Country houses for sale

Sandy Mitchell: Exhuasted with the workmen

Two days ago, when my wife and I got back from holiday, we flicked on the lights in our bedroom and found a monster sprawled comfortably across my pillow and, I swear, snoring loudly. It was a spider, but one so big that the Royal Zoological Society would have to mount a special jungle expedition to find a better specimen. So, what did we do?

We laughed with cheerful scorn, because the spider was nothing?nothing?compared to the beasts in the bedroom of our holiday villa, where night after night we tussled with scorpions that scuttled across the canopy of our bed, and emerald-green grasshoppers as fat and long as bananas that plopped onto us in the dark, together with the occasional bat (quite likely vampires, given our location in a corner of darkest Eastern Europe). And we laughed at the snoring spider because it was nothing?nothing?compared to the creatures that used to infest our house here in the country.

The suicidal jackdaws that dived down our chimneys, the armies of highly motivated mice in the skirting and the flies in biblical number have all been banished. But when we awoke yesterday, and began to venture into rooms that were shut up while we were away, we learned that we have still not vanquished all the house’s plagues: smells bequeathed to us by previous owners are more pungent than ever. ‘Something has died, something big,’ gagged my wife, who has reached the point where she cannot enter the dining room or the worst afflicted guest bedroom without burning scented candles for an hour beforehand.

The floorboards will have to come up so we can find out what lies beneath. Meantime: a clue. My six-year-old daughter rushed in from the garden yesterday with something in her hand. ‘Look, a fossil,’ she said, as she handed over a vertebra, mansized, fairly fresh.

Yesterday afternoon, another site meeting was scheduled with the builders in the cartshed/dovecote we are restoring. Three electricians were drilling inside the shed, three scaffolders clattering wrenches, a carpenter alternately power-sawing and firing a nail gun, and outside, growling lorries collected skips or dumped hefty loads of plasterboard and planking. The temperature was close to 100°F; sawdust clogged the air. ‘Bring it on,’ I muttered to myself, stepping into the war zone.

Questions immediately started flying at me like bullets. What did I want as door or window furniture? Where should the alarm sensors be fitted? What about the locking mechanisms on the folding oak outer doors, the nosing of the oak windowsills, the tiling in the shower room??

Our architect, Stuart, warned me to watch out for ‘decision fatigue’ when we began repairing our house. Now I can’t help wondering if I should have taken some kind of course before the building works began. After all, bankers take MBAs to prepare for the City’s pressures, soldiers go to Staff College to learn how to cope with the stresses of battle, trainee doctors spend time in Accident and Emergency departments. All that I had to prepare me that day was a cup of tea and a ginger nut.