A Tale of One Builder

And why I'm mad as hell

It’s times like these that I had a crystal ball that could predict the future. If so, the current dilemma in which I find myself, might not have occurred.

I moved into my flat 8 years ago. At the time the freehold was owned by a company who had purchased dozens, maybe hundreds of properties across London following WWII, many of them now occupied by elderly sitting tenants. According to Kilburn urban legend, the said company would ultimately benefit from the sale of the property, once the occupant had died. In the meantime, they were known to carry out minimal repair work to their portfolio, be incredibly hard to get a hold of and mainly absent in their responsibilities.

When I purchased my property, it was in very poor condition, both inside and out. The renovation took nearly a year to complete. A couple of years ago I purchased the freehold with the owner of the flat upstairs, the idea being that we would in time carry out work to the exterior of the building, which was looking very tired after many years of neglect.

Tenders were put out last year for the repair work, a ‘simple decorating’ job, I was told, that I anticipated would cost a few thousand pounds. When the tenders were returned, the costs were much higher than I had imagined, well into five figures.

Three weeks ago the scaffolders turned up and then two weeks ago the builders arrived. The ‘foreman’ Phil arrived on Day 1. He was ruddy skinned, with a slightly rotund belly, classic English stocky build. His voice suggested he might have been from Essex. He took one look at the top of the building. There was a sharp intake of breath. “F*** me,” he said. “We didn’t allow for that.” There followed a sharp exhalation out. “F*** me, and that.” The already exorbitant price in my head was increasing as he shook his head from side to side. This not being my first time around the property rodeo (I’ve carried out two other extensive renovations in my adult life), I shrugged it off, having witnessed it before.

The next day two Italian guys arrived with heavy machinery. Phil announced that these guys were amazing at the way they could strip down a building to its shell in hours. I’d never seen a building in my street, all from the same Georgian period, or thereabouts, stripped down to the bare brick. He said, “They must all be driving around in Ferraris, considering the speed at which they work, these guys.”

The noise was deafening as they turned on some kind of Kango hammer. The entire building was shaking. Chunks of plaster and cement came flying down from all directions, ending up in mine and my neighbours’ gardens. I think one spec of dust must have caught in my eye because last Sunday I ended up in the eye hospital A&E after my eyelid swelled to the point where it completely obscured my eyeball. But that’s another story. My neighbours complained and wondered how long it would continue, as they were both working from home.

By day two, the render had been stripped off most of the building, leaving the shoddy brickwork underneath clearly visible. Clearly the Georgian builders had not intended it ever to be revealed. It was at that point the crystal ball would have come in handy. I looked at the building, then at the tender that had been sent out. I couldn’t see where it said that all the render was to be removed. My partner Bob looked at all the documentation and he couldn’t see the instruction either.

Images of Peter Finch in Network flashed through my mind. If you haven’t seen it, because you weren’t born in the 1950s or 60s, then it’s worth viewing. What am I saying? It doesn’t matter when you were born, just watch it.

So, yeah, I’m mad as hell.