‘When you are in a hole stop digging. Have you never heard that?’ I asked the builder boyfriend, as he slammed his spade into a pile of earth.
I came home to find him in the cellar finishing some unfinished business. The last time we gave it a go — by which I mean gave ‘us’ a go — he set about renovating the house from the bottom up, attempting to remove all the loose earth in the basement. He filled sack after sack, hauling it out in camel tubs, until I was begging him to please do anything else. In the end, I kicked up such a hullabaloo that he was forced to fit me a bathroom.
But he remained somewhat obsessed with the lower-ground-floor level and every time he thought I wasn’t looking he would sneak back down there and start burrowing his way through the earth again, like a demented mole.
The problem is, whoever built this house didn’t remove the earth when they were putting in the footings, so instead of a complete basement area running beneath the upper ground floor what we have is half a lower ground floor at the garden level and half a basement full of loose earth, as well as 100-year-old bricks and rubble.
When we first moved in, the builder became obsessed with dealing with it and, stripped to his waist, began shovelling it into bags, stopping only to ruminate on the various artefacts he was turning up such as old clay pipes that the original builders had smoked as they were working, and slices of old plates and assorted pottery items.
Once I had my bathroom, I nicknamed him Time Team and let him get on with it. After a while the space made a nice tack room and tool store. Then the project sent us both doolally and he walked out.
Since coming back, he has recommitted himself fairly uncomplainingly to seeing if we can get the house finished. The other day, I asked him to please tile the floor of the small downstairs loo. We got the tiles from Selco and he took up the old lino and was happily doing that nice uncomplicated little job. The next time I went down, there he was in the basement with a shovel.
My heart sank. ‘What are you doing? What happened to my new loo floor?’
He explained that before tiling the loo floor he needed to fit a new loo. And while fitting a new loo he wanted to block up the hatch behind the loo which led to the coal hole which led to the cellar. So obviously before doing that he would need to remove all the remaining loose earth and finish the cellar.
In a filthy green T-shirt, sweat pouring down his brow, he was at it again. ‘I only want a loo floor,’ I complained.
He looked at me with an expression of pure defiance, like Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. ‘I hate this village so much I’m digging my way out,’ he said, smiling only slightly.
He is of the view that the house will be worth its full potential price only when we have cleared out all the loose earth from the cellar and made it into a proper storeroom. We are getting ready to sell so we can buy our dream farm or smallholding.
Since Brexit was cancelled, the pair of us have come to a rather astonishing conclusion about where this will be. We have had a look at what we can buy in Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Wales and parts of the Midlands and decided that we want to move to the Dordogne.
I know it makes sense. I just can’t quite explain why. The BB, as ever, was perfectly succinct: ‘If we are going to be forced to live under the cosh of the EU, then we want to live in the best bit of Europe. We don’t want to live in the arse-end of the empire, where they dump all their problems. We want to be in the good bit, where there’s loads of space and wonderful food and good weather. We can have seven wet acres on the Welsh border 20 miles from the nearest corner shop. It will rain every day and we will hate it so much we will dream of a bedsit in Teddington. Or we can buy a chateau and 70 acres in a place where they respect their own culture, couldn’t give a damn for red tape and, as long as you buy the maire a bottle of wine, speak French and fit in, you can do what you want.’
He’s got a point. So I made him a cup of tea and told him to keep digging.