Slow Building

So we invented this idea of ‘slow build’, I say invented, we don’t hold a patent or anything like that, but we claim the concept. It began as an excuse to parry our friend’s enquires, “Have you finished your house yet?” our reply, “It’s a slow build, a bit like slow food”. Okay maybe twenty years is stretching the concept a bit, but it has its practical benefits. We were still able to go out and play, during the build process and we still enjoyed the odd holiday. It turned out that there was another upside too. Living in an unfinished building project allowed for the endless gestation of ideas; ideas that have consolidated into what has turned out to be a cosy, practical and efficient home. It’s still not quite finished. It’s a slow, some would say, glacially slow build.

Mini Digger

Let’s start at the beginning “a very good place to start “ as Julie Andrews said. We bought the house, at the second attempt, twentyish years ago. It was in a poor state and after practically throwing the previous owner out, we took possession. An old single story, stone farm building had been turned into a dwelling, by the addition of two floors of bonded brick, perched atop the existing two feet thick, Cotswold stone walls. The authorities call this a ‘non standard construction’, by way of a barely disguised insult. Non standard construction appears, periodically, in the progress of our work. We wear it as a badge of honour.

The art of destruction.

As self taught, amateur builders we learned our trade by trial and error. One early incident involved Jen heading for the attic bedroom wielding, amongst other tools, a sledgehammer. From this I discerned there was remodelling afoot. I tried hard to ignore the sounds of destruction filtering down to the ground floor, until there was silence followed by an expletive. I meandered to the top of the house and, amongst the hanging dust clouds, could make out a masked figure inspecting a stout timber. The attic room had previously been divided into two by a partition wall. We had decided to ‘open up’ the room to reunite the two halves. In this process Jen had discovered a vertical timber that was supporting the roof, it was resting on a massive steel joist hidden below the floor. Fortunately, due to her light build, she had been unable to dislodge the timber and, as a result, the roof remained intact. Over the following years much of the house has been remodelled in this way. Partition walls moved, staircases repositioned, kitchen demolished and rebuilt. For a small building a fair amount of abuse has been exacted in the name of ‘improvement’.

Ready for external insulation.

When we took on this project we were young, energetic and full of ideas, now we are older, knackered and still full of ideas. We’ve learnt much, overcome problems, occasionally argued, but stayed true to our ‘slow build’ ideology. Our home is a brilliant manifestation of us, “we done it” without compromising in the face of bullying ‘we know best’ experts. It works, at least to our satisfaction, and that’s all that counts.

Pre coronavirus PPE!

Interested in what we are doing and how we get our ideas? Please contact us and let us know what you think. To see some more of our efforts visit our build blog here.

A Mosaic of Meditation

At the bottom of this article you will find an 11 minute video detailing how you too can make your own mosaic at home. Why not watch it and then give mosaicking a go? It could change your life.

A small detail of the 8 metre mosaic that changed my life.

Life throws a huge amount at us, and yet we cope remarkably well. Sometimes, when we are being brutally honest with ourselves, we do not want to cope, we want to live, to have the freedom to go where we want and do what ever we please. A chance to be truly happy, or perhaps, simply contented. Coping, with it’s subtext of busyness, pressure, deadlines and the pleasing of others is not a positive state, even if it often makes us feel noble. I am pretty sure feeling noble has never made anyone truly happy with their life.

There are many reasons why we do not manage to take the time to do the things that we dream of, even when that dream is perfectly achievable. Instead, we battle on in coping mode, losing sight of our hopes and wishes as they slide away from our grasp to be come distant memories. Unable to do the things we really want to, we end up juggling, spinning plates, pleasing our audience, looking and sounding the part, whip in hand, assuming the posture, the perennial ring master controlling the circus clowns, when the only clown is us.

Bring on the clowns!
(Giffords Circus, 2018)

So what of Wally and I? Did we harbour long lost, buried dreams? Yes, of course we did. For many years Wally and I have dreamed of having a voluptuous mosaic in our courtyard back garden. Our retaining wall had a horizontal strip left un-rendered, ready to be filled with a work of art; no pressure. We had seen the mosaics made by Gaudi and decided that creating a little corner of Barcelona in our home would suit us. The problems were legion and until each had been defeated, we could not get started. The main difficulty was accepting that if I devoted an evening a week to the project, it would take me about eighteen months to complete. If, instead, I decided to get started and keep going until it was finished, it would take about a month of working full days. Both of those options were daunting. We also suffered a complete lack of any great idea for a design. Nothing we sketched out ever really pleased us. This process must be the same as getting a tattoo, because it will be there forever, it must be exactly right, causing delight whenever glimpsed and that is a huge amount of pressure. There is no easy way to get rid of a tattoo or a wall mosaic, so you had better be confident that you will always love it. We thought about having Lizards, about playing with advancing and receding colours, with garlands and sashes and plain tiles. We could not whip up any enthusiasm to get started, because we did not have a stunning design. 

The retaining wall waiting for a mosaic to fill that horizontal gash.

In the meantime, I headed off to an evening class to learn how to it was done and asked my friends to give me their broken crockery. At home, I mosaicked an old table top and was now confident that I had the basic skills needed to make a mosaic for our home. If only we could come up with a design we liked.

The Crockery collection, colour coded and ready for action. All we needed was design inspiration.

Suddenly, there it was; the design we had been searching for, the one ‘we would know when we saw it’. It was in a small photo of a living room, in a building magazine. The image was a couple of inches square and in it, was the tiniest picture hanging on the blank magnolia wall; it was perfect! I blew up the art work and took a screenshot. This was to be the basis of our seven metre long mosaic. We checked the long range weather forecast, it was due to be hot as far as the eye could see. We were unable to go anywhere, or see anyone because of the Covid19 Lockdown. There would never be a better time to do this. We could not find any reason to delay getting arty and it was all systems go.

The picture that inspired us to get on with our mosaic project.

Three weeks later I finally stood up, shook off the shards of pottery that covered me and walked into the house a changed woman.

The days had merged into one. My thoughts, unable to meander too far from the task in hand, had settled in the here and now. For three weeks I was in a state of mindfulness for seven or eight hours a day. I would creak as I stood up and my joints were agony. I am pretty sure that I have never spent so much time sitting still, very very still, with a simple repetitive task that totally consumed me. I fell into the rhythm of drawing a 50cm section of the design, cutting and laying out the shards of pottery, moving to the wall, sticking the shards onto the wall and then cleaning up the current section; and repeat, sixteen times. 

The completed mosaic. Now all we have to do is the rest of the hard landscaping …
luckily, I can cope.

I had started, just under a month before as a very busy person, who was, I thought, coping perfectly. I emerged, serene. Mentally, I was smooth, nothing jarring, everything slow and clear; as if my mind was on casters, rolling along, observing passively, with absolute calmness and without concern for irksome details. My body, usually flexible, and under control was ravaged, painful and weak. 

For those few long weeks I had floated in my bubble of freedom, my life suspended, my mind fully focussed and alert and yet totally relaxed. It is a condition which I want very much to maintain. I know that with a little effort my body will return to normal, but I do not want my mind to leave it’s new home and that will take effort too, of a different kind. I no longer want to cope. Coping is not for me.

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