our sweaty skin, so that we were soon utterly filthy.
There was a rough, dry hollow near the edge of the drive, some thirty metres uphill from the house, and it seemed like the perfect place to dispose of all the waste. We shovelled the rubbish into a wheelbarrow, pushed each load laboriously up the hill and tipped it into the hollow with a clatter of dust, and slowly the hollow disappeared. This was something that I was eventually to regret, for it had not occurred to me that this hollow might not always be dry.
At the end of each day we took it in turns to shower around the back of the barn, dousing ourselves in icy-cold water from a hose that I had rigged up. It was glorious standing naked in the long grass, washing off the fine red dust in the evening sunshine. We cooked on a camping stove under the stars, and then sat late into the night drinking beer and wine, nibbling extraordinary quantities of cheese and listening to the eccentric musical tastes of James Peat, whom some of you may remember from A Sting in the Tale as the PhD student who made his own trousers. He had brought along his iPod, something that in 2003 seemed improbably, almost magically, advanced. Since the house was far from habitable, we slept in a cluster of tents in the field, and at times it felt as if we were forming some sort of hippie commune. Indeed, if ever I was away buying supplies, I am told that James would often take the opportunity to wander around the farm naked, but he seemed uncharacteristically self-conscious when I was around.
The wall-demolition group made quick progress, as most of the internal walls were flimsy partitions built from fibreboard by Monsieur Poupard. They served little purpose other than to divide up the internal space into a series of dark, dank holes. The only substantial internal partition was an ancient construction of sturdy vertical beams joined by oak laths plastered with straw, dung and mud, which had divided Monsieur Poupardâs bedroom from a small, earthen-floored barn beyond. The wall was built on to the bare earth, and the bottoms of the wooden posts had rotted beyond repair, so it had to be removed before it collapsed. James was one of the gang on wall demolition, and he attacked this wall with gusto and a large sledgehammer. The whole house was thoroughly damp, thanks to the leaky roof, but nonetheless James was surprised to spot movement amongst the piles of crumbled mud and broken, woodworm-ridden beams that he was creating. He called me over, and we disinterred a very sizeable newt. A little searching revealed two more wriggling amongst the wreckage, a little battered, but still more or less in one piece. We washed them off in a bucket, exposing them to be stunningly beautiful marbled newts, their velvet-black skin punctuated with bright-green irregular spots. They are relatives of the great-crested newt found in Britain, but how they came to be living in my house was unclear. I guess it says a lot about just how damp the place was.
After completing the demolition works, we began repairing the damage. I attempted to hone my primitive plumbing skills to provide a working toilet. Alistair, a mature student with previous building experience, was the only one of us who had any idea what he was doing. He could slap on the rough rendering needed to hold together the old stone walls at an impressive rate of knots when the mood took him, but he started drinking at lunchtime and was far more interested in chatting up one of the female students than he was in plasterwork â for which I could hardly blame him, given that he wasnât being paid â but this meant that his rate of progress was erratic at best. The roofers started trying to rebuild the old roof they had removed. A guy called Dave tried to fit the new windows that I had had delivered, a frustrating task since none of the holes was quite square, and none of the metric windows of quite the right size for the holes. James mixed up