The great writers' guide to DIY

In his book Kafka's Soup, Mark Crick parodied literary giants by imagining how their their best-known characters would cook. Now, in Sartre's Sink, he's got them tackling home improvements
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Hanging wallpaper with Ernest Hemingway

Tools: Pasting brush, Wallpaper brush, Decorator's scissors, Pasting table, Plumb line

Materials: Wallpaper, Wallpaper paste

The old man had worked for two days and two nights to strip away the old wallpaper and now on the morning of the third day the time to hang the new paper had come and he was tired. His palms were blistered from long hours scraping away the old paper and the blisters had begun to weep. The old man felt the pain in his hands as he looked again at the bare walls of the room. "Room, thou art big. But I will finish this trabajo that I have begun," he said. "Or I will die trying."

The old man held the line delicately in his right hand. He threaded it through the eye on the lead weight, then he made fast the end of the line to hold the weight in place. The lead weight pulled firmly now and as he let the line run through his fingers he raised his arms so that the weight did not touch the ground, and the line remained taut and straight. Now he was ready. His right hand holding the line between thumb and forefinger, the left feeding the line, the old man raised his hands and climbed the first of the steps and offered the line to the wall where it swung like the pendulum of a clock. He could feel the tension on the line as it swung and he waited patiently. "It is losing momentum, soon it will circle and stop," he thought. Then he felt the weight go still and saw that the line hung straight between heaven and earth, and the old man took the pencil from behind his ear and drew a mark on the wall beside the plumb line.

The brown wall was patched with plaster and board, and the old man drew the line from ceiling to skirting board. As he drew, he descended, step by step, but always he held the line tight to the wall. Then the old man shouldered the first roll of wallpaper and carried it to the pasting table where he uncoiled the paper, pattern downwards, on to the wooden surface. As he unrolled the paper he bent low, his arms out straight, his palms turned up, until his face touched against the surface. Then he used two pieces of wood to stop the paper from rolling up on itself, one lengthways, one sideways.

He climbed the steps again and with the tape he measured the height of the wall from ceiling to skirting board. He wore rope-soled shoes, dark trousers and an old shirt. His shirt was patched and discoloured, and it resembled the wall. At the pasting table he loosened his sheath knife and cut the first drop three inches longer than the wall. "I would have liked to have used the long decorator's scissors," thought the old man. "But what is the use of thinking of what I do not have. I must think only of what there is." The length of paper was longer than the pasting table and the old man tied a piece of string across the legs at one end of the table and passed the end of the paper under the string to hold it in place. "I am an old man," he thought, "but I have many tricks, and I have resolution."

He had mixed his paste long before. Now the old man lifted the damp cloth that covered the bucket to keep the paste from drying and began to brush the paste on to the paper. He pulled the paper level to the near edge of the table as he pasted the near edge of the wallpaper and pushed it back to the far edge as he pasted the far edge of the paper, and in this way the table stayed clean.

Now he took two corners of the paper between thumb and forefinger and folded almost two feet of the paper back on itself, keeping paste against paste, pattern against pattern, until he had made a concertina of the whole pasted length of paper. He kept the folds loose so as not to crease the paper and he felt the slime like glue slide between his fingers. He knew if he did not make the concertina, the tension on the paper would be too great and the paper would break, and he would be left holding only the two corners, like the ears of the bull he had once seen killed when he was a young man. Or worse, the paper might tear in the middle where he could not hide the join. He climbed again the steps of the ladder to offer the pasted banner to the wall. "Will the first piece stick well?" he wondered aloud. "If the first piece sticks well I will say five Hail Marys. There, it is said." The old man had no radio and often talked to himself as he worked. He pressed the paper to the wall so that its top edge was an inch higher than the wall and touched against the ceiling. "Puta de techo," he said, "I cannot trust you," and he thought how the ceiling did not run true and how many times he had been betrayed by the ceiling. He was wise to have used the plumb line. Then he placed the edge of the paper against the line he had drawn on the wall. The paper slid into place and the old man took the wallpaper brush from his pocket and stroked its bristles across the surface of the paper. He saw the air bubbles beneath the surface and he brushed them out from the paper until the whole drop hung as smoothly as the wall allowed. Then, high up, he tapped the bristles of the brush along the angle where the wall met the ceiling and ran the back of his knife along the recess. When he pulled the paper away from the wall again he could see the crease in the paper. "If I had the scissors it would have been easy to cut along the fold, but you haven't got the scissors," he thought. "You have only the knife and the brush, and that is enough." With the knife he cut away the narrow strip of paper that was not needed. He wiped the knife on his trousers and then threw the strip of paper over the side of the ladder, watching as it dropped to the floor below.

The old man had worked for two days and two nights to strip the old paper and three times he had had to stop to pull nails from the wall and to fill the holes left behind. Once the head of a nail grazed his brow and drew blood. Now on the third day his back ached and his legs were weak. As he stepped down from the ladder, he sank to his knees and again tapped with the brush along the join where the wall met the skirting board, and with the knife he cut away the narrow strip of paper that was left over and tossed it aside. Raising himself, he saw the paper hanging there on the wall, and how beautiful were its bands of colour against the plaster. Then he shouldered the stepladder and carried its weight the short distance to the place where the next length of paper was to be hung.

"If the boy were here he could have the next length pasted and ready," he thought aloud. "A man should not work alone." His legs and shoulders were stiff, and the pasting brush dug into the wounds in his hands. And he felt then the depth of his tiredness and the pain of life.

The old man cut the second drop longer to allow him to match the pattern. Once it was against the wall, he slid the paper until it covered the mark he had drawn on the wall so that the two edges touched each other and then he saw how the pattern continued unbroken across the two lengths of paper. The old man felt good now. He no longer thought of the pain in his hands and in his back, and he no longer thought of the treachery of the ceiling, for it was not the ceiling's fault. He thought of the beauty of the coloured paper that covered the cracks and the discoloured plaster of the wall, and he knew that the paper was his friend. "Be calm and strong, old man," he said. "Wall, I respect you very much, but I will paper you before this day is over."

Repairing a dripping tap with Marguerite Duras

Tools: Spanner

Materials: Washer

The man passes for a second time in front of the house and stops. He rings the doorbell. The door is open, he enters. The interior is light, furnished in white. A woman's voice:

"So you've come."

She is standing. She watches. She watches a sink, a tap. He advances towards her. She sees him come. His clothes are dark. His eyes bright. She smiles. He takes one more step, he stops beside her. With a mechanical gesture she shows the tap. From the tap, drips of water fall into the sink. The tap is watched.

The light fades.

Man, woman, tap. He moves, he opens the tap. The noise of water growing louder, the falling water thunders, shattering white in the sink to disappear into the abyss, to join other tributaries, and channels forming a great mass of water, going down to the sea. To the caverns of the sea. He closes the tap. The noise subsides. Silence. The silence is broken by the dripping of the tap.

"I think the washer's gone."

She speaks. Her tone requires no reply.

"The washer's gone."

He replies.

Drips fall one by one. Drops of water that refuse to wait in the darkness of the pipe for permission to run.

"He does it up too tight. He doesn't like the tap to drip," she says.

The man bends to turn off the water supply. Then he straightens, he opens the tap fully. Briefly the noise of running water returns. Suddenly the water stops. The dripping stops. Silence. Outside, beyond the terrace, dusk descends on the town. The light runs out of the sky, draining into the west. Now, in the silence, the sound of the sea reaches into the kitchen. The sea, formless, uncontained, untapped, beyond compare. A scream cries out, like the sound of a woman falling.

"What was that?" he asks

"What?" She lifts her face slightly. He is not looking at her.

"That cry."

"Nothing. The sound of the gulls."

The story begins.

Between the man and the window the woman is walking; her hand raised like a child's, she covers her eyes. The floorboards creak beneath her feet. In front of him the tap. He rests his hand on the shiny metal. He sees the capstan head, beneath the head the shroud covers the gland nut, the spindle, the headgear nut, the jumper. Beneath the jumper, out of sight, the flattened washer, compressed, decomposed, destroyed.

The man unscrews the metal shroud to reveal a large nut just above the body of the tap. With a spanner he unfastens the nut, he removes the headgear of the tap. He detaches the streaming mechanism, he offers it to her. The light dances in his eyes.

"The washer's gone."

They look, they look at each other, they wait.

He repeats,

"The washer's gone. Look, look here, look."

He shows her the washer, laid waste, the ravages of time, the build-up of limescale, the pressure created by the ever tightening tap, fighting to hold back the flow, the tide. The brutal accumulation of force.

She says she understands. She makes an effort not to cry.

With a screwdriver he prises off the old washer, cracked, wrinkled, prematurely aged. He takes a new one from his toolbox. The new washer sits pertly in his hand, smooth, firm, thick as cream on milk. It slips tightly over the little button on the jumper at the base of the headgear. He replaces the mechanism into the tap, screwing it tightly back into place, he lowers the shroud, the shiny cover that hides the tap's mechanism beneath a coat of gleaming metal, he bends down, he opens the mains valve. The last of the light drains from the sky, in the darkness they hear the water forced back into the pipe, hear the pressure rise beneath the washer. He straightens, opens the tap, he closes the tap. They watch. They wait. Nothing drips. Nothing flows. Everything is stopped, everything is held back.

He returns his spanner to the toolbox. He looks at her.

"You're crying."

"I'm crying?"


She is standing next to him, but her eyes look into the distance, at the last fiery clouds as they slip one by one over the horizon.

The Great Red Porcupine Trapped in the Snake Pit Narco Guerrilla Gardening OR Putting Up a Garden Fence with Hunter S Thompson

Tools: Spade or post auger, Spirit level, Hammer, Saw

Materials: Fence posts, Arris rails, Featheredge boards, Post mix or sand cement and hardcore, Nails, Brackets

To my mind the corvette convertible is the only vehicle that can carry a ten-foot length of timber in style, but when it comes to making a handbrake turn or high-speed manoeuvres in excess of a hundred miles per hour, it begins to show its limitations as a serious hauler of lumber. By the time we arrived back at the house the car looked like it had been involved in a high-speed collision with Uncle Tom's Cabin. As I lowered the volume on Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and extricated myself from the woodpile I could hear the voice of my attorney somewhere in the thicket of timbers that had sprouted in the seat next to me: "Man, this is no way to travel." What remained of the ten ten-foot arris rails, five ten-foot gravel boards, eighty four-foot featheredge boards and six eight-foot four-inch by four-inch sawn posts we'd stacked so neatly in the bucket seat was now piled against the windshield. In the trunk six bags of post mix (a lethal concoction of ready-mixed hardcore, sand and cement), twenty brackets and six pounds of nails made the car's nose point skyward so that it looked like a giant red porcupine was trying to climb up onto the sidewalk. It was important to keep my attorney's spirits up while I assessed his chances of survival. "Sweet Jesus, don't you just love the smell of fresh-cut timber in the morning?" I asked. "Can you move your legs?"

"Fuck no. I'm paralysed, call a doctor, a real doctor. Those bastards from the Pentagon have been testing some kind of napalm down at Bob's Premier Sheds and Fencing. My leg won't bend." Sure enough the Samoan's leg was rigid as I pulled it out across the passenger seat. Something was protruding from just above the knee and I feared that, in the emergency stop, he had suffered an open fracture. In his current state I doubted he was capable, but as a doctor I had to ask, "Are you in pain?"

"I can't feel a fucking thing."

"That's good." He needed to be reassured. "The bone has probably cut straight through the nerve." His screaming was cut short when he saw the neighbour peering from the window. "What's that old bitch looking at?" Now that he'd stopped screaming I felt emboldened to investigate the wound. "Hold still," I said, sliding the blade of an eight-inch hunting knife up his trouser leg and opening the fabric to the knee.

"How does it look?" he asked, still looking up at the house.

"You'll walk again." I put on my best $800 a day (TV not inclusive) bedside manner and removed the four-foot featheredge board that had somehow inserted itself in the great Samoan's trouser leg. "The pants, however, might not make it."

"This is my best fucking suit. Who's going to employ me like this? ARE YOU HAPPY NOW?" This last comment was screamed at the window of the clapboard villa where my neighbours were no doubt already calling the police.

When he'd recovered the feeling in his legs we unloaded the materials onto the lawn. I drove a wooden peg into the ground at each end of the fence run and stretched a line between. I then marked the position of the fence posts, avoiding tree roots and landmines. I instructed my attorney to start digging and waited for the mescaline to kick in.

As the Samoan slammed his spade into the ground he stopped to look back over his shoulder. "There's someone watching us," he said.

"It'll be the neighbour," I said. "It's a small town."

"As your attorney, I advise you to kill her. Once she's seen where we bury this stuff, what's to stop her coming over to dig it up after dark?"

The guy at the timber yard had told us if we buried one quarter of the post the rest should stand up well in a hurricane. "Don't worry," I said. "With six feet of post sticking out of the ground to mark where we buried the other two, I don't think this is a secret we can keep for long. Just keep digging, we don't want to look suspicious."

He lifted a size-eleven foot onto the spade, his leg peeking coquettishly through the slit trouser leg, and the blade sank into the ground. There was a lot to do. As project leader my immediate task was to recover the quart of Wild Turkey we had left on the back seat of the car.

At some point after removing the top from the bottle I must have passed out. When I came round I could hear the dry thud of spade on earth and the rattle of pebbles against steel. My attorney was still digging. I looked out into the garden but he was nowhere to be seen. Holy shit, I thought, the sound of digging has burnt itself onto the retina of my ear. I'm cursed to hear it for ever, like the rhythm section of... Then I saw a flurry of dust fly up from the ground and the sound stopped.

"Help. Somebody fucking get me out of here!"

Either the mescaline had worn off or my attorney had reached a tricky point of law. I staggered out into the garden; as I reached the site of the first post, the empty bottle fell from my hand. The hole was now about seven feet deep and the eminent Samoan, still in his business suit, was thrashing at the ground and dancing, like his feet were on fire. "Snakes, they're coming up through the ground. As soon as I cut the head off one, another one appears. Get me out of here!"

Somehow I pulled him from the hole and the two of us lay panting for breath on the ground. "Don't worry," I said, "if it's long enough, we can beat them to death with the fence post."

To reassure the great excavator that the snakes would not be climbing out of the hole, and to add some much needed drainage, I threw the contents of a bucket of hardcore, mostly broken bricks and small stones, down into the depths, shouting, "Eat hardcore, you scaly motherfuckers."

By the time I looked up the Samoan was standing over me, stripped to the waist holding a shotgun. I had a perfect view of the inside of both barrels. "You filthy bastard," he said. "How long have you known about those snakes? I oughta blow your fucking head off." I was on my knees over a vertical grave deep enough to bury a man upright, two men even, if packed carefully, with a drug-crazed attorney in slit pants aiming a shotgun at my head. There were signs that I might be losing control of the situation.

"You're fired," I said.

"What do you mean, I'm fired?"

"As a qualified doctor I can see that you've not been taking your medication. I can't afford to carry sick men on this job."

"Oh, Jesus," he groaned, relaxing the gun into the crook of his arm, "I forgot." From his pocket the Samoan produced a salt cellar of cocaine and poured a line onto the back of his hand. When he'd finished walking his nose along the line he licked off the residue, sucked his teeth and said, "As your attorney, I advise you to mark the position of the next hole and stand aside."

Painting a panelled door with Anaïs Nin

Tools: Screwdriver, Brush

Materials: Primer, Undercoat, Gloss paint

She watched as he prised the lid from the paint, revealing the moonlike circle of white, into which he thrust the stiff animal bristle of his brush. His work was so sensual that women were attracted to him immediately. She had begun to court him, making little advances – talking about a lover in the past, or about the admiring glances she had received from the shopkeepers in the town. She lay back on the couch to watch him paint, her breasts thrust forward, her arms raised over her head. But the painter remained impassive; his passion found expression only in his work. Deep down she dreamed of a man who would rule her, take the lead sexually, yet the impassivity of the artist stirred her. Her admiration turned to love and she longed for him to make demands of her. When she looked at his strong hands and saw the paint beneath the nails, she yearned to feel their strength, to smell the perfume of turpentine and linseed rubbed onto her body, as he held her.

By night, as if in a dream, she walked the long corridors of the old hacienda, her body throbbing, as she sought the scent of fresh paint, eager to touch her fingers on its tacky surface. She was forced to become adventurous and bold. Each time she passed him at his work she brushed more closely by him, rejoicing to see the little flecks of paint smeared onto the smooth silk of her kimono. Finally she lost all reserve. Passing the painter in a doorway, she allowed her hand to brush against his brush. He pushed her away, as if her gesture had insulted him. He looked proud, untouchable.

"What have I done?" she said.

"All this week you have watched me paint." His frown became a smile. "Now I will watch you." He handed her a brush, and pointed to the door that he had already stripped of its handle and brutally rubbed down earlier that day. "Paint."

Dressed in only her kimono, she now stood before the door, thrilling to feel the dark rectangle of stiff hair beneath her fingers.

"I said paint."

Observing her, he saw that she did not know how. Gently but firmly he directed her. Allowing her hand to be guided in his, she saw how the sticky white paint clung to the dark hair as she dipped the little brush into the open pot and ran the bristles along the edges of each panel. "First you must paint the mouldings in all the panels." As she followed his instructions the wet bristles began licking paint into every crevice and ornamentation, flicking against each curve until the paint grew thin and viscous.

Behind her she could hear the breathing of the painter. He observed the contractions of her muscles as she reached high, squeezing the brush tightly. "More paint," he commanded, watching now how her hips pushed towards him, her head held low, as she recharged her brush from the pot of paint.

"Don't stop," he said. At the sound of his voice she pressed her brush to the door and a spurt of white paint trickled onto the floor. "You are pressing too hard. Be gentle, the gentlest of pressure and the brush will respond. Too much and the brush will spill its load. Clean it up now, with the cloth and the white spirit."

Feeling her body vibrate with unsatisfied desire, she obeyed his every command. The odours of turpentine, paint, of pinewood filled her senses and through their smell, so strong and penetrating, she felt his presence.

"Now paint the panels. Do not dip your brush too deeply into the paint."

She began to understand the rhythm he required of her, her body swaying with the movement of her arm. She could no longer see the painter but she sensed his eyes on her back, tracing the contours of her body beneath the silk of the kimono. She felt every stroke of the brush as though its pure bristle were moving on the surface of her skin. Each movement in the paint created tiny currents and eddies, that she felt in her blood, watching as they disappeared in the paint, so wet, so inviting that she longed to touch it.

"When you have painted each panel stroke your brush along the grain." His breath came more heavily now and his voice fell lower in pitch. "Now to tackle the muntins." She imagined it to be a pet word of his, used for her breasts or thighs, and anticipated his strong hands taking her, but his long fingers pointed instead to the vertical pieces of wood at the centre of the door.

Now their breath kept time, little beads of sweat formed on her forehead and the painter's instruction grew more forceful; he seemed driven into a frenzy. "Next, the cross rails." He directed her hand to the three horizontal pieces of wood that helped to form the frame. "Here, here and HERE." His hair flew as he swung his arms like the conductor of an orchestra. He seemed tireless and her arm ached with effort. What stamina he possessed, but she urged herself on, desiring only to give pleasure to her teacher, to give a good finish.

"Lay your brush against the stiles, the outer verticals that form the frame. You must work quickly, while it is still wet. Once it dries the bristles stick; it will leave the marks of the brush. Faster, faster." With the last stroke she fell back, spent, her kimono open as her exhausted arm fell aslant her body, leaving a trickle of white paint across her flank. The brush, she knew, would never tire, not until it had soaked up the last drop of paint. She lay trembling as the painter stood over her and uttered what she thought could not be possible. "Now is not the time to rest. You must clean your brush. For the second coat you will do it all again only with a better finish."

Tiling a bathroom with Fyodor Dostoevsky

Tools: Hammer, Spirit level, Scraper, Tile cutter, Sponge, Wooden batten, Tape measure, Dust sheet

Materials: Tiles, Spacers, Tile adhesive, Tile grout

For the first time, Pokoroff now opened the bag of tools he had stolen from the tool shed at the back of his lodgings and cast on its aged contents a look of flashing rage. "To think that I have been such a fool," he muttered. He saw now that the bag contained not the tools of his landlady, but those of her gardener. "This is exactly the sort of trifle that could spoil everything."

Feeling crushed, nay humiliated, he caught up the gardener's sickle and plunged its rusty blade behind the tiles above the sink. Long age and humidity had weakened the glue that held them in place so that they easily came away, crashing into the sink and shattering with a great noise. Their removal revealed an ugly rectangular patch of ridged and hardened adhesive. Pokoroff scraped at this in an attempt to render the surface smooth, but the glue, so ineffective at holding the tiles in place, showed more resistance at clinging to the wall. Using a stabbing action the worker saw that little chips of the adhesive broke off, occasionally flying into his face, and in this way he gradually succeeded in levelling the most irregular ridges.

The old woman, as is the way with old women who leave nothing to chance, had left a sack for rubbish and Pokoroff now began filling it with the debris. The jagged edges of the broken tiles were sharp and when he saw that a crack had appeared on the surface of the basin, he flew into a rage. How could he have been so unthinking? He might easily have placed some covering over the basin to cushion the fall of the tiles. With bitter disgust he saw that he had also managed to cut himself and that blood was dripping from his hand. It had already splashed his shoes and the floor before he thought to hold the wound over the open refuse bag. The thick red liquid dripped onto the broken tiles where the drops stained their white surface red. He grew light-headed and for a moment it seemed to him that the tiles were smiling at this benediction, until he realised that this was no chimera. Half buried in the detritus, the widow's false teeth came as a disagreeable surprise. In his haste he had forgotten to clear the room. "Details, details," he murmured and, looking up, he saw the remains of the glass that had held the teeth mingling with the broken tiles in the sink. Reluctantly he recovered the gory teeth and dropped them into his pocket. He then wrapped his injured hand with a rag and watched as the white fabric turned red.

Pokoroff felt giddy. Desperate to escape the stifling atmosphere of the apartment, he headed for the back door, which led to a small yard. He stood on the step, breathing deeply and offering up his face to the breeze. As he did so he beheld a line full of laundry, no doubt washed and hung out to dry that very morning while he himself had still been abed, struggling to rise after a night of disturbed and unrefreshing slumber.

He snatched a handkerchief from the line and replaced the bloody rag, which he hung up to dry in its place. Looking about him, he then tore a large sheet free from its pegs and returned to the bathroom, where he used it to protect the fading white enamel of the bathtub. Our worker was in a hurry to be gone and now he did not hesitate. Taking up the sickle he set about him, stabbing frantically at the walls, levering tiles loose in ones and twos, until the walls stood bare and the bath groaned under the weight of the debris.

Burning with impatience he tore open the package of tiles and with a piece of garden twine measured one of the sides. His plan was to attach a batten, procured for the purpose, to the wall at precisely the height of the second row of tiles. This would prevent the tiles sliding down the wall, and ensure that they were level. He placed two of the masonry nails between his lips and took up the batten, but he was now interrupted in his work. Where was the hammer? Spitting out the nails, he searched the bag again, turning it upside down and shaking it until a garden trowel and a hatchet fell onto the bathroom floor. A sickly smile appeared on his lips. Lacking a spirit level, he did his best to confirm the batten was indeed level. There was now not a moment to lose. Brandishing the hatchet, he swung it, almost mechanically, on to the head of the first nail. The sharp fixing penetrated the soft wood. Pokoroff struck two more blows, driving the nail on into the wall. He checked again the level of the batten, held up a second nail and, with his full strength, drove the nail clear through wood and plaster, pinning the wood in place. It was done. Thick drops of sweat trickled down his neck as he began laying on the tile adhesive. His hands shaking, his lips parched, he pressed each tile into place with a kind of monomania. Among the materials left by his employer, Pokoroff found a packet of tiny white plastic crosses and these he used to ensure the tiles were evenly spaced. A desire to escape these scornful lodgings made him desperate. Without a tile cutter he used the garden shears to cut the last pieces for the corners of the room before finally he turned to renew the half-dozen tiles above the handbasin.

How many obstacles yet stood between our hero and his freedom. The batten was still attached to the wall and the grouting required mixing before it could be used to fill the grid of gaps between tiles. Bracing one foot in the bath, he pulled at the batten, he heaved, but the nail held. His impatience was intense as he used the hatchet to lever off the offending article. When it gave way, Pokoroff lurched backwards, the hatchet flew from his hand and landed with a crash in the basin. This time a deep jagged crack split the white cranium of the sink. Pokoroff staggered back in disbelief. Time was drawing on and the old lady might return at any moment.

From the kitchen he took a pail, which he filled with grouting powder, adding water to make a smooth paste, before leaving the compound to stand. Pokoroff then applied the last of the adhesive to the wall where the batten had lately been removed, and fixed the final row of tiles in place. The grouting was now ready, but Pokoroff stood irresolute, until footsteps resounded on the landing. Scarcely daring to breathe, Pokoroff listened. When a key was pushed into the lock, the rattling of the handle shook him from his torpor. Frantically he began to slop grouting into the gaps; one by one the tiny white crosses between the tiles disappeared from sight beneath the grey paste. The mistress of the house could be heard calling aloud, "Batuchka! I am back. I will make some some tea. Will you take a cup?" The grouting done, he took up the damp sponge and began to wipe away the grey paste that splattered tiles, bath, clothing, everything. He was now in full possession of his intellect. As he washed his hands, Pokoroff saw that the sink was shattered. From the cracked basin water spurted out in streams onto the floor. "Do not come in yet," he called aloud, "I have a surprise for you." He took up the hatchet from the floor and hoisted the four corners of the sheet from the bath and made of it a sackful of broken tiles that he slung over his shoulder.

With a cry of "Close your eyes..." Pokoroff rushed out of the back door of the apartment. Stooping under his load, he passed under the red rag that hung from the line, staggered down the steps into the garden, and swung the sheet and its contents over the fence to land with a crash in the neighbouring yard. He then climbed up onto the garden wall and jumped down into the street.

To celebrate the publication of 'Sartre's Sink', Mark Crick will give a series of 15-minute literary DIY lessons every night this week (27-31 October) at The School of Life, 70 Marchmont Street, London WC1. Instruction is free; from 6.15pm sharp. For more information, visit

'Sartre's Sink', written and illustrated by Mark Crick, is published by Granta (£10.99). To order your copy for £9.99 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 0870 079 8897 or go to