This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago…
I should have realised that it would be tempting fate to extol the virtues of my builders but that’s what I did last night. As I sat at a friend’s dinner table I couldn’t help but feel smug as one by one the other guests recounted stories of their builders from hell.
When the phone rings at 7am I’m still feeling slightly hungover but am soon roused from my befuddled state when I hear Dave, my builder, say “I can’t move, my back’s knackered”. It’s today that the scaffolding is to go up on my 1900 terraced house and, between uttering painful groans, he tells me to “make sure the scaffolders get the ‘lifts’ at the right heights.”
I’ve always thought of lifts as things you go up and down in between the floors of buildings so, for a few moments, we have a frustrating cross purpose conversation. Finally I put the phone down in the knowledge that he’s actually talking about the heights at which he wants the ‘scaff’ board walkways positioned. I’m far from sure that I’m capable of conveying his instructions to the scaffolders.
With a great hissing of airbrakes the lorry judders to a halt and four men resembling Hell’s Angels that have come to size up the opposition drop from the cab. For a moment I’m reminded of a scene from some American road movie but my mind quickly turns to trying to remember what I have to tell them.
“Where’s the guv’ner?” Looking around and ignoring me, the driver directs the question into the air. I tell him that Dave isn’t here and that I need to explain a few things. My words are lost in a torrent of abuse as several lengths of scaffold tube bounce onto the pavement.
Across the road Dave’s white van pulls up and momentarily my spirits lift but then I see it contains only Rob, his brother. Up to now he hasn’t been someone to say much but he’s carrying a sheet of paper and unexpectedly takes command, summoning the scaffolders to listen to me and look at the scribbled sketches that he’s brought fresh from Dave’s bedside.
My role as Dave’s stand-in is taking its toll and I’ve overslept. As I park around the corner from my house I’m assailed by the sound of blaring, thumping music. A few passers-by shrug their shoulders and shake their heads in disbelief; I do likewise and secretly congratulate myself that at least loud radios aren’t a problem with my builders.
When I see my house I’m convinced it’s shaking. I grapple with the front door and simultaneously try to cover my ears but, when I open it, the sound assails me like a tidal wave. I cling to the banister as it vibrates in time with the beat and pull myself up the stairs. Like a firefighter engulfed in smoke I edge from door to door trying to locate the source of the din and finally make it to the second bedroom where the radio is ‘dancing’ on the floor. In one desperate rugby tackle of a movement I fling myself at it and wrench the power cable from its socket.
The silence is almost overwhelming. It’s soon broken by a chorus of “Oi what the **** d’you think you’re doing” from the roofers. I pray for Dave’s return and promise myself I’ll never feel smug again.