This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago…
All night the wind and rain have slapped against the windows. Several times I stare out as lightning forks the sky, momentarily illuminating the web of telephone lines that extend glistening from their pole. Nearby my derelict old house is enduring these ‘acts of God’ and I worry about my insurance policy. Absurd “What if?” scenarios dash through my head and merge with my dreams. Could the wobbly chimney have fallen into next door’s kitchen and killed their cat? Could the roof have blown off and ended up in the Chinese takeaway down the road? Could the…?
No morning has the right to be as outrageously cheerful as this. Nature, like a teenager who has trashed his parent’s home, is trying to make amends and the sun is shining. I pass the takeaway and don’t see my roof, my neighbour’s cat is sitting contentedly on the pavement but, as I open my front door, I know something has happened.
In the box room – the room that is to be my bathroom – great hunks of plaster are tumbled on the floor while daylight splits through the gaps between the laths that once held the ceiling. A large patch of roof slates has gone and the rain has done its worst. I phone Patrick, my architect, and ask for the number of the builder he’s suggested I should use.
Never, never try and lift the pot off a chimney when you are precariously perched on a ladder and expecting the arrival of the builder you’re thinking of employing. Sadly no one has offered me this advice and I’m sure Dave and his younger brother Rob see me teetering, my past life rushing before me. Absurdly I have time to think about the woman who must once have toiled in the kitchen that the chimney served.
I safely reach the ground and Dave takes the pot from me and grins. “That’s worth something you know.” I’m not sure whether he’s talking about seeing my near death experience or the pot.
Dave is 26, he’s bright and genuinely interested in the house; Rob says not a word but goes red whenever he thinks he might have to. Standing in the loft, Dave fingers the slates through the hole in the roof.
“They’re knackered, that’s a shame – they’re not even worth salvaging.” The surface of the slate he hands me is powdery and the layers that make it up are delaminating. It’s a blow but not an unexpected one and at least as we inspect the roof timbers we find that they’re sound. Both Patrick and the structural engineer, people I would have expected to be ready to cope with such things, had refused point blank to enter the loft space because of the wasps’ nest that hangs like a stalactite from the timbers.
I haven’t seen a single wasp since I’ve had the house and now, just to make sure, Dave heroically taps the nest. What would have happened if it had been inhabited I’m not at all sure – Dave says he’s terribly allergic and the last time he was stung he ended up in casualty.
The brothers have nailed a big patch of felt over the hole in the roof. They’ve also taken down the rest of the chimney. I suspect this is principally to ensure that, rather than lying splattered on the ground, I’m around to employ them as we’ve now shaken hands on the fact that they’re to be appointed as my builders. What’s more, Rob has spoken his first words: “Thanks for the tea.”