Finally, I got my hands on a gun. About the size of a sawn-off shotgun it was, just under 20in long, a fine specimen of a weapon. It was surprisingly light and easy to wield.
I held it and thought of all that I might now accomplish. Everything I had dreamed of could now become reality. I would right all the wrongs. I would put things in order. Oh, I would do so many things. I stood in front of the bedroom mirror and admired my reflection holding the gun unloaded, pulling the trigger to see how it felt. It felt good.
I went down to the cellar and rummaged through the boxes of miscellaneous stuff and found what I thought was the appropriate ammo: decorator’s caulk, white, smooth finish.
Getting the caulk tube into the sealant gun was tricky. I had to phone the keeper. He said that he didn’t want to talk me through cutting the end off the tube as I was sure to slice my fingers off with the Stanley knife. A few minutes later, as if by magic, he appeared.
The sound of his Defender sent the spaniels to the front door barking with delight. They love the keeper. He strides into the house bearing the heady odour of assorted creatures — squirrel, crow, rat, pheasant —and there is nothing finer to a dog than that.
He cut the top off the decorator’s caulk in one terrifyingly swift motion and put it into the sealant gun, trying to explain what he was doing. Something about cutting at an angle to shape the end of the tube so that blah blah… I know I should listen. It’s just that every time I have to learn something my middle-aged mind glazes over.
Once he handed me the gun, I was fully alert. I aimed it at a gap in the skirting around the bathroom door and pulled the trigger. It was sublime. I aimed it at the gaps in the skirting around the bedroom floor. It was awesome. I was empowered. In shorts and a manky T-shirt, smudged all over with grime, my hair scraped back in a ponytail, I was the Lara Croft of DIY.
‘I’ll have the upstairs finished in no time,’ I told the keeper as I machine-gunned the skirting. ‘What’s the next thing? Peeling off the wallpaper? That’s easy. Filling the holes in the walls? What do I do that with? Cement? Plaster?’
‘Take it easy,’ he begged me. ‘Just do the skirting, then we’ll see about the walls.’ He had that look on his face. ‘It’s not much left to do, is it?’ I asked, wanting encouragement. We both know that I am living in a wreck of a house and that all being equal I would be employing a building firm on a hefty fee to finish it. But my finances being as they are, I am calling in favours from friends and tackling an unfeasible amount myself. The keeper sighed, looking around at the gaps and bare bits and things hanging out of other things and said what he always says: ‘Yeah. It’s just architraving.’
He has been saying ‘It’s just architraving’ since the builder boyfriend left with the house in pieces, holes in floors, rubble piled up to the ceiling. True enough, there is a lot of architraving missing from around the windows and doors, but I think we both know that it’s not ‘just architraving’. He says this to comfort me. And at first I believed him. Believed that if we just nailed enough slices of wood over the gaps it would all be fine. But six months down the line, the scales have fallen from my eyes. I know it’s not just architraving.
That doesn’t stop me saying the same thing to all my friends, however. And it works fine when I’m saying it to male friends but when my girlfriends come to see me they are not amused.
My friend the cellist came for supper the other evening and as I was doing the tour, I bookended the viewing of each battered room by saying the immortal words ‘It’s just architraving,’ until finally she looked at me, a mixture of incomprehension, irritation, pity and dismay on her face, and said: ‘I don’t know what architraving is.’
Of course she doesn’t. Architraving is not something that any civilised, urbane woman with any kind of grip on reality and normality would want to know anything about.
She might very well have a husband who is conversant with architraving. But few women I know exist in circumstances that require them to make even a nodding acquaintance with architraving themselves, much less to utter the regular incantation of the forlorn and futile hope that this is all that stands between them and happiness.