I wrote a story ........
There never was going to be a better time, the work was complete Zoe had checked her wiring diagrams over and over again whilst her partner stood by the shiny new fuse box his thumb hooked beneath the red ON switch.
“Are we doing this or what?” he said.
It was 2 years since Zoë had announced before even thinking out the project that in order to fill the gap left by the departure of her children to university she was going to build “with her own hands” an extension to the house. The initial stages of planning permission and architects drawing had been a doddle, it was just a case of organisation and god knew that she could organise anything. The real moment of truth came with a space next to the house cleared of grass and Zoë stood with a spade, a skip and 20 metres of footings to dig. That evening brought a 4 metre trench and shoulders that ached despite a 2 hour soak in a hot bath.
After that initial rush she learned to pace herself, taking time out to lean on the spade in a wise and she hoped professional manner whilst chatting to neighbours as they hung out of their spotless 4X4’s on the school run. Several weekends work saw a completed trench and every single self help “building for dummies” type book from the library spread across the lounge floor.
Before the wagonload of concrete could be ordered Zoë had two things to do, both of which had caused her sleepless nights whilst Edward snored beside her.
The first was to contact the local council building inspector to check the depth of the trench. This would be an important meeting as the same man (she assumed he would be a man) would have to approve each stage of building before the next could be started and the next was to employ a labourer to help with the time critical tasks such as pouring quick setting concrete before it turned into some kind of giant bomb proof sandcastle.
Zoë called the building inspector the next morning arranged for him to call later the same afternoon. Mr Watson’s voice was gruff and carried the air of someone who has spent a lifetime reprimanding builders to “dig a foot deeper”. He reminded Zoë of her old headmaster. On confirming the appointment Zoë was annoyed to find that her very first thought was “what shall I wear” she was torn between the “how’s it going mate” dungarees and the “actually I’m the site foreman” business suit. In the end the decision made itself when Mr Watson arrived 2 hours early to find her halfway up the garden wheel barrowing a load of earth to the skip wearing a fetching combo of jeans tee shirt and topsoil.
Mr Watson nodded a greeting and then peered over her shoulder obviously searching for a builder to speak to “I arranged with the secretary to call this afternoon” he said whilst squinting down the length of the footings but I’m a tad early”. Zoë too flustered to make a stance for feminism replied “it was me you spoke to Mr Watson and I am the builder and I’ve dug the footings as deep as the plans say. Are they ok, would you like a cup of tea “.
Mr Watson stopped as though adrift in the torrent of words that washed over him. “Steady on” he said “lets do this one thing at a time”
And so they commenced business with Mr Watson explaining that he
would like to see a little more width at the front “to match up with the original house” He drank a cup of tea and left promising to revisit after the concrete was poured.
The visit left Zoë feeling that she had missed something, some point had escaped her but she didn’t know what.. So she grabbed a spade and set to widening the front trench.
The only contact that Zoë had had with labourers was in the maternity ward at St Mary’s Hospital and not really knowing any better she figured that a visit to the almost complete housing estate on the army base should supply a lean “diet coke break” type to help with the concreting. Her vision was dashed as she stepped into a smoke filled portacabin adorned with page 3 girls to find a solitary man rolling a cigarette. He was Irish and the veins in his face had burst under his skin. He looked up and said in a quiet, measured voice “can I help you? I think as a show house this is a little bit messy but a good hoovering would help a lot” Zoë smiled as she met his eyes. “I’m doing some building work and need a labourer for a few days, would there be any one on site interested”
“Me name’s Derek he said” What kind of work do you have in mind. I thought the likes of you never went beyond a spot of stencilling. I can cart bricks all day but rag rolling is woman’s work.”
“building a 2 storey extension actually” she said surprised at the pride in her voice, “and I need some help with the concrete”.
“right you are then” he said “I’ll be there on Monday morning give us your address”
So that was that, Zoë felt she had been interviewed rather than the other way around.
In the evening as she prepared to go out for dinner Zoë was pleased to find that not only did her dress slip on easily over her increasingly toned body but also that in the mirror she caught Edward almost leering over her in a manner that recalled their early days together.
She was less pleased with the callouses forming on her hands but she could live with that.
The other odd thing was that at the dinner party she was the centre of attention especially with the men as the conversation moved from the merits of various power tools to the difficulty of digging clay soils. Not bad she thought for a collection of accountants and lawyers who do no more that hoe the weeds at weekend.
Her luck was out with Edward though, 2 bottles of Red and he was asleep in the taxi home. Oh well, one thing at a time she thought.
Derek arrived at 7:30 on Monday morning wearing what must once have been his best suit, now relegated to work wear. “We need to work fast once the concrete arrives” he said I’ve asked Stan to call by for an hour at 11:00 to help out, Don’t worry about paying him. He owes me some time from another job”.
Stan did turn up and a good job too, by 3 in the afternoon the concrete was poured and levelled and Stan who was a brickie by trade was showing Zoë the finer points that her night school course never had.
“be gentle with them” he said. So during the afternoon the extension which had started as a daydream finally popped its head out above ground level and Zoë slept happily that night pleased with herself and her new friends.
Stan returned with Derek the next morning but only stayed long enough to devour the bacon and egg sandwich that Zoë made each off them “gorgeous that was love” said Stan wiping brown sauce from his lips “I’ll call round now and again just to make sure your keeping them bricks square”
The walls got higher and Mr Watson called around to check on progress. Derek had been rehearsing the visit for days with Zoe role playing each step of the encounter. “it’s a game” said Derek “its all give and take, when he tells you to do something extra that’s just his opening gambit. Its up to you to negotiate. Offer to do some of what he asks but stand your ground”
“I have been in this game for 20 years and I know how high the damp proof course should be” said Mr Watson “ you will have to take the wall down and do it again”. Zoë could feel her anger rising and she was sure for an instant that he was going to add “young Lady” “OK” she said how about if I leave it where it is and lower the surrounding soil level by a foot”. Mr Watson paused for a second, “Fine, that’s fine” he said.
“one Nil” whispered Derek.
Derek’s joiner friends visited for cooked breakfast in time to run a master class in the finer points of installing roof timbers, in fact by the time each of them had demonstrated his preferred technique there were only a few left to install and they too returned in “slack” half days to help out in return for cooked breakfast and Zoes assistance in shopping for birthday and anniversary presents for their wives and girlfriends.
The atmosphere in the kitchen was slowly becoming less Laura Ashley and more Sir Alfred Macalpine The language was riper and the food greasier much to the consternation of Edward who found himself consciously wooing his wife again out of fear of losing her to the bantering crowd in the kitchen. Zoë enjoyed the attention of all of the men and in return flirted with Edward whilst they were there which boosted his self esteem so much that he all but dragged her to the bedroom the moment the “other builders” as he called them left.
On the day the last ridge tile went on the roof Zoë had promised a party for all of her builders and their partners. “can we not have just a lads night ?” said Eric the plasterer who had skin the colour of Barbies through years of plaster dust ingrained in his skin “coz if the wives come they wont understand that your just one of the lads like” So the order for Vol au vont cases was cancelled and the off license and Indian take away were put on full alert.
And so it was, after waking up on the bed fully clothed with only vague and distant recollection of laughter filled conversations about building inspectors that the newly bonded team of Edward and Zoe positioned themselves by the electric meter and with a dramatic push of the switch
Declared the extension open as they kissed under a blaze of fluorescent lights.