Reaping the benefits

From the ruby red sofa on which I am curled I peer through the rain-streaked windows of the garden doors up towards where the village stands cloaked in a thick blanket of cloud. One of the September storms that mark the start of the shift from summer to autumn is raging outside, with gusts of wind rattling the shutters and curtains of rain billowing across the now completely finished terrace. It is almost the first time since May that we have really used the sitting room; for most of summer it has simply served as a corridor to the main terrace which, together with the sections that run along the northern and southern sides, has effectively almost doubled our living area.

The southern section came first, along with the works to turn the slowly encroaching carpet of rough grass and weeds into a proper, gravelled driveway. The narrow strip that runs from the front step to the under-stairs boiler room and on to the corner of the house soon became our favoured spot for enjoying the spring sunshine. Throughout lockdown we would take a mid-morning break there, relishing the warmth of the sun on our skin and drawing strength from the display of regrowth and renewal taking place among the trees and bushes on the far side of the drive.

Then came the northern section that replaced a jumble of roughly-built and long abandoned cold frames, a collection of wonky drain covers and a mass of ugly, crumbling concrete. Initially we had continued our predecessors’ custom of using it as a dumping ground, seeing few opportunities for enjoying this north-facing space with its commanding view of the near-derelict pigsty. But once the pigsty had gone, it revealed views across the garden to the row of olive trees on our northern boundary and up the hill to the sunflower-filled fields beyond, and even enabled us to catch a corner of the sunset, as if watching it from the wings. Suddenly it had become a place where we actually wanted to spend time, so at the start of the year the drain covers, concrete and cold frames were replaced with a broad section of proper, tiled terrace together with a small but abundant herb garden. Then as spring blossomed into summer and the heat drove us from the southern side, it became our favoured spot for breakfast and for lunch; a shady oasis, by now edged with pots of geraniums and begonias, that offered shelter from the blazing sun.

Finally came Mr Blue-Shirt’s magnum opus, the thirty-eight-square-metre eastern section that would finally give us a proper, grown-up outdoor seating and dining area, the section of terrace from which we could enjoy the picture-postcard view up to the village and down the valley to the tantalising triangle of turquoise sea at the bottom; the section of terrace we had been dreaming of since we had first viewed the house more than three years earlier. He completed all the preparatory brickwork and foundations in February, the six cubic metres of concrete that form the base were poured as the country entered lockdown, and as the spread of coronavirus gradually began to slow, the huge oblong of pale grey concrete gradually began to disappear beneath a grand total of four hundred and thirty terracotta tiles as row by laborious row, Mr Blue-Shirt worked his way – backwards and on his knees – across the terrace.

Then as if to mark the end of lockdown, in early June we shifted the dining table and chairs back from the northern terrace to their new position on the main terrace to the left of the garden doors, while to the right, we assembled the furniture for the new seating area, erected a generous sail shade canopy to shield us from the strengthening sun – and then more or less moved outside for the summer. When we haven’t been working or out of the house, we have been on that terrace: cooking and eating, writing and reading, Zooming and snoozing, making conversation and listening to the crickets. It really is no exaggeration to say the space has been transformative, and worth every single one of the hundreds of hours’ toil Mr Blue-Shirt has put in to creating it.

Now, however, the lavender and plumbago that edge the terrace bob and duck in the gusty wind, and rain beats down on the sodden furniture, bouncing off the tiles and gurgling in the gutters. I snuggle deeper into the sofa’s cosy embrace, reluctantly concluding that it is – probably – time to take the sail shade down, close up the barbecue, put away the seat cushions and to return to life indoors. But only ‘probably’…

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