It is now slightly more than a year since the builders moved into our ramshackle house in the country and they are with us still, our constant companions. Them and an army of mice. Our house is not at all large, but the scale of work the builders have had to do is quite astonishing. Will we ever drive either of these invading armies out, I wonder?
Everyone I have spoken to who has been through the life altering experience of restoring a house has warned me that we will miss the builders when they do eventually leave. This can best be explained, it seems to me, by the dark psychological dependency that inevitably develops during a long building project like ours an aspect of the well known Stockholm syndrome whereby hostages grow protective of their captors.
I have noticed another equally corrupting mental effect. To be a client holding court at site meeting after site meeting over many months is wickedly addictive. I have become quite used to reeling off a list of difficult tasks to my attentive audience of electricians, carpenters, painters and other skilled tradesmen, like some pampered sultan expecting his team of satraps to jump to it instantly. ?I want that wall painted white, and this shelf made larger, and my favourite concubine brought to me forthwith…? And, lo, it is all done. And it is bliss.
Even before the end of the project, our smallest mistakes are already beginning to haunt us. When we had the uneven floors in the bedrooms levelled, it was a mistake to insist that the wonky boards in our children?s bedroom be left as they were.
Theirs is an especially delightful room with its flying oak beams and cottageorné window, and I argued that the hills and dales in its floor added charm. Our three year old daughter is now paying the price. Her new bed tilts so badly that, like an ejector seat, it pings her out of bed and dumps her on to the floor. What is it that goes bump in the night? No need to ask.
The under floor heating downstairs is a wild success, but now I wish we had extended it into the dining room, for not only is it chilly underfoot, but it is here that the mice are making their stand. I set a pair of traps in the room a fortnight ago and was thrilled to score what is known in the shooting world as a ?left and right?. My tally in that one room since then has mounted with ghastly consistency night after night: two mice, four, six, eight.
It was our wedding anniversary last weekend, and, by the light of a log fire, we drank chilled champagne and dined in the panelled room. The air of elegant luxury was only slightly marred by the deck chair and the broken stool we were perched on (our only furniture as yet). Suddenly: snap! ?What was that?? yelped my wife. I could see yet another rodent in the trap directly behind her back, worse still the creature was thrashing manically to and fro in its final throes.
My wife vanished from the room without another word. Pudding was cancelled. Romance, that night at least, was as dead as the proverbial mouse.
This article was originally published in Country Life magazine, November 24, 2005. To subscribe click here.