BUILDERS IN

Another beautiful day, the sun is splitting the trees but definitely not splitting a brand new grim grey high rise that looks very close, too close for comfort. We see a floor mat on the grass, somebody’s sunbathing apparatus? A fox has defecated accurately dead centre of it. The grass looks dead and brown, the traffic sounds from Blackheath hill, the river is just showing a gleam in the distance. I give a stretch or two, nothing too strenuous and I look forward to a day of writing and perhaps a walk by the river.

At precisely eight the intercom sounds and the builder arrives, a handsome young Russian accompanied by his mate and they are ready to start NOW! The kitchen and bathroom must be cleared and I see my lovely day disappearing in a cloud of dust and dishes and chopping boards and more equipment than I ever knew we had, then the bathroom full of stuff to be transferred to other rooms, I am in a bedroom with my dog surrounded by culinary equipment and bathroom appendages some of which I know not their usage.

I am guarded with builders, half matey grovel to prove I am no snob and half terrified victim with a smidgen of the autocrat as I watch them move my stuff. I see myself as a free spirit who doesn’t care about worldly goods – in fact I am a protective acquisitive creature and very possessive of nearly my whole equipage even though most of it has no value at all. It’s mine! My inner voice protests loudly.

But this time the builders are not in my territory but in my friends’ so it shouldn’t matter I should be able to retain a lot more rationality. It seems not, I still feel invaded – very possibly because they are inhabiting the bathroom full time.

My friend is authoritative with them – at least in part because she speaks some Russian. I have always had problems with authoritative and when I taught I found it hard to achieve. I veered from all understanding compassionate friend to sarky sneering critic in the space of one session. With builders I make tea and am friendly housefrau behind which lurks a furious malignant banshee ready to hop out at the least sign of insubordination. I think I may be over-territorial or deeply insecure, probably both.

These are superior type builders these Russians they show up on time, work like beavers engrossed in a new dam, are grateful for tea but don’t stop work to drink it, have no fag breaks and absolutely no badinage. They are courteous and charming. Still they fill the flat with their presence and the bits that they don’t fill are stuffed full of a million dishes. It took me an hour to find the loo roll this morning and by the time I found it the impulse was gone and Stanislav back in the bathroom anyway.

One of my consolations in times of stress is food but the kitchen is stripped and occupied too. I can’t find cheese or bread then remember tucking into a midnight snack when we lurched in last night, I expect it is eaten. We go out to lunch again, the hidden expense of the invasion. Later I notice a white emulsion fingerprint on my computer. I expect mother Russia has been contacted.

I have had hideous experiences with builders one of whom would arrive promptly enough, with his two sons stay for half an hour then disappear. After a few days I chased them down the road and discovered them busily grafting at a new job. I was incensed enough to grab the small builder and shake him vigorously, he slithered away and promised to finish my job. In fact, shortly after this incident he disappeared along with his tools leaving a vast pile of rubbish outside that grew daily as people came from miles around to dump their pruck. We would sit watching TV and hear thunks followed by a car driving off and go out to look at our new acquistions on the pile. People dump remarkable stuff and other people would come along to look it over. When it reached the length of five houses and was seriously incommoding parking the council stepped in and demanded that I remove it. the dispute went on for weeks meanwhile it increased in size and grew its own vegetation, I wrote a piece aboutit which I flogged to the Guardian. In the end the council removed it and sent the bill to the builder who also ran up a bill in my name at a local builder’s merchant and left me with no windows. It took months of aggravation to get part of my money back. It seems he was and probably still is a gambler well known to the building inspector though nobody thought to mention this.

Compared to him and to many builders I have known these guys are pearls and in fact they finished on time in good order and cleaned up after themselves. I got a number for them too – for a price!

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