We have a digger. And a man to drive it. Our friend, Will, who can start as soon as he has sorted out the exhaust. We learn from Stewart at the garage that he has already been working on it. This is a man who does what he says he will do, when he says he will do it. It’s a bit of a shock. Mainly we’re used to waiting. Usually for weeks or months at a time. It means we could get started with digging foundations within a week or two.
It’s taking a while for this to sink in. The idea, the dream, the plans, the drawings, the forms; we’ve got used to these. Even posts and measurements we’ve done. The reality of blade breaking earth, of something taking shape, and of that happening imminently….. I ought to be more excited. I was very excited when I built an approximation of the ground floor with lego. My son, Isaac, aged 11, brought some of his lego men in to live there and promptly placed snipers strategically at the windows. He must have felt the need to defend this precious model; the half-built, haphazardly-constructed version of his future home. In the end, it was he who destroyed it, to build something else – we’re short of base-plates. My daughter, Bea, aged 9, was devastated. For her, the model had not lost its potency. Before the snipers moved in, she had rehearsed with me, several times, which door she would come in after school, where she would hang her coat and where she would find me (in the kitchen making a delicious snack, naturally).
From lego models to real machines is a big step which is frankly terrifying. We don’t have a master-builder coming in to take control. We are the project managers. Thankfully, with the support of Jim, our friend who is a builder. He’ll be there for the essentials, like measuring, but he can’t be there on a daily basis to hold our hands. He’s busy. And we can’t afford him.
Over the past few weeks, particularly since we heard in mid-December that we have qualified for a Croft Housing Grant, we have become increasingly preoccupied with the house. Payment of the first portion of the grant is dependent upon the house being wind- and water-tight, including roof-covering, by December 2015. That’s possible, but daunting for the complete beginners that we are. On Sunday my husband, Phil, was hunkered down in the office/drying-room/stationery cupboard/guitar-storage-facility (every caravan should have one). I thought he was catching up on the weekend’s sport and was prepared to indulge him for a while – he’d had a busy day moving poo. My patience started to wear thin as I cooked tea and attempted to negotiate screen-time with grumpy children. Deciding on the subtle approach I went quietly into the office, and found him researching concrete-mixers.
This is not normal behaviour for Phil. It’s a symptom. Later that same day I found him standing with a sock half on, staring into space. He was trying to calculate how many cement-mixer loads of concrete it might take to build the foundations. An impossible task until we know how much Will is going to have to dig out and where the bedrock is, and whether we might have to build up the foundations in some places. The distracted staring, bizarre calculations and obsessive researching – known as “self-builder’s syndrome” – it’s only going to get worse. We’ve already become socially inept and boring, only really able to communicate with other self-builders, who think nothing of being bombarded with a stream of questions about septic tanks, under-floor heating pipes, ducting and u-values. Even before they’ve been offered a cup of tea.