Country houses for sale

Sandy Mitchell: How to get things done

I tend to seize on anyone passing nearby cleaner, postman, gardener to show off our cart shed, such is my delight in its almost-complete restoration. As you can imagine, however, I was a little nervous giving the tour to a soignée Continental acquaintance who dropped in on her way to Heathrow. She is, after all, an interior designer whose curious speciality is making over the private living quarters of palaces for the reigning families of Europe. And our cart shed has, until lately, been the main residence of Ronnie the horse, rather than any crowned heads.

The interior designer was rather like a monarch herself as she dutifully inspected the low, oak beams and rough brick walls of the rooms that in her magnificent presence seemed awfully poky. ‘Very nice. Yes, sooo tasteful,’ she said graciously, whatever I pointed out to her.

We quickly arrived at the bedroom in the eaves. There, I asked her what she thought of my idea of fixing a large walnut-framed mirror just above the spot where the bed is to go, in order to increase the sense of space. (Readers of a sensitive nature, please turn away now.) Suddenly, she was imperious. ‘No. No. Don’t do it. My clients are always breaking the mirrors over the bed. When they make love boom, it goes on the head.

The other day, I tried putting one over the master bed for a client’s little house in the country. She destroyed the mirror within a week. When I asked how, she blushed,’ our friend tut-tutted, adding after a moment’s thought, ‘A stunning little piece.’ Whether she meant the mirror or the owner, I can only guess.

And I was much too surprised to ask what she would recommend putting up in place of a mirror. Quilted padding? I also forgot to ask which of her clients king, queen, or both was the most regular mirror-smasher. The mind spins.

Our housewarming party is now only two days away and we are desperately racing around, trying to make our building site look like a respectable home. Then, yesterday, I emerged from a site meeting in the cart shed and happened to glance across at the new front lawn that I have coddled like a long-awaited child from its infancy to lush semi-maturity. Six dark brown ruts, a foot deep, snaked across the middle. Someone had driven over it in a truck. In shock, I did what I have managed to avoid for the two years of our building project. I blew up, swearing repeatedly. Foully.

‘Who did this?’ I roared once my supply of expletives ran dry. The regular workmen on site (always polite, helpful, charming) looked ashen-faced, but one of them was bold enough to finger as the culprit the man who drove up in a 10-ton truck to empty the Portaloo. I stomped off threatening that the Portaloo-hooligan had better sort out the mess, or else.

When I got back to the house later that afternoon after the school run, I found two of our builders’ best workmen on the front lawn, hard at work. They had almost finished filling the ruts with fresh topsoil, and returfing the damaged area. Amazed, I rang Bob the head builder to thank him for his kindness. (The ruts were not his firm’s doing.) ‘Well, the guys on site did say to me this morning: ”We have never seen Sandy like that before”.’

Later the same day, I was on the phone to our architect Stuart and mentioned how thrilled I was by the builder’s emergency care, expecting him to tell me how lucky we are to have such a marvellous team. Not a bit of it. ‘Now you know how to make things happen on a building site,’ he said. Indeed, I do.