This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago…
I’ve just turned a corner in the road and, up ahead, I can see a yellow blob. In fevered anticipation I put on my glasses and, even as they begin to steam up in the rain, I realise that I’m right, it’s a skip, a new skip, a skip outside a house that hasn’t had a skip before. My pace quickens, my heart beats faster but when, finally, I’m leaning over its side I feel deflated because it’s empty, its rusting interior harbouring nothing more than puddles.
Other people’s rubbish has become an obsession ever since I found a wonderful old rainwater hopperhead in a skip a week ago. Now even a relatively short journey can become protracted as I have to keep stopping to peer over the high steel sides of these unprepossessing treasure chests and ferret amongst their contents.
The days have passed but, at last, I have another trophy: a brick. My builder Dave is impressed, so is Jim the bricklayer and Rob, Dave’s younger brother. “That’s perfect,” they chorus, “Where d’you find it?”
We’ve been discussing bricks for weeks and, just as with skips, they’ve become an obsession. We need them so that we can match the extension with the rest of the house and an expedition to a salvage yard has long been planned. Now I’ve found exactly what we need just yards from my own front door – in a skip.
One of my neighbours has been demolishing a wall and, because my house and his were built at the same time, the bricks are identical. Dave has delegated Rob and I to the task of retrieving them and now we’re desperately emptying the skip before anyone else has the same idea.
I’m beginning to get some notion of how convicts must have felt in times past when they were set to stone breaking. With Rob, I am sitting on an uncomfortably uneven pile of salvaged bricks and, using hammer and cold chisel, we’re carefully knocking the old lime mortar off them one by one.
In the sky the sun hangs like a giant grill so that rivulets of sweat mingle disgustingly with the crust of dust that has formed on my skin. My hands and arms are aching in a way that gives the sensation that they’re no longer part of me. This is probably just as well because the combined effects of not being able to see through my steamed up goggles and what I am convinced is sunstroke are taking their toll. As a result I’m increasingly walloping myself with the hammer instead of hitting the chisel. I’ve actually reached the conclusion that when I remove my gloves my fingers will probably fall off.
Rob, who’s never known for saying very much, has remained silent throughout and, whenever I steal a glance at him, exudes an air of unperturbed and resolute determination.
Coming over to watch, Dave advises that we should “Be careful not to chip the bricks. They won’t be any good if they’re damaged”. In my head I phrase the sentence, “Do you want to see if you can do any better?” Instead I attempt to give him a manly grin but instead wince as I take another swipe at my fingers.
A week later and I can overhear Jim discussing the newly built walls of the extension with the carpenter. “Yeah we were really lucky. Found the bricks on a skip. Just needed a bit of a clean up; no trouble at all!”