I’ve taken up reading again. I’m reading a book by Renate Rubinstein, in preparation for our holiday in her former home. My carer does her own reading and turns the pages of my book as well. It’s very cosy, one of the things I like about autumn. It’s the first book I’ve read in 5 years. I’m still a very impatient reader. If a paragraph is too uninteresting, I’ll just skip it. I’m not a connoisseur of elegant language. It made me remember why I don’t enjoy audiobooks. I like to dictate my own speed. The novel is about a star-crossed love affair between Renate and Simon Carmiggelt. Neither of the two sounded familiar to my carers, who just stared at me, glassy-eyed. I’m getting old.
The work on our sunroom is going well. Sometimes, we’ll ask for details on the building process. It makes the foreman, who knows that I’m the one who is actually behind the questions, feel like I’m trying to control him. He doesn’t realise that this is the only way to communicate and to stay on top of things. I like to know where things stand. And then, one morning, Hein and him had a private discussion about the sunroom in the garden, after which they even changed some of the plans. I felt so excluded then. How hard would it have been to have that conversation with me present? Luckily, we met with our architect and foreman that afternoon. The architect wasn’t happy about the changes that stemmed from their private discussion either. We talked about everything and all of it was jotted down in a verbatim report. It was my first recorded meeting in six years. We’ll reconvene next month. I’m already looking forward to it.
An army of men
The first three weeks of construction were relatively quiet. Three builders and the occasional concrete mill. But the fourth week was an in-and-out of all kinds of people. The electrician, the plumber, the men responsible for the underfloor heating, the cement provider, the tiler and the plasterer all swung by. The living room is relatively empty in preparation for the construction of a ramp and the accompanying dust. For the last week of construction, when we’re back from Amsterdam, our hallway will be completely blocked off. That’s going to be a challenge.
There’s a big difference between going on holiday and leaving your house because of construction work. In the latter case, you’re always thinking about home. Not like Amsterdam wasn’t fun, but there was always that gnawing feeling of worry about the wellbeing of our home. Our holiday home in Amsterdam was gargantuan, with a kitchen spanning 15 metres, 17 cabinets for kitchen appliances. Our first few days felt like a scavenger hunt whenever we needed any kind of cup, saucer, plate or cutlery. The living room was the size of a ballroom. Every one of our many guests was awestruck.
We were told in advance that the owner’s cats liked to be outside and we wouldn’t see much of them, but that couldn’t have been less true. As soon as we arrived, they demanded all of our affection. The Siamese liked to spend most of its day sleeping in my lap. Lieke slept with two cats in her bed until we decided to put them outside for the night. The kids love them, Ward tucks one of the in every night. And of course, all of us want to get a kitten now.
Floor went on a shopping spree, Ward and I did a Matrix marathon (all 3 DVDs in rapid succession), we walked through Amsterdam, visited two small museums and entertained plenty of guests.
Ward got 14 mosquito bites on his face, and to our great shame we spent a long time in IKEA (following a strict path laid out for us and long queues at the tills because of the immense summer crowds). Meanwhile, our home had turned into an unlivable construction site. When we were still home, the builders would wipe their boots before entering, but as soon as we left they abandoned that custom, resulting in a thick layer of grit. Hein, who went to check on the house everyday, returned to Amsterdam telling horrifying stories about our home; what were we going to do when we got back? Lieke put together a cleaning squad, so we could come home to a reasonably clean home. It’s good to be back in my own bed, using my own PC and my own shower. But, most of all: I can go back to monitoring the construction crew.
The final week?
According to the schedule, this week is the last week of construction. Monday, the day we got back home, was a bad day. The heating was turned off and there were six construction workers in our home from 8:30 onward. There was a draught. Everytime I had to use the restroom, we had to send all of the workers outside. Luckily, by that afternoon they turned the heating back on and four of the workers left. They’ve gotten used to us being back home, so they wipe their feet and close all door behind them. I was supposed to spend this week in a room with a curtain, so I could go about my business in private. That same day, I recanted that plan. I like to be present and see what the workers are up to, something I’d gladly sacrifice my privacy for. When we got back home, our kitchen was installed, but not yet stocked. My carers spent ages putting everything back in the new kitchen cabinets, surrounded by builders and building materials. On Thursday, they were done installing the windows, a milestone we celebrated with apple pie. We didn’t quite keep up with our schedule. While the bulk of the work is done, the finishing touches still need to be put on our new room. That will probably take another week or two. I don’t mind, I’ll have lots to see. Seeing something come together like this is immensely satisfying too. Being a builder for small contracts like this one must be great. I’ll miss them.
I’m an observer and have a great eye for detail, which is a great trait to have when putting the finishing touches on a project like this one. Loose tiles, missing plinths, badly applied sealant, nothing gets past me. But I prefer observing in a social setting. Put me in a campsite and, in no time, I’ll know who’s related to whom, who are friends and who are foes. The same goes for workers. Usually, there were two of them; one is the overseer and the other does all the heavy lifting. Like a family, they interact; the stooge puts on a big mouth and before you know it, they’re bickering like an old married couple. The past week has been most indulgent for me.