hole you have dug will fill with rock and earth you’ll have to dig out again.
  6. Dig at a gentle gradient – a concave with a 30% slope should do nicely.
  7. Remember to drink the water
  8. Dig and think. Digging is the ideal balance to mental work. In an ideal world I would work 50% on the computer & 50% physical labour.
  9. On your first day, don’t dig for too long. Your muscles are learning a new trade, so a couple of hours is a good start.
  10. Take advice from someone who has done this before. Anyone can write anything on the Internet. I’m just now digging my first hole, so why listen to me?

I thought I would conduct an experiment while digging my trench. Can I make myself an expert in hole digging?

First of all, I need to go find some Internet based experts to see if anyone can tell me how to dig a hole. The very first page I visit, on eHow.com, advises the following: “Step 1:
Take samples of soil from different points in the target area and have them examined at a lab for soil density, soil type and water content” . The rest of the instructions are well worth a read. Obviously written by someone who has never dug a trench. The second (more useful) set of trench digging instructions recommended using water pressure to wash away the soil in a narrow channel. It sounded very good.

The reason I am digging a trench is because we don’t have water. We need the trench to lay the water pipes from the borehole to the house . It has to be a metre deep so the water doesn’t freeze in winters of down to minus 20 centigrade. I don’t have access to a soil lab, but I do have access to a pick axe. We could pay someone else to do it, or hire a machine, but my opinion is that the time investment necessary will be longer than if I just dig it myself. Plus, after the winter I need the exercise.

I started digging yesterday and managed quite a lot of progress with depth and length, but I was pretty sure there was a knack to it… so in the evening I searched the Internet, and searched and searched. Lots of people used the phrase ‘how to dig a trench’ but no-one was giving out instructions.

So far I have discovered that a pick axe is really useful. I am digging through a layer of large rocks. This is not what I expected, but, the pick axe is my new best friend. I use it to loosen everything up, then the shovel is just for moving rocks and soil out of the hole.

Digging for leisure: I’m currently a size 18, but I reckon that I should drop a dress size every couple of metres. You also have to be digging in the right location for it to be fun. I was just digging away, thinking about the Czech communist era… the communists made any dissenters take manual jobs. So, if you make a writer dig holes, you give them the chance to think… and some endomorphines. Sounds like a disastrous combination if you are trying to keep ideas suppressed.

Anyway, I looked up from thinking and there was a big white rabbit on one side of me and all of next door’s chickens on the other – obviously attracted by the worm potential of my efforts. I’m digging in a very nice environment. Maybe the rabbit could give me tips? No – it’s a domestic rabbit – escaped from somebody who was growing it for food. The rabbit’s advice would be about as much use as all the other advice you can get from people who have never dug a hole.

Questions to ask an expert in digging holes.

  1. Have you ever dug a hole before?
  2. If yes, what evidence do you have? Video footage for example.
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