We’ve had the builders in. Having lived here for 11 years and done absolutely nothing in the way of home improvements apart from unavoidable essentials (dead boiler, crumbling render, rotting window frames, leaking pipes), my partner and I finally concluded that a) it was unlikely we were ever going to leave this dump, b) the house was in an appalling condition when we moved in, c) it had deteriorated further under our watch, d) it was now a virtually uninhabitable slum, and e) we must take action.
Some free advice for anybody thinking of hiring a builder: DON’T DO IT!!
Raised by the Tredegar Estate, the terraced streets of northern Splott are 125 years old and showing every day of it. Considering that the housing developments of the Lords of Tredegar were always about quantity rather than quality (any lavish spending was reserved for themselves), that Cardiff’s marshy East Moors were not a sensible place to build anything, and that a mile away in the city centre structures do well to last 25 years before being pulled down, it’s no wonder that these archetypal late Victorian workers’ houses would be at the end of their natural lives without more or less continual rehabilitation, repair and upgrading. And this particular house has not just suffered from our neglect; it has also had to endure the various alterations, deprecations, blunders, temporary fixes, stopgap measures and bad ideas of all the previous occupants, most of whom would have never had the money to do much more than inept DIY and papering over the cracks. So a lot of major work was required, and only professional builders could do it.
“You open a can of worms when you start on these houses,” one of the geezers said to me on the second day after lifting the filthy, ancient, threadbare carpets from the downstairs floors. It turned out that the staircase was sitting on floorboards that you could push your finger through, and the entire weight was being supported underneath by joists so riddled with woodworm they disintegrated into dust if you blew on them. I knew then that this was going to be a long haul.
Essentially, three strangers moved in for a month. I found the carpenter far too blokeish and severe and the brickie far too remote and dull, but got on well with the openly transgressive, rough-and-ready plasterer. Whenever he took one of his many fag breaks he would come to find me upstairs (where I was
hiding working on my next book) and bombard me with terrible jokes, liberally littered with every racist and sexist old chestnut imaginable. To my enduring shame I frequently laughed out loud, which only encouraged the rascal. See if these typical examples have the same effect on you:
Two guys in a pub:
“I’m fucking identical twins – and both of them love it up the arse!”
“How do you tell them apart?”
“Well Shirley’s got big tits and a shaved fanny and Sean’s got hairy bollocks”
Paddy got a job at the zoo and during the probation period the Head Keeper called him into his office.
“The female gorilla’s on heat and will get distressed if she doesn’t have sex. Will you shag her for £500?”
Paddy thought for a moment.
“OK, but on three conditions: no kissing, don’t tell my family, and give me a couple of weeks to find the money.”
Sub-Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown vulgarity? Sure – until you consider the feeble homonym that won the ‘Funniest Joke’ award at this year’s Edinburgh Festival (“I’m not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change” – Ken Cheng). If that dismal, childish pun is the best the cream of contemporary comedic talent can come up with, then my jobbing plasterer begins to sound like P G Wodehouse!
What’s worse is that I have had to endure Capital Radio (“South Wales’ Number 1 Hit Music Station”) echoing through the house at full volume from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, and as a result I’m now fully conversant with the osteoarthritic oeuvres of the likes of Justin Bieber, Bruno Mars, Olly Murs and Katy Perry (that’s more or less the playlist). What did I do in a previous life to deserve such torture?
Now you see why I haven’t blogged much lately. Most days I’ve resorted to sneaking away down to the foreshore to pick blackberries and left them to get on with it. Anyway, at last the job was completed earlier today. Unfortunately there isn’t a happy ending, because we’ve just opened the bill…