Now I know how the Karate Kid felt. Two hours after I began oiling the newly laid deck in my garden, I could barely move my arms.
Wax on, wax off, I kept repeating. I knelt until I had rib marks in my knees so deep they looked as though they might never come out.
After eight boards, the muscles in my right arms were bulging. I tried swapping the brush to the other hand, but that took too long so I gave up. Wax on, wax off. I would have to have one big muscled right arm and a scrawny left one. As long as someone attacks me from that side, I can block them with my right hand.
The hours passed, the sun went down. I oiled my way to the door just in time for nightfall. ‘Start at the far end and work to the door,’ the keeper had instructed me before he left me with the pot of oil.
‘Yes, Mr Miyagi,’ I said.
I have decided to finish the house myself. Or rather, to be more specific, I have decided to ask the keeper to help me do it myself, which the keeper says means something else entirely.
I made a list of the jobs outstanding. Re-point the front of the house. Paint the front of the house. Colour? Get samples. Patio?
The keeper sent me to B&Q for sand. I already have 25 bags of cement stacked in the front garden. No one knows why I have so much. No one knows why I have 35 breeze blocks, or 50 engineering bricks or 100 soft reds.
After the Albanians left, I had 25 giant plasterboards stacked in the dining room and about 50 sacks of British Gypsum. No one knew anything about those either.I advertised it all on the noticeboard of the One Stop and a very drunk labourer came and took the boards but screamed blue murder about the plaster being out of date. ‘Well, I don’t know, do I?’ I said. ‘Don’t take what you don’t want.’ ‘It’s illegal!’ he ranted.
‘All right, all right,’ I said. ‘Keep your hair on. I don’t know anything about plaster.I don’t know anything.’
I don’t know why the ex-builder boyfriend scraped all the pointing out of the front of the house.
All I know is that it has got to be put back in. ‘Pointing is easy, any fool can do it,’ people keep telling me. ‘If any fool can do it,’I said to the keeper, ‘does that not look likea golden opportunity for me?’
He grudgingly agreed to show me, but on no account was I to go up a ladder. I could do what I could reach and then a scaffolding tower would have to be hired. And no, I was not going to go up it. Someone else would have to, or I would surely fall off.
A ten-minute demonstration later, I was outside the house in my shorts holding a piece of hosepipe and a trowel in my Marigold-covered paws, a bucket of cement mixed by the keeper at my feet.
After a while, I got quite good at it. I dispensed with the tools and stuffed it in with my gloved hands.
‘This pointing lark is easy! Any fool could do it,’ I twittered merrily.
A week later and the bit of the house I could reach was finished, which was not much of it as I am only 5ft 3in.
Off I toddled to B&Q for more sand (for the keeper) to build a retaining wall for the decking out back, and what should I see but the paint counter. A lovely man mixed me three different shades and back I came with Blush of Hyacinth, Whimsical Chimes and Thyme Flower, which I brushed on to the wall in foot-square blocks and stood back to decide upon.
It was not easy as they all looked exactly the same: pink.
The keeper disallowed all of them and put me to work hod-carrying for the wall.I had to schlepp bricks and chunks of crazy paving. I sweated and groaned. ‘Godammit, Mr Miyagi, when you gonna teachme karate?’
After the retaining wall came the frame and then the decking. And then, drum roll, a job for me that I could do all on my own.
He handed me the oil. ‘Wax on, waxoff,’ I said, as I began. He sighed.
‘Don’t forget to breathe, very important!’ I said to myself. ‘Melissa-san! Show me sand the floor. Big circle. Now show me paint the fence, up down!’
I heard the footsteps of the keeper retreating through the house and the front door opening as he called: ‘Ring me when you muck it up.’ Only of course he didn’t say muck, exactly.