There Are Men In My House

I shouldn’t crow: we’ve been trying to get people in to the house to do some work for three years now. It had been that the wall was holding us up. Then, a builder took pity on us – chivvied along by our cabinet maker – and volunteered to knock it down. That was when the first few layers of dust and despair started to settle on the house. And that was only in the first week of work commencing.

Everything in the house feels of dust, looks of dust and smells of dust. I worry for my sinuses. I do not believe that the cold I have now was as malignant as it currently is. I worry for my health.

They arrive early, get a cuppa in, and discuss the plan for the day. I go up to work, satisfied. I pop my head out a while later only to find that the apprentice has been left to do all of the work, while the gaffa is off on another job, or out at college, or off picking up some much needed supplies. This has now happened so frequently it must be a standard method. Wall, Bathroom, Decorating, Floors.

Some wear company uniform, and that gives me confidence. Others wear trades uniform: expensive leisurewear bespattered with plaster etc, and destined to be used as rags for blocking up toilets.

For so long our front garden was the ultimate dumping ground for their waste. There was an entire bathroom, a lath and plaster wall, and several layers of wallpaper, bagged up and covered in layers of snow. The front garden is used as the toilet by our two dogs. Two inquisitive dogs who will very happily piss on anything sticking up. But hopefully not walk on anything spiky. They survived.

My home is not my own, and I can only walk on eggshells. My own instinctive reaction to situations like this is to hide in my office (at least I’m getting more work done) and only venture out when they call my name. I’m missing a lot. I don’t know how to do a round of cuppas (my partner does, and so they like her a lot more) so I miss out on my caffeine fix. I can’t get around my house as easily as I would like, so I survive on the chocolate I have hoarded in my office. I shiver here in fear and panic.

I cannot deal with the conviviality of the happy tradesman. They want to converse with me with all the bluster they can muster, but I just descend in to hollow laughter and pretend Geordieness. They want to know what I do for a living. That’s a lot harder to explain to people than it should be.

All of my plug sockets are full of their battery packs. When did that happen? How did that happen? Have they been in to my daughter’s bedroom to plug their batteries in? Entire galleys have been stripped. There’s no wonder that this external hard drive isn’t spinning up: it has been shorn of its power supply. They have unplugged my doorbell, so I miss a parcel. The  neighbour drops it in later.

The power goes off randomly, leaving me reliant on a laptop with no internet access. It comes back on after a few minutes: the wrong switch had been tripped. One day, when the walls were being stripped of ancient wallpaper, the power went altogether, the ceilings flooded with their steam. I was assured that things would dry out in due course, and then they buggered off to another job.

I do not have the confidence to leave my cocoon and venture to the toilet, even though it is my house. Yes, for part of the time they are here rebuilding our bathroom, so it’s logical that I wouldn’t want to stink them out of their place of work. But today they’re painting our stairwell, so I have no excuse. When I do try they are happy to let me past; of course they are: they see no problem in it.

They’ve cleaned up well, but there is still shit in my garden. Weeks later, and there is still shit in my garden. At least the dogs aren’t freaked out by it any more. I’m talking about both metaphorical and literal shit here as the dogs enjoy their new obstacle-course of a toilet area. They seem happy now.

Are the people doing my bathroom religious? Why, then do I have a Christian radio station playing in my office? Is it something kind of hazing? Did they object to the Death Metal spewing from my office or the Black Metal t-shirt I’m wearing? Am I reading too much in to this? When I walked in, the radio hosts were having some kind of round table about vaginal mesh implants: that’s just not normal, love. Then there were a few lines from the New Testament, and some new-age happy life bullshit from the host. The songs aren’t bad. I’ll give them that. If I ever tune in again, it’ll be for the songs.

The builders only clean up while their boss is in. He’s the professional one. He’s the one who came round to see what we wanted, and to quote for doing it. He whips them in to shape. Then, a few weeks later, we discover they’ve shoved their rubbish behind our dresser. Lazy bunch of bastards.

As the day comes to an end, and the tradesmen have left my house, the horror dawns: While they’re here and beavering away, we only see progress and destruction. Then, when we have to live in it, we have to clean it, in order to navigate a path through it. Dogs mustn’t hurt their paws; children must not climb on abandoned tools and bags of grout. Dinner must be cooked and eaten. It is no wonder I find myself drinking more than usual. I need to kill the brain cells which remember the plaster work.

The job always starts slowly, excavating, sucking air through teeth, the inevitable creep of scope. As if a light bulb has popped on, they remember that they have another job booked in, and that they should really start to pick up the pace. If, like us, you are lucky, they will start to work later, and do even more at the weekends. You can see progress being made, so you even end the day giving them one of Dad’s beers. They smile, and they crack on. The job gets finished, albeit a little hurried in places. You don’t care: you can touch those bits up once they’ve gone: In order to get them to go.

And it all begins again tomorrow. And once this lot of work is done, it will never happen ever again.

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