Sunday, 26 February 2012

Paintbrushes at the ready!

Who woulda thunk it? Three months in and we've finished the plastering. Hurrah! It feels like a small step for buildingkind, but a leap mentally, since once the walls are 'in', so to speak, it will look just like a house. Only with pinkish walls. That is, of course, until I stamp my magnificently boring stamp all over it in that palest of shades (white). The sprogs are up in arms. "Mummy! Not white AGAIN!" they wail, determination written all over their anguished little faces that this, surely, will be the house that we'll fill with colour. Not so, darlings, at least not on the walls. Colour comes, I reassure them, from all the STUFF with which we fill our houses. And there is a LOT of that!

Although not as much as we've chucked away. Oh my goodness - who knew there would be so much waste generated from building such as teeny house? When a skip was requested, I thought (rather naively, clearly) it was a bit large for the few black bags we would chuck in over the course of the months. But we've filled two already, and I've taken endless trips to the tip. It feels iniquitous. It IS iniquitous. Probably not as much as the sin of lining the walls and the floor twice with plastic. Or pouring concrete into the ground and then another layer over that for the screed. Or the fuel used driving back and forth to builders' merchants and DIY stores.

One day we'll build a house entirely from wood hewn from our own forest, like a couple I read about in the latest Build It magazine. They live on 25 acres of woodland, and apart from their naturally-sourced home have installed a ground source heat pump, rainwater harvester and PV panels. Sigh. One day. Meanwhile, I'll console myself - and assuage my conscience just a teeny bit - with my ventilation system which warms the air to reduce heating needs, helped along by the swathes of insulation stuffed into every available nook and cranny and up-to-the-minute windows and doors. And of course the underfloor heating which is very energy efficient.

Now, where did I put my paintbrush? Oh, there it is. Off I go! Feel free to join me sometime - I'll provide the materials and really good coffee; you bring a strong arm and an old jumper!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


Our screeded floor, and the first batch of Western Red Cedar cladding on the dormers.

A word

The cost of mental ill health in England is now £105.2 billion a year, according to an update published last year by Centre for Mental Health. The figure includes the costs of health and social care for people with mental health problems, lost output in the economy, for example from sickness absence and unemployment, and the human costs of reduced quality of life.

Oh my goodness. Really? Just think what good we could do with all those extra pennies if only we could find a way to resolve many of those problems. And I say that with the utmost respect, and as someone who's teetered on the edge too many times to deny the possibility of any of us tipping over.

Undeniably, there are those among us who will always need help, whose problems are treatable only by the medical profession and alleviated only by specialist carers. But compare our nation to one of those in the so-called Third World and would the percentages stack up? I doubt it; people in those countries are too busy fighting for their lives - some literally, some with sheer, old-fashioned physical labour - to even glance inwardly, never mind dwell on their angst.

So who's better off? We with our love of fast - even instant - everything, we who cram weeks into a single day and still feel we haven't achieved as much as we ought to have? Or the struggling masses whose days are busy but paced, whose work day ends with the sunset giving them time to relax and socialise and breathe breathe breathe? They may have "nothing" - in our world, a home devoid of at least seven different electronic devices amounts to underprivileged - but do they suffer from stress? Are eating disorders and alcohol abuse a problem in these societies? Are their children carrying the weight of the world on shoulders already overwhelmed with peer, teacher and parental pressures?

Now, I'm obviously not going to present the solution to the First World's ills right here in this little blog. But I am going to encourage to spread maybe just a little word here and there, where appropriate. And that word is: exercise. Yes, yes, I know chocolate makes you feel just as good, but it ain't a long term solution (and I've tried, believe me). And I'm not advocating marathoning, either - a stroll around the neighbourhood, dancing with the kids in the living room, gentle stretching or yoga, vigorous vacuuming or even a good old belly laugh will put the kybosh on any latent stirrings of depression.

I don't know if it's the endorphins or just the additional oxygen from all that breathing, but it works, in the short- and long-term. You might not feel like it in the dead of winter, but trust me on this. And if you and I can get moving, perhaps we can inspire those around us to, and they can inspire others, and pretty soon we might just have a nation of fit, depression-poor citizens who are enjoying all the benefits lavished on them by a government with £100+ billion to spare.

Saturday, 4 February 2012


We're not even halfway there yet, but I really wanted to say thank you to a few people, without whom OPH would not be where it is now. There will be more to thank as we continue, but for now:

My hubby Greg and Dave, our friend (hopefully continuing!) who came all the way from southern Italy to help us out. Both have worked literally as many hours as they've been able to for weeks on end, in a monumental effort to get our house built, Greg after hours and weekends and Dave all hours, despite a twisted ankle last week and impending frostbite this week, when temps have rarely risen above zero and conditions inside an uninsulated, concrete-floored shell are, shall we say, less than toasty. Dave's skill is indisputable (despite the best endeavours of the infamous brickie) but he is also a master of creative solutions - the interim garage door he fashioned from some Kingspan and offcuts of wood is just one example of that - and perhaps it's his Cornish extraction but he's one of the hardiest people I know, both physically and in spirit.

Another mate, Marc, whose Capetonian temperament has kept him sane and whose ability and eagerness to learn quickly have resulted in the most skillful novice I know. Special thanks for ongoing insulating efforts and your immensely - really - encouraging comments about the screed.

Brickwork is on hold indefinitely, but the roof is finally finished, thanks to Greg Hardie Roofing (; it looks magnificent as well as providing a very welcome barrier to the harsh February elements. It was touch and go whether or not the screeders would be able to do their work on Thursday, as the temperature inside the house had to be above zero in order for them to be able to pipe out the flowing screed. So my thanks to Simon Wilson from Selfbuild Floors, who specialise in all types of flooring for selfbuilders and who were an absolute pleasure to work with ( Simon suggested we heat the interior using electric heaters, an ingenious solution to keep freezing at bay (although sustained use has probably depleted the national grid). The floor looks fantastic, and it contains fabulous underfloor heating pipes which will make for a deliciously comfortable winter 2012/13.

My children, for not disowning us despite being subjected to almost constant narrative that I'm sure bores them to tears - I mean, really, what child is interested in drainage, wires and rolls of Ecotherm? And yet that's all they ever hear about; that's when we're actually here and not on site, the wee ones having been farmed out to various friends. And on that: thanks to Rosi and Pascaline, not only for taking care of my sprogs when I couldn't but also for your encouragement throughout the project.

Which sentiment I extend to everyone reading this. Thank you for doing so, thank you for your comments, and thank you for continuing to be my friends despite being even more bored than my children (see above) - at least they can switch off but you're all too polite to tell me to shut up (well, mostly). Your reward will come in the form of extensive visitations to the Flowzone, aka the small but perfectly formed kitchen/diner/living area, endless supplies of margaritas/hotwine (delete according to season) or tea and brownies.

Lastly, thanks to Greg for (a) embarking on this with me, (b) remaining, mostly, calm in the face of my storms and (c) providing a constant source of levelheadedness and encouragement, particularly in my darkest hours when you really should have been heading out of the door with a kayak on your back.

Thursday, 2 February 2012


Monty Python tells us always to look on the bright side of life. Despite the tune's catchiness, it's an exhortation I frequently ignore, choosing instead to wallow in self pity and imagine the worst. That way, I'm well prepared should the worst happen, and pleasantly surprised if it doesn't.

To be fair, this state of mind is prevalent only at this time of year. We're four months into winter (a season classed not by month as per my son's logic, but by the reluctant packing away of strappy sandals and the donning of closed shoes, coats and - inevitably, despite weeks of denial - scarves and gloves) and I'm officially depro. That's the technical term for permission to consume vats of wine, the lion's share of my fabulous brandy-rich Christmas cake, and the entire British stock of chocolate.

How else does one cope with feeling cold ALL THE TIME? How do YOU cope? Not you, ric-rac, Mrs Eternal Optimism. And don't any Durbanites DARE comment on 'winter'. Ha! But seriously, I'm counting the days till March (28 ... darn leap year) and the miraculous dawn of temperatures in double figures. For once, my gloom has nothing to do with OPH. Yes, we're delayed slightly - the brickies won't come till it's milder - but on the whole things aren't really affected by the weather. Three heaters to warm the interior means we're on track with the screeding today - AND my faithful helpers, Dave and Marc, are able to work in a little less discomfort. No, my gloom has everything to do with the fact that I just cannot get my hands warm. Perhaps North Face should invent gloves of the same material they use for the fantastic coats. Body is warm. Legs are warm. Head is warm, even if nose burns a little in the wind. Even feet are warm thanks to M&S thermal socks (I know - the glamour of it all!) ... but hands? They're the bane of my life. Today I took all the frozen black bags and other builders' debris to the dump. One site: clear. One pair of hands: frostbitten.

Perhaps I should just chop them off; winter would be a lot happier. Although, on the bright side (see? I can look there once in a while) at least the frozen ground is no longer muddy.