Well, how very rude! Luckily, I wasn’t there when a passing neighbour made this remark to house-painter John up his ladder. I’m pretty sure I know who she was though, in which case I know there’d have been an accompanying sideways smile and she’d have paused for a little chat. Plus, she was dead right.
I’ve been trying to get the outside of this house decorated for two years now. Actually, ‘decorated’ is over-ambitious; I didn’t want décor – pastel stucco, Laura Ashley front door, Cotswold stone-cladding – I just wanted the crumbling sills and rusting Crittall casements salvaged, given a bit of TLC and painted: white. Easy, you’d think, especially in these hard times. Over the course of 2012, I was given some acceptable quotes, and reasonable quality assurances, all of which I was happy to accept – until I asked the fatal question: “So, when can you do it?” Hums and hahs and head-scratchings would ensue. I’d play a key escalation card: “This year?” “Oh yes, almost certainly this year.” “Almost?” More scratching. Often a mobile would ring about now: a ploy, I decided. Notebooks would be consulted. “We’ll have a look at the schedule and get in touch.”
As the wintery summer wore into the bleak winter and then the heartlessly withheld promise of spring, I forgot about it. A diary note for mid-April: ‘Decorators.’ My sigh wasn’t written on the page, but it might as well have been.
One Sunday morning three or so weeks ago, I was seeing a friend off when I was hailed from a ladder across the Close. I’d noticed him on and off over some time, painting, repairing, tearing down overgrowth in the garden of the empty house. He climbed down.
“D’ye wanname ta tek a lookit? I ken see it needs a wee bi’ o’ TLC.”
I agreed with what I thought he’d said. He took a look around, poked his screwdriver into one of the kitchen windowsills, a large chunk of which fell to the ground.
“Aye, bit nesh, that’ll need a remake.” He shook his head. “At least two tins of Tupac. I’ll get that. And a gallon Weathershield. And the undercoat.” Another headshake. “Ye’re lookin’ at one-fifty.” I thought silence was the best approach at this stage. “An’ then there’s the labour.” He broke out the huge grin I would get to expect over the coming times, and uttered a number I thought I must have misheard, until he repeated it and then, looking around again, revised it upwards by £200 “because ye never know till ye gei underneath,” and offered his hand.
I shook it, then asked the question.
“Ah well, I haftae finish up here, then I’m on a holday tae the Gambia wi’ me daughter in April … so I’ll need some spendin’ cash fe that … so – nex’ week?”
He completed the job on Good Friday, whilst I was away. When I got back I noticed he’d painted the gates. He came round this morning for his money, and explained.
“I was hangin’ about fa Robbie to finish, and I dinna like doin’ nothing. And I thought I cannae leave it like that, not wi’ that black paint in the can.” The grin came. “Nae extra.”
John, who’s 67, says he can’t bear not working, and will go anywhere. I have his number.