Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Real Life

Article excerpt

When you start renovating your home, it is like pulling the loose thread of an old jumper.

Everything unravels. I only tried to fit a dimmer switch, and now my entire flat has come apart. Actually, that's not strictly true. I was having Stefano the Albanian builder fit wardrobes in the spare room. It was almost done.

He was just fitting the dimmer switch for the spotlights when he pulled a little too hard on the delicate invisible thread that holds everything in my world together.

Suddenly the entire flat was in darkness.

Fiddling with the lights in the spare room had triggered a catastrophic failure of the wiring system, which then revealed itself to be ancient, made of fabric, and about to burst into flames.

I then tried to get my electricity provider, British Gas, to help with hilarious results.

They cancelled and remade and recancelled appointments until I was dizzy. So I called in various local electricians who all made a huge production of telling me how I was lucky to be alive.

One particularly cheeky chappie was in my flat whistling and sucking air through his teeth for so long I thought I would never get rid of him. Loving it, he was. As he examined the wiring in the living-room chandelier, he looked down at my feet and said, 'See them boots with metal buckles you've got on? I'd take them off, love. You touch this switch here wearing them boots and you'll go up in smoke, you will.'

'Thing is, ' I said, 'I've had these boots three years and I've been regularly wearing them and touching that switch for all of that time up to and inclusive of today.'

He sucked air. 'Yeah? Well, you're lucky, intchya? Cor. I don't know how you're not dead.'

'Fine. But that being so, can you tell me when you can start the work?'

More air. 'I've got a big job in Chelsea, see.

Then we're round your way next week but I'll have to talk to the boss . . . ' British Gas quoted me a reasonable enough sum to do the work, but with their record of cancelling appointments, I had visions of wires hanging out all over the place for weeks as I hung on a phone-line screaming at call centre staff in New Delhi.

Meanwhile, the quotes from Cheeky Chappie and other local electricians rivalled the GDP of Guatemala. …

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