Not for the first time our house has been invaded. I am not talking about uninvited mice or ants but about invited builders. It started at the end of March and was to finish in 8 weeks. With all our careful planning this was going to be bearable but, in reality, it has been the usual nightmare.
With experience accrued over 40 years and four family houses, this was to be our seventh such invasion and should have been a cinch. Somehow we thought that sharing our living space with builders, noise, dust and more for weeks on end would be bearable. We knew what to expect and had braced ourselves. But it has been testing, and it its not over yet!
On this occasion the leaking conservatory was to be pulled down and replaced, and the garden (more an extended yard) to be rearranged. The builders’ only access to the ‘site’ was through the centre of the house and through the kitchen. On the days before their arrival everything damageable was put away, mainly in our sitting room, and for meals we decamped to a small front room. On their arrival we ‘negotiated’ terms; they would have a dedicated shelf in the fridge, they would buy their own milk and biscuits, they would not play the radio loud nor smoke in the house, they would tidy up each evening, they would not stop working on our house mid-contract and would aim carefully before, and put the seat down after, using the loo.
With two exceptions (one was sulky and lazy and left after a day, the other left after three) they were a great bunch. Their grasp of English varied, which meant we learned some Polish and my wife could practice her Russian. They worked long hours non-stop and when they did not come, which was demoralising, it was because vital components had not been not delivered. The wait for the windows seemed interminable. They were polite, painstaking and skilled, careful with the plants outside and the paintwork within. They were the best yet. It was a pleasure watching Karol doing the pointing. He was meticulous and assured as befits someone whose former job was as a cake-maker. Lucas, a giant of man, picked up things I could not even move. He was smiley and indefatigable, except when he thought of his wife back home and then gloom would descend. Hugs lifted him a bit but were not easy on account of his size.
But despite all this it was the invasion we feared. There was little or no privacy. The house and our noses filled with dust. The banging, sawing and drilling meant that many a meal was spent out. When we watched TV, it was across a sea of upturned furniture and rolled up carpets – our remote control came into its own. Many of our books were inaccessible. The car parking arrangements meant that we had to forego our space in a local churchyard. There was an awkward moment when one of the men left his ham on the wrong shelf and I finished it off that night in a sandwich. And, sin of sins, often they would turn up the volume on the radio (while they were out I would turn it down again!), and there were two who broke the loo code (nothing to be done here). Perhaps most embarrassing was when I asked one who was his favourite football team. In laboured English he told me of an unfamiliar Polish team. On his fifth attempt, I realised it was actually Liverpool!
Not long now before the invasion should be over – and here’s hoping there will never be need for another.