Within the 10 Commandments, The Old Testament God exclaims
…I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me…
I like to think of myself as a jealous Father (cautionary note to my daughters and their future boyfriends), but in a good way. It’s my job as a Father to guide and instruct, coach and encourage my daughters, as my Father coached and encouraged me. And so this year, aged 42, I went through another rite of passage; like learning to ride a bike, to carve a roast, to put up shelves. My Dad helped me to lay a patio.
This project has taken a while. We started the whole thing last Autumn, when we finally decided to do something about our somewhat cramped patio and the small retaining wall that made it even more claustrophobic. Out came the sledgehammer and pickaxe as I took to removing the blocks and old concrete base.
Three trips to the tip and we had the beginnings of a ditch that still seemed a long way from becoming a patio. Then I received a £600 bill for my car service. And so it came to pass that the patio project was put on hold until Spring.
Unlike last year, Spring 2011 seemed to start quite early, so we decided to ‘crack on’ with the work. I started digging out the foundations again, requiring another 3 full estate-car-with-the-back-seats-down-boot-loads of concrete and soil (mostly full of ground elder roots) to the tip. Having experienced less-than-stellar-service from our local Builders’ Merchants before Christmas, we were careful to plan our materials’ requirements very carefully. And as I was attempting to extend the patio around the existing slabs, it was all a bit wonky. I measured and mapped it out on the computer, using different coloured shapes for different sized slabs. In fact, I mapped it out several times, worried that I’d got it wrong.
We were referring to the New Bible of Garden Improvement: Tommy Walsh’s Outdoor DIY. He was more useful than any website we discovered, and proved very helpful. It’s not too much to say that his Book provided no little enlightenment, and a few handy Insider’s Tips to achieve Salvation.
After I’d made an unholy mess digging out the foundations, we took out the pressure washer. We’ve lived in this house for more than 7 years, and have never cleaned the patio slabs. I’m not quite sure why I was so surprised at how much filth came off the old patio, but we did enjoy an odd game of noughts & crosses while we were there.
I wasn’t really sure what the materials we ordered would look like. I’ve never needed 3 tonnes of scalpings, sharp sand and soft sand, 10 bags of cement and a load of paving slabs before. It’s only a small extension to our patio, it’s only 7 square metres (not 7m²!), but it turns out that it’s quite a lot. Barrow after barrow of stones and sand were dug out of the sack, wheeled through the garage and over a makeshift ramp to get out the back door, emptied into the trench, raked over, tramped down, and so on…
And at the end of it we seemed to have an enormous amount of stuff left over. We ended up taking seven out of ten cement bags back. And I’d still got the slabs pattern wrong, so the gaps between some of them are slightly larger than others. But I don’t think Tommy Walsh would mind.
Putting the slabs down wasn’t as bad as I feared it might be. We did take quite a bit of time mixing small batches of cement, as I didn’t have either a mechanical mixer, or even a big sheet of plastic… But the maxim of ‘it’s all in the preparation’ is genuinely true. I had spent lots of time levelling and measuring the sub-base and sand, which meant we were just laying the slabs on the cement on the sand, and it all seemed to work OK. Dad helped for the first day’s work, where we got about 70% of it done, and I did the rest by myself the next day. And so it came to pass that the skills of my father were visited unto me.
So far, so good; just the pointing to do…
Why did no one tell me about pointing? The gaps between many of the old slabs had been full of weeds, so we blasted them out with the pressure washer. That looked better, but then meant that practically the entire patio needed re-pointing; many, many hours of kneeling down, face close to the ground, trowels of wet cement, clouds of dusty cement/sand mix, brushing the excess off the slabs before it sets or stains, over and over and over.
Meanwhile, Rachel has been busy restocking the flower beds that we devastated in digging out the wall and new space, returning pots to the patio, and we’ve put in a strip of new turf. We’ve got plenty of room to eat outside, and it’s made the whole garden feel considerably bigger. After seven months of (intermittent) labours since October, our work is complete. When we look upon that which we’ve created, we reckon it’s pretty good. My Dad is impressed too, in his own way.