Wednesday, 31 August 2011


Yes, we've had one! The next-next-door-neighbour has objected to our "development" (can one call the tiniest ever house that?) because we've removed a habitat for wildlife and cats. Now, tree hugger than I am, I strongly object to their objection. Wouldn't you?

Forgive me if I offend anyone, but is human need not more important than that of animals'? Is it, in plain English, not more important that I provide a place to rest the heads of my loved ones than retain a very small piece of wildlife sanctuary. I'd argue no if this sanctuary were mid-urbanity and it was the only place for our feathered and furry friends to live and play. But this is Milton Keynes, where 26 parks and woodlands provide space for the city's 22 million trees, swathes of hedgerow and sprawling shrubbery. Zero point zero zero three (yes, it really is that small) hectares of bramble being removed is not going to flummox the local creatures.

Well, perhaps two: the objectors. Nimbyism at its worst. I mean, seriously, did they consider before they bought their house the cats, birds and hedgehogs that might have lived on that plot prior to the bulldozers moving in? Probably not, otherwise they'd be living in a 'van on the site rather than in their watertight, heated little enclave.

Which is exactly the sort of choice I've made for my family. So nyaahhhhhhh.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

The tenacity of life

I spent yesterday clearing the bank of my plot of eons of roots. A couple of weeks ago, you'll remember (well, so I like to think, my obsession slowly becoming the focus of your life) that I spent HOURS (and hours and hours) yanking up the remaining life after the pros had removed the big stuff. Runners sprouting ivy and brambles, roots of the hawthorn and privet. It all came up.

Or so I thought. For yesterday - a mere 12 days, all be they rainy ones - later, I was there again, pulling up new growth. Granted, my initial attempt had been rather frenzied and I, obviously, didn't manage to remove the roots. Still. Who woulda thunk it? Pristine, fresh-faced little shoots popping up from below the surface, grinning maniacally at me. I have to admit, I was torn. The half that won (on the grounds of practicability) was the bit that knew that they had to go, to make way for the new planting. The half that was subverted was that which wondered at the tenacity of life. Isn't it incredible that, a JCB and my vicious hands wielding - variously - a fork, trowel and shears (and more than a little enthusiasm) were not enough to quell the spontaneous combustion of life? And even after yesterday marathon effort, for which my back and wrists will no doubt suffer for weeks to come, I can assure you that the next time I visit I'll see new shoots peeking through.

Isn't life astounding? It really does pain me to kill the blighters, but the reasonable nemesis of my tree-hugging self, thankfully, prevails in this case. Nevertheless, I'm awed by their ability to thrive in the most extreme conditions. And isn't this true of human life too? Think most of Africa - how on earth do women with a body fat percentage of 2 manage to reproduce, when the Western world struggles to fall pregnant at optimum health levels? How does someone with, apparently and medically, no hope manage to claw themselves back from death's door? Or step away from it suddenly, at the last minute, when all seemed lost and it seemed the only option? Is our life force, and that of our fellow living beings, so strong?

And if so, why are we not following the call of this strength and living life to its absolute max? In my case, that means shunning the reasonable and reaching for another glass of Merlot, booking another holiday we can't afford, spending Sunday afternoon playing Monopoly with the midgets. C'est la vie. Thank God.

Friday, 26 August 2011

On the jabberwocky

Am I allowed to diverge from my main topic? Please? Since all I'm doing now is waiting for Himself to afford me some time time to choose hedge shrubs and the Council to grant me the go-ahead so I can start building. Champing at the bit has nothing on my eagerness ... Anyway. Just wanted to ask: why do some people feel it necessary to fill every little silence with jabberwocky (aka chatter, holus bolus or flimflam)? I'm all for an extended conversation, especially when there is much sentence interruptus by excitable partakers. I am, probably, the person to be voted most likely to engage in animated chatter of an evening at the pub, Merlot to hand and witty banter (erm, well, that's what I think two glasses in, anyway) streaming about the table.

But am I alone in thinking that there are moments for silence, moments that really do not need to to filled unless it's by something interesting, profound, funny or uplifting? I'm talking about people who feel the need to say something - anything, in fact. "Oh" is my personal nemesis: it brings me out in a cold sweat. What, exactly, does "oh" add to the conversation or my own enlightenment? As far as I can see, if you have nothing interesting to add, don't say anything. Don't be afraid of not commenting - surely it's not expected? For example, I say "It's raining." Do you really have to say "Yes, it is" or (worse) launch into a diatribe on the local climate? If I'm washing a pot, do you need to say "Oh, you're washing the pot"? Why say anything at all (unless it's "I'll do that for you")?

What do you say to that?

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Working outdoors

I forgot to mention when I wrote about erecting the fence the other day - how fab is it to work outdoors? Answer: very. Granted, I might not be saying this come December when I'm clearing away broken bricks from the outside of my little house and nailing plasterboard to the inner frame before the heating's been installed. But for someone like me whose idea of a good day includes some kind of cardiovascular exercise, spending two days moving my body and discovering new muscles was a real treat.

In them ol' days, as my nan used to say, people were naturally fit and strong from good, honest physical work - usually housework and laundry for the lasses, leaving the men to tackle the building, gardening and so on. Now, of course, we have an abundance of cash so we can pay other people to do those things AND still afford exorbitant gym memberships in order to keep heart-healthy. Since I'm plumbing every last penny into this new build, perhaps it's a good thing, then, that I enjoy the labour!

Speaking of which - I need to go and finish the job of eradicating the brambles. Taraa!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Fencing: the art and science

What did you do today? A bit of light shopping, perhaps? Cappuccino with cupcakes and girlie chat? Or maybe you put in the hard graft: a full day's work or child minding. Do you want to know what I did? I (ahem) put up a fence. Well, okay, I helped someone to put up a fence. Still. It was the first project for our new build and all I can do is hope that we've started not at all how we mean to go on.

Let me explain. I'm sure that erecting a fence in the middle of a farm field would take a morning. Dig a hole, stick in a fence post, fill the hole up with concrete and then screw a fence panel on to the post. Repeat till the fence is complete. We, however, were not in the middle of a farm field - this fence had to be erected along the same line a long-dead fence had once stood AND where a line of trees had been last week.

Yes, I know, ridiculous! Anyway, hours (literally, and mostly in the rain) of chiselling away great big globs of cement (three), axing into oblivion roots and stumps (seven) and using every muscle in our bodies (too many to mention); abandoning the earth auger which I'd hired to simplify the job because it simply didn't work in the clay soil; hand digging 45cm deep holes then doing the post-concrete-fence panel process described above - and we have a fence. Yay!

Except that, although it's precisely plumb in every direction, it doesn't follow a perfectly straight horizontal line because of having to avoid obstacles, and the client (aka Himself) is unhappy.

So back we go this weekend to make slight adjustments. Just the job for a body which feels as though it's been put through a mangler. At least it's sunny.

Friday, 12 August 2011


We all know the quip: What do you call 100 solicitors at the bottom of the ocean? A good start. Now, let me say this from the outset: I am in no way lawyerist; I'm live-and-let-live to all humankind as much as the next person. But honestly - what do these people spend their years at law school learning? Definitely not time management - only builders have a worse reputation, and my solicitor took two months just to obtain one signature from the vendor. Certainly not organisation - after four months of involvement in my land purchase my solicitor waited until the day we completed to ask me for my bank details (which, of course, incurred further delays). Perhaps they learn how to be (a) elusive, (b) disdainful of 'civilians' (i.e. non legal humans) and (c) experts in fudging the truth.

Gasp! you say. Libel! you smirk. Probably. And there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. They're all the same, but like other halves you can't live with them can't live without them. Mortgage lenders won't deal with you directly - probably because they've all formed strong friendships with the legal eagles as they all went to the same don't-have-a-clue-about-time-management-and-become-an-expert-in-stretching-out-the-conveyancing-process school. And have you ever tried to do your own local searches on a property? No one will give you the time of day unless you have LLB written after your name.

I say it's all part of the global plot to discredit the person in the street. No one's allowed to do anything anymore unless they're a 'specialist'. Seriously. I'm waiting for someone to come along and fire me from motherhood because I don't have a degree in it. I've hired the one builder who didn't laugh when I told him I wanted to do much of the physical work and all of the project management myself.

I also wanted to do my own conveyancing. But that, sigh, is another story.

Anddddddd ... we're OFF!

On Wednesday morning, a mere four months after we first put in our offer on our site, we finally started work on it. Picture the scene: Smallish triangle of land totally overgrown with unruly hedgerow plants, self seeding sycamores and bramble shoots so long they'd grown in circles. Himself had cleared a swathe a couple of months ago using a large hedge trimmer - took him four hours to clear a metre-wide pathway. It took my builder and his JCB just 20 minutes to obliterate the entire bramble patch. How cool is that?

Anyway, a day later and the small gang had ripped, cut, sawn, chipped and dug this small patch of panoramic mayhem into a relatively level, completely bare piece of earth. And can I picture my future home on this spot? NOW I can! Tomorrow I'm taking my tape measure, tent pegs and spool of string and I'm gonna stake me out a dwelling.

Of course, all this thrill doesn't come without its downside. We were treated to several askance looks and a few choice comments once the hedgerow had been removed. Hopefully, a perky newsletter informing the neighbours of our plans with the promise of the imminent planting of a healthy, attractive, native, wildlife-encouraging hedgerow will be enough to get them on side. Once I'd explained that we're not, in fact, rich developers of the last wedge of land in Shenley Brook End and that we plan to build a family home, they seemed placated.

Never easy, is it?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

She's on a roll

Look, I've been wanting to write this blog for four months. The first post took me all of four minutes. Clearly, all that was lacking was the application. As in: "Success is 1% inspiration and 99% application." Which is what my maths teacher used to tell me back in ... well, let's just say a looooong time ago. So. Now that I've started, I think the floodgates are pretty much wide open. You've been warned.

Okay, back to my favourite subject: My House. Isn't it just FABulous? I'm building a HOUSE! Now I want to stress here that my excitement's generated by just two things. Firstly, I'm in the minority. I mean, really, how many people do YOU know who've built their own house? Secondly, I'm just the excitable type! Yes! Really!

Sorry, that's far too many exclamation marks for one post. It's just that I'm, well, I think you know: excited. (Did you pick up on that?) This won't be the home I die in (at least, that's not my intention, but it does depend on how long the council take to approve my plans and how much the electricity department charges me) but it is my first attempt, it is the culmination of years and months and weeks and hours and minutes of dreaming and it is, essentially, the fruit of my labour. Not quite akin to the production of my three children but ... well, let's face it ... probably a lot more rewarding, at least for the first 18 years.

Did I say that out loud?

Am I a house builder?

NOW I am! I woke up this morning, and realised that, just 14 years after first dreaming of building my own house, numerous years of cutting up magazines to fuel my mood board obsession, four months after first finding the first plot of land and putting in an offer, a day short of four months of boring everyone in sight - and several, thanks to the wondrous world of email and telephones, too far away to be in sight - with The Details, two days short of four months of gathering quotes, potential suppliers, treeloads of relevant magazines and books and an army of friends-of-friends, and a week after FINALLY (and see a later blog for details of THAT one) completing on the land purchase (breathe) we are now the proud owners of the smallest triangle of land known to mankind, a lovely set of drawings currently being analysed by the Milton Keynes Council and a rather sizeable mortgage.

And the realisation of a very, very old dream. Eek! Am I a house builder? Yes! I am!