And so it begins. It’s been several years now since we last had the builders in and, like childbirth, the worst of the painful memories tend to fade in the interim. But they are back with the noise and the upheaval and that particular quality of dust, fine to the naked eye, gritty to the touch, completely tenacious and all-pervasive. The last building project involved adding an extension on the back of our house and a team of builders on the cusp of cowboyhood did it for us. The man in charge was rarely at the scene, having a somewhat vibrant personal life at the time, involving a wife and baby in the city and a Polish girlfriend, waiting for him to make good his promises in Poland. He left on site three likely lads; one elderly rogue with two dumb side-kicks (one was forbidden from getting on a fork-lift truck, since the last time he’d done so, he’d taken out a wall they’d just built). They took it in turns to work, one halfheartedly digging or hammering, the other two standing by, offering their thoughts. Most of the time they picnicked at our garden table, read their tabloid newspapers and philosophized. I spent my days making them tea, and wondering whether tremendous bladder capacity was the key qualification to the trade, until I noticed several bushes in the garden dying. Since then we have learned a great deal and found a network of reliable local tradesmen. With the exception of the electrician, who is a perfectly nice bloke, I’ve met all the others before, and they all work with one another on a regular basis. So there’s quite a party atmosphere around here most of the time, and it would be pleasant if I didn’t feel like that grumpy neighbour who just wishes they’d turn the music down and go home.
Inevitably we have already hit some difficulties. Our main gas pipe, it transpires, is too narrow for today’s regulations and so the gas needs to be pumped in another way. Replacing the pipe is out of the question – it currently runs beneath concrete, under two built-in bookcases and a fireplace. The alternative is only marginally better; after much consideration, they decided to run another pipe up the sliver of a gap between my big bookcase and the wall, up into the gap between floorboards and ceiling, through a bedroom and then down again, into the kitchen. My way of surviving building upheaval is to try to mark out a few oases of calm in the chaos, a few places where I can sit relatively undisturbed to work. By the time I got home yesterday, the study, which I had cleaned and tidied to give myself a little zone of civilization, was a bombsite, with piles of books over the floor, the top of the bookcase standing forlorn in the middle of the room, preventing us even from sitting down, and that layer of dust already forming over every single thing. The bedroom, whose floorboards we will now have to take up to run the pipes is naturally the one currently storing all the furniture and equipment from the kitchen and the other upstairs study, also cleared out for easy access to the pipes. Now we have to wait for the kitchen to be installed and some semblance of order regained before we can run that vital gas pipe. Until that time, no gas for cooking, no study for sitting, and until tonight, no hot water.
My husband had stayed at home all day in case there were problems, but by the end of the day, he’d had enough. He brought my son with him into college and we ordered a takeaway from the restaurant just round the corner. We’ve been there lots of times, but inevitably they chose last night to drop their standards. I was eating my chargrilled chicken salad when I realized the chicken was still raw in the middle. I knew it. I just knew that not being able to cook my own food was going to spell disaster. So, we wended out way home, not the happiest bunch of campers (literally), my husband tired, me hungry, my son bemused but ready to raise our collective morale. When I woke up this morning, I felt really rough. Whether it was the consequence of uncooked chicken, or whether it was just the accumulation of fatigue from a series of long and stressful days, I wasn’t sure. Life has been too busy for me lately. I’d found a good balance in working relatively hard during the week but having my weekends completely free. Just recently those weekends have been energetic too, with the literary festival, with packing up our house. It may not seem much to a healthy person, but when you are recovering from chronic fatigue, these things really add up. But I know what to do. The answer is always to just stop. Draw a line. Call a halt to everything. Don’t do anything, don’t talk to anyone, and enter that zone of healing, protective emptiness. That was tricky this morning, with drills howling and grinding, the tinny whine of two transistor radios playing different stations, but at least I was in my own bed, with the door of the bedroom shut. It was a space of sorts to call my own.
It’s foolish, really, when other things are so much more important, but I loathe my habitat being disrupted in this way. I’m a creature of routine, of order and a certain amount of tidiness. I can’t think straight at the moment and haven’t done any work since last week. Even when I go into college, where I am lucky enough to have the option of a bath, where my room is blissfully quiet and clean, where I can go and get myself a hot meal if I want to, even there, I find I am marking my time rather than dedicating myself to work. Several months ago my computer died a hideous death. My son, on hearing this last night, cast me an ‘I can fix that!’ sort of glance and turned it on, only to witness the strange alien noises it makes in protest at being disturbed these days. ‘It screamed at me,’ he declared, torn between outrage and admiration. And so in my room I am disconnected from the internet and unable to write. There are probably other things I could do, but I don’t do them. Home isn’t a place to do them, either. Men when left alone with each other mutate into completely different beasts; they all look like overlarge versions of my son’s friends in their builders’ uniform of three-quarter length combat trousers and t-shirts and they sound like overlarge schoolboys, too, making silly jokes, ribbing each other, talking in an impenetrable language, 50 percent jargon, 50 percent expletives. They sing along to their radios, loudly and tunelessly, call to each other from different ends of the house. I am an interloper in their midst, the one they have to tidy their act up for when they realize I’m nearby. We all get along, but undeniably my presence cramps their style. And I feel like a little woodland creature who’s had her burrow kicked in and is running hither and thither over the forest floor trying to find a big enough leaf to hide under. It’s not what you would call a creative atmosphere.
So I apologise to any of my friends waiting for an email. This is the first time I’ve got near a computer with an internet connection for 48 hours. But I must make an effort to transcend the chaos, to shut it out and find some peaceful space inside. There are documents I need to write for work that have to be done, builders or no builders. Not to mention another ten days or so of their presence to look forward to. Tonight I am going to tackle the intriguing task of producing three meals from one small microwave (eaten in two sittings – my husband is out rowing to find some calm on the river), but at least if I cook it, I can cook it all the way through. A proper meal with no risk of food poisoning would be a good place to start.
This isn’t funny to live through, Litlove, but you are a hoot! I don’t mean to laugh, because chaos and too much stress is not good, but at least you are able to tell the story with humor. I do envy you the re-done kitchen, though. I think I could put up with the Moe, Larry & Curly Construction Company to get one – maybe.
What I want to know is how come whatever major construction is going on it never, ever runs to plan? It seems to be a rule. I remember how water started gushing from under the kitchen wall out into the garden. So the wall gets dismantled to reach the pipe. But the pipe’s fine just there. How can it possibly be leaking out in the garden and yet erupting under the wall? But it is! So repair the pipe and of course the innocent wall! How come just taking out a bricked up fireplace – a quickish, moderate job – landslides a chimneyful of ancient rubble into the room? How can so much dust exist in one universe and how does it travel through sealed doors? Yet it will end, so keep smiling through to the sunlight on the other side.
Oh do laugh, Grad. Trying to make it funny is the only way I’ll survive! And don’t worry, by the time I’m through telling you about the kitchen revamp, you will be clinging to your old cupboards and vowing never to let another builder cross your threshold! 😉
Bookboxed – if you ever find an answer to that one, I would dearly love to know it! Our house was built by builders, so everything inside it is what you might call a compromise. When we moved in, the bathroom suite was three different shades of green. You may imagine that this interesting style extended to the plumbing and the wiring, too! I’m sure there are more ‘surprises’ in store for us… let’s hope they’re not too big or insurmountable! 🙂
Sorry Litlove. Hopefully it will be over soon! What ate you having done?
Oh, this is funny, but it does sound very, very hard! I like the idea of your retreat — it sounds so wise to stop everything when you feel you’ve reached the point you need to. I feel like I’m managing to grab little bits of time for myself, but if I didn’t have those, I might have to organize my own retreat to the bedroom. I’m not a chronic fatigue sufferer, but I have pretty well-defined limits as to how much busyness I can handle, and I’ve learned that testing those limits is a bad idea. You’re a great model for how to insist on creating some space for oneself!
Then you’ll easily survive this challenge, Litlove, because I had to laugh too, and I doubt I’ll be the last. Glad to know bellowed builder chat and endless tuneless singing to easy listening radio are universal qualifications for the job at hand.
Sorry to hear about the chaos and the uncooked chicken. Hope you feel much, much better today.
You’ve made me realise how lucky we are to have the builders we have — a father and son combination, who are friendly, well-behaved gentleman, who pride themselves on great attention to detail! Plus, they do everything — plastering, carpentry, tiling, electrics — so we don’t have to hire other tradesmen to do the bits they don’t. They are in complete contrast to the chaps we had come in a replace our windows a few years ago — they were a bunch of noisy buffoons — and rascist to boot (never heard so many “jokes” about arabs and muslims in my life).
Good luck with it all.
I hate renovation projects and I hate pipes and plumbing problems too! I understand your misery, but do not fear, eventually it gets better and you forget it. Can you take refuge in a nearby café?
We have not done any major renovations at our house for precisely the reasons you make so clear. Even minor home repairs end up being more than we bargained for, I am terrified of what opening up walls would reveal. You poor little woodland creature! I hope you find a big quiet leaf to hide under or a nice cozy hollowed out log. Hugs.
Having one’s habitat disrupted is just horrible – I put off doing things around the house for as long as possible, and there’s much here that needs doing, believe me! We did have our kitchen re-done so long ago that it’s due for another round, but I doubt it will happen during my tenure 🙂
I hope you can find a peaceful place to hide with a blanket and a good book! And I hope even more that things will get finished on schedule. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it immensely once it’s all over!
On a cheery note, you were the winner of the Best Intentions book giveaway on my blog. So sometime when you’re near a computer, email your postal address to: beccasbookstack (at) gmail (dot) com, and I’ll send it across the pond to you!
Bluestocking – well it began with the boiler, which needed replacing. But then that was going to rip up most of the kitchen, so we then needed a new kitchen, too! It will be nice when it’s done, etc. I am trying not to make a fuss as there are so many worse things to endure in life, but this is my blog and I’ll whine if I want to. 🙂
Dorothy – it makes me feel a great deal better to think you might also need space, quite naturally and understandably, as a healthy person. Sometimes I feel that the cfs thing gets in the way of it being a reasonable right! Here’s to drawing our limits and not testing them, right? 🙂
Doctordi – lol! You entertain me so much with your posts, it’s nice to be able to return the favour. And laughing at myself is really the only possible way to live with myself, particularly right now….
Charlotte – today I woke at 4am, worrying, so not quite as much better as I would have hoped, alas. Still, the weekend’s coming, and even if we are having to bivouac here, at least we will be on our own to do so!
Smithereens – oh spoken like a true Parisian! If only we had a cafe society in our little village. I do have about five pubs I could choose to frequent, but it’s not the same thing. If you’d like to post one of those lovely laid-back continental cafes over the water to me, that would be most marvellous!
Stefanie – oh I hear you, sister. Our house was built by builders, using all the leftovers from their other jobs and it shows. Everything here was a bit of a mess – plumbing, electrics, you name it. This ought to be the final piece to put right, but I won’t attract hubris by taking that sentence out of the conditional! Thank you for the hugs – I received them most gratefully!
Becca – oh now that is tremendously good news! Thank you so much! I will definitely be over to leave my address with you. And thank you also for the good wishes for finishing on time. I have everything crossed that it will be so, because that would help no end. And it really will be lovely once it’s done! 🙂
And undercooked chicken: the final insult.
Okay, one of my biggest gross-outs is raw chicken, and I live in fear of biting into an undercooked bit–so I really feel your pain, there! Also, I hate renovating. We did it while I was enormously pregnant with my third child, and I can still remember the dust and debris, and the noise. And the lack of privacy. Yuck! My only advice there is that I used to order lunch for the workmen on Fridays, and occasionally would bring them donuts or pastry midmorning, if I had time. It was my small way of controlling the uncontrollable, through bribery, and it did help our relationship–I felt like I could politely ask them to do this or that, or stop doing this or that, because I’d fed them.
I have one other thing to say to you–something you once said to me: wide margins! Try to keep those wide margins, however you can. Good luck!
Does it help to know that this entry is wonderful writing? I mean, damn good writing?
Doctordi – lol! That is just so true!
Gentle Reader – oh hugs to you for that lovely comment. Feeding your workmen is a very good idea, and one I will remember for another time (if I ever face it again). And what is it about undercooked chicken? I am so glad it’s not just me; it really is revolting. My wide margins are suffering a lot in the mornings, but you’ve just reminded me that there is no reason for them to do so in the evenings. I am planning a long bath (now we do at least have hot water) and an early night with a good book!
Oh – I treasure that comment! Thank you. You’ve made me feel much, much better!
I don’t like upheaval at all either, so I can understand how hard it is to deal with such a mess! Still I had to laugh at your description of things–it’s a little like a sociological experiment. Your workmen sound a little like the ones you always find in books where rich people buy a quaint little Tuscan farmhouse and renovate it (ha–if I could be as lucky). It sounds like this weekend will be a bit quieter so I hope you can find a little equilibrium!
Our building woes are not on the same scale as yours but I do feel for you with all that disruption and having to work amidst noisy chaos. Hope the disruption is over soon. (Glad to see that you can turn any situation into an amusing anecdote though!)