The House that Jack Built

Spring is in the air. It turns out that when our pet rabbits escaped for several hours last month, one of them, Blueberry, found a wild mate. She has been nest-building for a couple of weeks, collecting fur from herself and her mum, Snowdrop, and plentiful hay, which they are given to eat. They have done this several times before, it seems to be a cyclical, hormonal thing, so we thought nothing of it. However, on Monday, Bea opened the nesting area to see if they had eaten a treat she had given them – an edible mattress – to find something small and dark wriggling inside the luxurious fur bed. She squealed with delight and surprise. We were relieved that, rarely, it seems to be just one.

Sky, the new baby, arrived with the sun. We have had six dry days with plenty of sunshine and, at times, a stiff breeze. The ground is drying and the concrete pouring has begun. We bought a small, electric cement mixer but, thankfully, were unable to start using it. If we had done, we might have lost the will to go on. A couple of weeks ago, when we were in the midst of frustration with the weather, our friend Iain offered to lend us his large diesel-powered concrete mixer. “Jack” – named by us because he builds houses – is a forty-six year old dinosaur of a machine who has mixed concrete for many a house-build on the Ross of Mull.

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He growls and rumbles along while we go backwards and forwards to him with buckets of water, cement, sand and gravel, and from him with wheelbarrows of lovely, sloppy, concrete which we tip over the crumbling edges into the trenches. We spill bits here and there before we reach the trench, stones and clumps of soil tumble in, sometimes an overfull wheelbarrow ends up half in the trench as we struggle to control the pouring. Jack just keeps on going, a steady background noise that doesn’t hurt your ears, but is a relief when it finally stops. We started on Sunday – a Mother’s Day treat – and a chance for the children to help out.

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Bea wrote on a piece of wood “Here Lies Our House” and threw it into the trench. Yesterday evening, in the dark, they both put hand-prints on the wet concrete, to join the cat-prints from the previous night. This is their build as much as ours.

We’ve started with the deepest, widest trench, the one that the stone wall will be resting on. It’s one metre wide, compared with the 55cm of the other trenches. And, because the ground is so uneven, where bedrock juts through making rises and dips, the concrete will, in many places, be two or three times the 15cm depth recommended by the engineers. We need a lot of concrete. When Iain offered to lend us Jack, Phil expressed concern that we might kill him off. Iain assured him that Jack would kill us first. After two days, 45 bags of cement and five or six tonnes of sand and gravel, I am beginning to see what he means. And we’re not finished yet. We’re waiting for more cement to arrive, so today we gardened for one of our customers and cleaned out our chickens – for a break.

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