The Albanian builders have started a turf war in my kitchen. The hostilities broke out suddenly. One minute the builders were building and the plumber was plumbing and the next minute the builders were shouting at the plumber and the plumber was looking helplessly at me to intervene, only I couldn’t intervene because a) the builders were shouting in Albanian, and b) I would have no idea what they were on about if they were speaking English because it was something to do with the floor and the radiators and the gap for the patio doors in millimetres — about which I know precisely nothing.
I’ve watched those Grand Designs shows a thousand times and cursed at the screen whenever a woman has declared herself project manager of her own build. ‘Ludicrous!’ I always shout at the TV set.
And now that I’ve been forced to project-manage the renovation of my own house, since the builder boyfriend left, I can confirm that my prejudice was absolutely bang on.
I know nothing about ordering bifold doors and making decisions about the size of gaps in back walls. All I know is: ‘Please, please put a door in, it’s windy!’ And that doesn’t cut it. That leads to the builders in the bombsite kitchen area screaming at Terry the plumber, who has only come to help me figure out, before I pay for kitchen units, where the sink and dishwasher are going, but who now faces accusations, I think, that he is plotting with me to undermine them by changing the position ofthe doors.
Part of the problem is that Stefano is so big now that he can’t come to my job. He brought me a team of men and left them to bang and crash. They have been knocking out my kitchen for a period of time I cannot quantify, I am so disorientated. It could be two weeks, it could be 3,000 years.
Stefano gave them a pep talk when he first brought them. He warned them what will happen if they get something wrong. ‘She shout?’ asked one of them.
‘No,’ said Stefano, sighing heavily. ‘She don’t shout. She cry.’
The men gasped. ‘Cry?’ said one, looking as though he might turn around and leave without further ado.
Every day since then, the men have arrived in a black van to bang and crash, and shout incomprehensible questions up the stairs to where I am hiding in the bedroom with the spaniels.
One day, I come home from the kitchen shop reeling from a quote for £4,500 for what is, let’s face it, a pile of chipboard, walk into the bombsite and find that the newly finished gap in the back wall for the bifold doors is not centred.
I stand in front of it pointing and welling up and trying to explain why I don’t like it. ‘Ring Stef,’ says the man.
‘You want door… centre?’ asks Stefano, incredulously. I am incredulous that he is incredulous.
‘Yes, I want centre. Of course I want centre.’ And my lip begins to wobble, my voice quakes. I make a little squeaking sound and he says: ‘Put me on phone to him, please.’
All I can hear then is his man saying ‘Po… po… grinder… po… po… 7-foot opening…’
Then he passes me back. ‘Yes?’ Stefano says. ‘Yes?’ I say. ‘Anything else?’ ‘No. Thank you. When are you coming?’
‘Ah, have a bit of work here, then, maybe…’
He never comes. He is too big now. I blame myself for putting the word around south London ten years ago that the big bearded guy I found up a ladder outside my neighbour’s house could do any job.
Readers wrote to me begging me for his number and I passed his details on. People knocked on my door and asked to see my flat so they could assess whether his work was really top-notch, and I showed them. And it was.
He didn’t take all the help I offered him, though. He rejected my branding ideas, which involved a website called MyAlbanianBuilder.com.
‘I don’t like. I tell people I’m Italian.’
‘Well, you shouldn’t. No one wants an Italian builder. We’re crazy for Albanian builders.’
Even so, he decided to go with a boring name to do with south London and he seems to have done very well with it.
He is so sought after he cannot get to my job to stop his men fighting with my plumber.
So when they start screaming at poor Terry, I run down the stairs and I do the only thing I have in my power to do. I start crying. Sobbing, really.
And within 15 seconds, the men stop shouting and tell me they are sorry and will do anything I want with the door.
This would be fabulous, if only I knew.