self-build

‘They’re all self-build,’ says Malcolm, showing me into the sitting room. He’s a trim and capable figure, even now. I can easily imagine him laying down the bricks, tapping them into place with the heel of his trowel, one after another.
‘It was hard, though. We all had jobs to go to. And when we came home – there you go, more of the same. Weekends, too. Five years of it. I hardly knew what to do with myself. But it was worth it in the end.’
‘It certainly was. They’re beautiful houses.’
‘Thank you. We’ve been happy here.’

We stand together, looking out of the bay window. It’s like standing on the deck of a ship – except, instead of an ocean, there’s a lush vista of trees running out in front of us, sycamore, aspen, whitebeam.

‘Where were you staying when you worked on it?’
‘A council place. The whole thing was arranged with them.’
‘So did they have a stake in the finished houses?’
‘It’s complicated – but yes. It was a way for them to increase their stock, y’see? Free up existing houses,  get a few more. It worked out pretty well. And we got a say in how they were built.’
‘How did you decide who went where?’
‘We put the numbers in a hat. There was a bit of swapping after that. I was supposed to get one further down that way, but the guy there wanted to swap because that place was the first to get finished and he needed to move quickly. We were happy to wait. This was the better plot.’

A couple of labradors run out of a gap in the undergrowth, followed by their owners, who glance up towards the window and wave to Malcolm. He nods, and waves back.

‘None of that was there when we started,’ says Malcolm, putting his hands in his pockets. ‘You wouldn’t think to look at it now. It was all just barren ground, a few allotments, that kind of thing. It’s all come up since. In fifty years.’
‘That’s amazing.’
‘I know. I can’t believe the change. Still – life goes on. I don’t know how much longer I’ll stay here. Jean died last year, and the kids are all grown up and moved away.’
‘Where d’you think you’ll go?’
He takes a deep breath.
‘Don’t know,’ he says at last, rubbing the back of his neck and screwing up his eyes, like a craftsman figuring out a tricky cut of timber. ‘Probably up near one of them. So they can keep an eye on the old crock.’

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