Birthday Cards of the Trade Kind: Wk 6 – Day Two

Work on the house is progressing at a rate of knots, driven by a foreman hellbent on completing in 6 weeks rather than the scheduled 8. That in itself is an enviable position to be in, we realise, and on the one hand we are grateful. The downside is that S and I are struggling to keep up and this is having a disastrous impact on our budget and the (increasingly laughable) desire to be green.

Today is my birthday and I celebrated by resuming the search for the Perfect Paving, sourced not from Salvo but Selco, a job more wisely done whilst O is being entertained at nursery. Pint sized, he doesn’t look like the most convincing builder’s workmate though he does, to his credit, have an enviable hammer action. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to persuade him not to be so boyfully boistrous and bang everything he sees against something else, be it fork, cup, toy or other…a trait we hope to curb pretty pronto. It doesn’t reassure me much that meanwhile his rhythmic awareness is improving ….his fork against table action regularly being performed in perfect time with the builders’ own.

By ten past eight I was presenting my mocked-up that-morning headed paper complete with ‘designer’ colour variations where the ink had run out to Selco and that, complete with my general scruffiness, seemed to convince them enough to welcome me into the secret discounted world of tradesmen. Coveted card in one hand and paving brochure in the other, I took myself off to a cafe (Italian, boasting good coffee, seats and china as opposed to Selcos onsite burger van) and perused it over breakfast.

Before doing all the above I saw the builders in the comfort of their van breaking their own fast with greasy hashbrowns and egginabun. I checked in with them through the drivers window, warning them that S would need a chat with their electrician today before his work could recommence. We received his quote late last night, a week later than promised, with a request for 50% up front on Wednesday. The quote, being of a shocking nature, had prompted a response from the Finance Director along the lines of ‘bugger that… we’ll get another guy in’ which I doubt will go down well as the wiring for most of it has been done, plus some of the plasterers progress now relies on the electrician being able to chase out some plugs. Ding goes the bell as Chief Negotiator steps into the ring….

My breakfast was brought to a close by a call from K notifying me of his arrival to remove radiators in preparation for the plastering. As they also need to be upgraded and in one case, relocated, they were destined for the skip but before the last one was even off the wall a dodgy looking bloke appeared on the doorstep offering to take it away. Those scrap metal guys circle our house like vultures and I get no consolation from thinking they help us recycle as I’m pretty sure nothing they do is ethical. Whats more, we are once again in an uncompromising position over a metal bound wooden vessel as we find ourselves with no heating and no quote.
“When will you fit new ones?” I asked K
“When do you want them?” he asked me
“As soon as possible” I replied, already freezing, and referred to our predicament.
“I might have you over a barrel but I know that barrel is empty…you’ve given them everything” he gestured downstairs. “You don’t need to worry”.

If it was anyone other than K I would be.

My day was lifted at the sight of my cousin Z negotiating her way up the stairs holding a chocolate cake studded with candles. As an agile young thing she managed it without casualty to either the cake or herself but obstacles in her way included the young labourer who we are now paying to remove this dastardly paper, the dust sheet dangling precariously over the banister doing very little in the way of preventing dust from coming up but very successful in its attempts to prevent the ascent of people and K who was by then talking bathrooms with me. She waited patiently until we had finished discussing tile combos and fittings, cake sliced, coffee made…but our moment of chocolatey bliss was postponed again by the appearance of the foreman at the door needing to show me the Worlds Smallest WC. He has taken the boxing of the meter right across the length of the space to achieve a clean but very slim line. And slimline is what S and I need to remain if we are to be able to keep it in use. Back upstairs I figured I’d better eat my slice standing up which, as every dieter knows, means the calories don’t count.

I took a welcome break with Z and we talked fondly of the past and hopefully of the future. Today marks a day when we said goodbye, years too early, to someone we both loved very much. We smiled despite the tears pricking at our eyes as we recalled beautiful and funny memories of painting bedrooms a teenage silver and family painting parties where Z and her sister L, both knee height, ‘helped’ holding rollers on handles almost double their height.

Once Z left for work I was pulled back to the task in hand. I returned to the yard armed with a now dog eared brochure to check prices and make a final decision on this patio. I had picked out three possibles and armed with three numbers I asked, Dragons Den style, if I could discuss these with my husband. Stuck between a rock and a hard place with the foreman needing the slabs on site by the end of the week I presented S with our limited choices.
“Do you want to go a little, a little bit more or a lot over budget?” I asked him, pacing the aisles.
Unimpressed by the impact my discount card had made, Chief Negotiator furnished me with some tips and directed me back to the desk to get a better price.
“Is there any wiggle room on this?” I asked, repeating his phrase verbatim. There wasn’t, but carriage was knocked off so I texted him the ‘good’ news. Far from being pleased about the patio purchase, S is disgusted.
“I wish we had had more time to source. We are doing a spectacularly bad job of keeping our carbon footprint down.”

He’s right. Carbon, around our house, appears to be wearing hobnailed size seventeens and I fear a few battered reclaimed doors are doing very little in the offsetting exercise.
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(Slow) Progress on the wallpaper removal

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Glimpse of the Worlds Smallest WC (on left) and the extended step

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