Vexation, vexation, vexation

Following on loosely from

We’ve got the builders in again, having reluctantly decided to embark on the next phase of renovating this decrepit hovel.

This time it’s the ‘utility room’ getting what amounts to a complete rebuild. Tacked ineptly onto the back of the late Victorian house sometime in the early 20th century, and then amateurishly upgraded as cheaply as possible around the 1970s, it is essentially an uninsulated lean-to. Riddled in damp and mould, bulging plasterwork falling off in chunks, door frames working free of walls, it is virtually open to the elements with less weather-proofing than the garden shed. From this source draughts penetrate the entire house, rendering it almost uninhabitable throughout the winter (which is why I spend six months of the year huddled under my Reclaimed Natural Feather & Down 13.5 Tog Duvet) as well as generating astronomical and wasteful heating bills.

The annex was slotted in around the original outside toilet that all these terraced houses were equipped with by the Tredegar Estate from the outset. The toilet remains almost intact with its powerful chain-pull flush and big overhead cistern sitting precariously on iron brackets, but is now within a cramped, windowless cube on a raised plinth with a rickety wood-slat concertina door. This second loo was actually one of the main reasons (after the garden’s south-west aspect) that we bought this dreadful dosshouse in the first place, since at the time both of us had elderly mothers who wouldn’t have been able to get up the stairs to the bathroom. Despite the fact they are both long dead, the supplementary khazi has proved to be a surprise blessing for deux hommes d’un certain âge, let me tell you. I now find it incredible that I lived in single-toilet houses for the first 50 years of my life and never once even noticed the, er, shortfall. But that’s another blog, he threatened…

The hideous cupboards, the ghastly strip-lighting, the ludicrous hanging sliding-door into the kitchen, the useless sink, the irredeemable ceiling-tiles, the fungi-festering wasted spaces, the filthy vinyl floor and the embarrassingly awful midden itself are all going, to be replaced by a totally reconfigured, rewired, re-plumbed, re-plastered and insulated space with an enlarged, state-of-the-art toilet/washroom and stylish new larder cupboards, lighting and doors. It should all be done by the end of September. Touch Formica.

As they were so reliable and did such a good job last time, we’re using the same building firm as before (if I permitted paid ads, a pop-up would now be reeling you into their website). Of course it’s costing a small fortune, but I actually find that reassuring. After many disastrous experiences with cowboy builders in the past, I eventually learnt a number of chastening lessons about this ruthless market economy (money is the sole determinant of value, there’s no such thing as a bargain, if it’s cheap you pay more, don’t spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar, etc, etc), to the point where I now only trust a business/product/service when it’s a brazenly overpriced rip-off. Listen: if they get it done properly, finish on time and clean up after them, it will be such a delightful shock they can charge what they like as far as I’m concerned.

A burly fifty-something bloke called Mike has been here a couple of days now and has already done a lot of the initial demolition work, revealing an unexpectedly large and appealing bare void. He toils diligently with ‘Smooth Radio South Wales’ chuntering away in the background (currently Celine Dion, I think, unless it’s next door’s cat rutting behind the bins) and only ever stops for the occasional cup of hot, sweet tea and a moan about his boss. Thankfully my partner is still working from home, meaning he can do all the interpersonal chit-chat and front-of-house stuff and I can lurk upstairs enigmatically, pretending to work but in actual fact merely munching jumbo cashew nuts, chain smoking, watching terrifying avalanches on YouTube and effortlessly tossing off this slight piece.