Aaaarghhh, got to get out. Got to get out NOW! How many weeks is this with the
builders? I don’t know, you tell me. You’re the one who’s counting. I’m just
living here. Time has ceased to exist as a concept for me. There was “before
the builders” and there will, please God, be “after the builders”. In
between is only sawdust. Time is nothing more than gypsum under my eyelids
when I go to sleep (they put gypsum in Kit Kats, you know – interesting
fact), and a buzz saw in my ears when I awake. It’s a fleck of cement dust
in the back of my throat that makes me cough, on average, every 37 seconds
(or would, if time still existed here).
My girlfriend says at least it’s not asbestos dust. But how can she be so
sure? One of the builders is Polish. I am not popular with the Poles. I
suggested once that they had not fully come to terms with the part they
played in the darkest days of the Second World War and they went m-m-m-m-mental.
They bombarded The Times with letters, they bombarded me with e-mails
and letters and books, they made a complaint about me to the PCC (thrown out)
and vandalised my Wikipedia entry (I am told), and most recently (I read in The
Jewish Chronicle) they have referred me to the European Court of Human
Rights (I have to confess I am rather proud of that one).
How do I know my Polish builder does not know this? How do I know he is not
killing me with asbestos in my sleep? Did they not kill Napoleon with
arsenic paint? (His enemies, stupid, not the Poles. I do not blame the Poles
I think I know I am reasonably safe because only one guy is Polish, the
electrician. The rest are Russians. And on the old “my enemy’s enemy is my
friend” principle I’ve got to assume I’m something of a hit with the
Russians. I love my Russian builders, Andrei and Sergei. They speak no
English and say nothing to me at all. They are small and hard, like little
nuts. They mutter in Russian to each other all day and the only word I have
been able to make out is “kommunizma”. I am delighted that the
Russians are still talking about communism. Twenty years on and it’s still
the main topic of conversation, even among expat builders. But are they for
or against? It is hard to tell when all you can hear is,
On the one hand they may be saying, “I am so glad to be working hard for this nice
young Englishman rather than being trodden down by communism.” But on the
other hand they may be saying, “Tomorrow we take this bourgeois
pig-dog out and string him up from the lamppost, like in the good old days
I’m sorry to write about builders. It’s so damn bourgeois I half feel like
stringing myself up from the lamppost. And would, if it weren’t for the
complex technical implications. It is not being able to string things up
from lampposts myself that forced me to call in the builders in the first
And now it’s ruined my life. If I want to wear pants that aren’t full of dust
I have to put them on straight out of the washing machine. But then they’re
wet, and eventually chafe. My hands, as I type (and all the rest of the
time), are smooth with pale powder as if I have just applied talc with them.
I walk everywhere in a cloud of dry dirt, like Pig-Pen from Peanuts.
I walk into restaurants and am either refused entry as a tramp or, if I am
recognised, followed around by a man with a dustpan and brush.
When I sit down at my table everyone around me starts coughing and I turn
round at them and yell, “Whaaaaaaaaat? I’m not even smoking!”
And then I realise that their coughing is involuntary – they’re just choking
on my gypsum. (Ooh, I could have typed that slightly wrong and made a very
Apart from meals out, I have eaten nothing but Shreddies for three weeks. From
a bowl that is permanently lined with gypsum (which does not, interestingly,
seem to much affect the taste or mouthfeel of the cereal). I am fed up with
takeaways and fed up with the local pub and restaurant proprietors endlessly
inquiring whether I have a home to go to.
So this afternoon I fled. Out the door and down the street, on to the Northern
Line, down to Waterloo and on to a train.
“Where does this train go, my good man?” I asked the ticket inspector as we
rattled south, out of London.