My beloved Tibetan friend tells me that in her culture it is bad luck to say that you will never do something again. If you do, it will happen that you have to do that thing again and again – seven or nine times, I forget which. Maybe if you are saying never to something it is because you are resisting this thing, instead of trying to learn from it.
After the seven or nine times maybe you will have learned what you need to. Anyway, the point is that I said that this would be the last winter we would be spending in the caravan. I said that I could only do this last one – I was never going to have to do another.
On the bright side, the foundations are finished!
Apart from some exemplary sand-raking I can’t claim any credit for the work of recent months. It’s been Phil and Jim-the-builder. The foundations are impressive and we walk on them knowing that – apart from a layer of tiles – this is our completed floor. Following to the letter the engineer’s guidelines, which seem to be mainly about pouring in more and more concrete, we could probably build a twenty storey block of flats on there and solve Mull’s affordable housing problem.
The environmental consequence of so many tonnes of concrete is painful to contemplate when you are attempting to build something that has a minimal impact; underfloor-heating powered by air-source heat pump, high- value insulation, expensive Nordan double-glazing, Scottish wood cladding and a locally- sourced stone wall. All of these are permitted, some are required, but have to be laid on a foundation that has emitted many tonnes of CO2 in the making, not to mention the environmental costs of extracting more than 50 tonnes of sand, gravel and type-1. And ours is a small house.
Back to Tibetan sayings…Unfortunately we need a mortgage to progress from filling in to going up and we are obliged to wait until the Spring – until we have another year of self-employed accounts – before we can apply. We thought we had sufficient years and this has been a massive disappointment – not the last winter in the caravan after all. We feared that we would lose our croft housing grant because we could no longer meet the deadline for being wind-and-watertight. However, the grant people have been great and said that, as long as we keep them informed of our progress, they can extend the deadline and we won’t forfeit the grant. So it could have been worse and we are grateful for that. It means that we have breathing space to finish other, smaller projects – a chicken hut, the greenhouse, the windbreak that was damaged last winter. There is always plenty to do.
Our most exciting small project is the upgrading of our friends-and-family hut, the one where people stay because there isn’t room in the caravan. We’re going to make it self-sufficient – build another structure for a shower and cooking space, so that we can rent it out to people for holidays. As any spare resources we have are directed towards house-building we are going to experiment with crowdfunding. We’ll see how it goes, but if we get the opportunity to develop our hideaway holiday hut, we will be able to feel that the croft is moving forward, even if not the house.
Fortunately winter feels a little waylaid by the beautiful weather of the past few weeks. Warm sunshine, calm winds, mist lying in valleys on cool, dewy mornings turning roosting, rooftop pigeons into stone, or rolling in as the sun sets.
One morning I watched as mist poured down the burn into the Loch na Lathaich at Bunessan, while all around the air was bright with sunlight. There is a nip in the air at night to remind us that winter is not far away, and it’s pitch dark by 7pm. But still it feels as though we are blessed by these golden, stolen days of summer-autumn – sweet, fat, juicy brambles started to come out a couple of weeks ago – a month later than usual – and we still have tomatoes ripening in the polytunnel.
Perfect weather for putting up a wooden frame for a house, but we’re trying not to dwell on that. We are certainly going to be in the caravan for more winters than we had thought and there have been many nights of waking up sweating, fearing that we may never complete the house. I’m just hoping that if I try really hard to learn whatever it is I need to – patience, humility, surrender, release – that I won’t have to do all of the seven, nine or more winters that I may have summoned. Although, I’m pretty sure that hoping for a short cut is not going to go in my favour when it comes to the assessment of my learning.