I had just had a conversation with a friend who had told me about renovating her house — the whole thing, top to bottom, tearing down walls and completely re-structuring the interior before having the entire garden landscaped.
Driving home later, I’d had quite the brainwave. We could do, I realised, with a bit of structural re-arrangement ourselves. After all, we’d designed and built our house in our mid-to late twenties when we hadn’t the first clue what we were doing.
As I chugged along, imagining the glorious design that could result from the application of more than 25 years of extra lived experience and evolved taste, my heart pounded with excitement.
It wouldn’t take that much really. Just tear out that little loo behind the utility room. Expand the utility room into the resultant space. Get a whole new kitchen with posh new worktops and stuff. Expand the kitchen into part of the former utility room by pulling down the intervening wall. Then simply tear out the back wall of the house, along the line where the old loo, utility room and kitchen used to be and get rid of all the windows.
Replace the back wall and the windows with a series of gorgeous soaring panels of glass to bring in more sunlight. Get somebody really inspired and brilliant to landscape the backyard so that the beautiful new kitchen would oversee a leafy and lovely paradise. We already had that picturesque water-butt I’d installed a year ago, and there was 15 years’ worth of lovely ivy covering the shed!
Sure, the job was already half done!
It wasn’t that much, not really, compared to what my friend had done to her place. This was, however, something that needed, as I have said, to be done authoritatively, with panache and with extreme cunning.
I pulled up outside the house, took out my phone, did some quick googling, then hurried into the kitchen.
He waited mildly.
“Household deposits have risen sharply since the outbreak of the pandemic,” I said, sneaking a quick look at my phone. “In a recent Quarterly Economy Commentary the, er, ESRI suggested that the elevated savings of consumers could support the economic recovery if Irish households choose to resume spending with these surplus savings.
“And we haven’t spent a thing! We haven’t been able to go away for a foreign holiday, for example!” (He hates holidays.) “We should do our bit for the economy. It’s a patriotic necessity.”
My husband looked at me incredulously. “No, we haven’t spent a thing. Other than completely re-painting the house, finishing the patio and buying you a new second-hand car,” he said remorselessly.
“Or when the fuel hoses in the other car went and had to be completely replaced, and the shower went and had to be replaced…”
“Well, yes,” I admitted, “but these were not really enormous sums.”
“There are other things. Such as that ludicrously expensive wood-effect water-butt you insisted on buying in from the UK because you wanted to be sustainable. I could go on.”
I ignored this. “We didn’t spend that much, really, in the greater scheme of things,” I argued.
“And we work very hard for what we buy. And that was all just stuff for the house. I could have been buying those, you know, those shoes with the red soles and Armani dresses.” (These are the arguments that usually work.) Silence.
“I’ve been thinking about what we could do with this money the government says we’ve been saving,” I said.
“We haven’t saved that much,” he said repressively, “primarily as a result of the aforesaid expenditure, plus lots more that I can’t think of just now, but that you felt was absolutely crucial at the time. It adds up.”
“Well, I thought,” I said, backtracking, “you know, we could re-do the kitchen, maybe not exactly right this minute or anything, but in a year or two, or er, maybe when we get our lump sums, like, from our pension. We could, you know, just open up the back of the house, a bit, like. And fix up the back-yard. And, er, the garden. We could get advice. We both know it could do with a bit of professional TLC after years of football and hurling matches and dogs,” I said in professional tones.
I started to explain in more detail, about my idea for the kitchen. “That’s a supporting wall you’re talking about tearing down,” he said immediately. “That’s an enormous job. That’s also, I should point out, the same supporting wall you insisted on covering in the Fired Earth tiles that nearly put us into liquidation 20 years ago. On top of which, the pellet burner and the stove are both against that wall. Where would you put them?”
He snorted with that brand of subtle, calm and total disbelief that only an outraged male in his fifties can really pull off to put you back in your box.
“And why do you need to put in patio doors along the whole back of the house? I’m not wasting my lump sum so we can end up staring into the back-yard. Look at the state of that,” he said, very disingenuously. I looked out the kitchen window at the yard with, yes, the ivy-covered workshop and my expensive but beautiful water-butt surrounded by pots of carefully tended herbs, but also at his diverse contributions; the extendable ladders, the trailer, the giant sand-and-gravel bag on the iron supports, the cement mixer, the bulging, leaking bags of coal and slack slumped on decomposing wooden pallets because he says his back isn’t up to hauling them into the coal-shed any more.
“You didn’t even let me explain what I was going to do with the back-yard,” I said sulkily.
“Not listening,” he sang, his fingers in his ears. I should have married a hedge-fund manager.