Seeing things with your own eyes and experiencing things for yourself is the ultimate learning experience. If that is true - why do I always fail to learn my lesson?
My demigod of a builder’s first job for us was in the spring of 2002 – in between finishing Piers’ house and starting on a 12-week build turning a garage into a desirable holiday home in Aldeburgh – one of Piers’ finer ideas.
It of course wasn’t meant to be like that but Piers promised that the Aldeburgh job would be done in a flash and in no way would upset our own plans – putting it that way we felt it would be churlish to argue.
So Justin came and quoted on the Big Barn roof, discussed how we would like it done and we duly spent every waking moment clearing it out in readiness. Then we got a call. Since Justin and his mate Mattie who would be doing all the work lived in Friston could they come and stay during the build?
Justin: “It would save money and mean the job could be done quicker.”
I spoke to Dear Charlie who was up for it. The boys would work Monday through Thursday from 8am to 7pm and would leave Thursday night and return again Monday morning.
Seemed perfectly fine to me. What I hadn’t calculated was one I would be feeding them, and two I would be sharing a bathroom with them. Now these guys are in no way effete – in fact Mattie and Justin managed to repair the barn roof, which in the end involved replacing all the major beams in the barn as well as new footplates without the aid of any mechanical gear at all – just sheer muscle power…
All started off fine. Until suppertime – it was a great big lasagne I recall. The one I was renowned for in London. A serious calorie-killing beast of a lasagne with goats’ cheese enhanced béchamel dribbling from the sides accompanied by a dark green salad and fresh French bread from the bakers. I was looking forward to leftovers.
But the only thing I got was: Where was the pudding? Determined not to be caught on the hop again I got up extra early the next morning and started on a proper fry up for the ravening beasts upstairs only to find that the buggers only had a cup of tea or a black coffee in the morning!
I was reprieved at lunchtime as they had pre-ordered prawn cocktail sandwiches from the Village Shop - the proprietors having previously run the post office in Snape and were old friends of both Justin and Mattie.
For supper that evening I had done one of Charlie’s favourite – steak and kidney only to find that neither liked kidney. All my culinary efforts fell short and it was with a huge sigh of relief when the end of the week rolled in. The following week the boys opted to eat out…
Initially the re-roofing of the Big Barn was meant to involve taking a few tiles off, replacing the guttering and fixing the doors. By the time the boys had been with me two weeks the only thing left standing was the outside walls everything else was gone including the built in dovecote!
I am still a bit hazy as to who actually sanctioned all the work – Charlie reliably informs me that I did and I do remember the words: ‘Necessary’, ‘Fall down’, ‘Death trap’, and ‘Now or never’, in various conversations.
Whenever I spoke up to protest or query anything I was reassured with a smile, a pat and “Now doan you start worryin’ girl, it’ll be fine. Just you leave it to us buoys.”
Words I would grow so familiar with over the next four years.
Now I am not considered stupid, a tad naive maybe, but not stupid and looking back there is nothing I can put a handle on to say that Justin ever did not do as he aught. Everything he said was true – things did need to be done – but perhaps not quite as many things as were done.
With the barn roof off and everything exposed to the elements Justin got called away without hardly a by your leave. When confronted by Charlie he pointed out the job was now far bigger than anticipated and that the job he had to go and do had been waiting for ages – he’d be back he promised, the thing is we didn’t know when…
When he finally showed up that September there weren’t two of them but four and all needed to stay over and be fed! Luckily the vegetable patch was in full production mode and game was on the menu – so cheap food all round. But newly pregnant I found it all too much as soon as I went anywhere near food I wanted to gag, the stench in particular of the game was unbearable.
But this is where Justin and Mattie rose to the occasion – realising I was pregnant they set about organising their own and even our food. They fetched and carried and basically mollycoddled me, took Charlie down the pub to give me some quiet time, always cleaned the bathroom and put the loo seat down. In fact when they left when the job was done I felt quite bereft…The barn stands magnificent, black clad and gorgeous like a proper Suffolk barn should. The flint walls pristine with new lime mortar, the barge boarding sweeping down from the brick red roof – only the dovecote yet to be put in and I am still waiting for it some five years later – I am assured it is in the work shop and all it will take is a few hours work…