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The winter break

Red sandstone and whinstone retaining wall

Red and grey dry stone wall

In the old B.S. days (before self-employment), the Christmas and New Year break used to be something to look forward to.

Two weeks paid leave away from work: from the phone and the in-tray; from clients with their problems; from the looming deadlines, the endless team meetings and from colleagues chasing me for reports.  Two weeks away from the madness of work were brilliant.

Now that I work for myself my perspective of Xmas and New Year is very different…

There are no paid holidays – only days off without pay.

Everybody loves a white Christmas – apart from dry stone wallers!  Working in the snow is horrible. End of.

Work enquiries dry up at this time of year as potential clients forget their gardens and think about their holidays – shame on them!

The reality of the lead up to Christmas and New Year is a time of worry for me.  It’s hard to relax, as I look on the mild days as potential days when I should be working.  I know that when the snow and ice arrives, it’ll mean that work becomes increasingly difficult, if not impossible. That is assuming I have work to do.

You never know what the winter is going to bring.

2010/11 was an incredibly snowy time.  From the end of November, we had deep snow for weeks – it snowed pretty much constantly for a fortnight!  I had a big job waiting to start but couldn’t because the quarry that was supplying the stone was closed due to the weather.  I didn’t work for pretty much two months. And when we did get on-site, we had a deeply frozen ground to deal with, temperatures as low as -19C and stone that was iced together!  It was not fun…

The winter of 2011/12 was completely the opposite – it was so mild that the ground was water-logged. I had a job planned for a January start that was eventually delayed until July because it was impossible to access the field where the stone was.

Red sandstone pillars

Red sandstone pillars

So far this winter we’ve had one cold spell when the temperature hovered around freezing for a couple of weeks, and there was a wee bit of snow too.  Thankfully, it’s been mild since. The winter weather in Scotland increasingly becomes an issue from the end of November through to the end of March – much time is spent scouring the weather web sites and TV news, trying to forecast the weather in the days ahead.

I am lucky at the moment in having a job that is nearby, so it’s not the end of the world if I have to start work late or go home early.  In the past though, I have worked for clients who live more than an hour away (when you don’t have snow and ice on the roads to deal with!).  You have to make decisions about whether (!) it’s worth the drive to work or not.

The ideal scenario would be to work my socks off for ten months of the year, and build up a huge cash reserve to tide me over the winter – a kind of waller’s hibernation.  It sounds great in principle but is not so easy in practice.  I’d challenge most people to have the discipline to save two months salary during the rest of the year and then earn nothing for two months.  Not easy.

This is not intended as a moan about my lot.  I love what I do, and dealing with the weather is all part of the fun.  I don’t work in an office.  I am my own boss. It could be a lot worse…

This post is really more of an insight into what it’s like working in winter.  So, whilst the rest of you lot out there are enjoying your winter break, spare a thought for us poor wallers who are suffering through the long cold days 🙂

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