We have trenches! After two or three days of digging a track and moving soil and rocks from one place to another, it seemed as though nothing was happening fast. Then in one afternoon we had foundation trenches. They are narrow enough to jump over and stand in the kitchen washing dishes or sit on the sofa looking at the view. That first evening I came back from the polytunnel with eggs and salad, jumped through the front door and stood at my picture window watching the light fade from the mountains.
We had a few days of dry weather for digging, but it’s started raining again and it’s very muddy, especially where we have top soil from the trenches spread over the area that will be our front garden. It’s not the best soil, but fine for planting trees which is the first stage of my garden plan. I am dying to get started but it makes no sense until we are past the stage of machinery coming and going. That might be quite near the end when Will comes back to dig for the septic tank and Puraflo system. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to persuade Will to hang around for a while at that point and do some landscaping. It will be quicker than me and my spade – hours rather than days. I had always hoped that our build would be low-impact in terms of materials, design and the build-process. In keeping with that, Will’s digger is relatively small, but still the power compared to my woman-power is fabulous – it would be crazy not to take advantage!
I often day-dream about growing trees. Silver birch, hawthorn, beech, larch, alder. In my more fanciful moments, caught by a wave of nostalgia for the trees of my childhood, I picture ornamental cherries in blossom. That’s usually when the wind has dropped and I forget where I live. Meanwhile, Phil has that look on his face again. The cement-calculation look. He’s also doing blockwork calculations for the next stage of the foundations. And ordering things – cement, sand & gravel, breezeblocks – a few shades of grey. It’s good that one of us has his feet on the ground.
The digger has arrived and, after only a day and a half of digging, the landscape of our house site has changed. Rises that we thought followed bedrock lying near the surface turn out to be piles of rotten rock, stones and earth overgrown with grass. The rock is perfect for filling in the huge hole Will has dug for the new drive. Meanwhile, a hill needs to be taken back to make space for us to get in where the door is meant to be. The first couple of metres are soft and easy. Will thinks that what we imagined was a natural gully behind the house site had been quarried, creating artificial dips and rises that are easily levelled. A landscape that we thought immovable is flattened and widened in a couple of hours.
Everything looks different. It also seems that our lives will never be the same again. Today Will and Jim-the-builder both gave up their Sunday to mark out the foundations. With sketchy architect’s drawings and incomplete information from the engineers, they banged in posts and nails, checked and rechecked measurements, tripped over the ridiculously-coloured dark blue builders’ line, checked the angle of the front of the house for the best view down the loch, and finally were happy. It was heading towards dusk by the time they finished, the end of a dreich day that had even leached the colour from a ghostly, white rainbow that appeared over the murky loch.
It was in keeping with the feeling of unreality that has crept over us. Phil and I are both in a state of shock. It’s like having another baby – a house-building baby-monster that is totally consuming and has rendered our brains mush. I suspect we will be dining on pringles, pasta and chopped carrots for the next two years. And eggs for protein. We have plenty of those. It’s not so much that we have no time to cook, more that there seems no space to think about it. We are also going to be spending a lot more time cleaning up mud. Living in a caravan in a field was always a fairly mucky lifestyle choice. Living in a caravan on a building site is a hundred times more so.
I escaped to the polytunnel this afternoon and entered a different world. It is the start of our second polytunnel season and there is already a sense of a natural rhythm developing – so different from the extreme action on the house site. I sowed peas and broad beans collected by our lovely Wwoofer Lizzie from last year’s plants. They were dried in the polytunnel, hanging from the crop bars to keep them away from the mice. My sowings are also hanging – perched on a high shelf that we put up after the mice devastated two autumn sowings of sweet peas. I can already taste the broad beans, podded and still warm with french dressing, basil and parmesan cheese. The peas won’t make it to a plate. Like two large mice, the children will pick and eat them on site, leaving scatterings of pods littering the floor of the polytunnel. I won’t mind. That kind of mess I like to see.