house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Monday, 20 October 2008

And Now to Work

Moona pointed out the fact that this blog should be a “record of our tasks and efforts here”. Right, right! Enough of the lyric rambling and back to the house-build brief. Add pictures. I snap to attention and return to the blank page. Similar blankness descends over my head.

How do I describe all this without collapsing into mind-numbing boredom? My entire life-as-a-blogger depends on it.

A brief list, I think. Here we go.

1. Terrace clearing. When we first saw it, our Portuguese home was surrounded by quite a few terraces, all covered in brambles and brush. With every subsequent visit we saw the jungle thicken and grow. Since we got here in August, we've been yielding strimmer and machete, shears and seccateurs with a manic determination. In the process:

- we discovered more terraces than we thought were there. They had been kidnapped by the King of Brambles and hidden away. After their rescue, they remain in a serious but stable condition. Nothing is safe out there.
- we found hidden “treasures” on terraces – stone seats and steps, fruit trees, beautiful clover-shaped slabs, granite sinks and flower pots, a dainty plastic Madonna, an iron lion's paw, half-consumed by rust. With these (and more?) I'll start a “Felix museum”. Entrance may or may not be free of charge.
- the reality of “how fast brambles grow” was hammered home for good. You clear a terrace and two days later they nip at your ankles. They have roots as deep as the gates of hell, and a grim and savage hunger. It's a bit like facing (and fleeing) The Terminator. Just as you think you've lost them, they're on your heels.
- you need to be nimble to get around. There are stones to scale and ditches to jump. There are slimy bits and sharp bits and thorny bits. You cannot let your vigilance falter. I have grazes and bruises to illustrate the point.

2. Planning. There are a few buildings on the land – any or all of which can be rebuilt. We know we can't do them all in one go. In this fable, only one sister gets to go to the ball. Which to choose? Where to start?

Plan 1 – the old farmhouse, restore and extend.
Plan 2, born a while later – the “alambic” (whisky-house), now consisting of two stone walls at the top of the hill, knock down and make a studio. Live in the said studio while you restore the old farmhouse (Plan 1). Well, soon the studio grew into a straw-bale house and the straw-bale house just grew and grew. Eventually, it became so large and cozy that – in our dreams – we lived happily in the Alambic for decades, while reflecting at leasure on the fate of the farmhouse.
Plan 3 – is Plan 1 revisited. The thing is, between Plan 2 and Plan 3, we stood in the farmhouse and heard it groan and crumble. We also met the village. Everyone seemed so pleased that “a casa do Senhor Felix” had been rescued. How could we tell them that we planned to effectively abandon it for another “long while” or “until we won the Lottery” whichever came first? Besides, how could we sit in the shade and watch the old farmhouse slowly mould and fall apart, as rains won their wars with the roof. So, back to Plan 1, which now becomes The Plan.

The Plan: we are fixing the farmhouse, no extension. Perhaps some balconies and verandas, sunshine and terraces with fruit trees ask for them. Perhaps also a small cottage / music den for Nikita next to the house. Oh and an outside kitchen with a bread oven? A stone table and seats under an arch of vines or wisteria, looking west? Etc.

3. Actual building. Only the garage, so far. The garage is fixed. Not by us, by a team of local team of four who did an incredible job, fast. They also gave us a large (temporary) metal door for the new garage, and an old stove. And they knocked down the granite wall and enlarged the entrance (which means we can drive the van in. Also means the gates don't fit anymore, and we have a horrible metal mesh between the gate posts instead).

Does demolition count as “building”? Because the (male) Wolfe Murrays have also been knocking down some walls, and are frighteningly keen to destroy some more. What is it with men and sledgehammers? Whenever I see them claw and hurl themselves at those poor walls, I see red. Whenever I sensibly suggest that they check with a builder first, they flip. Very bizarre. Any suggestions, out there?

4. The garden. This is a topic I know very little, and a reality I find slightly scary. In other words, I have no idea what to do or where to start. I can just about recognize a cabbage (in a shop). Let me read up, attend some more films and lectures by Paulo (Guy-who-Knows-this-Stuff), draw a map or two of the land, get stung, scratched and stained by close contact with Plants (enough to count as “some experience”) then I'll write a separate post on the matter, with a crown of black earth glistening proudly under each of my fingernails!

(I guess this was mind-numbingly boring after all. Sorry.)


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