‘That’s not the builder boyfriend,’ said the luncheon guest as he eyed the builder boyfriend over the table.
‘Well then, who do you think it is?’ I asked the gentleman, who was sitting next to me with a bemused expression on his face. He had put down his fork and abandoned his fettuccine completely after I let slip that his favourite character was seated opposite. He shook his head. ‘No, no. That can’t be the builder boyfriend. He’s got a Countryside Alliance badge on his lapel. He’s not dressed like a builder.’
‘Funnily enough,’ I said, ‘I make him wear clean clothes when we go out. Were you expecting him to turn up for a lunch party in his work outfit?’
Normally, the BB wears ripped jeans covered in paint and a T-shirt bearing the logo of the Selco builders’ merchant, which he gets for free when he goes there to buy materials.
‘I just thought,’ said the chap, ‘he would look a bit more like a builder. But he looks, well, you know. Come on. He’s not a builder. He’s some sort of building consultant or construction firm owner or something.’
‘Thank you, on his behalf, for the compliment,’ I said. ‘But I can assure you the BB has only the most nodding of acquaintances with the concept of consultancy.’
The builder b sat on the other side of the table, oblivious to all this. He did look quite dapper. He had on a pink Ralph Lauren polo shirt I had earlier ironed after he found it stuffed down the side of the seat in his old truck; a pair of clean, unripped jeans, miraculously produced by me against all odds from the bottom drawer; and this had been topped on arrival with his beloved shooting jacket, which he has owned since long before I have known him.
I suppose he doesn’t look much like a builder in this get-up. But we have to allow him to be on a day off. It had not occurred to me, however, that his following is becoming such that when I take him out I am disappointing his many fans by dressing him up in a way that does not meet their expectations.
In other words, I realise that he would please his public far more if he were dressed at all times in his ripped work trousers and dirty Selco T-shirt.
‘No, that’s him all right,’ I said to my lunch companion. ‘That’s the builder b. There he blows.’
And as I said this, the man himself burst out laughing at a joke our hostess was telling him and smiled his megawatt smile. I felt a pang of guilt. ‘Are you saying I don’t do him justice?’ I asked.
‘No, you certainly don’t. And also, you make him out to be… to be… to be…’
‘Working class?’ I helped out. ‘It’s not an insult, you know.’ ‘Well, yes. But look at him.’ The pink Ralph Lauren, the Countryside Alliance badge, the shooting jacket…
Is it so hard to believe that the ordinary working people left in this country who are still doing manual labour for modest wages with cheerful fortitude, while eating in ‘caffs’ or going to Greggs for steak bakes, are not dressed in pearly king and queen garb?
My companion nodded sagely. He got my point. He was just, I could tell, a little knocked off balance because as so often with characters on a page they live in your head in a certain format and don’t necessarily conform exactly to that when you meet them in real life. I was also a little frustrated, because I tend to think I’m fairly accurate in my depiction of the BB.
For the avoidance of any doubt, let me be clear: the builder is blond, butch and handsome. But he is also fast-talking with a rapier wit. He’s not only incredibly nice to look at, he’s also extremely personable, clever, enlightened and funny — boy, he’s funny. He has people rolling in the aisles when he gets started on one of his anecdotes about putting right dodgy loft conversions rich Londonites have had done on the cheap. He’s currently doing a roaring trade in humane pest control for lefties.
If you do meet him, get him to tell you the one about the woolly liberal who asked him to fix a giant wooden bird of prey to her chimney to scare away the pigeons she’s been feeding for years. ‘Did it work?’ I asked him innocently. ‘Did it work?’ he said, his blond hair standing on end from a day on a windy roof. ‘The pigeons use it as a roost. They’re perched on top of it.’
It’s the way he endures life’s absurdities while trying to make the best of things that makes me love him.