Building in the past – August 2017

August 2017

We had built a house in Peterborough in the 1990’s. A house is never finished and we carried out changes and repaired the damage inflicted by the relentless forces of entropy for over 25 years. We had raised three children to adulthood and, in the week before we left that house, we became grandparents.

Laurel Farm, Great Gidding - Folium Architects

We moved to what had been Laurel farm in Great Gidding, near Oundle, on the 1st August 2017. What seems like a simple statement of fact was, in fact, the culmination of 18 months of preparation and anxiety.

I can’t quite believe we are here in Great Gidding. We had spent much of the summer in a state of excitement as the move day loomed. What started as an orderly process of sorting, wrapping and packing became a race against the clock. It is, perhaps, just as well as the time to dwell on what we have launched ourselves into and the sadness of leaving a kind house that had been our ship for so many years was brief. We had taken great pains to make sure both of our cats – Bernie and Ernie – would be about for the final push into their cat carriers but, at the last moment Ernie (black and white with a kitten face) disappeared. We waited and witnessed the new owners arrive but no Ernie. Eventually we had to go back to make enquiries and, lo and behold he appeared ready to eat as usual.

I raced the removal lorry to Great Gidding and was just in time to roll out a cheap thin carpet on the floor of our wooden hut. This will be our home for the time it takes to build the house…about 18 months. The hut had been built by a friend and carpenter extraordinaire, Ian in several sections and in the fading days of July we had set it up on its concrete pads in a corner of the site that we would not need to disturb during the construction. Unfortunately, the UPVC window and door had not arrived yet and so our first few night…very dark nights, were spent evaluating strange and unfamiliar country noises behind a single veil of bubble wrap loosely pinned over the openings.

The shambolic reality of the site and the task ahead is starting to bite. We are still enthusiastic for the challenge but within a few weeks of pioneering the personal breakdown of all that had been civilised is causing anxiety. The site has no power, no water supply and no drainage. This means we can’t wash and cook except with bottled water and we can’t keep warm except by shivering and we can only cook the most basic food on a camping stove. We have taken to scavenging showers where we can. Friends and family have been supportive and we have become, in a modest way, connoisseurs of various types of shower. However, the effort of ‘taking a shower’ is very gradually pushing me towards more medieval standards of cleanliness. The same goes for shaving…

By the end of the month only Margaret, my wife, is standing between me and complete dissolution.

We had arrived with the consolation that our first few weeks on site would be in ‘blazing August’ and that we could survive on barbecues and beer but I will never again be so fooled. Soon after we arrived the weather turned into what the weather boffins are describing as a colder, wetter and cloudier month than even the usual August!

Work on site is far from starting because we are still waiting for the planning conditions to be discharged. This is taking ages and the task is made devastatingly more difficult because there is virtually no phone signal here and there is no electricity to charge up the phone. In effect we have slipped from the early 20th century back to the late 18th century – except for the absence of wigs.