Another hold-up on site today when Tarquin the bricklayer got into a heated debate on Hegelian determinism with Boris the hod carrier. Being a staunch existentialist, Boris would have none of Tarquin's post-Kantian blather. "Stands to reason," he said. "Being always precedes essence. You don't need a degree in philosophy to see that."
"Does that mean that my front wall actually is up to wall plate level," I suggested, "but we're just not saying it is for the moment?"
I glanced at the wall, which was, in fact, only five feet off the ground. So did Tarquin and Boris.
"You what?" asked Boris.
Ignoramus – I could see it written all over their faces.
Luckily the situation was saved by the sudden appearance of Lawrence, our cheery ground worker.
"You know," he beamed, "this conversation reminds me of a passage in the Dead Sea Scrolls I glanced at the other day. Lovely language, that Aramaic. I could read it for hours."
Tarquin had four bricks laid in as many seconds. Boris turned up the tranny. Brahms boomed across the building site. Miffed, Lawrence went back to his drains. He's a slow worker at best, but great at keeping everybody's else nose to the grindstone.
I went back to my caravan to look over the schedule of works. Three months into my first self-build and the timber frame was erected, the roof half tiled, second fix under way – but the outer layer of brickwork was only inching up and I'd no idea where the roofers had got to. Actually, that was a lie. I'd seen Lucian and Bruce on Channel 4 last night, interviewed at the Edinburgh Festival after the rave reviews for their self-penned drama Nailed, a searing exposé of the roofing industry. As Lucian had said to me, "What's a couple of days lost to your build schedule compared to international dramatic success? Be reasonable, darling." He always called me darling, but, as he was six foot four and heavily tattooed, I was inclined not to mind. I hadn't minded the couple of lost days, either, but that had been three and a half weeks ago.
There was a knock at the door. Sebastian, the decorator, popped his head round, almost losing his beret in the process.
"Master bedroom's finished and you have just got to see it," he grinned. "No word of a lie, it's my chef d'oeuvre."
I followed him up the newly fitted stairs and across the landing. "Hi, man," said Seb's assistant Dylan as we opened the bedroom door. He was stretched out on the floorboards, puffing at a fag and smiling beatifically.
"Dylan," I frowned, "I did mention that I wasn't keen on cigarette breaks in the house."
"This isn't a cigarette, man," Dylan's smile didn't change. "I'm seeking my muse." He burst into giggles.
"What do you think?" Sebastian enthused, gazing round. "Have you ever seen such vivid colour? This is the essence of sunlight – pure liquid gold captured on bare plasterboard! I don't think I've ever got so close to the living, throbbing heart of – "
"Yellow?" I said.
Sebastian laughed, "The word is so inadequate, so – "
"Then how about blue?" I offered. "Since that's actually what I asked for. Dulux duck-egg blue, if I recall."
"Told you, man," Dylan giggled.
Sebastian's face was like thunder. "I can't control inspiration!" he snapped. "My blue period ended last Tuesday, and besides, B&Q are out of duck egg."
"Try Homebase." I made for the door. "And get rid of the sunflowers."
Dylan's giggles stopped.
"That's my homage to Van Gogh, man!"
It was no good. Inexperienced as I was, I had to take a grip. At this rate we'd still be building by Christmas – and the wife and kids still hadn't got over last year's festivities, organised by Lawrence on an early Coptic model. I found him with Tarquin and Boris in the garage, just about to eat lunch.
"Now listen, lads," I started, "we've got to pull our socks up — "
I stopped and sniffed. The most incredible aroma was rising out of billy can sitting over a small gaz burner. Tarquin saw where I was looking.
"Little bouillabaise I knocked up last night," he said. "One of Rick Stein's, with a twist or two of my own. Fancy a mugful?"
The first sip was pure heaven.
Boris nudged me with a thermos. "This'll wash it down a treat. You can't beat a good Montrachet – as Jean-Paul Sartre used to say." He glanced darkly at Tarquin.
"The '98?" said Lawrence brightly.
"No the '99," said Boris. "Sorry, mate – that greasy spoon on the common's gone off a bit lately. Not that many would notice — "
Eyebrows went down all round. I knew they meant me. That was it. I was annoyed again. I exploded.
"Look, lads …" I finished 10 minutes later, "Don't get me wrong – the music's great, I've never eaten better and the conversation sparkles, but I just want my house finished, OK?"
Everyone was staring at their Timberland boots. Tarquin sighed heavily.
"We feel your pain, boss, we really do," he said. "But I think it's useful to remember what Nietzsche said. You know – " he beamed at me. "Whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger."
So that afternoon I dropped a concrete lintel on his foot. When the bones knit he'll be slapping out bricks at twice the rate.