John Walsh: The builders are in – and cooking

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The Independent Online

When we moved house recently, we took a gamble. The builders hadn't finished a couple of crucial renovations – but they were quite certain it would take only a couple of weeks. They are charming and plausible men. So determined were they to finish, they said they'd live on the premises until the final lightbulb was enscrewed.

So we sent the furniture into storage and moved into our top-floor eyrie, surrounded by cardboard boxes. We depended for our morning sustenance on an electric kettle, a jar of instant coffee and a milk bottle that spends the night on the windowsill outside, like in student days.

It's okay, we tell each other: two weeks of privation, dust, no TV and no breakfast will be good for the character. But we must be careful not to speak or move loudly, for fear of disturbing the builders slumbering on mattresses downstairs…

The other morning I was awakened at 7.30am by a fabulous smell: frying bacon. It roused my senses to a lather of anticipation. It was coming from downstairs. The builders had, it seemed, made the knackered cooker work and, before starting on the wall and the cupboard, were enjoying a morning snack, possibly with eggs. I considered nipping down to ask them to include us in a fry-up, but this was obviously socially impossible.

Two days later, the heavenly smell was back: bacon with, unmistakably, mushrooms cooking in butter, with a top note of (could it be?) black pudding. My starved intestines raged within, but there was nothing I could do. There's a limit to what you can perform with an electric kettle. Then things speeded up. The next morning, there was a distinct smell of omelette aux fines herbes.

The beloved has now gone to visit relatives, and, as I sit in my bedroom eyrie each evening, glumly reading Seneca and the other Stoics, smells waft up – of salmon en croute, lamb shanks with mustard mash, tarte tatin… I try to be philosophical. At the end of all this, I may not just have gained wisdom, forbearance and moral strength. I may also have gained a pop-up restaurant.