Last week, we celebrated our 15 year wedding anniversary. I know. Incredible isn’t it! So, I thought I’d share some insights into what’s got us here. It’s to do with donkeys. Kind of.
But first, I need to talk about the barn. Have you seen that UK TV show Grand Designs, where the laconic Kevin McCloud is serially underwhelmed by ambitious renovation and restoration projects? When he does offer praise, it seems really well earned. Families expose their innermost desires, dreams and big visions, and Kevin often revisits years later to check up on whether the big visions have turned out happy ever afterly or not.
‘Ooo, you should get Grand Designs out to your place’ visitors often say. Err…no. I don’t think Kevin would be impressed. Our place is more madcap improv than beautifully architectured vision. We need Clive Anderson and Paul Merton; then Whose Barn is it Anyway would be a riot.
Right now we’re building the north wall of our barn, in a variety of styles of our choosing, depending on what’s available. This is the barn that was already gracefully collapsing five years ago when we bought the property. Two years ago, it got to crisis point, when the enormous oak beams having fallen off the mudbrick walls, needed to come down, together with tonnes of clay roof tiles and dangerously unstable mud brick.
Last summer we concreted in some massive reclaimed iron girders and rescued oak beams to support a new, freestanding roof. Graeme has been building the roof on his own and now we have a magnificent storage place and straw bale playground. Minus the back wall.
We’ve done a rapid-fire mudbrick wall topped with strawbale, and right now Graeme is ramming earth into old tyres to make a foundation for more strawbales to finish the rest of the wall. Matthew the neighbour is suitably perplexed. He was convinced we had a flock of donkeys arriving (why else would we need 100 bales?). Then, we started hauling in the tyres. The massive barn project is in earthship stage, and with the summer dwindling away, we’d like to get all the straw bales up before we head back to
the UK in early october. New Zealand in late November.
Now, here in Bulgaria, we don’t have any building inspectors telling us what we can or can’t do. We are stubbornly sticking to using local, reclaimed, low cost or free materials. Every day we go past other construction projects in the village where the same mudbrick barns are being torn down and rebuilt in breeze blocks. While the locals misunderstand our infatuation with mud, we similarly fail to understand why they should spend a fortune shipping in concrete when the mud brick is a far superior product.
People are always telling us what to do here. ‘That won’t work’, ‘you need more cement’ ‘why are you doing that?’ are frequent commentaries. Being stubborn and sticking to our guns helps.
Which brings me back to that 15 year wedding anniversary thing. I recently read something that made me laugh: the reason why long-serving marriages work so well? Stubbornness. A refusal to give up when things don’t go to plan. Sitting together on a long car journey, refusing to bale out. Focusing on the view up ahead and out the side windows rather than the bumps in the road. We are as stubborn as donkeys, both in relationships and in terms of what we want to do with our house. Kevin McCloud may not award us any prizes for style, but we’re getting it done. And hey, it’s fun.