This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago…
I should be asleep, not propped up in bed at midnight leafing though pages which drip grains of sand, are stuck with over sweetened tea and are as dog-eared as any copy of Hello in my doctor’s waiting room. But these aren’t magazines filled with photographs of celebrities or beautiful houses, they’re brochures for lavatories, baths and taps that include complicated charts of dimensions and flow rates.
Dave my builder and Steve the plumber have been nagging me for days to make a decision so that they can order the sanitary ware and fittings for the bathroom and cloakroom. Choosing things has never been my strong point and I’m now in an agony of indecision and frustration, unable to find exactly what I’m looking for; everything is either too big, too small or the wrong design.
Like some murder scene, the floor of the bathroom is chalked with lines. The outline of the bath looks enormous but I’m still unsure, I don’t want a bath where my knees are up under my chin and I can’t have a decent soak – I’ve experienced too many of those.
Eventually I’m decisive. I write the ‘final’ list, wishing I’d thought more about these things months ago when I had time and wasn’t exhausted by the constant pressure of the project. When I eventually fall into a fitful sleep it’s filled with nightmares in which pipes burst, taps drip and baths fail to fit their allotted space.
The morning is bright and I’m cheerful as I arrive at my 1900 terraced house. I open the front door but, even above the sound of the radio, can hear raised voices. As far as I can make out Steve is uttering the key phrase. “I only put that f*****g pipe in ten minutes ago, y’ve bent it ya stupid b*****d”
Everyone, except Jim the bricklayer who is carrying on with wall building as if nothing is happening, is in the dining room. There are no floorboards, just joists with gaping holes beneath and, on these, Dave and his younger brother Rob, Steve and his mate Fred, and Colin the electrician, are balancing. Every so often, as the exchanges ebb and flow between them, one or other loses their balance and has to regain it by leaning on the wall as if engaged in some bizarre dance.
When Dave notices me, and tilts his head to signal my arrival, they all look sheepish and then, suddenly tottering on the joists, all reach for the walls simultaneously and lean, uncomfortable and motionless. At the same time I get a clear view of the copper pipe that Rob apparently stepped on and bent.
Fred, who is barrel like, bearded, tattooed and was apparently a Hells Angel in his younger days, plucks the offending length of copper from its place beneath the floor. He then grabs Rob and bends it in a neat circle around Rob’s body as if it’s a ribbon around a parcel. Suddenly the tension eases and even Steve smiles.
With so many people now working in the house every room appears to be getting smaller. Base camp is the master bedroom and here tool bags, sandwich boxes, mugs and biscuit wrappers litter the floor. Supplies of everything from nails and screws to insulation material and sand are arriving by the lorry load and are being stored in every available space. What’s more, the schedule is slipping and I’m handing Dave ever larger cheques.
Patrick my architect laid down specifications for all the key items but his main benchmark in any choice seems to have been to pick the most expensive. Dave has suggested that “we trim the fancy bits” and, for my bedtime reading tonight, has issued me with a batch of Steve’s radiator catalogues.