This is the final tale of my first major renovation project some years ago…
Even though the temperature outside is approaching freezing, we’re all dripping sweat and ‘gunshots’ echo from the suddenly contracting timbers of my 1900 terrace house as they’re sapped of moisture.
It’s all because the plumber Steve, who is walking around the house grinning like a child as he feels the pipes and radiators, has chosen to test the heating and is taking delight in proving to me the efficiency of the system.
I’m more concerned with its effects on a building that has never known more than a gas fire. Dave my builder is worried too. This sudden heat is far from good for the new plaster. What’s more, his team is suffering. The carpenters, electricians and plumbers are all working long days, struggling with the ‘big push’ – the finally effort to finish the job which is now many weeks over schedule.
We’ve entered that phase of building work where everyone is busy and trying to work in the same confined spaces. Rob, Dave’s younger brother, is forever sweeping up and is busy clearing surplus bricks and sand from the site. He’s also involved in the time consuming job of trying to help the carpenter make sense of the huge pile of boxes containing the flat packs that have to be transformed into a kitchen.
Somehow, when the whole project seemed like fun and nothing was impossible, I heard myself volunteering to lay the new floorboards on the ground floor of the house. The problem now is that my white bandaged finger – the result of an accident with a radiator bracket – goes before me like a symbol of surrender and I’m struggling even to carry the planks, let alone fix them down.
As I fumble the nails I hear Steve’s “He’s through there mate” and look up to see, James, my accountant, standing over me with a hammer. For a moment I think he’s about to bludgeon me for my latest failings in keeping my accounts in order but he explains that he’s here to help – more than anyone he knows the precarious state of my bank balance.
My ears are ringing and my arm is aching with hammering when suddenly the shouting starts. Water is pouring through the light fitting in the kitchen ceiling. Colin the electrician is drenched, his toolbox awash, and all the lights go out. Steve runs upstairs to the bathroom screaming “You f****** idiot, I told you I hadn’t fitted the waste pipe on the bath,” at Fred, his mate. In the kitchen Colin mumbles expletives as he points a torch at his drowned light fitting.
An hour later, calm is restored and we’re finishing our tea, the lights are on, the house is warm and Rob is washing up the mugs in the new kitchen sink. Quite suddenly I realise that this is it, we’re nearly there and, despite the disasters and the stress along the way, I’m very soon going to have to turn my thoughts to decorating and furnishing the house.
A few days later Dave and Rob have taken on the role of furniture movers. My belongings are piled in their van with just one unfortunate mishap: the sack of sand that somehow empties over my mattress. The dining room and my attic study are vaguely habitable and there’s the frustration of not being able to use the shower because it’s still not tiled. Bare plaster walls are everywhere, a cement mixer occupies the sitting room and the builders will be back again at 8am tomorrow but, as I prepare to spend the first night in my new home, I have the strange feeling of being on holiday.