I have a friend who is perhaps best described by that old-fashioned phrase ‘ladies’ man’. He’s not a cad or a bounder — quite the opposite, in fact. He’d never leave a lady in the lurch, or lie to her, he simply enjoys the company of women — quite a lot of women — and they seem to enjoy him too. He knows all the hottest spots in town, and somehow all the barmen and doormen too. More important, he’s a listener, and as any girl will tell you, a man who listens is a rare and miraculous thing.
But of all the cards up his sleeve, there’s one that trumps the rest: he’s friends with Artur, one of the best head builder/decorators in London, and for any home-owning thirtysomething woman, that’s catnip. Artur, like my pal, is a perfectionist — which is perhaps why they get on — and he’s not someone I’d normally have the nous to employ, but he appeared one bright autumn morning last year, sent to me and my husband by the ladies’ man to fix up my wreck of a new house, and his arrival has been a revelation.
My normal life is one of punctuated idleness: days of lazing followed by a scramble to get stuff done, and as a result I’m a magnet for shysters. Handymen, painters, plumbers, I find them online, then end up in the same inevitable conversation: ‘Well, the thing is love, it’s a bit more complicated than we first thought… so it’s going to cost you. ’ Artur, by contrast, said straight away: we’ll make this simple and cheap. And though I’ve done my best to frustrate him — changing my mind and my plans — he’s been as good as his word. So if, like me, you’re habituated to charlatans, here’s a glimpse of this other possible world.
Artur saves me money, regularly, though he stands to gain nothing by it. Look at this, Artur, I say, showing him a picture of some fancy stairs or sinks. Artur pales, says ‘How much, boss?’, then finds the same thing at quarter the price.
Like Jeeves, he intervenes in a tactful way when I forget some vital house thing: ‘Perhaps a cupboard in the spare room for your guests?’ Oh, yes. I hadn’t thought of that. ‘What about one in the bathroom too?’ Yes please, that too, Artur. I’ve learnt to watch his eyes as we discuss each new phase of work. If I’m making some appalling mistake, they remain downcast. When he’s able to meet my eye, I know I’m on the right track. Most crucially, every workman Artur’s brought on site — plumber, electrician, builder — has been as smart and honest as him.
It’s a tribute to Artur’s IQ how rapidly he caught my drift. In January he was suggesting LEDs, remote-control self-clouding shower glass and intercoms. In just a few weeks he’d recalibrated: ‘Belfast sink, boss? Wooden floors? Smeg fridge? Yes, I thought so. Very middle class.’ I have no idea if this is a compliment or not. I do know that in a few weeks, Artur’s work will be done, and that as well as being thrilled finally to move in, I’ll be genuinely sad to see him go.