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Living With a nd Without Builders

by Bianca 

Posted: 02 January 2005
Word Count: 965
Summary: Just to show that builders are the same the world over

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We moved back into our property in early October, after living in rented accommodation for seven months whilst our Italian farmhouse was being restored.

Builders being as they are, this was three months after the initial date given for the completion, and here we in our third month of supposedly living “the Italian Dream” but still not quite there.

Patience is the most important virtue required living in this land of bureaucracy and it has been tested to the limit and beyond over the last sixteen months of living here. Whilst waiting for planning permission we lived here through Italy’s coldest winter for sixteen years in this house. It had holes in the roof, sellotaped windows and doors that did not fit .The rained poured through and gales swept from the Alps to find a habitat within our walls. Our heating consisted of three mobile gas heaters and a large log fire which we sat in front of when we were not chopping up the six tonnes of logs we got through. Our faces were warm but our backs may as well have been packed in blocks of ice.

We are happy with most of what has been done to date, especially the absolute luxury of having a roof five layers thick, central heating, guttering and drainage. I had no idea that I would be excited about having drainage but if I tell you that it used to just empty into the quagmire surrounding the house, you may appreciate my joy at actually having underground pipes. I can now look forward to having a very fertile garden, where hopefully I will not have to don a pair of wellies just to get to the dustbin or washing line.

For the last three months tradesmen have either filled the house daily or disappeared for weeks with jobs partly done. The plumbers have fitted sanitary ware but then depart saying that the builders have to deal with the sealant around the bath, showers, bidets and wash hand basins. Two weeks worth of daily phone calls brings the builders along for an hour and a lunch break that lasts not the usual three hours, but three days. Back they come for a further fifteen minutes or so – why on earth they did not put in another hour on the last visit remains a mystery.

Two weeks later the workman arrives to complete the tiling and grouting. As he is easy on the eye with rippling muscles, a six pack and the most flirtatious manner, I really do not care how long he takes. My husband however, is not taken in with his “charms” and is not impressed that he works in Armani trousers and a close fitting white t -shirt!

All of the joinery work is pretty poor and needs to be done again or at the very least, amended extensively. The joiner promises to come along on a Monday or Tuesday but we have learned not to assume he means the following Monday or Tuesday. He smiles when we show him the problems, telling us that he can fix anything but death. As he is so amenable I cannot help but like him, but as far as my husband is concerned, Yuri (we think his father is Russian) commits the most heinous crime of all by wearing a baseball cap back to fronts. He fitted two internal doors for us just prior to Christmas but because some of our walls are 400 years old, the frames need some “packing out”. This is no fault of Yuri’s of course but neither is it his job – that again, is work for the builders. Whether they are responsible for the sealant is not yet clear. After Yuri fitted the windows, we had very heavy rain which leaked in because the sealant is not his job for the windows either.

We lost one of our two electricians part way through the renovation when he was tragically killed whilst installing some electrical wires in a house with a gas leak. Needless to say, we could not complain about our house still needing to be finished or the fact that some of our plugs were not in where we had asked for them to be. One day recently though, the plumbers came along to finish the electrical work!

The scaffolding was up around the whole house for seven months and a couple of weeks after it was taken away it was all brought back so that the copper downpipes could be put in. In the same way a mechanical digger was brought along to dig out the soil for drains, taken away and brought back a few days later to finish the job.

Dealing with Italians is a minefield because of the fear of offending. When the tradesmen enter the house they ask for permission to cross over the threshold. Unfortunately they request every time they wish to re-enter after popping out for a screwdriver, spanner or such. Sometimes I seem to spend my day constantly confirming that yes, they have my permission.

Through all of this, I have had to put up with the owner of the building firm being unable to talk to me without putting an arm on my shoulder and on one occasion, my waist and standing only a couple of inches away to talk to me about the work. He seems to have the knack of knowing when my husband is away from the house. As far as I’m concerned, apart from the fact that he is creepy, scruffy, chain smokes, is at least a foot shorter than me, worst of all he wears a cardigan!

Now if it had been the guy who fits and grouts the tiles – well that would have been fine.

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Comments by other Members

Account Closed at 21:45 on 03 January 2005  Report this post
Goodness Bianca, sounds hellish but somehow, I'm not surprised! An entertaining account - lots of lovely details which bring this alive.

Be careful with punctuation eg here:
in a house with holes in the roof sellotaped windows and doors that did not fit = you could do with a comma or two.
Also I feel you jumped about with your tenses - maybe have a check through.

Are you going to send it somewhere?


Bianca at 09:20 on 04 January 2005  Report this post
Hi Elspeth

Thanks for your comments.

Rabbiting on and forgetting punctuation is my weakest point, so I appreciate your reminding me.

Will go through the piece and do something about it.

It's just one of a few "Italian Bites" I have been puting on paper. Writing it and sharing it relieves the frustration a little.


Mr B. at 13:04 on 05 January 2005  Report this post
It's easy when writing about a problem in a foreign country to descend into a xenophobic rant. You manage to avoid this well; nor do you go in for a total 'builder bash'! What I particularly like is the way you temper the description of the problems with real, engaging characters. It gives a sense of adventure combined with the seductiveness and stoicism that is real life in Italy.

Richard Brown at 10:04 on 12 January 2005  Report this post
I very much enjoyed reading this - I think it has great comic potential but just needs a careful edit. For example; in the third para you write 'The rained poured...' clearly just a typo but it detracts momentarily from the enjoyment. More substantially, later on you put in a sentence about the Italian attitude to queuing and service; I think the piece would be tighter without this. The point about the workmen feeling obliged to ask for permission to re-enter the house every time is just funny (and charming) on its own without the general reference.
Amongst many things, I loved the tale about the worker who could fix everything but death.
Speaking of which...the snippet about the electrician who blew himself up is well-handled I think. Were this not a true human tragedy it would be tempting, in the context of delays and incompetence, to milk the comic potential but I think you handled it sensitively.
You say that you intend to edit the piece; I'd be very interested to see the revised version.


jewelsx at 18:23 on 22 January 2005  Report this post
I enjoyed your piece of writing, the above comments more or less cover all the points i noticed.

I particularly liked all the character based descriptions, they added a much needed injection of comic relief to a peice of writing that could have so easily truned into a good old fashioned rant.

good writing

Bianca at 16:36 on 23 January 2005  Report this post
Hi Julie

Thanks for your comments and welcome to the group.

As the builders have virtually dominated my life for several months, it was all I could write about really. The last month has brought yet more upheavel and chaos that I may do another piece on them.

May keep me sane at least.


crowspark at 17:13 on 29 January 2005  Report this post
Hi Shirley, an entertaining and enjoyable read full of humour.

I laughed when I read, "He smiles when we show him the problems, telling us that he can fix anything but death."


Felmagre at 07:14 on 23 May 2005  Report this post
I know this was posted a while agao, but felt I wanted to get to know the folk in the group - hence the 'introduce yourself forum posting' I found this account amounsing and distressing at the same time. Yet somehow felt their was a sort of resignation to the saga on the part of the narrator.

One question 'asking permission every time they stepped over the threshold' is this simply politness or has it some ritual, religious significance.

Don't disappear. Would love to see some more of your work on the group site.

Kind regards


Sorry meant to say 'forum' on the short story group.

Thanks again.

James Graham at 19:26 on 24 May 2005  Report this post
Your article has just passed a test - to hold the interest of a reader who isn't normally interested in reading about restoring property! But I found I was hooked after all, by the nightmarish twists and turns, and by your observation of the manners (and in one case, sex appeal) of the Italian workmen. Entertaining reading.


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