Sadly, I was being over-optimistic when I declared that if all went well with the builder boyfriend I would never need Stefano the Albanian again. It turns out that I never stopped needing Stefano. I needed him while I was dating the builder, because builders never do any building work in their own lives — a case of ‘builder, renovate thyself’ — and I need him more than ever now that the builder and I have decided it is really not working out.
When I had to move furniture to the new country place it was Stefano, therefore, who transported the items from London to Surrey. As we made our way down the farm track, Stefano following my little Fiat in his white van, I pulled over to chat to the gamekeeper. Stefano got out of his van, blinking as he emerged into the bright sunlight of the open crop fields. It didn’t take long before he spotted the huge gun in the gamekeeper’s Defender.
‘I like guns,’ said Stefano. ‘In Albania, I shoot AK-47.’
The gamekeeper, who has seen and heard everything, took this in his stride. ‘Oh, you do, do you?’
Stefano insisted on posing with the gamekeeper’s gun for a picture, which he made me take with his iPhone as he grinned like a maniac. I made a mental note to ask about the exact circumstances of his AK-47-firing days later because while I’m all in favour of Eastern European migrant labour, even I have my limits.
I didn’t have to wait long. After we had stashed my belongings, I took Stefano for a slap-up lunch at The Black Swan. We arrived to the din of a helicopter landing in the car park, bearing the Lottery winners who fly the 350 yards from their mock-Tudor mansion to the pub every Sunday. Makes you proud to be British.
Stefano pulled out his iPhone and took a series of incredibly invasive pictures of the man and his wife as she tottered out of the chopper on her Gucci wedges, which must have pleased them a lot and made all the Lottery ticket buying worthwhile.
But inside, Stefano’s mood soured as he surveyed the menu with its horrifying prices. I assured him it was my treat, and suggested he try the roast lunch. We sat in silence, Stefano fiddling on his phone moodily, until my friend Lieve came in and, much relieved, I invited her to join us.
After brief introductions, the three of us sat in silence, until the roast lamb arrived and Stefano started noisily eating with a fork and his bare left hand. I cleared my throat and said, ‘Stefano met the gamekeeper, and held his gun. Stefano has fired a gun before, haven’t you?’
Stefano then began his story. ‘One time, in my village, we storm the building where the government keep their weapons…’ Lieve and I nodded, as if to say, ‘Well, quite. As one does.’
‘And we take all the guns and we run all over the place firing…’ We nodded vigorously as if to say, ‘Who wouldn’t?’ ‘…And we have very good time firing these guns…’ He made some kerr-pow sounds to illustrate the general mayhem, and waved an invisible assault rifle, as if spraying The Black Swan indiscriminately with live rounds.
‘And then we realise…’ He leant forward conspiratorially. ‘…what is going up, is coming down.’ We frowned. He looked at us like we were stupid.
‘All the bullets in the air, they come down. Many dead.’
And he turned back to his roast dinner. I shrugged and mouthed the word ‘sorry’ to Lieve, as if it were merely a social faux pas that I had made her have lunch with an ethnic Albanian rebel leader. But that wasn’t the worst bit.
After he had been eating a while, I noticed that Stefano was shaking his head at his plate. By this point, Lieve was nervously filling the silence by talking about ponies and I had to interrupt her to say, ‘I’m sorry. Stefano, is there something wrong with your lunch?’
And Stefano slammed his cutlery down and exploded. ‘English food is no good!’ he shouted.
Lieve looked like she wanted to run for her life before the AK-47 came out from Stefano’s trouser leg, where it was obviously hiding.
‘Oh dear. Is it not very nice?’
‘It is just meat put on plate.’
‘Well, it’s traditional.’
Stefano all but spat in disgust. ‘Meat on plate?’ he fumed. ‘Just meat on plate? No sauce, no spice. And this…’ He poked at the vegetable medley. ‘This is just vegetable. On plate.’
‘What about the Yorkshire pudding? You’ve got to admit that’s a bit different,’ pleaded Lieve.
I wanted to hiss: ‘Lieve — now! Run! I’ll cover you!’ But we had to sit it out.