Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Article excerpt

As Stefano the builder positioned his drill, I sat watching him serenely. In a few minutes my home improvements would be complete. One last storage unit would be fixed to the kitchen wall, thus bringing to conclusion three weeks of painting, plastering, carpeting and shelving. It has been an exciting time. Stefano and I are now joined at the hip.

We had gone to Ikea to buy the shelving unit together in his battered Skoda estate, which lurched its way eccentrically around the South Circular because Stefano only uses fourth gear, including when trying to pull away from traffic lights.

As the car wrenched and choked, I kept encouraging him to try first or second. But he was too distracted. He was talking about corruption in Albania. 'You know they charge extra to get passport quickly? If you don't put cash inside your application they don't give you passport for months.' And he made a money sign with his fingers. I didn't like to, but I had to inform him that a similar system operated here. With a heavy heart, I told him that one could only get a passport in Britain quickly if one paid the authorities well over £100. He gasped. 'No way!'

When we got to Croydon Ikea he became even more disillusioned. 'Why can't we park closer to the store?' he said, as we were herded to a spot about a mile from the entrance. Inside, he insisted on inspecting a room set aside for quiet contemplation. 'But why would they have that here?' I told him it was best not to question such things. In the showroom, he was bewildered by the arrows forcing us to walk one way in a snail-shaped circle. 'Why can't we cut through?' he said, darting towards a forbidden corridor. I told him it was wise to do as you were told.

When we got the shelving unit home, Stefano made a brave attempt to put it together but of course half the fixings were missing. He proclaimed this an outrage and said we must return to get my money back.

I explained that this happened all the time and that we must try to make the best of it.

After much cursing, he managed to build the unit, then he poised his drill over the requisite spot and began to bore into the wall.

The next second we were covered in water. …

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