PEOPLE ARE AFRAID OF EVERYTHINGme-in-the-foundation-you-aint-going-nowhere-60-per
People are afraid of everything .The fear stops them from doing all sorts of new things that they might fail at.People might make fun of their useless efforts. There’d be hoots of unholy belly laughs at their efforts to make a chair, write the great novel, learn to play an instrument or put up a shelf. Who needs that kind of hassle anyway?
Well, we all do.
We need to do new things all the time to feel like we are alive and to make ourselves feel good at living. It doesn’t have to be some Big Idea. It can be a small thing like cooking a meal you’ve never cooked before or learning to swim after being afraid of water your whole life. You might be afraid of flying in an aeroplane .It’s only a big old smelly skybus.How often do they fall out of the sky?
I was reminded of the fear today because it ‘s thirty years ago this month since I started to build my own house.
Build your own house?!
Are you mad ?
Are you remotely sane?
Yes, I know .There has to be a damned good reason to push out that boat and climb in without your Mae West safety jacket. Who’s Mae West ? you ask …just look it up . It’ll save a lot of time and it’ll only start a whole other story.
Anyway…..There I was in 1984, living in a little two-up two-down red bricked terraced house at the edge of town . My wife and I had bought a mortgage on it for the princely sum of £7,000 .My wife’s mother had loaned us a massive £500. as a deposit because we really hadn’t a button between us …not a pot to….y’know what I mean.We had our first lovely little daughter, bouncing about on the floor and after living in these cosy first -married circumstances for three or four years ,were beginning to realise that little female babies grow into little girls very quickly and they need gardens to play in .Somehow too, two more unborn little sisters were queing up to presently join us all in this tiny little home. My father would say …”You have it all ahead of you…like a wheelbarrow…..”.yes , very droll, Dad!
It’s evolution really isn’t it?
A family has to make some adaptation to grow. We needed a new and bigger home . In the way of these things , of course, it’s never that easy. Every time we saw a “nice” house, a bigger semi- detatched, slightly more grand affair, that would have suited us ,we’d put a reasonable bid on it , only to have our bid trumped, or “gazumped” as they used to call it…. .You know, you’d put down a bid of£20,000, and mentally check how many years you’d have to live on dry cornflakes to pay it back, before rickets or death consumed you. You’d then sit back and another bid would come in bigger and better than your very best shot. You were never sure either if you were being played like some country rube by a greedy estate agent , but it fairly induced that kind of mad paranoia. Selling houses and buying houses.It’s one of the black arts, isn’t it?
Anyway, this went on for a while as we scanned the local weekly newspapers for possible homes.One incident really tightened our resolve to make a move.One night as we slept , we were rudely awakened by explosions ripping through the parked buses in the big depot next to our home. I looked out through the window and watched as one after the other there was the repeated muffled “crumpfh” as a row of buses became part of the “Troubles” crumpled statistics. Someone had identified an “economic target” and it was on our doorstep. Someone was also hammering at the front door. It was a policeman. How did he get there so quickly? We had to move out very sharpish, bleary-eyed , hedgerow hair, baby cot and all that baby bumphery and drive by a circuitous after- midnight route to my mother -in-law’s home.People talk about getting “wake up calls” in an abstract way but many living in Northern Ireland got to know a real meaning of the phrase.
The revelatory moment came some time later… one week in a little advert among the potential sale houses in the local newspaper..
“Would you like to build your own home?”.. the advert said….A self build scheme in the offing.That was certainly a new bone to chew on . I knew I could put up a shelf and I’d made a few bits and pieces at art college. I had to learn how to make that shelf from a plank because the stereo would have sat on the floor otherwise. I was “handy” enough, but could I build a house? I had no building skills at all , even though my father had been a stonemason and bricklayer.He never wanted me to follow in his footsteps so I took a different route. I wanted to be an artist!!.
I know, the recklessness of youth!!
My wife and I went to the first meetng in a local community hall to check it all out. it was a bit intimidating at first. There was a room full of equally inquisitive potential “self-builders”. There seemed like hundreds of them. The idea seemed to be to gather a group of fourteen together and build a little estate of fourteen homes. There would be eight bungalows and six semi-detatched houses. We would all build the houses as a communal act, form a little company and when the scheme was finished we would dissolve the company and each take personal responsibility for our individual homes.
Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith .A shot in the dark . A mad jump off a cliff. You can’t always live in fear. There was so much to gain . I’d do this mad thing!! .After several more meetings of these potential builders …each meeting having drastically shrinking numbers , arguing out our ideas and fears, we finally arrived at a hard core of equally bloody-minded chancers. Even though we needed fourteen, there were only ten men left standing . Out of the entire community …the thousands …or hundreds who might dream of a scheme like this, we had ten people.
It makes you stop and think really. You ask yourself strange things . Am I crazy ? Are we all crazy to want to do this ? Why are we the only crazy people? A few of of them were tradesmen with skills we all could use, such as plumbing or bricklaying and we had a foreman /plasterer lined up too.We had the bones of an assault team but we were green too. The thing that bound us together initially was that we wanted this development to be a good mix ..right across the stale Northern Irish divisions.We didn’t want to build some little redoubt or ghetto . Fear , you see…Everyone is afraid of something.
The other fly in the ointment for me was that my own house was a slow seller . I needed to sell it and make a small profit of seed money before I could consider an even larger mortgage. My wife and I decided together , that if I was willing to take on this mad challenge, she would watch my back and keep those home fires burning. That’s how it actually panned out in the end .In that very week in June when we got the go-ahead to break the sod on our choice of site, like kismet, our little house, after months of prevarication, plucked a buyer out of the ether.That very same week.
We were off. We moved in with my very gracious mother -in-law for the first phase of the scheme and every day after work or before it , depending on which shift I had to do, I worked with the others for several hours on our building site project for about a year and a half.When we actually started , we quickly made up the full compliment of eager would be builders. Some of us also had secondary onsite tasks .Clerk of works and the like..Mine was “Timekeeper” and it was my job to make sure everyone did their requisite twenty -something hours each week. Just to keep things fair . I believe , even after thirty years , I still have those old timesheets somewhere. Man, I could let a few cats out of that particular old bag!
From the start , we were very aware that if it all went wrong , it would be entirely our own collective faults. We were gambling with our own time and money, so no crocodile tears if it all went the way of a shipwreck. We’d already heard horror stories about similar schemes down country..around Belfast that had failed terribly because when the weather was inclement everyone stopped for a nice cup of Builder’s Tea and a game of cards .They literally gambled their precious time and cash away.That fear was hammered out very forcibly , especially by me.There would be no half measures .nobody would cadge a “sickie”. The only time the weather slowed us down was when it rained so much that second August that the plaster was running off the very walls. We had to work at inside jobs and wait for the rains to ease off ,as they did eventually. Plastering and attending plasterers.That’s a job for heroes, no mistake. It’s the last thing you do with a house and it’s the hardest work too. Shovelling sand and cement incessantly to feed a mixer while attending several fast working plasterers would tighten any man.
My memory of that first summer is that it was one of the hottest on record, leading to an equally cold winter when we had to light newspapers under the cement mixer to get it pepped up and rumbling in those freezing mornings. It needed some heat in the air -intake to start. I can still remember plaster freezing on the walls on a bitter Christmas Eve, and having to be stripped off and redone as crisp snow lay around ..
As each home was barely finished , each occupant moved in and joined his new neighbours and paid a “rent” to the “Association”. When we completed the scheme we all took out mortgages from the building Society which had offered us stage-payments support and then we dissolved the association.
I remember working through that following summer of Bob Geldolf’s Live Aid in 1985 and popping back inside my house to set up this “new video recorder” machine to tape all the acts that performed throughout the day. …Then back out to cut tracks in a wall with a diesel stone saw , choking with my head wrapped in a damp towel in the mad burling dust and heat of that raging summer’s day.
We completed the project within eighteen months. Everyone involved was raw -boned and as fit as the proverbial butchers’ dogs by then. Everyone had a whole new perspective on life too.
The fear was gone.
Thirty years later, there’s myself and five other original occupants left. Things happen in life .People move on.People get divorced .People die.
I’m still here, looking down my garden from that same house .. .
If fear is keeping you back in any way, from doing something new, it’s better to look it in the eye. I suppose you might start off with something easy , like beekeeping or maybe even skydiving……

Bob Dylan – You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere {The Basement Tapes}
“Hoo wee, ride me high
Tomorrows the day my bride’s a’gonna come
Hoo wee, are we gonna fly
Down into the easy chair? Yeah

Buy me some rings and a gun that sings
A flute that toots and a bee that stings
A sky that cries and a bird that flies
A fish that walks and a dog that talks
Strap yourself to a tree with roots.You ain’t goin’ nowhere…”




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