Decorating simply isn't in my genes. We never did any when I was a child. Come to think of it, we didn't clean much either. Like the people who would rather trade in their car than empty the ashtrays, we simply moved on: from a large terraced house to a small one with no bathroom (I am intensely proud of that non-existent bathroom), to the top floor of a block of flats, to a small Georgian terrace, to a house on an estate, all by the age of 10 and without so much as changing the carpets. Tama Janowitz's Slaves of New York, you remember, were forced to remain in loveless relationships, performing sexual and domestic favours just to keep the roof over their heads. Negative equity has led to the reverse and more enjoyable syndrome, that of Pashas in Bedsits: doomed, despite increasing affluence, to stay in tiny flats at piffling mortgage rates, and determining to do so in comfort.

So we're decorating, and I keep trying to tell myself this hell will be worth it when in future our visitors proceed up the weed-covered path and the crumbling steps, through the grubby hall and the anonymous door, into a palace of delight. Since I take the caddis larvae approach (remain immobile, accumulate dust and sticks) to domesticity, I feel naked, vulnerable and pulpy now the floor is covered by files, boxes, lamps, magazines, CDs, pictures, computers, games, and a structure resembling the great pyramid of Cheops constructed entirely of books.

All this is immeasurably more exhausting than getting a little man in - like Steve, the man who designed and built our kitchen, and who let us play for hours on his office floor with bits of lino and chunks of tile. "Isn't he nice?" I said to his wife, who kept the books. "You won't think so once he's in your flat," she replied darkly. The churl who turned up on the first morning was indeed a far cry from the Mr Chuckles we knew. Steve got through pounds of tea and sugar and litres of milk, came and went (mostly went) at will with the spare keys, and sulked if we left any possessions in his sight-lines. Most maddening of all was his small, paint-splattered radio tuned permanently to Radio Builder: Cat Stevens, Jennifer Rush and Bonnie Tyler warbling from 7am to nightfall. Radio Builder is indispensible; nothing goes up without it. I bet Christopher Wren never went anywhere without a small, paint-splattered string quartet.

After a week, the kitchen still resembled an installation by Rachel Whiteread, and I was getting worried. "Do you think you'll be done by next weekend?" I asked wistfully. "I'll be done tomorrow," Steve said indignantly. I watched him closely for the next half-hour, during which time he made no perceptible movement. Like your childhood teddy he was immobile under scrutiny, leaping and spinning as soon as your back turned. The kitchen was finished, gleaming and miraculous, with only a faint sugar-trail to hint that this was the work of human hands and not fairies.

Though I pretend to be taking an equal share now we're going it alone, I'm doing little of the work and most of the moaning. My task is to clean the Venetian blind, which covers about a hectare. B asks: "Have you got any cotton buds?" I say no, with gritted teeth. "Then perhaps you need a ... " holding up a toothbrush. I scream (expletives deleted) that the day I scrub the blinds with a toothbrush, or for that matter with a cotton bud, will no doubt also be the day I cut the lawn with nail-clippers. Every so often I whine that I didn't get where I am today by cleaning things. But this only leads to the sort of mournful contemplation - where am I today, exactly? - which vigorous cleaning actually helps to dispel.

The act of cleaning involves several spiritual stages. From repugnance arises resistance, from resistance arises resignation, from resignation arises well-I-may-as-well-do-it-properly, and from thence arises oneness, integration, transcendence of duality (I am a Venetian blind!), the effortless storming of dharma gates beyond number and the blissful absorption of Nirvana, then finally sod this, it's Sunday afternoon, what's on the telly?

B meanwhile has undergone a strange transformation. After bacon, eggs, beans and chips for breakfast in the local greasy spoon, he emerges, bare- chested in just a pair of shorts, which, after several runs up and down the step-ladder, come perilously close to displaying bum-cleavage. Radio Builder is located and the volume turned up. Tea is now augmented by a spoonful of sugar, and more than once when the hammering and drilling ceases and "Concrete and Clay" rings out again, I find him standing, tummy frosted with brick-dust, surveying his handiwork with a vacant smile. "You've got to spend a lot of time just standing and looking when you're a builder," he says. Oh god. Can I have my Armani-suited accountant from hell back again, please?