Decorating a tree on the unfinished minstrels’ gallery was an appealing idea if only for the health and safety violations. The little lodger was up for it and between the two of us we heaved the six-foot tree to the kitchen, preparing to hoist it aloft.
As things stand, the gallery above the kitchen doesn’t have a railing. Or floorboards. A railing would only have made it more difficult to get the tree up there. But floorboards are probably a basic requirement when one is planning to stand a tree on a three-foot wide mezzanine, ten feet up in the air.
So, as the little lodger watched in mute horror, I pulled out all the old reclaimed floorboards I had stacked in the cellar ready for the carpenter to fit and began pushing them up there.
She held the ladder as I climbed up and pushed the boards into place over the plasterboard and joists. I tried to drill them down but the screws wouldn’t go in. I tried nailing them down but I couldn’t drive the nails in.
‘Maybe they’ll be alright like that?’ the lodger said forlornly, as I brandished a drill in one hand and a hammer in the other like a menopausal version of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
‘Yes, you’re right,’ I said, passing the tools back down.
The loose floorboards actually sat quite nicely and only once or twice did I stand on them in the wrong place, flipping myself into the air when they slipped off the joists.
The lodger passed me up a square piece of MDF for a corner, which fitted quite neatly. Then it was time to heave the tree up.
The lodger is barely five feet tall but she pushed that wrapped tree up the ladder like a trooper. I grabbed it and pulled and after a long while of edging it inch by inch along the railing-less gallery, I had it in the corner on the MDF.
Up came the tree stand and I began trying to push the end of the tree into it. But the trunk was too thick. I wiped my brow.
‘Get me a saw from the cellar!’ I told the lodger, who tiptoed away and came back with two saws which she passed up to me, white-faced.
It was as I sawed at the stump of the tree while balancing like a tightrope walker that she mentioned the keeper. What, she wondered, would he say if he were here? Should we call him? Or should we carry on with this scheme of trying to cope without men?
‘He’s busy,’ I told her through gritted teeth as I sawed. I slipped, sending a board into the air at the other end, nearly flipping myself into oblivion.
The lodger screamed and put her tiny hands in the air as if to catch me.
‘I’m OK! I’m OK!’ I shouted as I righted myself.
Was I doing this to prove a point? Was I trying to do the most difficult thing possible with my Christmas tree in order to prove that I can survive?
The keeper has given up on me. They all do in the end. After enough catastrophes, the relentlessness of my capacity for disaster overwhelms even the toughest of the tough.
If you asked him now, the keeper might express unbridled sympathy with the builder boyfriend.
I think the hole in the roof was the watershed, if the pun can be pardoned.
The keeper had only just fixed a volley of other mishaps when I called to say the roof was leaking. There is only so much of my luck anyone can take. But I can take it. Goddamn it, I can be a man about it.
I sawed and sawed, sending small chunks of bark flying about me and when I heaved the tree back into the holder it was an exact fit. ‘Ha!’ I cried. ‘See! We don’t need anyone!’
I pushed the tree into place and it wasn’t too wonky. ‘Pass me a cookery book. That one. The Food of Italy.’
The lodger passed it up. With one foot of the stand on a joist, one on a piece of MDF and one on The Food of Italy, the Christmas tree was rock solid.
The lodger started passing up decorations, but after an hour I had to let her off. She had a theatre outing to go to. All that night and most of the next day, by a process of climbing up and down the ladder and crawling along the boards with one decoration at a time, I managed to finish the tree.
‘That’s going in a pot of soil up there until next year,’ said the lodger as we sat at the kitchen table eating mince pies, gazing up at my magnificent folly.