Wednesday 25 June 2014

What cowboy done this?

Has anyone in the entire history of human civilisation and its Neanderthal antecedents ever bought a house that did not bring with it a whole heap of problems?

Somehow I imagine that the first intelligible sound a caveman heard, after he had found himself a dryish cleft in the rock, was a neighbour sucking through his teeth, pointing out some glaring defect and grunting “What idiot done that?”

(I apologise to those concerned about the finer feelings of idiots, but sadly at that stage evolution had not yet brought us the more freely abusable figure of the cowboy.)

Best builder's ad ever

I have owned my new house for four weeks now, and the only solid achievement has been the erection of scaffolding to permit the retiling of the roof. The contractor reckons he should be able to start the actual work around mid-July. So, if you are wondering when the glorious British summer will break and be replaced with a more traditional pattern of daily torrential downpours, there’s your answer.

To my surprise the only utility provider that has managed to deliver on its promises is BT, which had a phone line and broadband up and running within minutes of my completion of the purchase.

The wooden spoon goes to the electricity company which continues to deny categorically that any such property exists, despite my providing them with a fair amount of circumstantial evidence over and above my address, including an account number and the serial number on their meter.

It has been pointed out to me that I should stop moaning about this as it means I am getting my power for nothing. And, since they insist that my house is not there, they will clearly never be able to cut it off.

Meanwhile we discover little details that our surveyor somehow missed, like whole rooms bereft of a single electrical socket. Not bathrooms, either.

I realised before I signed the contract to buy the place that it had been converted from a chapel to a house by a DIY enthusiast who had done most of the work himself. What I did not realise, until I gained possession and started delving more deeply, is that he was even more incompetent at DIY than I am, which is saying something.

My favourite mystery so far is that the place is festooned with exterior lights that there appears to be no means whatsoever of switching on or off.

This is closely followed by the fact that every window in the house is equipped with a lock, but we have not inherited a single key.

The septic tank does not work properly and the man who claimed he could fix it has suddenly disappeared off to somewhere exotic, judging by the ringtone on his mobile phone, which he resolutely refuses to answer.

Meanwhile the remorseless advance of Building Regulations apparently means that we cannot replace our boiler, which is held together with gaffer tape, in its current location. Which would not be a problem if there were another logical place to put it. But there isn’t.

Every day seems to bring a new problem to which there is no simple solution. Even charming quirks like the wooden dog door, perfectly sized for Border terriers, proved to be a poisoned chalice; my insurance company vetoed it on the grounds that it would also afford ready access for Rat Boy to ransack our non-existent valuables.

I’d be tempted to stay put in the house we have rented for the last five years but for the fact that it is clearly reaching the end of its economic life, judging by the number of services and appliances that are failing on a daily basis.

Perhaps it is a curse. I have already written the unlikely story of the chapel’s supposed ghost. In exactly a week some chaps with a digger are supposedly going to excavate a large hole in the garden to install a gas tank. I am assured that, despite the ecclesiastical history of the house, it has never possessed a burial ground. Yet somehow I confidently expect to see the white glint of bones and hear a workmanlike voice saying, “Blimey, what cowboy sold you this?” 

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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