What I wish I had known — Part Five — Sandy Mitchell continues the confessional diary from his building site, this time attempting to escape with his family from the mud and chaos at home

—29th January 2020

Escaping from his building site seemed a brilliant idea to Sandy, little realising his trip away would quickly leave him longing to hear the sound of hammering and drilling again.

Sandy’s new roof begins to take shape

My wife and younger children have had to put up with six months of living and sleeping in a glorified shed in our garden, while our builders have been working inside the main house. I decided it was therefore high time to treat the family to a weekend away somewhere special so they could forget about their displacement and discomfort.

A spa weekend? A glamorous twirl along Bond Street, followed by a West End show and suites at Claridge’s?

No. In my wisdom, I booked all four of us onto a two-day ride on horseback over the Welsh mountains — unaccompanied and unguided  — covering 20 miles each day in the saddle. All we would have with us was four sturdy horses, packed lunches, an OS map with a route marked on it, and a booking at a remote B&B for our overnight stay. It would be a great family adventure. And, after setting off from the stables in the Borders, all went exactly to plan.

For the first half hour. Until my elder daughter’s horse suddenly bolted at the sound of a trail bike on a forest track close by. She was dragged at a mad gallop along a tarmac lane, her foot caught for anxious seconds in the stirrup.

White-faced, bleeding from a gash on her knee, mud smeared all over her bruised body, she gallantly said she wanted to continue riding, so I handed her my horse once she had recovered her breath and she remounted bravely, while I swapped on to her trembling beast once I caught it.

The Welsh Mountains: Sandy and his family momentarily enjoying their ride

Then all went well again and we picked our way along empty grassy tracks over the mighty windswept mountaintops for hour upon hour. The winter sun had almost set when we finally neared our B&B and, for no obvious reason, the mad horse I was riding without warning bolted again. Its violent lunge snapped my reins. I flipped backwards over the horse’s rear, landing with a crushing blow to my ribs, as the horse galloped off out of sight.

Our family dinner that night was a quiet affair.

The second day on the trail was less eventful, though I vaguely recall that the weather turned bitter on the barren moors and there were tears from assorted members of our party on the mountain, possibly including myself.

Our trip was, in other words, an epic success. Because the surest way to forget any pain you are suffering is to acquire a bigger pain. And for the duration of the weekend’s ordeal and the long, strangely silent drive back from Wales, none of us mentioned the building project and we all longed to back in the safety of the uncomfortable garden shed once more. Mission accomplished. (My darlings, I owe you a decent short holiday.)

That was last weekend. And this Friday night, in the garden shed, my wife noticed water dripping through a light fitting onto our bed as we were about to turn in. The water tank above had sprung a leak. So for the past two days and nights — with no emergency plumber responding to calls over the weekend — I have been nipping to and fro into the garden in the dark and rain to turn the half-buried stopcock that controls the water supply back on whenever anyone wants to brush their teeth or fill the kettle, and back off before water starts drenching the bed again.

You will understand, then, why we have been counting the nights until we move back into our real home. And, Hallelujah, that day is almost upon us. The builders are set to continue construction of the new wing for months to come but they have near enough completed the remodeling of the old house — new doors, new porch, new paint, mostly new kitchen, and much else wonderful and new too.

So on Sunday morning, I sneaked through the builders’ fencing that surrounds the house, used my key to a side door and carried an armful of my clothes from the garden shed back up the stairs to our bedroom.

I struggle to find words to describe how fine and dazzling it all looked in its fresh raiment.

Alone in the silent bedroom, hanging clothes in my cupboard after six months away and all the demolition and mess created by the builders, the moment suddenly felt oddly significant, like a ritual act, reclaiming order from chaos.

I hesitate to reveal this, but a slight dampness might again have been detected near my tear ducts. Even with the best team in the world dedicated to your building project, it can take a certain toll.

Sandy has been advising clients on their property projects since he founded the RedBook Agency nearly ten years ago.



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