Sunday, 11 December 2011

December Blues

Well, we still have an entrance and the hedge looks like its always been the few feet back it is now and Rob planted bulbs yesterday so in Spring, when hopefully much activity will the place a literal building site, we may get a few daffodils and tulips surprising us and the probably weary neighbours.

I forget that other people must be watching the site and wondering (like us!) when stuff will happen and what sort of place will doubt it'll look raw and odd for a good while but hopefully not too offensive. I sat next to a man in the vets waiting room on Thursday (he with cat me with elderly dog) and it turns out he lives in the next village and he asked if it was the plot down the lane towards blah and yep, thats us. He's ridden his bike past the mud and almost imperceptible action apparently.

Not a lot else has happened, well, nothing on site anyway. When, in response to the question "will we still get our foundations in before Christmas" you receive a "it would be nice wouldn't it?" from the man in control of your house it begins to feel like you're in a twilight zone where little is real and mirrors abound.

In the past I've found that I can survive tough things by parceling them up into doable chunks of work but when there are two of you you can't do that for the other person so this build is the opposite of containable. It can erupt into your life at any moment; in the bath; waking up; at work; with friends; walking dogs; with family - and it sucks out whatever energy it can regardless of whatever else you're doing or need to do or had planned to do. Thats the thing, I can't plan to contain it. I have been totally out manouvred.

Anyway, while timber cassettes are being designed (we hope) and the method statement approved by the ecologist (we hope), the spec is being wrestled into being so we can sign a contract next week (that dreamy sort of twilight zone idea of next week). Including sub contracter quotes etc the spec also needs us to provide provisional sums for everything from lighting and flooring to kitchens and doors and that odd phrase "door furniture".

We're not fancy with most things - some Bath Store january sales should do we think, and between Carpert Right and Custom Trading for sisal/wool practical stuff for most of the house and something a bit softer for Rob's toes in the bedroom. We're having some good tough sisal at the front door (my favourite bit of the house as its where I come in with the dogs twice a day and its designed to accommodate us, some slate in the kitchen area and polished concrete in the laundry and playroom.

Tiles for the kitchen seem straightforward - we both like plane brick-like white ones, but we haven't much of an idea about the bathrooms. Wandering around shops being repelled by tiled borders is a strange pastime but I'm sure something fairly simple will be put together. We have equally little idea about kitchen work tops - not really being into showing off slabs of granite or blingy quartz but not wanting to live with Rob worrying about beautiful wood for the rest of our days, we'll have to settle on something straightforward and tough pretty soon. What number this will be in that 10,000 decisions-to-be-made list I have no idea. Odd when there is no house to speak of yet... 

The kitchen itself may be made by Rob's old neighbour Brett who made his last kitchen and is very pretty as well as sturdy. We've got to look at endless lights that look very alike now...but this is the fun bit and, no doubt, requires a bit of thought so that a year down the line we don't end up with something silly and only ourselves to blame.

But I've dug these up from Rob's pics. The first is of the construction of the entrance and the second from the field above our lane and plot...

One day there might be a house where that digger is!

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Making an entrance

I kept thinking I'll just wait till we have permission, then when we got an email version (after Rob followed it up and the version stamped and sent through internal mail had been sucked into oblivion for a few days), I thought I should wait until we get the hard copy, or a copy of the hard copy, which was then an anticlimax so I thought I'd wait till, well, a work deadline was met really...and then...a big digger came and made a hole in the hedge so I thought I really shouldn't put off another post.

We have a drive! Or, a hole in the hedge that we like to call a drive - I've left the lead I need to get the pic off my phone but for now here's some digger action:

Our neighbours:

And the space left by the lelandii:

Things have dragged so much we haven't made the best use of the unseasonally warm weather so we're kakking it a bit that last year's deep freeze will kick in at any moment but ideally we need foundations in before Christmas if we're to have a hope in hell of meeting the end of June deadline. Men are onsite as I speak chipping whats left of the lelandii and working out what to do about bunds and run off so we can get the environmental method statement in and get started properly.

When that is done the design-builder needs to work out if we're having traditional or 'floating' (?) foundations, design them and get going with the building regs people. I met him and a builder we hope to sub-contract some of the work to onsite on Tuesday but we still haven't got a letter of intent signed to stand in till the spec can be put in the contract so things are exciting on the one hand but anxiety inducing on the other....nice to see some change though.

Fingers crossed for continued unseasonally warm weather....

Friday, 28 October 2011


Friday is my research day and one of the papers I was reading this morning was  Rebecca Blood's "Weblogs: A History" (2000) where Blood describes the change from filterblogs to journal/diary blogs that software like this enabled and the very personal everyday diaries that emerged - and the desperate need for readers they expressed.

It made me wonder why I - never interested in blogs before - hunted for self-build ones and now indulge in one myself. I suspect that I went looking because this whole experience is not one that is really (in a personal way) well documented or easy to describe. When I found them (see the ones I follow + lots abroad) I felt we weren't crazy - or at least we weren't alone!

I wonder if, since 2000, all the project-type blogs (for want of a better phrase but writing on finite processes like travel, pregnancy, business set up, house building etc) have changed this a bit? And if blogging on housebuilding comes partly from wanting to share in a community still (and perhaps to brag a bit in the Grand Designs age??) but also to work through the anxiousness and rage the process engenders. I will be sending this link to friends & family and perhaps colleagues eventually as a way of letting them know where things are at - and perhaps so that a 'house' doesn't appear to have been magicked from nowhere overnight rather than painstakingly brought together by numerous people, machines and processes - BUT, I think I am getting into doing this because I feel less awful about the process when I've written about it.

This week we've heard the guy we bought the land off has been on to the planner about our drive being too steep. Ours was one of two plots with a shared drive which he's had outline planning permission for for years and he has just been given 1 final year for a generic detailed plan for a 4 bed house. As far as we know he wants to sell it and the farmhouse and land so won't be building it at all if he has a choice.

We're in a little lane between bungalows and a farmhouse and need to have enormous splays left and right and a partly shared drive to not cause obstruction when we pull out onto the road. We also have to have 3 parking spaces and the architect and planner have worked really hard not to turn our little plot into one big not sure why the other owner is the fact he'll have to contribute for his side I guess!

Here's an enthralling visual snippet with ours on the top:

Its only the second sunny day since Rob moved here so I'm off to meet him and the dogs for a walk!

Friday, 21 October 2011

Deferral and Drawings

So, we've had an unofficial ok from the planner and he has invited us to submit our floorplans which we are, how can I put it, "coaching" (?) our architect/design builder to get in for Monday morning. Some last minute insistence on keeping the stairs where they were and the odd recessed wall and we should be away. But I'm getting used to hope being deferred...

I was reading about gender and blogs briefly this morning (in the case of cancer patients) and non of the self-build blogs I look at are written by women. I don't know the details about the house that perhaps I should and that other bloggers talk about. I seem to want to talk around it instead...and I feel that working full time and with Rob doing the drawings that I am a bit liminal - but still able to be driven mad by it! For him it is a different sort of madness - I asked him to keep a journal which he does but I'm certain it wouldn't be publishable!

Driven to a mutual but differently experienced despair last night I asked Rob why we were doing this and he answered: because it is in the place I (as in me!) love most in the world, it is an environmentally and economically sound thing to be doing, and it offers us a rich and interesting future. Glad he remembered.

I've scanned some of the early drawings and already it is amazing to see the scribble (clearly representing a fully realised image in Rob's head, of course!) to early house design:

  Maybe it really will be a house one day!

Friday, 7 October 2011

Still a field...

Its been a week but no change! The planner has been ill since last Friday and is in today catching up – so we should get a response to our plans on Monday. The waiting doesn’t get any easier but we have been distracted with endless amounts of packing, moving and unpacking, which will continue this weekend. I’ve only moved 10 mins up the road but feel like I’ve regained some muscles in my arms!
Still a field:

The cats and dogs are now officially under the same roof in practice for the new house – which we are having trouble believing in. Putting Rob’s stuff in storage last night we tried to visualise taking it out, at some point in the future, to a real house rather than a little field but I don’t think either of us managed it!

Royal Commission archives
I’m looking into places to find building and architecture archives and will have to visit the National Monuments Record of Wales at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales in Aberystwyth RCAHMW

The webpage claims: “It includes over 1.25 million photographs and many thousands of drawings, surveys, reports and maps. The archive grows daily as information is gathered directly through the Royal Commission’s research and survey programmes and from donations of material from other organisations and private individuals.”

Unlike the amalgamated English Heritage, Wales (and Scotland) have kept the Royal Commission which is “the national collection of information about the historic environment of Wales from the earliest cave dwellings to 21st-century windfarms” as opposed to CADW (which means ‘keep’ in Welsh) which “is the Welsh Government’s historic environment service working for an accessible and well-protected historic environment for Wales” CADW

It isn’t the most sophisticated of websites so I’m a bit apprehensive. As with a lot of online access to archives, it can be very difficult to get a sense of the whole collection and disorientating to have to search and then know you are looking at records (images/reports etc) in the middle of a collection you can’t grasp. But COFLEIN, the online database can be searched via keyword/advanced search  or map sections and having done a quick check it was pretty cool to find images of our plot on photos of our lane and the adjacent farm, and a history of lead mining – hmmm, less cool?? 

The images are under copyright so not much use here but a taster I think. Going and talking to a real person about what I can find there (what sort of surveys do they do? What dort of donations do they accept?) should be fruitful…

Fingers crossed for Monday

Friday, 30 September 2011

Planning and Distraction from Planning

My hunch that getting your own house built involves you in an apparently entirely new set of webs/experiences/processes (and consequently drives you to the internet where you find other blogs where you recognise the shock) is being borne out by the fact that as two fairly sane adults we have managed to have our detailed plans examined right up to the wire (not our fault but a long story which could only be expressed quite offensively) at the same time as we move out of our two separate homes (one sold, other rented) so far apart we can't help each other, at the start of term (me), in need of a new knee (Rob), to live together for the first time with cats (Rob's) and dogs (mine) who will not get along. It doesn't read like an ideal recipe but somewhere typing it out makes me see the funny (hysterical) side!

In absence of photos of the plot here are gratuitous shots of said pets:

I thought about having a separate entry to describe my research ideas but actually they are so entwined with the ongoing rollercoaster experience maybe I should do it here:

I'm interested in the experience of building/dwelling a house/home ('dwelling' in Heidegger's work includes both building and living in a house so it seems really useful here although I'm not at all sure how to deal with Heidegger or how deep I wish to go!) and how it might provide an interesting perspective on human interaction with our environments - perhaps dispelling in all its harsh realities both romantic ideas about nature and any human ability to transcend it. Thats the broad bit...

In my current role though and as a trainee archivist I have to drive the research into 'outputs' and the 3 areas I'm thinking about are 1) an exploration of blogs as useful records of self-builds and examples of intertextual use of records 2) using local historical research in combination with theoretical ideas about sense-of-place when thinking about dwelling/home 3) exploring the records created by a self-build and the processes and destinies they are subjected to - what are they used for, by whom, where do they end up? What repositories and archives do you need to go to to retrieve as fuller account as possible of the self-build in question?

Thats how I'm distracting myself today anyway. Should get some comments from planner by Monday.

Friday, 23 September 2011


Well, it began with "just looking", with the odd website, etc and then we went and fell for a view which is hard to grab in pictures but here is the plot last spring...

It is ours now for better or worse and
next week we should hear about
detailed planning.

We've found that the learning curve
is so steep that reading other
people's blogs (check the roll) is
sometimes the only way to see
if we're normal!

My fave narrative of recognisable
fury and a beautiful build (I must 
get better pics!) is Steve Carter's
From Here to Eternity: