Like Steve McQueen gone slightly to seed, the builder boyfriend strode off into the sunset. Nothing becomes him so much as the manner of his leaving. He does so every now and then, this time, perhaps for good. I can’t blame him. As he walked away, his blonde hair shining in the sun, it occurred to me that he is a free spirit. I watched him disappear down the track and thought, it’s a shame to tie him down.
He did his best trying to renovate my wreck of a cottage but inevitably he imploded after assorted petty battles. Being dictated to by a Lib-Lab parish council would take its toll on anyone. It wasn’t just the constant carping about our building materials being an eyesore.
The No Horse-Riding signs banning ponies from the 65 acres of common land the house fronts onto incensed him so much he was on the verge of claiming ancient grazing rights by tethering our horses outside the front gate.
And the ‘Say no to all development’ policy was predictable enough to me, especially since it was the Lib Dems who were pushing it. But to him, the hypocrisy was unbearable. ‘But they’re for unlimited immigration!’ ‘Yes, I know.’ ‘So they’re letting them in then refusing to house them?’ And all this while digging up decades of botched flooring in a flooded basement and removing the wet earth in a tub by hand through the house because our right of way round the back was being blocked by the neighbours.
He hit the Diclofenac pretty heavily. I raided my supply to leave him boxes of the stuff by the kettle. By some fluke, the pills are almost identical in shape and colour to my HRT pills.
‘These ones are the anti-inflammatories, these ones are oestrogen. Don’t mix them up and take the oestrogen by mistake,’ I explained to him more than once, not wanting to blunt his style.
He had become a raging tornado of testosterone. He was answering the door by yelling, ‘What!’, before he even knew who was outside. To say he was on a short fuse doesn’t cover it. As he was heaving timbers into the house one day, a gentleman strode towards him saying: ‘Hello, I’m from the parish council!’
‘Good for you,’ said the BB, and slammed the door in his face.
On fête day, a large, belligerent-looking lady — a stalwart member of some committee or other — banged on our front window and accused us of blocking the fire hydrant with our building materials. ‘Health and Safety! It’s illegal!’ she blathered.
‘If you stop talking rubbish,’ he told her, ‘you’ll see that I’ve stacked the stuff next to the hydrant, not on it.’
I had to restrain him when it became apparent she wanted the hydrant to fill a giant paddling pool for sailing miniature boats.
But I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so stressed as when, during a downpour, he stood in the basement staring at a geyser of water bubbling up from the newly dried-out floor. He traced it through the fence into next door’s garden, and then to a water butt next to our wall that turned out to be the receptacle for all the rainwater from their flat roof and conservatory, which was overflowing into our house. He stood there, soaked to the skin, shaking his head as if attempting to wake from a bad dream.
I couldn’t think what to say except: ‘Would you like a nice cup of tea and a Diclofenac?’
Maybe he had already taken the HRT by mistake that day because he had tears in his eyes. As for me, I yearn to walk to the shop and say: ‘A packet of cigarettes please. The ones with the smoking baby on them.’
The last time I did this the young lad behind the counter peeled back the screen door to reveal All The Horror In The World On A Fag Packet. And I looked the other way as the good people in the queue behind me, clutching crisps, Mars Bars and bottles of cider, tutted their disdain. ‘No, I can’t see it. There’s a mouth full of bad teeth?’
Some people smoke from the packs with the man with the spectacular neck tumour, but it’s not for me. I prefer something more metaphorical. Either the smoking baby or the packet showing a floppy fag with erectile dysfunction. But I can’t even smoke a rogue, mystery brand cigarette. I’ve inhaled so much building dust my lungs are in revolt.
So I lie in the bath in my only finished room pondering what to do now. He’s tough, the BB but, perhaps to his credit, I don’t think he’s as tough as me. They’ll have to get up a lot earlier to wear me down.
Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.