Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nostalgie du béton

Jean-Paul finished his work for us last week.

It was messy, it's true, but there was much of interest to look at (I wouldn't necessarily include JP's back view in that...)

There were his ingredients,

and his bits of wood,

some of which were in fact our bits of wood, which he had helped himself to, for shuttering and wedging the scaffolding and this and that.  Rough-cut, coarse-grained, dry and cracked, crusted with mortar and stained (the wood, not JP.  Then again...).

The self-seeded pansy which had sprung from the base of the wall he soft-heartedly spared from trampling and death by concrete, by putting a bucket over it and working around it.

This is what the wall looked like when he had finished it, the grey will soften and lighten in time, like the lower part is here.

When he had finished the pointing, he laid a concrete floor under the lean-to barn, extending one we'd already started, which will eventually form the base for a proper shed.  We had been preparing this area for ages, collecting any rubble and waste we could as hard core for the base. This included all kinds of broken kitchen crocks: fragments of tea mugs, my old slow cooker pot which I'd had since student days and which cracked right round when I tried to slow roast garlic in it a year or two ago, Molly's red water bowl which was really to big and heavy and difficult to pick up for purpose but which I found in Noz in a pile all of which only had the letter 'M' on them, a beautiful hand-thrown fine tea bowl I found at a pottery fair.  All of these had history and affection attached, and the breakage and loss of them often occasioned real tears, but we found that being able to lay them to rest in the rubble for the shed base, so that we could continue to see them around for a bit and know they would still be integrated in the fabric of things, went quite some way towards mitigating the grief at their passing.  Perhaps that's why one finds so many bits of old pottery and china buried in gardens, people preferred to mingle them honourably with the clay of home, or something.

And he moved this stone into place to make the eventual step for the shed.  When we first moved to this house, fifteen years ago, there was a truly, monstrously, hideously (there is sometimes a case for over-egging the adverbial pudding) enormous brick fireplace in the middle of the main room.  It was perhaps early 20th century, no older, and it was painted with brick-red gloss paint.  We were told it was useless as a fireplace, it smoked and absorbed all the heat; the old people who lived here had a very smelly, leaky oil range which they supplied from a can which they filled from an oil tank at the back of the house - there was no back door either so they had to go out the front to the road and walk all the way around, but this was still preferable.  Tom smashed the old fireplace down with sledgehammer and pickaxe - the rubble from that went to form the floors in what are now the hall and my blue room - and when that had been laid low there remained the old hearth stone, which is what you see above.  We scrabbled at it like terriers, prized it out, and got it outside on rollers, where it stayed for some time.  One day some ladies from the tax office in Loudeac paid us a visit, since they refused to believe that after some three years or so, we were still living such a semi-derelict ruin as to be paying such pathetically low habitation tax, we must surely have owed them more...

They went away satisfied that indeed we did not owe them any more money, we really were living in a semi-derelict ruin, and as they pulled away, reversed into the old hearthstone and ripped open their rear tyre. They changed it with equanimity, and we didn't see them again.  We do now pay quite a bit more habitation tax, and live in rather more comfort.  The stone made its way to the back of the house at some point, from where JP moved it here to its final resting place.

The concrete as he laid it was lovely,

sleek and glossy and shining in the westering light like sand wetted by waves.

He finished most of it that evening, and just came back to finish the last chunk the next morning.

Towards lunchtime, he took the shuttering away to put the stone in place, came in for coffee and chocolate biscuits and payment, and went on his way.  After lunch I went outside with the camera.

New concrete.  Wet sand.  Virgin snow.  Irresistible.  I forgot myself, forgot everything I have learned in fifteen years as a bricoleur's mate, forgot common sense, even forgot that the last section had only been laid that morning, entranced and hypnotised as I was by the sweeping, cloudlike, watered-silk patterns in the new concrete.

Reader, I walked on it.  The prints of my vinyl sabots gave me away, and they will be there to remind me of my transgression for ever more.  Tom's incredulity was boundless; I walked on wet cement, and found myself in deep shit.

But I think it was worth it.



christopher said...

The need to mark wet concrete...

You did it by accident but if you had not some cat would have as happened in my back yard...

Dale said...


Bruce Taylor, a.k.a. Catalyst said...

Bravo, Lucy! Our back patio has an unobtrusive "Taylor - 2001" marked in the (then) wet cement as a commemoration of when we built this place. ("We", meaning the contractors)

HLiza said...

Wow you really do appreciate texture.. all the beautiful ones throughout the whole process!

Roderick Robinson said...

Oh, I don't know - a taut little bum as far as men's bums go but I'd prefer to read your judgement than my own. Perhaps the only bit of J-P that's purely aesthetic and not severely practical. I'm commenting on to Notepad as I read through and therefore questions put on this line may be answered in your text a little further on. It's the new identity, the new efficiency!

Cement mixers have a low-speed lulling noise rather than an irritating grind which is just as well given that they tend to go on all day.

Twould have been nice if a smattering of your accumulations could have been embedded visibly in the final surface but perhaps J-P would have looked askance at such a request. I have in mind a type of cake where crystallised fruit of different hues is thrown into the mix and somehow remains suspended, to give a scattered stained glass look, rather than migrating towards the bottom. Can't think of the name. Exotic perhaps.

Tom again! In a heroic pose, wielding the hammer in your combined campaign against... what? Not so much kitsch (Though the red gloss paint suggests that) rather a huge example of peculiarly French inefficiency and misguided taste. A life spent amid gathering squalor finally, and most reluctantly, revealed to foreigners. I didn't know the Trésor Publique did house calls. What a neat literary turn to a paragraph that deserved a post on its own. How profligate you are, Lucy. Or are you going to end up in breathless silence in mid-November?

And what a sensualist you are, turned on by wet concrete. But then you have the weight of the KJV behind you (Whoops, it's Stratford Bill, but same difference), not so much sermons in stones but beauty in stone ground up exceeding fine. Technically suspect and an unsustainable metaphor. I must stop here whatever else you've written.

Clive Hicks-Jenkins said...

The concrete beguiled you and you did walk!!!!

Love that last collage of concrete photographs, transformed by the alchemy of your eye into mineral marquetry!

Zhoen said...

I couldn't have resisted leaving my footprints, and it would not have been accidental.

the polish chick said...

what a beautiful home you have, and, as always, what a great eye for turning the mundane into the magical. i spent quite a few years immersed up to the armpits in home renovations and wish now i'd taken the time to look at the beauty in the midst of the disorder.

Ellena said...

I love what I see and I enjoy the words you use to introduce it all.

marja-leena said...

Wonderful story and gorgeous photos! You know how I love the textures of stone and wood and the shine on wet cement does look wet sand. I do believe subconsciously you had to leave your 'mark' on that cement for posterity, hurrah! (Ooh, that word reminds me of 'posterior', heh!)

Rouchswalwe said...

An upside-down bucket as protector! Wonderful idea. Beautiful cement seas and impressions!

marly youmans said...

Your J-P is more soft-hearted than my painters, who tromp on every perennial and bloom with their big man-boots... and care not, care not, trala!

Startled by your visions of wet cement. Nice.

Lucy said...

Thanks all.

I really didn't mean to leave prints, as walking on it so soon could not only have marked it but also destabilised it ( I am a lot heavier than a cat!), it was just exploring the surface which beguiled me!

Sheila said...

I can't believe those last photos. They really are beautiful, and I would never have seen them and thought "concrete" if you hadn't told us. Wow!