Donald MacInnes: Why I've hit the roof over a SWAT team of noisy builders


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The Independent Online

Following last week's mean-spirited and unwarranted attack on the infant millionaire Prince George, I fully expected to be bundled into a van and driven to the Tower of London, then ordered to stand in the corner of the gift shop until I had sorted my head out.

Thankfully, we live in a land where all speech is free and if Prince Charles happens to remind you of a tweed-swathed goblin plotting under a bridge, you have permanent leave to say so. It is a grim old fairy tale he is living, sure enough.

Unlike the "royal" family, which costs the British taxpayer just 62p each a year (a drop of 7p on last year… woo hoo!), the recipients of this week's spluttering rage cost us all fortunes in not just monstrous rolls of tenners, but in hours of sleep lost and in nerve endings hammered flat by their seemingly permanent presence.

I talk (with a Basil Rathbone sneer), of course, of builders.

My wife and I live in the ground floor flat of a converted townhouse in Blackheath, London. The flat above had been empty for a while, but was then bought and earmarked for major renovation work. Like a dark and malevolent circus occupying an innocent village green, the driveway in front of the house was annexed overnight by vans bearing a sweaty SWAT team of dusty men with sufficient drills and buzzsaws to reduce the Houses of Parliament to a pile of toothpicks. Twice.

For the first few weeks we thought they must have brought their rubber hammers and jelly saws, because they really didn't bother us at all. Well, not in terms of noise, but they did begin to wind my wife up with their sneering inaction as she tried to reverse our car past their van blocking the drive. Well, I say "inaction"; they managed a few words, most of them involving combinations of "love" and "sweetheart" and "darlin'".

Then the noise began. It sounded like they were fencing with chainsaws. Or giving R2-D2 an appendectomy without anaesthetic. It produced the kind of brain-piercing unhappiness that made you want to lock yourself in a disused fridge with David Walliams and James Corden, just to get some perspective on what real suffering feels like.

It got so bad that last Friday (my first day off in a week) I couldn't stand it any more and ran up the stairs, where I pounded on the door of the flat. A small weasel of a man opened it.

"Aye?" He was Scottish. Brilliant. "Look, mate," I growled. "Enough's enough. It's too much. You're driving us mental. I'm warning you. Shut the [word drowned out by drilling] up, okay?"

To my annoyance, he apologised profusely and promised he would keep it down that day and be finished by Monday morning. "Great," I said, and skipped down the stairs, glad at my manliness. "See?" I said to my wife, "I know how to speak to these people."

Footnote: they haven't left.

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