There are not many Saturday mornings when I leave home with an axe in my bag, but this was no ordinary Saturday . . .
It happened before we moved to live in rural Mallorca. At the time, we had bought our rustic finca as a holiday home; not that the times we used to spend here were what most people would envisage as a holiday: painting and decorating, making repairs, searching for essential services (such as plumbing) etc.
One of the jobs we arranged to be done was some work to our property’s old stone wall. Mallorca is criss-crossed with these ancient walls – which came about originally because people needed to clear stones from the soil so they could plant crops. We needed to create a gap in our own wall for gate posts and a gate, to provide access to our back field, where one day we would have an outbuilding to house a generator (which would need deliveries of diesel).
We used the services of an English stone wall craftsman, who’d escaped the dampness of the UK’s Lake District for the warmer climate of Mallorca. He was good. But such expertise doesn’t come without an appropriate price, and it was one we couldn’t afford for any future repairs that could become necessary.
A crafty day out
Which is how The Boss and I came to sign up for a one-day course on the craft of dry stone walling, taking place on a farm in our home county of Oxfordshire. And why I was carrying an axe – and some sturdy gardening gloves – in my bag.
There were 10 budding wall-builders (only three of whom were men!) on the course, which began with a safety briefing and introduction to the art of shaping stone. How hard could it be? Very. I chopped ’til I dropped . . . the axe. Not an auspicious start – and one which made The Boss move a few paces further away from my chop zone.
But eventually the group was let loose on one of the farm’s tumbledown walls and, by the end of the day (and fortified by lunch in the local village pub), we’d managed to turn a heap of stones into something resembling a wall. Stone-shaping aside, it was a strangely satisfying day, even if it did mean saying goodbye to a few fingernails . . .
The Boss has, on occasions, used the skills he learnt on that day to make small repairs to our old stone walls. I’d have helped, but he chose the safer option and gave my offer the chop.