A roof at last!

At last there’s a roof over their heads and Polly and James hunt for recycled treasure tales from a rumpty caravan

Issue #50 July/August 2013

Toasting ourselves with Champagne during a mid-April storm, it sounded to James and me as if the rain drumming on the roof was a standing ovation. For the first time in a long while, a heavy downpour made us both laugh. We’d done it! We’d finally shifted into the first room of our house.
Back in January, when the last mud-brick was positioned, we’d naïvely imagined it would take four weeks at most to complete the room’s finishing touches. Prior to our moving in, however, we had to grind the old mortar off some 300 recycled slate tiles and lay the floor. The adobe walls needed sanding inside and out. Two walls had to be gibbed, plastered and painted while lengths of giant bamboo for the mezzanine storey required harvesting. There were safety rails, a staircase and window ledges to carpenter and a door to be restored and hung. Everything took longer than we anticipated. Even finding a plasterer willing to make the journey in took three days of phoning around.

While the golden summer of 2013 stretched over us, outdoor life was sublime. Despite the drought, our stream continued to tumble from the forest and life on the land had never seemed easier as we cooked, dined and bathed beneath cloudless skies. Yet memories of battling the elements added a sense of urgency to our building work.
Sure enough, when the summer eventually drew to a close, it seemed to end like a book slamming shut. Suddenly it was cold with rain in the air and darkness outweighing daylight. The solar shower ceased to run hot, dust turned to mud and a repugnance of rodents made their annual migration into the caravan.
As we dug out coats, blankets and gumboots from storage, 18-month-old Vita added the winter words to her lexicon. On wet days, her muddy footprints ran lines across every precious dry surface while the caravan shrank ever-smaller when I tried to confine her.
And then the struggle was over and we were in, with 45 square metres of enclosed floor space to stretch upon. The calls of our resident kiwi might sound more distant now we’re surrounded by four solid walls but so, too, do the sou’wester’s moans. At night, firelight catches on the mud-bricks, casting shadows across the dimples and hollows created by James’ hands. Everywhere we look there’s a memory, a story.
Sourcing the room’s components has taken us on a treasure hunt across Northland, scouring tip-shops, demolition yards and the cobwebbed corners of sheds in our quest for distinctive windows, doors and floors. There have been tip-offs, donations and deals. Someone was ripping huge kauri windows from an old house in Mangonui; a Russell resident was dumping his slate in favour of marble floor tiles; an old motel in Paihia was renovating – did we fancy some totara windows?
Our search for untreated timber took us past baying pig-dogs and onto the property of a man who initially looked like he might eat live kittens for breakfast. He softened upon hearing our cause, granting us access to a treasure trove of dried macrocarpa that James learned how to mill for the room’s window surrounds and shelves.
To say we are happy with our new room is an understatement. After more than two years in the caravan, it feels as if we may never stop grinning at the steep upgrade in our quality of life. The next phase of house-building awaits us but for a short spell at least we plan to rest on our laurels and simply savour the beauty of home, sweet home.

More stories you might like:
Polly Greeks: A winter's tale

In the next post, Polly reflects on visitors to the land and debates the merits of an outdoor kitchen.

Send this to a friend