Constructing The Retreat

It’s pretty amazing how you’re able to fill your day with absolutely nothing now that the new normal is to sit at home and do nothing. I have always been one who likes to keep busy, keep my mind active. I love writing (obviously), I love reading (the device which lead me to start writing over two decades ago), words are my thing, you know?

Everyone should have a thing, a hobby, that secret love, wether it be drawing, a spot of DIY, knitting cardigans for Goldfish, something to keep from going crazy with real life, work, the kids, blink and you’ll be 80 years old wondering why you never did your thing, keeping the creative juices flowing. Doing my thing is what spurs me on from day to day. Right now I am actively working on three novels and two novellas, all of which I hope to have released before the end of the year. I have another book ready to go, and still I feel like I should be doing more.

With the world unable to move, this means I have all the time in the world to write. A dream come true right? I should be hammering it, getting down ten thousand words a day easy. These five projects I’m working on should be finished already. But they’re not.

Why are they not Rob? You’ve published nothing so far this year and we’ve reached the half way mark.

Well, that’s a very good question. And there is an answer to it in the form of…THE FUCKING KIDS ARE STOPPING AT HOME TOOOOOOOO!

What a nasty little trick this is. There you go Rob, have unlimited time to do your thing. Write until your heart is content, nothing’s open, you can’t pop to the pub, your weekly shop is going to be the weekly highlight, we’ve made it so you can concentrate on your writing, get those words down, you have no excuse.

BUT…the kids won’t be going to school either so there will be five of them running around every single day, that’s the catch, good luck sucker.

To counteract this, I thought I’d build myself a garden office. A man cave of sorts at the bottom of the garden where I’d be able to go to write. After watching more YouTube videos than you could shake a stick at (why I was shaking a stick at my computer screen is beyond me now, but at the time it felt right I was ready. I was going to buy some wood and nails and screws and stuff and begin constructing. First I just had to shift three tons of soil at the back of the garden which must have once been a raised flower bed but now looked like the local tip.

It took two days. Two days of digging, stopping digging, pulling carpets, bricks, a pink paddling pool, a roll of chickenwire, creeping Ivy roots, rocks, concrete slabs, bags of rotten rubbish, discarded gutters, a bag of tent poles, more bricks, more rocks, a fucking inflatable flamingo still half inflated, I mean who buries that? And why not deflate the thing fully before time capsuling it to the earth?

Two days and it was done. Where there was once a four foot high ex-flowerbed which showed no signs of the shit that lurked beneath, now stood leveled ground waiting for me to set in the writer’s retreat foundations. Right after I pulled out the six 2 by 4 concrete slabs someone, once upon a time, had set vertically and ridiculously deep to form a barrier in which to attach the now discarded fence posts.

Ever tried pulling concrete slabs out of the earth? It’s not fun. Fortunately it was a sunny day, so the baking heat did nothing to ease the path to enlightenment. After an age the bastard slabs were all removed, and finally I was able to envision where my childless paradise would sit. It looked beautiful, the soft levelled earth waiting for me to begin, calling out to me, ‘Rob, Rob, it is time. If you built it they will come…’

No, sorry, that’s Field of Dreams, and completely the opposite of what I was hoping to achieve…the earth said, ‘Rob, Rob, it is time. If you build it, you can put a lock on the door and they won’t be able come.’

Now. There are only two words which can describe the act of making sure foundations are completely level so that you might build your writers retreat floor upon it, and those two words are Ball and Ache. With Concrete-Slab-Gate I at least had a visual representation of what I needed to achieve ie, big bastard heavy slabs out of earth. With the levelling of the earth I discovered trawling a rake over it a couple of times does not make it level, it just makes it look neat.

Having dug up four huge concrete fences from the ex-flowerbed I was fortunate enough to have my foundations. Getting them level, so that my bubble stick (that’s what they’re called right?) rested completely horizontal between them, was another thing entirely.

Three hours it took me. Three hours of lifting, digging, dropping, bubble sticking, grunting because the bubble told me it wasn’t straight, lifting, adding some earth back, one of the foundations rocking, lifting, digging, bubble stick laughing at me some more, lifting, adding earth back again…It took so long I started to believe that it was in fact the bubble which was broken in my spirit level. After googling How to Fix a broken Bubble in a Bubble Stick, it appeared that “apparently” gravity doesn’t break and so I just needed to continue digging and lifting and grunting until all four of my foundations were level and square.

The moment finally arrived and my foundations were down and level. Now it was time to stand back and admire my handy work. Where once stood an unruly raised flowerbed at the bottom of the garden, now there was a level playing field with foundations for the Man Cave.

Step one was complete, now it was time to turn around and face the front of the garden and the massive heap of soil to the left, and everything I had dug out of the flowerbed, to the right. It looked disgusting. I turned back to face the my achievement once again.

Step two was constructing a wooden frame which would be bolted to the foundations. I opted for the 3.5 inch by 1.5 inch 3.6 meter length fence posts in case you were wondering, which I know you weren’t. With my trusty scrap of paper with scribbled drawing of what this floor would look like, I set to measuring and sawing and fucking up so measuring again, and hammering and screwing until the framing for the floor was down and bolted to my foundations. Step two complete! I was getting good at these steps. Once again I stepped back to admire my handy work. Fuck. I didn’t put the waterproof ground sheeting in-between the foundations and the wooden flooring. Stupid, stupid rookie Rob with his great plans and no inkling of how to do it properly. And clever dick here opted for achour bolts which couldn’t be removed, and I’d already stared putting the flooring down on top of the flooring…I mean the walky flooring on top of the frame for the flooring (yeah, it’s all the correct construction terminology in this house hold).

I eventually manage to guide the waterproof sheeting in-between the concrete and wood. Step two now actually really complete. Now, where’s my bubble stick so that I can see if gravity is still lying to me?

Once the walky flooring was down, the kids all descend upon their stage. After a few performances of stupid soul destroyers making up stupid dances, I began the wall frames…and then ran out of wood half way through.

A week later and still the builder’s merchants hadn’t received another delivery of what would seem to be the most obscure fence post measurements known to man.

‘We don’t usually sell much of the 3.5 x 1.5 posting, and we’ve no idea when it will eventually arrive. Deliveries are taking their time because of the virus.’

With the back wall frame complete and half of the front wall done, this was the last thing I needed to hear. The sun was blasting outside, perfect weather for my project, and I was stuck inside sulking.

After three days of ringing up the builders merchants every morning to be told they don’t know when they’re getting the wood in, I decided I’d change tact. I opted for the 2.5 x 1.5 inch posts instead and started constructing the side walls…and then ran out of wood, because I’m shit and I don’t really know what I’m doing.

One of the plusses from doing a bit of manual labour is there is plenty of time for the mind to wander while hammering six inch nails into wood. Although my little passion project is not yet complete (I get another delivery of wood tomorrow morning) an idea for a book popped into my head during construction. That’s where it usually begins, an idea, or a question. What ifs are great catalysts for creativity. This what if was based on an article I read online listing the oldest living creatures. The usual made the list, the tortoise 100 years +, a certain species of shark 400 years +, and then the winner, the Turritopsis jellyfish which, after sexual maturity turns back into a baby jellyfish (there’s a word for it but I can’t find the article now). Around and around this little jellyfish goes, from baby to adult, to baby to adult, effectively living forever, traveling through its life cycles until, I’m guessing, it gets eaten. My what if has spawned three chapters so far and I’ll be writing the fourth in a moment, just as soon as the kids have been fed for the fourth time this morning and have stopped arguing over which Roblox world they’re going to play on. If only I had a quiet place I could go to write instead of a kid’s bloody “tap dancing stage” and four wall frames waiting to be finished off…..

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