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Tuesday, 22 November 2011


The glamour in my life has reached new heights. Or plumbed new depths.
“Yeah, I was wondering why you were wearing that dressing gown,” said the builder.
“It’s just so bloody cold,” I muttered.
“Turn the heating on,” he said with an extravagant gesture. “Sod global warming, sod the heating bill.”
“What! You leave the doors open every minute of the day!” I squeaked. “I don’t think so.”
“Yeah, maybe,” he conceded. “Fair point. Got any more tea? Got any of that Earl Grey?”

The house is slowly collapsing; lintels and steels, switches, a socket, a tank. There’s one main builder, and a succession of dusty chaps barging in with wet boots on pale carpet. The dust-sheets are pushed aside. When they’re not pushed aside, but are collected up, they are shaken out in situ, carefully folded, given another Pumph! And then dropped on the floor. I’m sneezing as much as the dog. The dog’s giving me a “want to borrow my collar?” look.

Time was when the builders were the thick ones, they built because they had to, because there was nothing else. Now they stroll in at half 9, are off again by 3 (to take in a Pilates class, perhaps linger in Waitrose), pausing long enough to create havoc, demand tea and present unspeakable bills. Nice work. Well, I say work, a lot of eating upmarket sandwiches goes on, too, and Making Calls, striding about laughing at the paucity of the signal here. What was I thinking of wasting my time on Greek ‘O’ Level?
One of them, the most part-time of a group of thoroughly part-timers, is frightfully well-spoken. E has no idea where to put his McDonald’s accent. This is the voice he uses to order a McD for the children, or to chat with builders. Apart from when the builder clearly went to Eton. I caught him doing a half-way house version of it. Not good. He calls it camouflage. I call it bloody awful.

The house is shrouded in dust. Worse than normal, I mean. And where it’s not dusty, it’s damp. A double whammy of having a new steel inserted where it was previously thought to have been all along, and indeed had been signed off as such by the council inspector, and an overflowing water tank. Damp and dust, mildew and cracks. Marvellous. And the kettle threatening to strike.

The big beam and a load of purlins up in the attic took care of any foolish dreams we might have entertained of a summer holiday. Looks like the steel is going to do for Christmas. My how we laugh. And huddle in our dressing gowns.

The doors are permanently open and being slammed with a house-shaking certainty. I don’t know how the builder does it. Truth is, his mind's not on the job. It's Putin that's getting to him at the moment. "Why do they keep voting these buggers back in?" he says.

Shock, or something like it, made the dog throw up. Twice. Both times half onto her bed, half on the rug and half on the wooden floor Yes, three halves. I’m not going to say thirds, you’ll think I’ve measured it. Instead I dealt with it, juddering with horror particularly where the underfloor heating, now that the pump has been fixed, gently baked it. And when I say “fixed” I mean hit with a spanner by someone to whom I then had to write a large cheque.
There was an element of splatter involved in the resentful scrubbing which I have yet to process fully out of my memory. Needless to say the dog has not apologised. Indeed, she yawned irritably when I gave her a look.

I edged her, with some bad temper, a look, and the side of my foot, out of the dog door, out of the house, into Dog Shit Alley in order that she might contemplate her crimes. Reflect. Not a kick as such but perhaps a physical equivalence of what my father used to call “raising his voice” and what the rest of the world would call “shouting.”
There was a joyous leap and the brute was gone. The joyous yelp was mine. The builder had left the gate leading onto the front open. Of course he had, he’s the builder. So it was a snuffle and a leap and a trot down Dog Shit Alley, out out and away, and off.
That glorious moment, my burden lifted. I toyed with a beautiful future, and the likelihood of a truck tearing down the road round …. about …. now! and ….
Dreams of “Bye Bye, dog!” went up in a puff of smoke by the grim reappearance of the builder and his retrieval of the dog and her barging her way back in, bored and sulky, through the front of the house, filthy pawmarks joining the builders’ bootprints. Did she shake her collar? It’s safe to assume she did.

Then the inspector came and said dull things about pre-stressed lintels and patch points. I, the little woman of the piece, trudged down to make tea.
“Nice car,” I heard the builder say. The inspector perked up. I guessed they weren’t discussing my ancient Toyota. Or stressed lintels once the bill-payer had buggered off. The builder’s phone rang, and he was soon deep in conversation. I really hope I didn’t hear “colour therapy” mentioned.

The inspector left and the builder and I watched him go. “What’s the car then?” I asked as the inspector three point turned in a swirl of dust.
“Lotus,” said the builder. “Nice. He’ll have a good pension sorted, too. And BUPA.” He bit on his gold-plated apple and narrowed his eyes. His van’s full of DVDs from the hospital about some health regime he’s on. “DVDs and leaflets,” he’d said when I’d asked what the films were; we’d been talking about breastfeeding and “The Slap” and I’d glanced in his van. “Can’t get out of the hospital without a shedload more DVDs. I say to them, I say, ‘I hope this isn’t coming out of my taxes,’ ‘Nah,’ they say, ‘that’s the pharmaceutical companies, that is.’”
“Bloody hell,” I said. “Yesterday, I wanted to be a builder – you know, have the heating on without thinking, go on holiday.” The builder nodded. “Today I reckon working for the council’s got to be worth a look.”
“Or the pharmaceutical companies,” said the builder, “There’s a lot of work involved being a builder.”
“Indeed?” I said, “I guess.” In a parallel universe, perhaps. I offered: “Lifting and stuff? That’s what put me off.”
“Yeah,” he said, “And really messy. Oh, and I’ll be in late in the morning. I’ve got acupuncture first thing.”
Of course.
“I’ll be here,” I said. Well. I can’t afford to go anywhere else. And I’ve got a nice dressing gown needs wearing. As I said … the glamour.


Jake Barton said...

First comment. What's wrong with you people? Been said before (okay, yes, by me, but still relevant) this woman and her blog are national treasures. I adore this. Nothing like it anywhere else - and I have obscene amounts of free time to scout the Internet for items that engage my interest.
This is a genius at work. Really. The blogger may claim it's mere ramblings, but however it arrives, I treasure every instalment. Yes, I should be applying myself to other matters, being useful, maybe even writing something for my new novel, or even my blog, but how can I? How can I even have a blog when it's competing with this?

Tattie Weasle said...

Yep I dread having the builders in so last year I stopped them and guess what I am off on holiday! Ok the house is in danger of falling down but after 10 years of buidlers I reckon it will just have to last until I get my holdiay fix.
I feel rather carefree and unencumbered writing that - bet the footings go this winter and holdiay will be called off now.....pugger!

Preseli Mags said...

Right, that's it. I'm retraining as a builder. Damp, dust, mildew, cracks, no holiday, no Christmas? Sounds like my life too. As for the Lotus: Lots Of Trouble Usually Serious (and usually overcompensating for, ahem, something).

Exmoorjane said...

Oi, you taking the piss, missus? Why shouldn't builders have acupuncture and,er, colour therapy??? Anyone in mind for this little addition to the vignette? Hmmm????
You've depressed me. I thought the answer was to get rid of the cold draughty old wreck, downsizing to new and modern and WARM...'like Camilla's', I thought. But evidently no. :(
Today I have found my coat has rotted. ROTTED. A new area of profound damp has been discovered. There is mould on all the window frames (on the inside, natch). Even the ghosts have moved out of the Cellar of Despond and the Staircase of Whatever it Was...
Pharmaceutical companies? Shit yeah. Bastards.

word verif *smseu* which sounds vaguely sweary in something or other and hence totally fitting. FECK.

Frances said...

Milla, how I do love your writing, and how I do hope that you've overstated by a bit the current state of your home invasion.

I've a UK friend who got so outraged by his encounters with the builders contracted to renovate his cottage, that ... he decided to leave his former career, and become a responsible subcontracter, helping others to get renovations done on time, and even at a reasonable price.

His business continues to thrive.


Fennie said...

Subvert, Milla, subvert. Don't try to join them - let them join you. Bring them in. Give them the Earl Grey - no, wait! White, jasmine tea. More ethereal, eternal. Make them sit in a circle and chant. Crosslegged on the pale carpet amid the dust sheets. Relax. Scented candles among the tresses and trowels. Peace, calm. Deep breaths. Have them meditate on the purpose of life, on the purpose of their life, on the purpose of work, on the rich fulfilment that comes from a job well done. Let them see that in your house, your job well done. Therein beauty lies, free of stress and acupuncture. And health. Sans pharmaceuticals. You'll do it together. They'll be calmer then, (having found Karma), and even the dog will sit in the circle. Respectfully silent and pensive. Doors will be closed, silence will reign. Then the ship of work will move forward, lintels dropping in place, underfloor heating bubbling away, the contents of the dogs stomach remaining tranquilly put.

Grace, and space. Warmth and not a speck of dust. What you put in you get out. Happy builders, happy client, happy dog. Nam myoko rengi ko - or words to that effect.

Chris Stovell said...

I feel your pain. Boy, how I feel your pain *shuffles off in dusty dressing gown with baleful look at oil tank.*

Anonymous said...

I endured only three days of this last years when we had double glazing put in. That was enough, especially as the coldest day was my birthday. Made me decide home improvements are for the birds.
Find an ex-army greatcoat, like they wore in the trenches. And wear it pointedly. These guys might be bright enough to get the message.
WV is serva.....

Milla said...

hi chaps, thank you as ever for lovely comments
Jake, you are wise and good. Very wise and very good.
Tattie, I know - you've been there. the modern struggle, eh.
PM, I feel so much better. So they break down. A lot. Cheering.
Jane, also cheering, your lot is worse than mine. I, too, have had a rotten coat: being, not some random rubbish coat but a gorgeous grosgrain number, typical, just typical.
Frances, thank you, you are a joy. I would love to think I could retrain but am utterly wet and twice as lazy.
Fennie, you had me til the dog joined the circle. Ommmm.
Chris, yes, live and learn. Or live and don't learn.
Viv - how lovely to see you (!) home improvements are dismal from hopeful start to expensive finish. Can't even go out as the boiler's decided to join in and I have to wait for the phone. Joy.
Cheerful service will be resumed. One day. Maybe.

Edward said...

A fine blog as per. Just to add to the jollity, another leak has sprung in what passes for the hot water system in this house. At least this time we found it before it ruined the bedding that we haven't yet got around to claiming for anyway to replace the bedding that the last leak ruined.

And in one of those "You Couldn't Make It Up" moments, the Word Verification is Wartr. Seriously. Blogspot's taking the piss, surely?

Wally B said...

Builders are the same the world over. They are the only ones who can afford therapy these day. A constant belief that whatever they do will be received with hugs af gratitude seems to be universal.
Our heating has died just in time for winter and I'm wearing so many clothes, I feel as if I have rigor mortis. Your blog has cheered me up though. It always does

sea-blue-sky & abstracts said...

I really shouldn't laugh at your expense - or the dog's, but it's been an enjoyable read! x

Milla said...

yes, E, my love, the perils of indoors wartr continue to blight.
Wally, thank you! Though tiresome, non? So much of life whittled away by sapping interest in bloody pipes and wires and then having to pay for it.
Glad to be of service, Lesley, my pain is your gain.

Cait O'Connor said...

We have saying in our house
It will be nice when it's finished.

Trish @ Mum's Gone To ... said...

We had the upmarket builders this summer when we had our kitchen done. The first inkling I had that they were a classy bunch was the lack of sugar required in their tea and the neat way their trousers covered their arse cheeks.

elizabethm said...

I agree with Jake.
There is the way we do it here where Ian does it. Pluses: it does get done and I do get to choose lots and its cheaper. Minuses: it takes years and years, and more years.

Carol said...

and I'm thinking about buying a house why?

C x

Muddling Along said...

I hope it is done soon - I have hit the point where I cannot cope with the dust and cold any more. I just want it done!

And we're giving each other building materials for Christmas - who says that romance is dead!

Pondside said...

You were able to find a builder?
Any chance he does overseas work?
I can make tea.

Fred said...

In the midst of this construction mayhem is anyone taking any responsibility for the total fuck up that was the first building project? The cowboys who omitted the supporting joists, the building inspector who failed to notice same? I'm sure the list goes on....

However, your angst is our gain, quite, quite wonderful blog, as always.

Remind me again, why aren't you doing this for a living?

Jan said...

How did i miss this? it must have been under something.
My builder, when I can afford him, knits socks and does the radio times crossword.


I know, I know - we're all in the wrong business. I had a man come and fix a problem with our drains a little while ago (ok, perhaps not a job I would jump at). He spent about 20 minutes fiddle faddling about with something that looked like a long stick, another 20 drinking coffee, then announced he'd 'gone over the hour,' so by rights he ought to really charge me for two, but since I made such wonderful coffee, he'd just charge me the one. Eighty four quid. Plus VAT - well, obviously. AND they've all got iPhones, have you noticed?

Mind you, I suppose money's not everything. Wonderful blog, by the way, Milla.

Metropolitan Mum said...

Feeling much better now. Have building works going on and guess what, tomorrow comes Monsieur l'Inspector! Must dash now, buy some of that Earl Grey tea.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I know I nag you, but this exactly why I do it. I'm uncertain of the word I want to express my feelings of utter admiration. They all seem far too inadequate. I love this blog, adore the blogger to the extent of previously mentioned missing word and beyond.
One day, you will get it into, sadly dense on this topic if no other, skull what a wonderfully evocative writer you are. I yearn for more. The relentless maw of devoted appreciation is never sated. *sorry, pretentious, not to say unworthy sentence there*
Observational writing transcends mere description when it's in your hands. You make me laugh, make me catch my breath, leave me whimpering on the mat like a dog; sometimes all in the same piece.
For anyone unsure by now, I'm a massive fan of this richly talented woman and shall not cease from cajoling until she sets herself upon her true calling: the entertainment and education of a mass market.
With humble gratitude for allowing me the opportunity to read more of my favourite blog.
NB. Not a word of the above is OTT. I may be a frivolous and fickle creature, but on this topic I am resolutely constant.
Unable to sign in properly from this beach bar, so will be forced to be anonymous.
That being the case
jake Barton (Fan)

Jake Barton said...

Could have done this. Worth a try, if a bit late in the day. Must be better than 'Anonymous' - oh, the dreadful associations with grubby macs, being 'anonymous.'

Elizabeth said...

Nice blog....NEW follower.

I am stopping by from the Top Writing Blog competition.

Just wanted to say hello. This is a great way to find new blogs and visit ones you haven't visited in a while. :)

Elizabeth - Silver's Reviews


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