Driller killers

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I still remember the thrill of buying my first power tool, a cordless, rechargeable drill with seven bits, seven screwdrivers - and five attachments for removing nuts. (Actually, given the number of men who go all Donny Osmond about women and power tools, I'd say the thing constituted one of those last attachments in itself.) My power tool is sleek and black and chunky - chunkier than a Magnum .44, though less firm to grip. You feel like Gloria Steinem with it in your hand. I wore the battery out in the first hour, simply walking around the house making that lovely whining noise and drilling small holes in inconspicuous places.

Being a woman who owns her own power tools is all very well, but at times you have to call in the professionals. I draw the line at plumbing and knocking down walls. When you're plumbing you invariably chip your nail varnish; and if you're going to demolish walls, it's nice to have someone to sue if the rest of the house follows suit. Which is why the boys have been round.

"Round" is a bit of a euphemism. Their presence has been felt, but they've spent more time not here than here. I've expatiated on builders and their space-time continuum before - but even so I had lulled myself into a false sense of security. When Malcolm estimated eight days to fix the bathroom, I naturally doubled it. But what with the black holes and the chrono-synclastic infundibula, it's been more like four weeks. There must be some quantum calculation (if one builder equals x delay, and two builders equal y, then a team of builders will mean x3y=z2). Time-spatial paralysis is a disease of builders, like emphysema. The primary occupation of a builder is to fight his way through a stream of unforeseen disasters to his workplace. Making banging noises and accidentally cutting through mains pipes are secondary occupations.

Still, I got to know John quite well. John was the young one, so the disease hadn't really taken a grip yet. He would turn up within an hour or so of his appointed time. We spent many happy hours waiting for Eddie. Eddie's secondary occupation was plastering. Most of his time was spent on the M4, with his mobile turned off. John and I drank coffee. He drank his with three sugars and half a pack of chocolate Hobnobs. I drank mine black, with Silk Cut. John was whippet-thin, while I continue to burgeon.

Standing knee-deep in concrete dust in my kitchen, we bonded like mad. John had a pregnant wife with cravings for Scotch eggs and strawberry jam, and a dog called Tyson. "What type is he?" I asked. "A Pekinese. Snappy little bugger."

I put the kettle back on. "D'you want another coffee?" He looked a bit embarrassed. "Don't suppose," he asked, "you've got any proper coffee?" "Err. Um. What sort of proper coffee?" "You know. Nescafe or something?" "Ah." I turned the cupboards out and unearthed a small jar of Gold Blend left over from my brief flirtation with lodgers a couple of years ago. I opened it. It had turned the colour of bracken and was covered with a fine film of dandelion seeds. "Sorry. No. Tea?" "Yeah. Tea's fine." I caught myself offering Lapsang and Earl Grey, pulled out the PG Tips. "Sugar?" "Yeah. Four, please. I can't stand the taste of tea."

John's mobile rang. He fished it from his back pocket. It was covered in fingerprints in Pure Brilliant White. "Yeah? Yeah. Oh, yeah? Yeah, a bit. OK, yeah." He hung up. "That was Eddie," he said. "He's on the Talgarth Road. There's been some sort of pile-up." "Oh, no. Is he hurt?" "Oh, he's all right. Some old dear with a shopping trolley went under a lorry. Blood everywhere, apparently. Reckons he'll be a bit late."

There wasn't much to do, as he couldn't put the lavatory cistern back until Eddie had done the wall behind it. I went out and bought some more biscuits, then got John to show me his tool box. He had a great tool box. He had monkey wrenches and spanners and those flat spatula things and Stanley knives and ratchet drills and masonry nails and three types of awl. I haven't owned an awl since I lent it to a bloke who emigrated to Manchester and never gave me his phone number. "I gave him my awl," I said, "and this is how he repays me." John didn't get the joke. "I know," he said. "Malcolm's always borrowing my Allen key."

I showed him my power drill. He laughed. "Call that a power drill?" he said. "More like a weaker drill. You couldn't drill the Greenjackets with that." He, of course, had a howitzer-sized drill with 72 bits and a fabulous cream suede holster to carry it in. "It looks great, only you forget you're wearing it and you keep ripping the plug out of the wall." His phone went off again. He talked. I studied his ball- pen hammer. He hung up. "Eddie's in Hendon. He's on his way." "Hendon? I thought he was on the Talgarth Road? He's gone north?" "Yeah. He had to drop something off in Uxbridge."

At 7.30pm we gave up. John returned to the pregnant wife. I cleared the cistern lid from the stove and made some supper. I was dozing in front of News at Ten when the phone rang. "Is Eddie there?" asked a man's voice. "What, Eddie the plasterer?" "Yes. That's where he lives, isn't it?" "No." "Oh. He gave me this number..." he said suspiciously. "Well, I'm sorry. He doesn't live here. I can take a message in case he turns up tomorrow." "Oh, OK. Can you tell him that Mike on the Talgarth Road wants to know where he is? He was meant to be doing my stairs today, and he never turned up"