‘Not being rude, but I don’t think you should do any DIY,’ said the gamekeeper.
He had just witnessed me make chicken soup by liquidising a boiled chicken carcass then pressing all the wrong buttons on the liquidiser, so detaching the bottom of the jug from the jug rather than releasing the jug from the machine, sending a deluge of soup downwards on to the kitchen counter and floor.
Cydney was standing below, ever hopeful, so as the cascade of soup splashed on to the spaniel’s head she simply tilted herself to gargle down the rain of good fortune.
The keeper, who had popped in for a coffee, had been listening to me excitedly reciting my plan to finish the house myself by doing all the outstanding work bit by bit with my own fair hands, no matter how many years it took me.
I would drill, hammer and paint my way to glory, I told the keeper, finally sorting out my life for myself, with no help from anyone. No more Cinderella complex. No more male rescuers needed.
‘Right you are,’ said the keeper, then added: ‘So do you want me to drill that piece of plaster board in front of the loft entrance or not?’
‘Yes, obviously…’ I checked myself. ‘No. It’s fine. I can do that myself. Soup?’ I had swilled as much as possible into a pan. Waste not, want not. The keeper grimaced as I sloshed liquid chicken with my bare hands across the counter and into the pan: ‘No, thank you.’
Later, after I had cleared up the rest of the soup, which had leaked into every crevice of the worktops — at least my new kitchen smells homey — I hauled the piece of board into place in front of the corridor leading to the loft I cannot now afford to convert, and whose non-insulated roof consequently leaks cold air into the rest of the house, a cruel internal wind of failure.
I tried drilling a screw into the board with the hand drill but it just jiggled and popped out, and I was on the verge of giving up and either calling the keeper, Stefano the Albanian, or possibly even asking the builder boyfriend to take me back, when I suddenly had the idea to try a screwdriver.
This worked a treat. I should have known, low tech is my thing. With my loft corridor newly closed up, the house was draft-free and toasty warm, and I settled down to think what else I could do myself.
After nailing up a few paintings to hide holes in walls I can’t afford to plaster, I tried to unblock the main drain under a huge manhole cover on the patio and, pounded by wind and rain, promptly fell into it.
Well, I can build up to engineering. The main thing was that I had my resolve: the new year would mean fewer disasters and more competence all round.
I set off in good spirits for a weekend at a friend’s house on a country estate in Hampshire, and after a relaxing couple of days got into the Volvo to come home and promptly drove straight over a stone marking out the driveway. The front driver-side tyre, one of four new Continentals fitted three weeks ago, duly burst open, and as I got out of the car a loud hissing confirmed that I had shredded it.
The car sat on the rim, the tyre utterly deflated. I felt the same. The wait for the RAC was three hours and my new policy of doing everything for myself only got me as far as opening the boot and peering at the huge metal hoojamaflip that winds the spare tyre down from the undercarriage.
I pulled the thing out of its casing and flung it about to no avail. What was worse, the keeper couldn’t help me now. I was miles from his jurisdiction. Luckily, my friend knew the keeper there and was on the phone to him immediately.
When a Kubota hoved into view and two men in camouflage got out, I knew I was saved.
‘How come gamekeepers are the only people who can fix anything?’ I asked the keeper by text as the other keeper changed my tyre.
‘What have you done now?’ he asked. I told him. ‘You’re unbelievable,’ came the reply. ‘Put me on the phone to him and I’ll thank him.’ Evidently, there is some unspoken code between keepers. When one keeper’s friend gets into trouble in another keeper’s jurisdiction, a form of diplomatic immunity kicks in.
In any case, the Hampshire keeper was all smiles, and sent me on my way to drive back to Surrey on the space-saver at 40mph, beginning 2018 as I will no doubt go on.