‘How’s the new house?’ my auntie asks when I meet her at the garden centre for a brew.
‘It’s still standing,’ I say, thinking about the long snagging list that is getting longer by the day.
‘That’s what you get with new builds,’ she tells me. ‘One of my friends bought a new house, and it took two years to get it all sorted.’
‘Two years!’ My heart plummets at the thought.
‘Worth the hassle though,’ she says, smiling. ‘Looks amazing now.’
I take a drink of my tea. I can’t cope with another two years of what I can only describe as new-build hell.
‘It’s awful,’ I tell her. ‘They come to fix things but break something else. A man came to look at the bathroom floor and knocked the fence down. Another man came to repair the washing machine but ended up destroying it. Then another man came to replace the washing machine and wrecked the kitchen cupboards.’
‘That’s what happens,’ she says, suddenly an expert in new-build homes. ‘My friend had someone round to sort the shower. He fixed the leak but smashed the shower tray.’
I sigh, understanding exactly how her friend must have felt. ‘It’s never ending,’ I say. ‘It’s like an endless cycle of destruction with no one taking any care.’
‘And you’ve got standards,’ she says.
‘I just think, if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Not botch it and run.’
‘Yes.’ She nods. ‘Do you want some cake?’
Given the size of my hips, I should not be eating more cake, but it really helps. ‘Just a sliver.’
My auntie approaches the counter where the woman serving is safely behind a floor-to-ceiling screen. There’s a speaker connected to it, but my auntie doesn’t realise this, and shouts her order so loud I’m sure they’ll hear in the next village.
‘Two slices of CHOCOLATE CAKE.’
‘They’ll bring it over.’ She sits back down. ‘Where were we?’
‘The house,’ I say, aware that my constant complaining does not make for interesting conversation, but I carry on anyway, happy to have someone to talk to. ‘Everyone on the street has six spotlights in their kitchen, but not us. They only gave us four. The electrician wasn’t good with numbers, apparently.’
‘Shocking.’ She takes a sip of her coffee, trying to hide her smile.
‘It’s not funny.’ I laugh anyway.
‘Are you being dramatic?’ she asks.
‘No, Chris feels the same.’
I picture Chris’s panicked face when he’d realised the workman had fixed the floor but knocked down the fence. ‘When will this stop?’ he’d wailed. ‘It’s just one thing after another.’ It was a head-in-hands moment.
‘Yes,’ I say. ‘He’s had enough, too. They’re incompetent. They never turn up when they say they will, and when they do, they breeze in with no masks or PPE as though coronavirus doesn’t exist on building sites.’
‘Now that is shocking.’ And this time, her face is serious, not even a hint of a smile.
‘I’m frazzled,’ I tell her, because now I’ve started talking, I’m unable to stop. ‘I’ve been working the day job, coping with a global pandemic, and project managing the rebuild of a new-build. I’m hovering on the edge.’
‘Well, things can only get better.’
I shake my head. ‘No. Just when I was thinking things couldn’t get any worse, they started doing the road.’
‘Was it loud?’
‘Loud?! I had to work at my mum’s. And I could still hear them ten miles away.’
She laughs. ‘Could you concentrate with your mum talking all the time?’
‘I can block her out. But the drilling… too high-pitched.’
The waitress emerges from behind the screen and places our slices of cake on the table. It’s not just chocolate cake, but chocolate Guinness cake, and the portions are huge, not quite the sliver I’d hoped for.
The sponge is rich, soft and delicious, instantly making life seem better. ‘This is good,’ I say between mouthfuls.
In only a few seconds, my auntie has almost scoffed the lot. ‘Amazing,’ she says, looking over at the counter as if she’s considering another slice. She puts down her fork and looks back to me.
‘Don’t worry, they’re just minor snags, you’ll get them sorted. You need to be positive and it will all come together.’
I take another bite of cake, and another. Three and a half months of living on a building site with the relentless drilling and hammering, not to mention coping with the builder’s bodge-it approach, has sapped most of my positivity and strength.
I’m dreaming of the day when the builders move on to building pastures new.
Hopefully, to somewhere far, far away, where they can cause as much construction chaos as they like.
‘I’ve had enough,’ I tell her. ‘I spend my days wondering when the next disaster will strike.’
‘That’s no way to live,’ she says, using her fork to scrape all the chocolate off her plate. ‘Do you have any positives?’
‘Come on. There must be something.’
I take a while to think. ‘We have blinds now. We’ve had cardboard curtains since we moved in. Everyone was buying blinds during lockdown, so there was a backlog.’
‘That’s wonderful. Not all doom and gloom.’
I smile. ‘I quite liked the cardboard ones.’
She reaches out and touches me. A tender gesture, but I hope she’s washed and disinfected her hands.
‘Are you okay?’ she says. ‘I’m worried about you.’
I nod, blinking back the tears.
‘You need to relax and start to enjoy the house.’ She squeezes my hand. ‘You need to enjoy every moment.’
That night, I tell Chris what she said.
‘Enjoy it!’ he says. ‘We’ve not stopped since we moved in.’
He thinks for a second. ‘We could cook a really nice dinner tomorrow night and then watch a film — maybe try to make it to the end of that Brad Pitt film.’
‘Sounds like a plan.’
The next evening, Chris cooks and I help (by staying out of his way). We put on some music and because the weather’s nice, we open the windows and patio doors. It’s almost — but not quite — like being abroad.
The light fades quickly. One minute it’s light, the next it’s dark, but we leave the windows open, enjoying what’s left of the summer, chatting and laughing and enjoying the house for the first time in months.
I lean back against my chair, and as I do, something moves behind Chris’s head. There’s another flicker to my left. I hear buzzing. And then a huge insect flies into Chris’s face.
‘Shut the windows,’ I shout. ‘We’re under attack.’
Within seconds the room is full of insects, great and small. Some buzz straight at us, others hide in the corners or under the lights, casting dancing shadows on the walls.
‘This never happened at the old house,’ I say.
‘We weren’t on the top of a moor before. There’s obviously a lot more nature about.’
‘And it’s all in our house!’
I pick up a book and swat at a fly. ‘We’ll never get a night to relax.’
Chris doesn’t answer. He’s trying but failing to outmanoeuvre a particularly bothersome flying friend.
It flutters into the kitchen, hovering in the corner of the ceiling. I pick up a tea towel, take aim and throw. It misses and lands on the top of the cupboard.
Chris laughs. ‘Well, that’s done the trick,’ he says.
I pull up a chair and climb up to retrieve the tea towel, only to come face-to-face with a crater in the plasterboard. ‘Look at this!’
Chris climbs up next to me and we stare into the hole. ‘They probably didn’t think we’d notice,’ he says.
I take a picture and email the building firm, letting them have my unfiltered thoughts about their slapdash workmanship. ‘They didn’t realise we’d spend an evening chasing flying insects and end up on top of the kitchen units. Nothing gets past me.’
Email sent, I return my attention to the insects.
They move quickly. But so do we. We spend the rest of the evening chasing them from one side of the room to the other. Just as we think we’ve got them all out, the big bothersome one makes a comeback. Chris lurches for it, but misses, almost falling over.
I can’t help but laugh. I laugh so much that my shoulders shake, and tears stream down my face. Chris laughs too.
‘Is this what she meant by enjoying the house?’ he asks.
There’s no time to answer. The creature settles on the wall. ‘There!’ I shout. ‘Get it!’
No insects were harmed during the making of this blog post.
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