Slab laying for the only modestly competent: an incomplete guide.

Wandering around the garden I often spot something that starts to annoy me. The garden contains many things that could be improved and normally my reaction is to shrug and mentally add the defect, whatever it is, to the long list of “things I ought to do one day”. Sometimes a job will be brought more vigorously to my attention when it happens to coincide with Long Suffering Wife’s complementary lists of “things he ought to do immediately”. Such was the case with the patio.

Twenty or so years a go a former owner of our cottage had built a “patio” – defining that word in the loosest possible way – by fitting together a collection of broken concrete slabs and bricks. This he had roughly levelled and filled in the spaces with sand. These sand filled spaces, between the crazy paving, have proved to be an ideal growing medium for a variety of vigorous, deep rooted plants such as dock, dandelion and ground elder. From time to time I have chopped the tops off this growth with a spade, or run the grass mower over the top, but within a week it is all sprouting up again. Most of the time, from a distance, the "patio" looks like a field of rough pasture.

After some research I had our new patio delivered by the local builder’s merchant. That is, the unassembled raw materials were deposited at the bottom of our long, steeply inclined drive. The kindly driver was at least able to lift the ton of sand over our hedge and on to the garden, which is about six feet higher than the road, by extending his crane as far as the weight would allow. The rest had to be barrowed or carried by hand to the work site, a task of some urgency as the car, our only means of bringing food to the house, was trapped behind twenty large three by twos and eighty four patio slabs.

There is nothing too difficult about building a patio, especially if you can avoid crushing the end of your right index finger between a three by two and a stone-wall as you attempt to walk the former towards the latter. It is not, as they say, rocket science. I understand comprehensively the principles of patio construction. On the other hand I also understand exactly how a violin works. This knowledge does not help much when it comes to playing the dam thing, as L.S.W. is apt to refer to it when I do. Patio construction and violin playing are two fields where practice rather than theory is the key to success.

When Alan, our window cleaner – a man with a large repertoire of practical skills - happened to call on his regular round, I was well into the job. The old patio lay in random piles around the garden. The site had been thoroughly weeded. A layer of hardcore had been compacted and levelled. A weed control fabric had been laid and an even layer of sand spread over it. It was time to lay the patio slabs and he watched me, in some disbelief, as I worked on the third slab I had managed to get into position over the previous two hours.

There is a right way to do a job and there is my way. The fact that there is often a discrepancy between the two is due to ignorance, not arrogance. Alan, bless him, showed me how to nail two bits of wood together to make a screed and with this precision patio laying tool, I managed to finish laying the rest in another two hours. We now have a proper patio!

Long Suffering Wife, who to be fair had helped during the weeding phase, came out to inspect the finished product. Standing on one of the slabs and rocking it contemplatively from corner to corner with her weight, her eyes zeroed in like a hawk on another slab.
“I see you have knocked the corner off that one,” she said.