`I rushed to admire the fine blue expanse, but when I took one step forward - squelch!'

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The Independent Online
The trouble about living in an old farmhouse is that the building can play endless tricks on you. Friends find it delightful that the bedroom floors undulate like waves of the sea - but little do they realise what problems you stir up if you try to make improvements.

My most recent knock-down, drag-out contest was with a bathroom which we decided to refurbish. Nothing could be done about the slope of the floor, but at least we would get rid of the pock-marked plaster, instal a new window, replace the scruffy tiles and level the bath.

Enter Leslie, our local builder - a man of exacting standards. It was no good trying to patch and paste, he said. The old window would have to be hit out, the plaster hit down, the tiles hit off. Anything less would look as bad as before.

By the end of Day One, the room looked as though a bomb had gone off. Removal of the plaster revealed an immense lintel inexplicably embedded in the stonework. Shifting of the bath betrayed the fact that floorboards were rotten.

For several more days, chaos reigned. Then, after two coats of sand-and- cement had gone on to the walls, followed by two of plaster, order began to return. With the new window fixed, and crisp white tiles in place, I was foolish enough to hope the room would soon be back in use.

You should have seen us trying to level the bath. With me flat on my back, twiddling the adjustable legs, and Leslie directing operations from above, ridiculous conversations took place.

"Higher him up in the back corner," I was instructed. "Now, drop him in this corner."

"I can't. He's off the floor anyway."

"Christ! He's nearly an inch out..."

It took us hours to realise that the cast-iron bath itself was warped, and in the end we had to compromise. Then we were at the mercy of the plumber. Three times he claimed to have reconnected the bath, and three times he left pipes leaking.

It fell to me to do the decorating. This went reasonably well until, thinking to secure a loose floorboard, I put a nail through an electric cable and plunged the house into darkness. Recovering from the shock (not physical, fortunately), I summoned the man from whom I had ordered a new carpet and set him to work. Before he finished, I had to go out, and when I returned, he had left.

I rushed upstairs to admire the fine, blue expanse, but when I took one step forward - squelch! Ye Gods, the new carpet was saturated. The buffoon had holed a pipe in the airing cupboard.

I turned off the stop cocks. Now we needed a proper plumber instantly. Recourse to the Yellow Pages put us on to a man in Stroud. Miraculously, he came at once and swept into action.

In a couple of minutes he discovered a pinhole in a cold-water pipe - the product of decay, rather than violence. In a trice he cut out the offending section. Then suddenly he called for bread, to act as blotting paper and stop dribbles while he soldered a new piece in. Dutifully, I gave him a slice of my wife's finest home-made wholemeal loaf, complete with olive oil and sunflower seeds.

"Don't worry," he assured me. "It'll all come out in the bath."

New pipe in place, stop cocks back on. What's this? No water running into the roof tank. "Blocked valve," the plumber announced, whizzing up into the loft. "I'll give you a new one."

Two minutes later he was down again, waving the old valve, solid with rust. Away he went, with a cheque in his pocket, having done a brilliant job.

Too late, I realised that after one flush the lavatory cistern would not fill. The bread! Greatly daring, I dismantled the ball cock. Right in the nozzle, sealing it perfectly, was a single sunflower seed.

With a feeling of triumph, I put everything back together. A month after work started, the bathroom is again in commission, and quiescent - but I have a nasty feeling it may well be planning further retaliation.

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