While on holiday over the past two weeks, I found myself wondering about the amount of time and energy it has taken to get this far with restoring our old house in the country ? still no stairs, but the doors and floors and window frames are all present and correct.
So I counted the emails I have sent in the past year to our project manager, Colin. Poor blighter, he has had over 250 from me, all polite ? or all except one (although not his fault, the delays with the staircase balustrade finally burned through my patience).
We have probably spoken on the phone at least as many times over the 12 months. The builders got away only a little more lightly. And then there are all the site meetings. The routine is always the same. Once, sometimes twice a week, my wife and I jump into the car as soon as the nanny arrives, drive an hour and a half down the M4 to Wiltshire, and straight away dive headfirst into the waiting swamp of decisions and builders’ questions. If we are lucky, we surface for a quick sandwich lunch, then, come late afternoon, it is back into the car for the rush-hour dash home to London before the saintly nanny clocks off. And do you know what? It has been exhilarating, a glorious adventure.
I have also learned a new language this year. It is the builders’ strange vocabulary of pammets, noggings, bolection moulds and stylobates, although my favourite phrase is the gem I picked up at the site meeting this week. ‘Would you like key delight?’ asked Bob (yes, Bob the builder) when we were discussing the new external doors. When you can open doors with an identical key, rather than using a dozen different ones, then apparently you have ‘key delight’.
My wife and I were under the cosh at this week’s site meeting to choose the last few rooms’ worth of paint colours, so we tried out a tip from an interior-designer friend. First, we painted strips of plain lining paper (a couple of feet long) with various sample pots. We stuck these strips up round the rooms using masking tape. Then we shifted the painted papers round to see how the colours appeared in different corners and different lights. It worked brilliantly.
For half an hour, I sneaked away into the garden where I jumped on the mower, cranked up the revs, and, blind to the lethal hidden potholes dug by the wheels of delivery lorries, I roared round flattening thistles and docks standing 8ft tall and shoulder-to-shoulder in threatening ranks. It was commando lawn-mowing. All the while, on the edge of the woods, a doe stood motionless 40yd away in the long grass of the meadow, watching my clowning with cool disdain.
The very best part of this week’s meeting, however, was hearing from the builders that the wobbly steel-frame of our new breakfast room can easily be stiffened. All it will take, apparently, is a few sheets of cheap plywood bolted to the underside of the recessed purlins.
I am so proud of my new linguistic facility, I just cannot help showing off.