Lying in bed one night as the rain pounded down, I became aware of a yellow patch forming on the bedroom ceiling. It took shape as I lay there watching it, and before long it had spread into a glorious stigmata of impending ruin.
This would happen. Because it’s not as though for the first year of living in this house I was living with a boyfriend who was a builder, whose original specialist trade was roofing. I must have imagined that.
I did of course ask the builder boyfriend to get up and check the roof but with his usual reverse logic he insisted on starting work in the basement which was, it could be argued, his area of least expertise.
To cut a long, sad story short, for some of you may be sick of hearing it, he was still down there digging a very long time later and indeed he ended up ripping the house to pieces from the ground up.
While some might be weeping as they write that, I choose to think that this was the best way to do it, because so much damp was coming from the cellar — it wasn’t damp, let’s face it, it was water — that groundworks were the only way to convert what was essentially a houseboat into a house.
A year later, and much water under the bridge, the house was still in pieces. The builder boyfriend staged a gargantuan flounce and I called in Stefano and the Albanians. Out went the BB and his team of cheerful cockney geezers shouting obscenities at each other while Queen’s Greatest Hits blared out of a ghetto blaster. In came tanned, swarthy fellows shouting something or other in Albanian while playing Balkan techno-funk on their iPhones.
No one, not the ex-builder b or the Albanians, ever got as far as the roof before my money ran out. But one thing the BB did say to me before he flounced out was that the roof was good. Nothing wrong with it. He had been up there and thoroughly checked it over and it was fine.
And fine it was, until it started raining. Last winter, I was aware that the loft boards were looking a bit soggy, but I put it out of my mind. After all, I had a house full of problems.
This winter, when the rain started again, the loft boards were probably soaked through and so the water progressed downwards to my bedroom ceiling.
Stefano took the call with his usual forbearance. ‘Ye-es?’ he said, faking trepidation and dread. I know he’s just pretending.
I told him about the leak and I also told him I had a vague memory that some time ago, I don’t know when exactly, three big slates fell smack bang off the roof and I was in such a state I hid them in the cellar in a misguided attempt to pretend it hadn’t happened and stop the builder boyfriend from having a nervous breakdown.
Stefano was there a few hours later and after grappling with long ladders and slipping about on a death trap of a wet, mossy roof, he came back down. ‘I can’t do it.’
No, no, no, don’t be saying that to me now for the first time ever. ‘Why?’ I said, fighting back tears. ‘I can’t reach it. Too… dangerous.’
When Stefano says something is too dangerous, using his trademark pauses, that is pretty bad. This is a man so tough I once saw him grab a live electric copper cable in his hand by mistake, absorb 200 volts and say the word ‘Ouch’.
‘You need a roofer with special roofing…ladders,’ he said, still doing the dramatic pause thing.
‘What will happen to me?’ I wailed. ‘They’ll make me have a whole new roof.’
‘Yes,’ said Stefano, enjoying himself now, ‘because you have three missing slates, why not pull off the other 300 slates and start again!’
‘It’s all very well you laughing. But you know full well that when a roofer comes and it’s just me here he will rip the roof off and make me have a new one.’
Stefano agreed. He nodded and sighed. Then he told me he would try to find roofing ladders. ‘If not… that loft conversion…’ The one I have been putting off?
Stefano said that if I let him cut a hole in the roof and fit Velux windows he could reach across from the inside and refix the slates.
It would still be cheaper than calling in S.W. Indle Roofing Services — Fully insured! Professional Conduct! Reliable Timekeeping! (Reverse all that and you get the picture.) I know he’s right. I know it makes sense. But I have an awful feeling we are about to start unravelling the house from the top down.