Tuesday, May 29, 2007

They Paved Paradise and Put Down Laminate Flooring

“You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone”, sang Joni Mitchell on her 1970 hit Big Yellow Taxi.

To which I would add “Or you’ve moved every single thing you own into the kitchen/bathroom/stacked it on the bed because you’re going to have your carpets cleaned because your upstairs neighbours flooded you (twice). Then dusted underneath it all because you always have to clean before the cleaners come. Then had to move it all again because the carpet cleaning firm double-booked you, and it would be quite nice to be able to, say, open the fridge door, use the toilet as its makers intended rather than performing a stunt defecation whilst precariously balanced on an upside-down swivel chair, or lie directly on the mattress as opposed to on a pile of sharp metal drawers. Even though you will never sleep well again, every night noise waking you in terror in case it sounded like something dripping through the ceiling again. Then moved it all back the next day to actually have the carpets cleaned. Then moved it all back again. You also know what you’ve got then.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Blind Leading the Blind

When I am not complaining about the long winter evenings I am complaining that at this time of year the sun wakes me up too early. I am probably only happy for two days out of 365 – around the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. And only then if the weather is good.

So I decided to fit a blackout blind in our bedroom to help me sleep until the Seasonal Affected Disorder kicks in again. Miraculously, the made-to-my-measurements blind fitted, and when I put it up it not only stayed up, it also blocked out about 99.999% of the daylight. Could this plan have worked?

I went to the bathroom in the middle of last night. When I came back it was so dark that I stubbed my toe on the bed. Now I'm really unhappy.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Cold Comfort

It has been a busy few days. On top of the tail end of our building work, I have had to mop up leaks, move half our furniture to pull up carpets, and also deal with insurance companies, neighbours and tradesmen who may or may not have any liability insurance. As well as have discussions with script editors about why it is OK to show a cartoon character's head being blown off on children's television, but another character simply dying is a bit odd. (I agreed with him, but couldn't quite put my finger on why.)

I was absolutely starving last night (my girlfriend is not around to cook for me on Tuesdays and Thursdays), so I just put a frozen ready meal in the oven and set about my last job – writing a letter to Homebase explaining why they are idiots.

It was a long letter (of the five things that I ordered from them, one was missing, one was scratched and two were just completely wrong – to be fair to them the shower screen is great, so well done on the 20% customer satisfaction rating), but just as I was signing off with a flourish of hate-filled invective the oven beeped. Perfect timing – everything in the flat was being sorted out, and now I could cue up a recorded Grand Designs (always nice to see other people having a worse time than me), get out a lap tray and relax.

I prodded the lasagne. Something was not quite right about it. I am not a very good cook, but even I can tell the difference between “piping hot” and “still frozen”. I peered inside the fan oven. As far as I could tell it seemed to be doing only 50% of its job description. I couldn't fault the “fan”-ing side of things, but there was definite room for improvement in the “oven”-ing area. It is a while since I studied thermodynamics, but I'm pretty sure that my meal would be past its use by date long before I managed to cook it by blowing cold air at it.

I put down my knife and fork, switched off the television and looked up the phone numbers of a takeaway and an oven repairers.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Secret of Comedy


“I say, I say, I say. What is the secret of comedy?”

“I don’t know, what is the secret of com...”



Comedy = Tragedy + Time

What the above means is that one day I will be able to laugh about the fact that my upstairs neighbours flooded my flat (twice) the week after I finished decorating the kitchen and having a new bathroom fitted, rather than the week before I started.

One day.

I’m pencilling in 2017.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Sweetness and Light

Yesterday our building work was nearly finished. The bathroom looked lovely, and would look even lovelier when we have painted it. I still need to lay a new kitchen floor and fit a blind (pencil “I have glued myself into a corner!!!” into your blog-reading diaries for about three weeks’ time), and the builders need to come back and fit a waste pipe on the kitchen half-sink, and also replace a bathroom fascia panel that they had cut incorrectly (full marks to Armitage Shanks for simply sending me a new piece for free, when I was preparing myself for being told to buy a whole new unit).

One of the nice new features only just fitted is a soothing nightlight on the bathroom cabinet. Pregnancy has meant that my girlfriend has to get up more in the night now, so it’s good to know that we have made this chore a little bit more pleasant and that she would be able to get back to sleep more quickly.

“Enjoy your visit to the loo”, I said as I kissed her goodnight. (NB I normally say something a bit more romantic, like “Did you remember to turn the hot water off?” or “Can you remind me to tape that programme about steam engines tomorrow?”) The building work has been a bit stressful at times (I often imagine Kevin McCloud saying “Salvadore has bought materials from Homebase and B&Q, he’s using builders one of whom doesn’t speak English, and he’s trying to hold down a full-time job whilst he also occasionally makes them coffee), but it was almost all over. I relaxed and closed my eyes.

It was with some surprise that I was awoken by my girlfriend at 4am to be told that there was water coming through the bathroom ceiling. My sleep-addled brain realised that even Polish plumbers can’t make water defy gravity, so the problem appeared to be coming from upstairs. Which left just one problem: what is the etiquette of waking your neighbours in the middle of the night?

I was in my usual conundrum of having something quite bad be happening to me that is entirely someone else’s fault, but also not really wanting to make too much of a fuss about it all. Perhaps if I took the fuse out of the lighting circuit so we didn’t actually die when we touched things, I could leave it till morning? Or maybe put a note through their door and knock quite softly. Then I could say “I did try to wake you.”

I was once in a fast food outlet in London, at the height of the IRA’s mainland campaign. Bombs had been going off in litter bins – the first sign of which was often smoke coming from the bin. I looked out of the window – smoke was coming from the bin outside. I knew that I had to do something – I couldn’t let innocent people die because of not wanting to make a fuss. So I went up to the counter and queued up to tell somebody. Which is nearly as English as when that person then just said “Oh, is it still doing that?” and threw some water over it. Hah! No wonder they’ve had to end up sharing power with the DUP.

OK, if upstairs’ flat was on fire I would definitely tell them (polite knock, “Sorry to trouble you...”). And if the water’s coming through a concrete floor it must be getting quite bad up there. I’d want to know. They’d surely want to know before their bed floated away.

I was apologetic. He was apologetic. At the end I went even more English and decided to then formally introduce myself to him, which was a bit weird as he was possibly only wearing a T-shirt, pulled down quite low. Having to remove one hand to shake mine didn't help the situation.

After thinking that the building work was nearly all over, we might have to remove loads of tiles and re-lay the sodden floor that was only laid last week. But, whilst we wait for the ceiling electrics to dry out, at least we have a nice soothing nightlight to work by.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I Second That Emulsion

I am quite indecisive. Or am I? Haha. No, I am. Definitely. I think. My girlfriend shares this quality, which tends to make for a happy relationship. I would imagine that one decisive person and one indecisive person together would be a nightmare for both. Two decisive people together would be OK, so long as they also agreed on their decisions. But two indecisive people together seems to work. Though for all I know, my girlfriend still might not have made up her mind about me, and 5½ years on with a baby on the way she is perhaps totting up columns of pros and cons somewhere (“Pros: am having baby with him. Cons: can be quite indecisive.”)

So, painting the new bathroom has turned into quite a complicated decision-making process. We have already totally blown our budget just on tester pots. It’s not helped by the fact that the colours in the brochures and the colours when they are actually put on the wall bear as little relation to each other as Prince Harry and Prince Charles. We literally have the entire range of Homebase, Crown and Dulux colours in the neutral/brown palette, from Jasmine White through to Choc Chip on the walls. In fact, the 20+ different samples now cover more wall area than the old paint does. It looks like a patchwork quilt, apart from the Choc Chip bit, which has gone on a bit smearily, and looks like some kind of dirty protest.

We are getting nowhere with just picking which is our favourite, so decide to have an elimination process. We pair samples up randomly, then decide which of the two we like better. The loser is voted off, and after qualifying heats, first round, quarter finals, semi-finals and a grand final, we have a winner. Predictably, it is an inoffensive, neutral hue, almost exactly halfway between Jasmine White and Choc Chip.

“So, which one is that?” My girlfriend asks.

“I have absolutely no idea. I should probably have labelled them all somehow.”

I open all the pots up again and start to paint some more patches, trying to find the chosen colour.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Today, I Become a Man

There is a part of me that is slightly embarrassed by the fact that I have always made a living by sitting in front of a computer screen. Like most other things that I am slightly embarrassed about it all comes down to the fact that I think this lacks masculinity.

So, when one of the Polish builders (Pole 4, whose English is at least as good as Pole 1’s. Don’t ask me about Pole 3 – I haven’t seen him since their initial visit, though on alternate days there has been a Pole 5 – the Daily Mail is right – we are being swamped!) asks me to go out and buy a couple of things for them my first thought isn’t “Hang on, aren’t I paying you to do stuff like this?” but “Hurrah! I am one of their gang, doing proper man’s work!”

As I have previously mentioned, it is only 522 paces to Homebase, it’s a lovely day and I could do with a break and some fresh air, so it’s no imposition. OK, so they are still doing most of the job – the cutting breeze blocks, sawing wood and touching things that have had poo on them, but as I stroll there past my fellow builders in their white vans, I realise that this is how it must feel to earn an honest living with your hands. This is what it’s like to make something tangible and useful each day and to feel the weary satisfaction of physical labour, instead of messing around on the internet till about half four, having a bath, then cobbling together some gags that you saw on Have I Got News for You the previous week.

If this is the job satisfaction you can get, perhaps I should stop this writing lark and become a builder. Maybe just a junior builder, like when I was helping my Dad with DIY as a kid and he’d ask me to saw a Very Important Piece of Wood. Which, now I come to think of it, probably never made it into the finished item. Hmm. I will inspect my parents’ bookshelves closely next time I visit. There’s no way that this is some joke that builders have with builders’ merchants is there? To see how many idiots they can get to go in and ask for a 38mm reverse retracting grommet wedge?

Still, it will all look lovely when they finish it with the striped paint.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Soft, Strong and Very Very Wrong

I have a high-powered meeting to go to. Usually my meetings are powered more at the level of saying hello to the greengrocer, or stroking a neighbour’s cat, so it always comes as a surprise when, about once a year, I have to shave and practise smiling and shaking hands. The meeting is with a top company about a secret new project and it could mean some work.

I am preparing to set off when I realise that I could do with going to the toilet. I have been learning to synchronise my urination with the Polish builders’ cigarette breaks, mainly because I don’t know the Polish for “I’d like to use the toilet please”, and I don’t fancy translating it into international sign language. At best they might bring me the bill, at worst they might think that I was putting on some kind of a skit.

However, I can feel that this toilet visit has the potential to develop into something a bit more time-consuming. On the one hand I want to be able to concentrate in the high-powered meeting without all sorts of uncomfortable rumbles going on, but on the other hand my bathroom has no window, the extractor fan has been disconnected while the builders tile, and I really really don’t want to create an unpleasant working environment for them. They might take it as grounds for constructive dismissal and decide that things weren’t that bad in Poland after all.

I could go when I get to the high-powered meeting, but I don’t think it would look great if the first thing I say is “Hi, nice to meet you. Can you just give me 10 minutes? And I’ll have the crossword if no one’s done it yet.”

My third option is to go somewhere en route. But going to a pub or cafe might necessitate buying something in order to use the facilities. And whilst I am the kind of idiot who can make a great big fuss about something as simple as going to the toilet, I am also very mean with my money. A ridiculously large amount of my brain is therefore devoted to remembering locations of free toilets in any area of town that I might conceivably visit. I could probably have used this brain power to learn another language. Maybe even Polish.

Aha! I can go at the station on the way. I am going by Underground anyway, so it won't cost me any more. But what if they don’t have any toilet paper there? Sitting in the high-powered meeting would then be as uncomfortable as if I hadn’t been at all. So I take a roll of toilet paper with me in my bag. That way I have planned for every eventuality. A free toilet visit, with my own soft toilet paper, then I am comfortable to proceed to the high-powered meeting...

Where I open my bag to get out a notepad, and show everybody present that I like to carry a roll of Andrex with me.