02. Breaking ground and splashing out

Every building project has to start somewhere. For me, it’s down a dusty hole in the heat of summer.

I broke ground on a summer’s day in the middle of a heatwave, the hottest July since records began. I wasn’t driving a digger but swinging a pick-axe, breaking up hard-packed stony clay in an open, unshaded spot at the front of the site. So it wasn’t long before I was drenched with sweat and my head was beginning to spin. The romance of my handmade home starts here: in a filthy hole under an unforgiving sun.

The hole is for the pipework for a temporary water supply. I’m determined to get the site fully serviced before the main building works begin so I don’t have to beg my neighbours for water, run noisy generators or spend a year in the company of a chemical toilet. I’m installing the standpipe next to one of the piers of the front gate, so I don’t have to dig far to get my bright blue pipe out into the pavement. Thames Water will pick it up from there and connect it to the main when my side of the pipework has been signed off by their inspectors. Nonetheless I have to dig down 750mm and the foundations of the pier prove to be tricky to negotiate. In the rain-shadow of the wall, the ground is hard and bone dry.

Plumbing is on my list of skills to try my hand at during the course of the build but I decided that the primary connection to the water main was probably not the best place to cut my teeth. So I hired Jason who connected the 35mm pipe that sticks out into the pavement to a stop valve, then to a non-return valve and finally to the tap itself. The inspectors were happy with his work so I was able to fill my hole in and wait for the connection to be made.

I was unavoidably away on the day when the men come to connect my pipe to the water main, which is inconveniently located on the other side of the road. I painted a blue line on the pavement where my pipe ought to be and hoped for the best. When I returned in the evening, I found the road littered with piles of stinking spoil and a profusion of barriers corralling the traffic and keeping dozy pedestrians from stumbling into gaping holes. I nervously turned on my standpipe tap and lo! – a cool, clean flow of water sprung forth. Amid the dirt and the brittle heat, it was a moment to cherish.

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