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.