Putting the house in order
STRIPPING out’ is a term much loved by builders and one that I’ve begun to drop into conversation on a regular basis. ‘They’re stripping out,’ I say when people ask how the house is coming along. Or ‘Are they stripping this out?’, less casually and sometimes panicky while walking round it again with Zam.
I made a list of things for stripping out that I gave, like an efficient person, to the chief builder, who folded it up and put it in his back pocket. I’ve no idea if he ever looked at it again.
Quite high on the list was the ceiling that has all but collapsed in one of the bedrooms. It hangs weightily, looking ready to go ‘pop’ and the sight of it has made the builder and structural engineer make happy whistling noises. ‘It’ll be interesting to see what we find up there,’ they say with glee.
The next time I visit the house, they’ve made a small hole, which reveals some very dodgy timbers and a sort of oh-ho-ho response from the builders, who seem to be enjoying themselves enormously.
The cobwebs are substantial, so I don’t hang around because the torchlight up to the rotten beams reveals shadows of spiders the size of plates and this isn’t a room for me. I retreat to the doorway, from where I try to look confident. ‘It doesn’t look too bad,’ I suggest, to which they respond with twitching eyebrows and knowing laughter.
Elsewhere, a couple of floorboards have been half stripped out, which leads to another joyful response. ‘You’ve got plenty of worm there,’ they say, as if this is unexpected bounty. I hover between rooms, uncertain if I’m as keen on stripping out as I thought I would be. Or as they are.
At least we know what we want to do. We’re putting the stairs in here and squeezing in a loo there—i carve out their imaginary locations with arm-waving as I show around a friend who has a good eye and who I thought might be helpful on the proportions of these things.
I know these are small details when entire rafters need to be replaced, but I’m always apt, as my mother often tells me, to put the cart before the horse. And, anyway, it’s best, as we keep being told, to decide on everything now. You don’t want to change your mind on a building project—everyone knows that.
‘Why are you putting the stairs there?’ my friend asks, within about 15 minutes. After two hours, he’s redesigned the place entirely. Bathrooms have been moved, bedrooms lost, floors raised, the kitchen extended. ‘Just my initial thoughts,’ he says comfortingly as he departs, leaving Zam and I in a heap of indecision.
‘The electrician’s coming to strip out tomorrow,’ the builder reminds us, ‘and the plumber. Just checking, but you haven’t changed your mind on where we need the services, have you?’ Zam and I stare at one another. Have we? I have no idea. We tell him we’ll confirm our decisions… soon.
I take my sister round the house and explain the different possibilities. Without hesitation, she tells me exactly which solution to use and is so certain about this that she manages to make me feel very foolish to consider any other options. I return home and declare this certainty to Zam. It’s not catching.
In the night, I wake up and nudge him because a eureka moment seems to have come to me in my sleep and I need to tell him before I forget. ‘Only problem,’ he mumbles, ‘is that you won’t have a floor to walk on.’ I turn over again.
‘How’s the house?’ a friend asks the next morning. ‘We don’t know where to put the stairs,’ I say. ‘And we’re still missing a bedroom.’ I wander into the kitchen and find Zam. ‘It’s time to finish the shepherd’s hut,’ I tell him, thereby shifting all responsibility onto his DIY skills. I’m very happy with that decision.
‘You don’t want to change your mind on a building project