Species of Cowboy
Fantastic to hear that you and C met up and quaffed. I'm of course, jealous and not a little miffed as I was planning to spring him on you as a surprise at the nuptials. No matter, we shall drink like depraved beats (I meant 'beasts' but that Freudian keystroke gives me ideas. Let's drink jug wine, eat Benzedrine inhalers and howl shite poetry until we collapse).
All in all it's been a pretty invigorating month here. I have been interviewing builders.
You are imagining, I expect, a scene from 'The Draughtsmans's Contract'. I stand on a low hillock in my commodious estate, with a scroll in one hand and a brass telescope in the other, discussing the placement of haha and grotto with a chap called something like 'Capability'. How wrong you are.
Let me describe for you, a day 'on site'. This will enable me to limn for your betterment, sketches of the principal types of London builder.
Barry was a type now rarely seen in the Metropolis as they have all taken the proceeds of generations of low-grade extortion and invested in mighty time-share empires on the Costa Brava. Usually a 'Loverble Cockerney' or 'Agreeable Oirishman', these men share a genetic disability when it comes to answering a mobile phone.
If I'm charitable, I might posit that their giant spatulate fingers can't operate the answer button. If I'm truthful, it's because they don't want clients to be able to reach them. Clients would either complain, or ask them to do something, both of which can fatally interrupt the real business of the day which seems to be reading the Sun, leering at women, consuming fats and tea and avoiding work. I had undertaken a Byzantine trail of message-leaving to persuade Barry to grace me with an audience and he was naturally two hours and thirty-eight minutes late.
A diminutive Essex crook with the congenital low cunning of a shithouse rat, Barry walked around the house, sucking his teeth and randomly ejaculating titanic sums. It was like viewing the place with a touretting merchant banker. At the end of his tour of doom, he did a brief calculation on the back of a traditional fag packet, offered to halve it for cash and disappeared from my life forever. This may well be a blessing.
At ten minutes to one, Chris phoned from his car to explain that he was going to be between three and five minutes late. When he arrived, it was apparent that he was not old enough to have facial hair, which, in hindsight, was excellent news as he lacked any form of chin with which to support it. Imagine a man with a small, fashionable goatee hovering a couple of centimeters in front of a chin shaped void - incredibly disturbing. Chris was one of the new breed of client friendly 'Chelsea' builders.
Bristling with mobile phones, laptops and expensive lasermeasuring-devices, he created a massively comprehensive spreadsheet and talked about a percentage management fee for 'making our problems go away' and 'finishing on time and on budget'.
For two days we felt like we'd died and gone to middle-class North London heaven. Then, just before the quote was due, we received a sheepish phonecall asking if 'a couple of my chaps could take a look around the place'. The 'chaps' turned out to be a Cockerny and an Oirishman who after three minutes of tooth sucking, did a calculation on the back of a fag packet and offered to do the job minus the 20% management fee and 17.5% off for cash.
Two enormous men in leather coats squeezed sideways through the front door. By now I was expecting candidates to lack something but these fellows had both chins and operational dialing fingers. What they were missing, though, was hair and necks. One spoke a little English, the other, clearly in charge, grunted occasionally or issued orders down a mobile phone.
They examined the place with a strange cold detachment, as if calculating entry points and the best place to lob a concussion grenade. I mentioned the importance of securing the site to avoid the problem of squatters.
"Squatters not a problem", rumbled the linguist. "The carpenters are Spetnaz".
Finally, after a short calculation on the back of a packet of western cigarettes, he growled,
"Five thousand per room, four thousand for cash, three if the guys can crash here".
He could have said...
"... and two thousand per month for the rest of your life or they find you floating face-down in the Thames".
...at least I could have budgeted for that.
Hobson's Choice, is, I believe, an appropriate term.
Tune in in a fortnight when I shall reveal to which set of knuckle-dragging, mouth-breathing set of incompetent extortionists I shall be giving our money.
Yours in Christ
PS. We finally exchanged contracts and completed on the place on Friday. I picked up the keys and spent a delirious hour crowbarring off the big security boards they'd screwed over every window.
Light flooding in through the dust for the first time in decades - it looks like a recently squatted Chartres Cathedral.
I'm strapping on my mighty toolbelt and may be gone for some time.
Wish me luck. T