A few months ago we watched a farmer in her seventies win an award on Countryfile. She said that her secret to success was to get up early and keep going. This has become our mantra. It is somehow a comfort on those days when we are on the go from morning until it gets dark which, even a month past mid-summer, on the West coast of Scotland, is pretty late. Not only the words reassure us, but the thought that we are not the only ones still working away as the light fades and the midges are in full attack
Phil said something similar – that the most important quality for a self-builder is persistence. You have to do the same thing so many times because there is so much of everything to do. This is especially true when you are doing it the low-tech, low-cost way with few big machines, fewer people and, effectively, in your spare time. When the weather is good enough, evenings and weekends are spent either building or working to make up for days spent building during the week.
Many other aspects of our lives are more or less neglected – the vegetable garden, the flower garden, the march of the bracken, the children. The latter seem to thrive on being left to their own devices. We are five weeks into the holidays and to start with the weather was not too bad. They roamed around with their friends, fighting battles and carrying out elaborate spying missions. Or exploring the nearby woods and rocky shores, coming home scratched and muddy. On wet days there has been an over-dose of Minecraft, Harry Potter dvds and video-making.
Meanwhile, walking from caravan to polytunnel I have been running the gauntlet of taunting weeds. Past the flower garden that has turned half to meadow grass, giving it, from a distance, the look of a Piet Oudolf “prairie” garden. Past the bracken that is going to soon be reaching over all our heads. Through the vegetable garden where, somewhere beneath the weed-canopy lurk wind-battered dwarf broad-bean plants and surprisingly luxuriant brassicas. This is the area that tells most eloquently the story of neglect, and of the appalling weather. Exceptionally wet, windy and cold since December, with occasional spells of drier conditions, we are still waiting for summer. Everything is so late that our main-crop potatoes have not yet flowered and, in the polytunnel, our tomato plants may never produce fruit.
Both our livelihood and this stage of our house-build rely on decent weather. The keeping going is harder on the days when we can neither work nor build. It has been nearly six months since we started digging trenches and we are still in the foundations. Still filling in. Rocks, type-one hard-core, sand, toilet pipes, damp-proof membrane, reinforcing mesh, anchor straps and concrete slab are all in. Primary piping, insulation, under-floor heating pipes and concrete screed are still to go. The rain today is relentless, hammering on the caravan roof as I write. The foundations will, once again, be turned into a swimming pool. Once the rain stops we will again have to pump out several inches of water before we can carry on.
People ask us how the house-build is going. The answer is: Slowly. Very slowly. Frustratingly slowly. So slowly that it is hard to believe that there will ever be a house. But it is going.