the void


Pallet Decking (with fire pit)

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My garden was an absolute shit-show when I moved in. It was 50% mutant rose bush, 50% spiders and trash. It was flanked by a shanty town my next-door neighbour had built from old ‘for sale’ signs, and the fences were held together with ivy and a presumed distaste for touching anything on the floor.

Being the excellent sibling that I am I enlisted my sister’s help in clearing the place out, way back in the mists of 2014…

Well done Em.

… and high on the thrill of discovering dirt and builders rubble underneath the trash and spiders I somewhat foolishly spent about £200 on turf to create a BEAUTIFUL AND VERDANT PARADISE…


… which lasted precisely 3 months. It turns out my garden is basically a thin layer of dust covering a few meters of builders rubble, broken glass, and fox poo. So this happened:

… and this is even after I tried to resuscitate the lawn with lawn food and sacrificing a passing lamb to Robert, God of Lawns. The other major issue is the new fences I put up: nice and high, so no prying neighbours but also no light, and it turns out plants need some sun. Gardening is hard. The bit of the garden that got the most light was right by the house: helpfully used as a general dumping ground in the photo above as it’s entirely covered in concrete.

I’ve still not quite solved the lawn problem, but I have sorted out that hot concrete corner – AND HOW!

This year, in a fit of garden pique, I stole about six old roof beams from a skip and somewhere in the region of fifteen pallets, and set to work:

I’d decided that what my house really needed was some amateur decking. The internet had reliably informed me that decking is both a now-passe 90’s fad, and an upkeep nightmare. Being a fan of all things 90s and projects with crippling maintenance requirements I was obviously all for this idea. I’d like to be able to detail how I made the decking, but I was pretty much channelling the great infinite pallet void at the time so it’s all a bit hazy. I remember being in this lovely state of flow, where I’d cut the boards off the pallets (I gave up on prying them off with a crowbar), screw them into the rough grid I’d made from the roof beams, and then pause to pull splinters the size of toothpicks from my hands and face. Look! I even had a fire going to burn what I presume were off-cuts? Who knows. Answer: the void knows.

It was quite handy having a ready-made concrete base to build on, and I propped the frame up on old concrete paving slabs. Good solid concrete. Good, solid, inflammable concrete. Which gave me a wonderful idea: what if this rickety pile of cheap dry wood I’d stacked next to my house and which I’d just covered in ‘says on the tin’ extremely flammable waterproofing oil could have a build-in fire pit?

You can see the gap at the front where the fire pit was to go. I used an angle grinder, a blacksmithing hammer and a chisel to cut the middle out of two concrete paving slabs, and lay on top of the other. I also cut a channel out of the bottom one, leading out the front of the decking so the pit had somewhere to draw air in from. And that was pretty much it: no fire bricks, no fire cement, and the lid I built for the top matches the decking, so it can be covered up and totally hidden.

You’d expect now to be the point in the story where I accidentally burn my house to the ground, but, touch wood (sorry), the deck and fire have been a roaring (sorry sorry) success. I’ve had many excellent nights by an open fire, drinking whisky and not watching my most significant capital investment burn to the ground, and that’s quite a luxury in this day and age. It’s even been used for the odd BBQ, and now we’re heading into the autumn months I’m very much looking forward to some more mini-bonfires.

Oh, and the total cost of this project? £20 – for the deck oil and screws. Best £20 I’ve spent this year.