My book Mud and Marriage: A housebuilding Adventure tells the story of the journey my husband and I took into the choppy waters of a self-build located in a small village near the Ridgeway in West Berkshire.
Our housebuilding adventure began in the unlikely setting of the village Flower Festival marquee where we got into conversation with a local lady, Margaret, over a nice cup of tea and a slice of fruit cake. She knew that our landlord was selling our rented house and that we were going to have to move and offered to sell us some of her land, which comprised of an outbuilding and a vegetable garden. She also wanted to raise some capital to enable her and her husband Brian, who had Alzheimer’s disease, to stay in the village.
We had already been living in the village for two years and had become accustomed to its way of life and it had got used to us. We were lucky that the residents were 100% behind our build but we still had a long way to go before getting planning permission.
Opposition in the form of rules and regulations stood in our way as we planned to build in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and there would be many unforeseen – sometimes fiery – hoops to jump through, laid down by the planning police and local landowner.
My husband, Mr Clark, and Margaret made a great team when preparing our plea for planning permission – a process involving several frustrating trips to the council offices planning department in order to get to grips with planning regulations. We lobbied the West Berkshire councillors and asked our local councillor for his help. He made a breathtakingly splendid case for us at the planning meeting. His words really hit the mark and against the odds we were granted planning permission.
The following quote from my book explains more: “In filed the councillors and the planning police. We sat through two unsuccessful planning applications, the last of which involved a loud bunch of protestors jumping up and down in the seats behind us. It was all very exciting. My hands were sweating. I wanted to leap up and dance around the room hooting. As there was no hooting allowed I sat on my hands and bit my tongue.”
Armed with our house plans Mr Clark and I went to several homebuilding shows to gather as much information as we could. We attended a particularly useful seminar at a Homebuilding and Renovating Show which weighed up the pros and cons of employing a builder to do the whole thing or project-managing the build ourselves. Pros and cons weighed up and our limited budget considered we decided to go for the latter and and therefore I became site manager.
We started the build on our second wedding anniversary. In true Grand Designs style I took on the role only to then discover that I was pregnant – and I hadn’t even met Kevin McCloud!
The site office was Margaret’s old shed. Margaret let me use her toilet and her phone as I a) didn’t fancy using the Portaloo and b) had no mobile signal. As avid watchers of Grand Designs, Mr Clark and I often wondered what Kevin McCloud would say if he had been there with us on our bumpy ride through the highs and lows of our build. Kevin would probably have asked us how the ‘journey’ was going. We would have put on a brave smile for the cameras to tell him that it is ‘awesome’, which, despite everything, it was.
We held on to our hard hats through the wind and rain and braved our sometimes hair-raising encounters with subcontractors. We sluiced out the house every rainy day until it was eventually watertight. Painting fascia boards in freezing cold weather and doing our best to make the house ready for the swap over of trades. With a tight budget and the loud ticking of my body clock, the journey into stepmotherhood, my husband already being a father and our neighbour’s Alzheimer’s disease to take into account, I kept a diary of the ups and downs of events throughout the build and of our lives at the time. The seasons came and went and we got slightly weathered along the way both physically and mentally. Our design wasn’t so grand but still needed our full and undivided attention, but we got there in the end with perseverance and a lot of lip salve. It took three years from applying for planning permission to finally move into our new house.
I wrote up the diary really just to document the build, but found myself writing a book instead. I chose to include the details of our everyday existence to illustrate that you can’t just build a house as life has to carry on. You have to wash the dirty laundry, do the shopping and deal with whatever fate chooses to throw at you. I had my mother’s diary to refer to for the weather reports, as she keeps a daily diary as well and I was very lucky indeed to have a wealth of talented family and friends to help me on my way to self-publishing.
Mr Clark and I feel blessed to have been able to build our house in such a beautiful location and are very thankful to Margaret and Brian Davey for giving us the opportunity.
I'll leave you with a final quote: “The house has hold of my soul. Mr Clark and I feel the same way. We find it difficult to leave when we go away and a great sense of relief to come home again. When we return, I rush in and shout, ‘It’s ok everybody, we’re home!’ like the house might have missed us and is breathing a sigh of relief. A fanciful thought I know but our collective thoughts and decisions have made our home what it is and we belong in every fibre.”