September 2009


A couple of years ago, when we first started doing this manual (and womanual) labour, we realised that you need one day off a week to let your body rest. Otherwise you become a Dr Who-monster-like being trudging very slowly from one monumental task to the next.

We’d forgotten this.

With winter coming and so much to do, we’ve been working every moment to Get Things Done. Especially necessary when, without electric light, our day finishes when the sun goes down (currently around 8.20).

Until yesterday.

After spending a very pleasant evening with some new friends, I awoke feeling a little fragile (I tell you, that eau de ville is to be avoided at all costs). I suggested that I go and work on the yurt platform until I felt a bit better, but Her Outdoors bade me (I’m reading that book set in the 19th Century, remember?) lie in the hammock and rest.

Work was off the menu for the day. The sun shone. It was glorious.

Time off also meant we could get through a hillock of paperwork that had built up over the last few weeks, have a Proper Wash (which entails much boiling of pans on the camping stove) and generally Get Things In Order. The day ended with a few beers with some other friends, before returning to cook risotto in the dark (picture me, candle in left hand, spatula in right, peering into pan to see if the stock has been soaked up – you get the idea). Then more “Jonathan Strange…” by candlelight.

Today, I feel relaxed, rested and ready to take on the world. Good thing too. You have no idea how much work there is to be done…

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After Dave and James left the other day, having posted the previous shots, I was supping a beer and looking at all the fine work we had done. A little nervous, to be fair (excuse any slightly whimsical or Victorian turns of phrase – I’m reading “Johnathan Strange and Mr Norrell” at the moment, which is rather fabulous, and I’ve always been prone to a little literary influence), about what I could possibly achieve and how soon.

Our neighbour dropped by on the way to his polytunnel (the neighbour who leant me the scaffolding, you may remember) and I offered him a beer. Which he took. He used to be a builder, so I also offered him the ladder to see what we’d done.

Beer in hand, wearing flipflops, he positively glided up the ladder and had a good look round. Then he pretty much danced across the 4cm joists in the bathroom-to-be ceiling, seemingly oblivious to the 12-foot drop below, and had a good look there, too.

Me: (in French) I’ll probably have the wall finished in about four days.

He: I could probably do that in a couple of hours. Three tops.

Me: No. Seriously?

He: Oh yes. I could come along tomorrow at eight if you like.

Me: I abso-bluddie-lutely would like.

There was only one small problem. I didn’t have enough blocks up there. So I spent the next day (yesterday, if you’re still paying attention) moving about a ton of concrete onto the roof (my own blocks and a load of free ones from Dave), shifting sand and generally getting ready.

The neighbour showed up at eight today and did this:


It was a joy to behold. I told him so.

He: (Still in French) Ah, but put me in front of a computer in an office and I can’t do anything.

Me: Yes, but I don’t think anyone seeing someone working in an office would say: “Wow. That’s amazing!”. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

It wasn’t even a very large, or expensive, beer.

In an ideal world, you probably wouldn’t leave it this late in the year to build your winter home. But for various reasons, known and unknown, we have.

After a further visit from our friend with the JCB, who dug a nice big hole for our sceptic tank, we began our bedroom yurt platform, which currently looks like this:


Right next to it, our bathroom-to-be looked like this when the sun rose today (yes, I carried all those blocks up there, which is one of the many reasons I’m so bluddie tired at the moment):


And after being savaged by English mafia Dave and James without the benefit of a lunchbreak, looks like this as the sun begins to set:


Let’s see what we can do with the next few days of glorious weather, shall we? No pressure. Winter’s only six weeks or so away…

English mafia Dave and James came back yesterday and did some frankly beautiful work while I shovelled sand, lime and cement, and shifted blocks. I ended the day feeling a little bummed, not able to thank them enough for working for no money – although I should have been elated now the Shack looks like this:


Interesting Fact: That chunk of wood above the bathroom (-to-be) window is the first natural material in this whole structure, which formally held up some asbestos roofing material in almost the same place.

Utterly Irrelevant Fact: Those bits of wood sticking out of the wall that you can’t see in this picture… you wouldn’t believe how hard they were to get out.

Something else for nothing: The scaffolding. (Lent by a neighbour.)

Here’s a picture English mafia Dave took the other morning:


The bottom two courses visible were almost completely done by English mafia Nick. The others are all mine, laid one row at a time all the way round in a nice straight-ish line. (Seems logical, doesn’t it?)

Here’s a shot Dave took that same afternoon.


I’m the one standing next to English Mafia James, who laid all the other courses – building up each corner, then filling in the middle (like I’d been told by English mafia Lee). Guess what? It’s a helluva lot quicker. Another couple of days and it’ll be done.