Diary of a renovator: stuck in the middle

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 September, 2008, 12:00am

Ask most people how long their home renovation took and the answer is likely to be about three months. Mine seems to have taken longer for several reasons: my contractor is in such demand that only two men work on my house on most days; bad weather, which has held up progress and added to the work; and my staying put.

Of course, I would have preferred to have moved out for the duration, but a serviced apartment proved too pricey. Then there was the dog. Who would have the space and time for a 30kg German shepherd used to being walked twice a day?

Besides, an American friend who placed his pooch in quarantine on moving to London reported that it wasn't the same afterwards. 'He now suffers separation anxiety and wets himself whenever I leave the house,' Mike said.

Although the din and dust have driven me to distraction, there have been advantages to living on a construction site. Having workers arrive at 9am every day forces me to crawl out of bed when the woop-woop birds start singing. That way I can fit in morning activities before the madness begins.

But then the painter started turning up at 8am - only to sit around for an hour with the radio blaring so I could never tell whether he was suddenly going to appear in my private zone (meaning the ground floor, while work continues upstairs ). He once caught me doing sit-ups in my knickers when he ventured down with an important announcement: I was out of loo paper.

I'm not sure my contractor, Joe, appreciates having to work around me, though, because it means daily meetings during which I point out the latest mistakes. Sometimes I think he minces around and mimes instructions to his workers so I won't know he's around. When I went upstairs recently to ask why my shower curtain had been used to protect against paint splatters, I was told Joe had just left. Ditto the time I wanted to point out the cat's toilet was missing its in/out flap (she's on holiday until the project is finished). I daren't ponder for what purpose the workers had used that piece of plastic.

Apart from the thrill of having a day off, I was glad to be home several weeks ago when Typhoon Nuri walloped Hong Kong. I was also relieved to have the boyfriend with me when my village house was being thwacked by winds that would have carried Dorothy back to Kansas.

When the banging of the corrugated-iron roof started drowning out the Olympics commentary on TV, we ventured upstairs to gauge the damage. Several panels were threatening to take off, which is why, in the wind and rain, he had to wriggle around at altitude to tie them down.

'You were lucky,' my contractor told me the following day when I pointed out that insufficient screws had been used to secure the covering. 'The whole awning of another house we're working on blew off.'

I don't think he quite understood I was making a complaint.

It's just as well the house has been inhabited during its overhaul, I told myself when a note of caution was dropped into my postbox by the village watchdogs. Scaffolding is as much an invitation to burglars as white curtains are a call for grubby fingers. In fact property undergoing renovation seems to signal 'open house' to those curious about how their neighbours live.

'Is something wrong?' I sniped at the guy next door when I found him traipsing around my yard.

'I thought you'd moved out.'

'Can I help you?' I asked more sternly.

'Your car has a puncture.' His quick recovery disarmed me. One of my tyres was indeed flat. The weight of items in the vehicle wouldn't have helped.

Yes, it's been worth staying in the house while it's being refurbished. But that has also meant months of 'camping': I wash my bras in a flower pot, the dog lives in a coop made of old doors, clothes are stashed in the boot of my car and toilet paper is stacked on the back seat. Three months of renovation? It sure feels like it's been a lot longer.

If you have renovation-related tales you would like to share, e-mail Xiu Fang at features@scmp.com