Updated: Oct 19, 2019
The man who was making our new garden door phoned. The door was ready, and he would deliver it tomorrow, mid-morning. He duly turned up at 6.40 am, which, in his defence, is a literal interpretation of ‘mid-morning’. In fact, strictly speaking, he was a bit late.
The builders rolled up at 7.10, and when the electrician arrived for the morning shift, dragging his feet at 7.45, I felt like saying “And what sort of time do you call this?” The downside of this early start was the accompanying brace of invoices, each quoting unimaginably large numbers.
Underfloor heating, Styro style
It was a full house, and the air was thick with dust and coffee vapour. The weather had turned warmer today, a fact belied by the perma-chill of the unfinished sections of the house. At 9 o’clock, prompted by the temperature change, the first Peacock butterflies woke from their hibernation in the cellar and battered their heads against the windows in a daze of spring and caffeine.
The Beech martens in the attic had become increasingly frisky over the last week too, clattering across the upstairs floorboards in pursuit of our resident mice. I fooled myself that they were doing us a favour in pest control, but was soon put right with stories of how martens destroy wood, plaster and wiring, while lathering the house with thick marmitey snakes of poo. Perhaps a cat is the better option after all.
But I’m allergic to most cats, as is Jan, and the hypoallergenic breeds (which I’d recently been writing about as part of my work for pet retailer Omlet) are as rare in Czechia as velociraptors. None of which the dogs would look very kindly on, anyway.
The only other answer is a marten trap. You cage them, and then release them in the wild so that they can run back to your attic and do it all over again, which is a pretty humane way of approaching the problem.
The dogs were very excited by the new access to the garden, which had appeared the previous day. It’s a jagged hole in the wall, temporarily covered by four old windows glued together to form a pair of flimsy swing-doors. The new door can’t be fitted until the surrounding wall is finished.
Temporary door, big hole in wall
The dogs chased each other in a torrent of woofs, before realising that this was still the same old garden, in spite of the new access point. They returned to the now-closed temporary doors and sat down to work out why the way out was no longer the way in. Fido knocked on one of the panes with his front paw, and the windows wobbled apart far enough for him to squeeze through.
We stuck a wedge under the pretend doors after that, but Fido still sits outside and knocks, with increasing violence. He may cry and whine to be allowed into the garden, but after a cock-of-the-leg and a 30 second sniff, he’s back, knocking, undeterred and irritating, like a particularly gormless visitor from the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The noise produced by the workmen on this particular day was so extreme that I had to plumb the depths of my rock music collection to find some riffs that could cut through, cursing the artists whenever they lapsed into one of those inevitable acoustic passages. The builders’ tinny radio was blasting out the Czech version of John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads, as a final affront to peace and quiet.
But the noise took second prize in the Inconvenience Awards today, with dust scooping the trophy. I wiped a black greasy fluffball of grime from my laptop screen before starting work, and half an hour later had to do the same again. My nostrils time-travelled back to the Victorian era, when commuters had to splutter their way through London’s coal-powered, soot-caked Underground. The paper tissues I sneezed into became so alarming that I decided to evacuate the premises, taking the delighted dogs on an unscheduled walk.
New lower section of the staircase freshly plastered, versus old cupboard reborn
A kilometre away, at the top of the hill, we could still hear the drills and music assailing the poor house. I wheezed my way around the edge of the hillside forest like an ageing coal miner, and made the dogs sit and stay when we rounded a corner and met a flock of mouflon. The rams gazed at us, their top-heavy heads motionless, horns thick and shiny like uncurled ammonites after a day at the gym.
Just before I could turn back, proud of my obedient dogs, the hounds erupted in a thunder of woofs and raced towards the mouflon. The herd of 40 poured down the meadow, their stampede making the ground tremble. I lay down on the grass to feel the shuddering hillside, confident that the dogs would give up the chase within a few seconds. It might have been more exciting from a blog point of view if they proved me wrong; but sure enough, they loped back, licking my ears in the belief that this would revert me to my correct, upright position. It did.
I now noticed that Saffy was not wearing her collar. We searched in the direction of the retreating mouflon, but found nothing. Heading for home, we failed to stumble on the lost item. It never did turn up.
One of the builders had been up on the roof all morning. By 3 o’clock he was able to announce that the leaking chimney was fixed. This was the third time such work, and the corresponding announcement, had taken place. At 4 o’clock it began to rain heavily, and by 4.30 the familiar drip of the leaking chimney echoed through the attic. The builder was – and remains – bemused. Still, that’s one bill we won’t have to pay immediately.
Old ceiling removed. Note charred timbers, middle left. A local historian told me the fire responsible took place in 1909 when the building was a pub.
The following day, with a mask to keep out the permanent clouds of dust, Magda began removing what was left of the living room ceiling, in preparation for… well, a new ceiling. It all sounds a bit pointless when you put it like that. But at the close of the day, the room finally looked as if it was ready for the endgame. This would have been a reassuring thought, were it not for those bills waving at us sarcastically in the breeze from the ill-fitting temporary garden door. How could we muster the funds?
Drip, drip, drip, said the leaking chimney.
More of those 1909 charred timbers, fire lovers