So, where was I…ah yes.
After four months of meetings, more meetings, some meetings and a few more meetings there is – at last – something real happening. I could have told you about spreadsheets, Gant charts, or frequent cream teas taken to energise afternoon-long meetings, but that would’ve been truly boring.
Now there are hard hats, hi-vis jackets, bacon sandwiches, early starts, world class swearing, Doug (the 82 year old digger driver) apple-scrumping and keeping me advised of how many eggs the chicken’s laying and a lot of laughing. We are properly underway.
It is startling how much hard work and history a digger and dumper can mercilessly wipe in half a day. Away go the mistakes, the ill-kept corners, the patch where the first Otter Farm piglets were born, the wasps nest that a friend and I unwisely tackled with a squirty thing of petrol and a lit garden torch, and that weird pile of long forgotten items overtaken by thistles and docks. I rather like it.
Temporary roads (tracks) have scraped into the ground, lined with weed-suppressant material and stoned over, to allow big machines access even when the weather’s poor. Untidy hedges have been cut back, the pig pens taken down, the barn carefully demolished to be reborn as two curious structures (more another time), and a few proper four-day bonfires.
There are also piles – and by piles I mean mountains – of soil just from scraping out the tracks. One looks suspiciously like Richard Dreyfus’ mash potato mountain in Close Encounters. By strange coincidence, this is exactly how I look when closing in on a book deadline. I remember seeing that film at the cinema and it filling me with exactly the same inside-the-bone excitement that this project does.
The serious excavation only began yesterday. Nell cut the first scoop at the end of last week, after which we had an afterschool glass (and she a sip) of fizz.
So, we are actually building a house (and kitchen garden school), rather than looking at (and changing) drawings of a house. It’s making other ‘homes’ fall into my head. More than anything, the house I grew up in, so different to this one. I left it to move into a shared place, the most expensive house I’ve ever lived in: a three storey townhouse on the banks of the River Exe. It was all lager, inactivity, Vesta curries and toasted tea cakes.
After that, home was the second smallest room of a large house: a bed, the stereo, a place for some clothes. A recipe from that summer (I am a food writer after all…): equal parts vodka, Tia Maria and martini, lengthened with lemonade. It tastes exactly – and I mean exactly – like cream soda. Try it and you will thank and loath me for it in equal measure. The first compels a second and the second a third, as if tyres on a chain thrown over the side of a boat. It was a time of great idleness for all but my liver. Things were fine.
Now that I am considerably less idle, I’d be grateful for a little of that lazy time back but as that is not possible, I have decided to live to 99. 100 would be a bit showoffy and involve a big party which – judging by the current exponential graph of Age (x axis) against Disinclination To Other People’s Company (y axis) – would be worth sacrificing the extra year to avoid. It’s an age at which you get a round of applause every time someone says how old you are, and people describe you as ’99 years young‘, while you try to resist the urge to club them in the testicles with the heavy end of your walking stick.
This means I am yet to reach the half way point. This is a good thing as I tend to do things later than most and I’ve yet to really get into my stride. It also means I get a good while to live in the new place we’re building.
In the bizarre world that is building a house seems to be, strings are being oddly pulled from the days of those first few homes: someone I knew vaguely at school driving a dumper; when it’s time the roofer may be someone I shared a lot of parties with back in the day; I played football on the green with the digger driver’s dad before we went to big school; old friends and acquaintances lost (some permanently) to addiction and other misfortunes; and having joked that a random-name-pulled-out-of-the-air from primary school would be on site before long, Phill (the main contractor) looked up and said he’d worked with him on a house in Guildford a few years back and might be laying some blocks for us in a month or two’s time. They’ll be bringing the old man back from the dead to do the painting next.