There is a special corner of hell reserved for tradespeople, and it’s littered with broken promises and half-finished porches. The flooring (I’m thinking the Devil likes parquet) is paint-spattered, the tools are all over the garden, and the thermostat is still broken. But don’t worry. The heating will be turned down next week. Promise. On my life. Seriously, you can trust me. Next week. It’ll be done.
Nowadays it’s a rare day that I hire help. Over the past four years, (four! Four have gone. Where?) I’ve developed triceps and quadriceps, and many other muscles that sound oddly like dinosaurs, that I’d never heard of. More importantly, I’ve learned the techniques. And yes there’s always a technique for everything, be it rock dragging or machete swinging. There’s even a technique (which Celal showed me - oh Celal you are missed) for hacking out monster thorn bushes involving a rake and a well-applied Wellie, but that’s a whole different post.
This year I called on a labourer twice. Once in spring to cut the grass, and once in autumn to chop my wood. Both occasions drove me nuts. It was akin to dragging a belligerent donkey up a steep bramble-throttled hill. So three months ago, when a certain someone, who out of loyalty and fondness shall not be named, explained he had a few weeks free while the courgettes in his greenhouse grew, I leapt on the possibility.
“Yes I’ll take care of that wood for you, no hassle,” he said.
Three months ago. October came and went. November arrived. My wood shed still gaped hungrily. Eventually, I decided action was necessary, so when I saw the afore-mentioned personage driving to his greenhouse one morning, I blocked his path.
“Hey, I need that wood cutting. Today! Seriously. Rain is coming and I’m woodless.” I yelled.
A tousled head poked out of the driver’s window and the mouth within it yawned. “Hmm, we’re tying the courgettes today.”
I widened my eyes. “But you told me you had time. Like a month ago.”
The afore-mentioned personage revved his engine. I folded my arms and remained put in the centre of the road.
“Alright. But I can’t do four hours today. Just two.”
“Two’s fine. I’ll take two hours. Just cut me some wood.”
So the afore-mentioned personage came and chopped half the wood. Better than nothing, I thought. Winter settled. I threw log after log into the wood burner, and soon enough the wood stack was once more depleted. Here we go again, I groaned.
Thus a month ago, I took a long, deep breath and attempted to wring another two hours of wood cutting from the dishcloth of labourer time. I called at the afore-mentioned personage’s house. He said he’d turn up the next day. He didn’t. I called him that evening, and the next evening. Every time he said he’d be there either today or tomorrow. Two more weeks passed and I was down to about five logs. The trouble was, because the afore-mentioned personage had cut half the wood already, only a two-hour cutting stint remained. No one else was going to trek over to my land for two hours work. I was over a barrel.
And this is it, isn’t it? They grab you by the short and curlies and then you’re stuck. Your foundations are in, but the builder hasn’t shown up for a month since. You paid for the pine six months ago, but the carpenter spent the cash on Rakı. Half your wood is cut and now burned. The other half is waiting, and the weather forecast is showing minus 5 degrees centigrade for the coming week. The sense of powerless in the face of this task incompletion is phenomenal. You need the workman. He doesn’t show up. It’s desperate. I felt a wrecking ball of anger begin swinging inside me; a plutonium pendulum of mass destruction. Fine. Just fine. I muttered to no one in particular.
The next morning I wandered over to the afore-mentioned personage’s greenhouse. I gabbled at him non-stop until he pleaded for me to leave. I did the same again in the afternoon.
“Alright alright, I’ll come at four today. I promise,” he said as he tinkered with something under the bonnet of his car.
“If you’re not coming, you’d better call me,” I said. Or what, Kerry? Honestly, what are you going to do?
I returned home. It was two in the afternoon. I waited. I tried to be patient. I tried not to think the worst or to feel desperate.
Time passed, as it does. Four O’clock came and went. The pendulum inside me began swinging. Quarter past four. Half past four arrived. Snatching my phone from the table, I called Dudu. “Have you seen him?” I yelled into the phone.
“Oh, yes. He left five minutes ago," she replied cheerily. Then added, "Drove clean off he did." Just to stoke the fire a little.
BOOM. The wrecking ball smashed through my frontal lobes, destroyed all synapses related to politeness and reason, it took out every gate of self-control and crushed any self-conscious care. I was well and truly pissed off, as we say in the United Kingdom.
I stormed to the shed, yanked out the chainsaw and roared some words which would even have caused the workmen in their corner of hell to blink. An image of me charging up to the greenhouse with the chainsaw, and driving its steel fangs into each and every courgette plant, bloomed happily inside me. Courgette soup for breakfast, dinner and tea for you lot, I cackled. The fantasy ended with me sawing a ‘K’ Zoro style into the polytunnel plastic, and stalking off.
Back in reality, I exhaled, then walked away from the shed, chainsaw in hand.
Now, you shouldn’t start a chainsaw when you’re fuming. It’s really not a good idea.
Except when it is.
Anger gets a bad name, but it’s like money, a knife, or indeed a chainsaw. It all depends how you use it. If you refrain from fixating on the object of your anger, and tap into the power beneath, it's amazing stuff. As long as you don’t actually transform someone’s greenhouse of courgettes into a massive vegan smoothie, all is well. It’s all about putting the energy to good use. And let’s face it, I had a use for it. It was loitering at the edge of my land in huge, bark-encased stumps.
Instead of heading for the polytunnels, I made for those wheels of pine the afore-mentioned personage was supposed to cut. I’d never cut a trunk that large before, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to push through it. I started my death beast up. She roared pleasingly. Rage turned to power, and it surged through my body like a mass-produced eighties rock song. The blade churned through the wood. One huge hunk fell away. Then another. On and on.
An hour later, I couldn’t believe my eyes, but I had most of the set cut into slices. The light was failing. I didn’t care. I was so pumped, I yanked out the axe and began hacking right there and then. There is no job better for a bad mood than wood splitting. With every slew the world became better and brighter.
As darkness fell, I charged up and down the land with the wheelbarrow ferrying the cut wood into the shed. And it felt so good. I did it. It cost me nothing. I burned fat, built more muscles with weird names, and expelled vats of negative energy. The wood was ready. I was saved. It's quite marvellous when you look at it. I had no idea the point of the hired hand was to drive you to such a state of fury you managed the task yourself.
And this is the beauty of home building. This is why you move off-grid and become independent. This is the unparalleled freedom you are granted when you learn a few skills and get in shape. You never need suffer that tradesman torment again. Ever. You are empowered. They can go to their corner in hell (if indeed they can get in, because no doubt the door handle is loose and comes off in their hands), while you sit back, light the fire, and admire your handiwork.
Sigh (long and contented).
So now it seems I only need a workman once a year.
Hmm. Four months until spring and the grass cutting. Oh dear, I'm feeling anxious already.
Note: Of course, there are many dedicated, punctual and conscientious tradespeople out there, like Celal and my uncle Nigel, who have a their own custom-built corner of heaven instead. I just haven't seen one for a while;)
Atulya K Bingham
Sick of the screen?
You can now get a beautiful, illustrated paperback edition of Mud Mountain.
"Beautifully written and inspiring." The Owner Builder Magazine.
Want to follow my journey?