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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.