Gwydion has had a new window put in his shed. He now has the only south facing window on the property, and with a new carpet and a lick of paint it has completely lifted what was a rather gloomy, depressing place. From outside it gives the patio another dimension – and it reminds me of Spain: white walls, flat roof, dark window cavity and (briefly) blue sky above. In the evenings the little yellow glow looks cosy and pretty. It’s really nice.
Doing it has been quite exciting: sort of like Grand Designs, with project management and contractors and things like that. It was surprisingly difficult to get it all to pan out: the weather, the builder, Gwydion’s days off, waiting for paint to dry, the carpet fitters, etc. It served as a taster of how things would be if we were doing something more ambitious in the future. I think you have to use software. I just made a list, thinking ‘What has to be done before [this] can happen?’, and then it all gets scuppered by the builder leaving early, or a blizzard or whatever. Each step of the way you have to re-jig according to what has been completed, what has freshly emerged and the characteristics of what is yet to be done, – all in relationship to x number of external factors.
But at least we hardly had to buy anything. Our ‘main contractor’ (i.e. the builder) charged us £130 to cut a hole in the wall, make the frame and fit the window. We already had a pair of windows – comfortable, flaking wood windows that look as if they have been there all along, and we just had to buy a couple of extra hinges. I have already got so much stuff, what with my acquisitive nature, ample storage space, and propensity for saving everything ‘just in case’. The frame was 4×2 from various sources, the lintel was made from the windowsill we took out of the landing, I’ve got old video cases full of every imaginable screw and nail from number 7’s skip last year and we got some putty off Freecycle. Then at the very last I was at the scaffolding yard collecting firefood and in the waste bin I found some little off-cuts that were just perfect to make the jambs. Within a few moments of arriving home they were cut and fitted. In total it cost £131.26, plus a tin of wood filler which we only used a bit of. I think we call it ‘coming in under budget’.
Overall it was very satisfying, knowing that we have reused a load of old materials, not used many resources and all the labour was local. The builder lives in the next street and the carpet was fitted by Carpetwise on the industrial estate. Labour is ecologically benign, saves me time and is good for the local economy, but it’s taken me a while to get my head around paying people to do things. Normally I do everything myself, and although I do get help from WWOOFers and the kids, that’s only a duplication of my own (un)skill. If I can do something I feel I should, even if that means it doesn’t in fact get done or gets done slowly or if I end up spending more on specialist tools than I would have spent on labour. The problem is that people often don’t do as good a job as I do. If I pay someone, I expect to get a better job than I would do myself, and it’s infuriating when that doesn’t happen – especially when they puffed themselves up to be some sort of artisan. Then I see the job and think ‘Bloody hell! I could have done better than that myself’. And I’ve just paid them! I end up feeling like a mug, and they want me to be grateful. There’s just too big a gulf.
So now I either use free labour or I do it myself, and I only draft people in to do something I can’t – or really don’t want to – do . Like angle grinding breeze block. Not to say that there isn’t something uncomfortable about paying people to do things you don’t want to do yourself. There he was, out in the bowels of Gwydion’s shed, dust mask, safety glasses, screeching power tool; and there was I, peering out of the window and only venturing out to take photos. It doesn’t seem right.
I think at the bottom of it all is a desire to live the sort of life where you can make, do and produce everything you need. Even though I’m a bit of a Tom-boy, I’m quite happy to go through my whole life never having owned or used an angle grinder. So when I do my Grand Design, it’s definitely going to have a timber frame.