Nothing destroys the memory of a holiday better than filthy labouring with a monstrous deadline looming and the money running out. Stress, it’s called. Mega stress.
But so it was, these last few weeks. I gathered up all the stray workers I could find and set about making the place slightly more hospitable than just a shed with a million dollar fireplace. We were moving in before Christmas and no santa could stop us.
While the most obvious thing was getting the doors and windows hung, the scene was a train crash of competing priorities. Putting a finish on the new floor and oh god what colour, keeping mud out of the house and off that newly sealed floor (forget the dark stain I had in mind all along and go for linseed oil, no worries thanks tango). Finishing the never finished ceiling, because, like, when would I next have the chance to erect scaffolding in the living room. The hallway had to be dug up and redone because it ended up being lower than the outside, and that stuffed up the doorway height to the bathroom which I had tried to make tall-husband accessible. Two old leaks had continued to flourish despite the new roof, so we had to seal up and re-render a section of the outside, replace some roof tiles, and add a new strip of tiles to properly drain away the offending water trap. And so on. And on. And on.
So many absurd distractions! Our old furniture wouldn’t fit, but there’s no money left for everything new. Where would we sleep? Living room or office? The stairs, the hatch-door, he says no, I say yes. Skirting boards on curved walls? How will I cook? Instead of getting a good night’s sleep I’m up redesigning the kitchen and fantasising about the perfect solution and not the fast one. Again I find myself chanting: Get it Done. Don’t Make it Perfect, Just Get it Done.
Och aye, there’s the plumbers. Three weeks before going to Australia I hired these two clowns calling themselves plumbers and gave them the benefit of the doubt for their first few appearances. No, they did not want to do the plumbing as previsioned by the builder, no they would not be insulating the pipes as I asked but yes they would be giving me a tap there and a mess there and fiddling about with the electricians work exactly as I had not requested. I should have fired them then but who else was there? In Act Two, with the director off sunning herself down under, instructions with colour diagrams in two languages were left with amply capable and qualified male friend with translating woofer. The bath had to be installed so. Não. This is what the client wants and this is what we do. Não. Não and não. So the bath is not level, the bath is not insulated and the bath has no inspection hatch. And the work is not finished. And still not finished two weeks later, which adds up to 12 days of work on a bathroom of 10m2. Clearly they are pulling my leg, and even more sharply when they try going back on our already extortionist €15/hr agreement by asking for €120 per day, each, same for the guy who did nothing and same for the kid. And that’s being paid for the one-and-three-quarters lunch breaks. And the travel. Ha ha.
Well yes, silly me: one for not wising up on day one, two for paying them way over the going rate, three for letting it go on so long, four for letting them touch someone else’s work (“I’m an electrician too”, they said). Anyway, I’m pretty sure Laurel and Hardy weren’t prepped for negotiating with an ex-producer with a ledger alleging every minute they had spent smoking fags and drinking coffee. Nor a list, long, of complaints about work badly done, not done or done at the expense of other’s people’s work. And how about the taps not being centred at the end of the bath? A mockery!
I love arguing in Portuguese. It’s too easy to ignore everything the other party says and unprovoked, return to the bottom line of the argument: The work was not done as I had instructed. If it had been, I’d be happy and we wouldn’t be having this discussion. Pure and simple. Not negotiable.
So they were paid what I had agreed to, with a solatium (word of the day on Thesaurus.com). But the inconvenience didn’t stop with their departure. The toilet leaked. The sink leaked. The drains blocked up. The electrics were so badly mangled that the electrician wasted a day just figuring out what was going on. Much griping between the workers about a lack of respect, lying, cheating non-professionals who brag about beating their wives on site! I wish I’d been there to hear that one, and he would’ve been beaten off site, smartly.
So, people, plumbers from Vilarinho? Run. Away. Run. Far. Away.
After the others had mostly recovered from the plumbing trauma, it was time for me to really lose the plot. I shouted, screamed, cried and abused everyone who came near me. The One copped it the worst. I was horrible. Stress gets me in the guts, and the guts got me good. I made myself very ill indeed. They say that renovating is stressful, y’know. They say it’s hard on marriages, y’know. I recall a dear friend whose husband was building their house right under them. She was fed up with the dust, the dirt, her mate being exhausted, being shut out and left with the kids. How ungrateful, I thought, he’s building you a damn house! But now I know, and she has my sympathy. I am fed up with dust, I am fed up with dirty, sore hands, of the bruises and cuts. I am totally fed up with renovating. I cannot see people’s help for what it is, and I can no longer think straight. It is time to stop.
The windows and doors went in, the switches turned lights on and the preposterously luxurious woodburner got it’s fans going. The place was habitable, and come Christmas Eve, we set about moving in.