Another brick in the wall

Mr Blue-Shirt’s primary focus of late – now that the mighty woodstore is finished – has been phase one of building the terrace that will eventually surround the house. Currently, it sits apparently adrift in a sea of grass, gravel and weeds that lap right up to its crisply rendered walls, its only mooring the odd exposed section of concrete underpinning-cum-earthquake-proofing and a couple of broad steps leading up to the front door. Built from roughly laid terracotta brick, these may have looked charmingly rustic, but that’s about all they had going for them. All the mortar was crumbling away so the bricks were gradually wobbling loose, and the whole thing sloped towards the house, which meant that whenever we got a serious squall from the south we developed puddles in the hall (a rare occurrence admittedly, but no less annoying for that). Worst of all – in Mr Blue-Shirt’s engineering mind – there was not a single straight edge, flat surface, or right-angle to be found. So they had to go.

And go they did, crumbling away alarmingly easily with little more than a nudge from Mr Blue-Shirt’s heavy-duty breaker. Having carefully pegged and stringed out the properly established angles, he then set about digging foundations for the new brickwork – no mean feat in the rock-solid Marche mud – and sinking the downpipes that had until then simply spewed their contents onto the driveway. Then came the brickwork itself.  Although the previous owners had never got round to realising their plans for the outside for the property, they had, luckily for us, accumulated a huge but random collection of building materials and equipment – including several hundred salvaged bricks, so once Mr Blue-Shirt had shovelled from the van the several hundred kilos of sand and cement he had sourced from the local quarry, he was ready for the off. Installing countless metres or ironwork over the years gave Mr Blue-Shirt plenty of experience in general building work, so although he may lack a professional bricky’s speed, laying a few courses of bricks was just like old times and the ever-capable Mr Blue-Shirt was as happy as a pig in muck. So in just a few days, he had built the edging for the new steps and the section of terrace that will run along the front of the outside stairs to the doors to the boiler room. The equipment we had inherited from the previous owners included a tatty but functioning cement mixer, so once the brickwork was dry, back-filling the space with concrete was a relatively quick, if noisy, task. What took the time, though, was achieving a flat and even surface with just the right amount of ‘fall’ for drainage purposes, but never a fan of the ‘that’ll do’ approach to workmanship, Mr Blue-Shirt smoothed and skimmed and levelled until he achieved a finish normally reserved just for wedding cakes. But I am assured that this is the standard of finish required if we want the tiles (which we had also acquired from the previous owners) to sit evenly, which of course we do. But first we need to wait a few weeks for the concrete to dry out fully…

And as I stand admiring Mr Blue-Shirt’s latest handiwork it strikes me that this modest yet carefully crafted structure is not so very different from how our lives here are developing. The battles with bureaucracy are behind us, the temporary fixes and ‘making do’ have come to an end and the weeds and stones of settling in have been replaced with myriad almost sub-conscious processes that ease the flow of daily life. No longer adrift in a sea of new-ness and unfamiliarity, the patterns and rhythms of our respective work routines now shape our day and provide our moorings. And just like with that small section of terrace, with its sturdy foundations and its straight brick edges, there is a pleasing sense of increasing solidity and permanence. Another brick in the wall in every sense.

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