‘The colour of this kitchen is inspired by a blend of heather, bracken and the mountains of the Isle of Skye,’ says the brochure.
‘Oh, sweet Lord,’ I think. ‘I just want a kitchen.’
Five months into the renovation and my fondest wish is simply for it all to be over before Christmas. But for that to happen I must stop browsing endless catalogues making preposterous claims about MDF units evoking the magic of the Isle of Skye and order a kitchen from the only place that doesn’t threaten to bankrupt me.
I end up in a trade joinery centre where the gamekeeper has a mate, and the keeper stands behind this mate as the mate works up a quote on his screen, and all the while the keeper is saying, in his soft West Country accent that is, disconcertingly, both friendly and sinister at the same time: ‘I want to see that come down a bit or I won’t be happy.’
And by the time the quote does come down to what passes for very reasonable, I am convinced the kitchen guy is worried that if he doesn’t quote me happy, the keeper will get his gun out of the Defender (fine, so he hasn’t brought the gun in the Defender because you can’t leave a gun in a car unattended, but you know what I mean, the gun is somewhere).
I say nothing. I am delighted. I have gone from being quoted up to £6,000 by a range of stores, including one that I discover has been featured on Rip-off Britain, to securing a quote of £3k, even if this is by threatening to shoot the kitchen supply centre manager. After just half an hour of deliberating over slabs of fake granite named after districts of east London, and sample cupboard doors the colour of Scottish islands, I am the proud owner of some chipboard carcases and laminate slate-effect worktops.
Even better, the most poetry my kitchen inflicts on me is a few mentions of the word Shaker, which I can live with — back in the 18th century, the founders of what became the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearing could barely have dreamed that one day they would be the title of a kitchen cupboard — and the fact that the ivory shade I have chosen is ‘breathtaking’, which has so far proved not to be the case as my breath is perfectly intact, thank you. The whole effect, meanwhile, is declared ‘a contemporary take on a classic look’, which seems to me to mean precisely nothing, but I don’t mind because it’s a kitchen, and it’s under five grand. And a few days later it is delivered in all its shockingly basic glory.
I am on a high. Not only have I managed to order a kitchen that is not attempting to win the Man Booker prize but I have been declared a genius by everyone involved in the building works.
After weeks of wrangling, Stefano comes to see me and announces that he is taking his hat off to me.
‘When you first told me what you wanted to do I was worried. But now… wow!’ And he gestures at the vast kitchen-diner his men have created out of two-and-a-half rooms knocked together under my screaming, wailing, lunatic direction. This was very much on a whim when, after a series of unforeseen catastrophes — you know you’re over budget when you’re burning your maxed-out credit card bills on the open fire to save on kindling — I decided I would have to abandon the architectural plans and improvise.
‘Is… fantastic!’ Stefano declares, as we stand in the massive empty room.
Everything has come together, apparently. It all works. My insistence on the repositioning of the bifold door is inspired, the mezzanine gallery is a stroke of genius.
‘Gen...i...us,’ says Stefano, like an Albanian Craig Revel Horwood.
‘Well, yes, maybe,’ I say, not quite able to believe that we have suddenly had this breakthrough and what looked like a bomb site has almost become a home.
He high-fives me and we share a moment. I feel sorry I ever doubted him, and that he doubted me.
‘So here is the bill until now,’ he says and slaps a piece of paper on the table.
‘Are you sure?’ I stare guiltily down at how modestly he has arranged the figures.
He sighs and stares into the middle distance. ‘Anyway…’ he says, pausing. He always starts his most philosophical sentences by saying anyway. ‘…I didn’t want to make a profit out of this job. I do, just because…’
We share another moment. I feel tears welling up in my eyes. Don’t cry, you idiot. The least you can do is show the man you’re happy.