Once a year, usually at the beginning of summer, it suddenly occurs to me that the entire house is about to fall down. The realisation that every job I’ve allowed to accumulate is about to visit disaster on me — my DIY judgment day — usually occurs around the May bank holiday when the air is filled with the sound of good people drilling.
This year I knew the day of reckoning had come as soon as I opened my eyes. I looked to the left and my giant black rabbit BB was sitting on the bed chewing through my mobile-phone headset, his mouth full of wires disappearing upwards like so much spaghetti. Everything is going to break today, I told myself. I opened the bedroom door and it fell off its hinges. When I sat down to ponder the probable causes, it seemed likely it was because of the slamming, which has long been a recreational outlet of mine but is ultimately an expensive way to express emotions.
I now had to go through the rigmarole of balancing it back on its hinges and carrying it from one position to another every time I wanted to go in and out. The rabbit thought this hilarious. He sat watching me do it with one ear in the air and his nose twitching in a particularly sarcastic way. Of course, I had to get it repaired. So I rang Tony, my friendly neighbourhood fixer of all things, to report that I was having my yearly panic.
‘You still got that list of jobs from last year?’ he asked, ready as ever to confront me with my shocking household-maintenance record. I confirmed that, yes, I still had the list. I suggested with the cheerfulness of the deluded that maybe this was the week to get started on all the jobs I’d been putting off. Tony sighed.
When he came round that evening to look at the door we went through our well-worn routine. You’ve heard of builder’s hiss? That noise all tradesmen make when you ask them to do a tiny job and they suck air through their teeth and say, ‘It’s gonna cost you.’ Well, my man does builder’s hiss followed by builder’s rip. That is to say, he grabs hold of whatever part of the house requires attention and rips it clean off.
Once he’d finished ripping the door properly off its hinges he explained that to get it back on was going to be A Big Job. He would have to come back with pieces of wood and saws and his eldest son. But while he was here, he could at least look at all the other stuff that needed mending. We looked at each other knowing that what we were doing was pure folly but that we were going to go through the motions anyway. I showed him the bathroom door, which lost its lock in another slamming, well, more of a bursting-in incident.
Tony looked at me with a distinct expression of pity. ‘What happened here, then?’
My palms went sweaty. ‘I, er, my, er, we, er, had a…row?’
‘Oh dear, oh dear,’ he muttered.
He looked at the tiny gap in the skirting where the small bolt holder had been, and then he reached out, grabbed hold of the skirting and ripped the entire panel off from floor to ceiling. ‘So I can match it up.’
It was the same when I asked him to replace the bath panel. He made the hissing noise then ripped one of the tiles off with his bare hands ‘so I can match it up’. The hole is still there. He and I look at it every time he comes round and then look at each other guiltily and change the subject. You see, it is as much my fault as his. Tony and I are a folie à deux. Between his gung-ho attitude to repairs and my instinct for procrastination we have managed to rip most of the house to pieces.
He’ll pass a piece of wallpaper peeling off in the corridor and ask if I want it redoing. I’ll say yes, he’ll rip the loose section off to take it away and ‘match it up’, and weeks later both of us will be happier to forget about it. I am convinced that we must both be getting something we need from this arrangement or we wouldn’t keep doing it.
‘So, do you want me to get you that new bath panel?’ he asked as we sat having a cup of tea.
‘Definitely,’ I said.
‘Matt or gloss?’
‘Oh, whatever you think.’
‘I’ll bring it round first thing Monday,’ he said, knowing he was busy that day.
‘Great,’ I said, knowing I would not be in.
Melissa Kite is deputy political editor of the Sunday Telegraph.