Claudia Winkleman: Take It From Me

'Liz Taylor married a senator, a Hilton heir, Eddie Fisher and Richard Burton, but it was a builder who really broke her heart'


Let me set the scene...

INTERIOR: Camera pans up to reveal a house in a state of total disarray. There are paint pots on the floor, ladders are strewn all over the staircase and spindly yellow pine floorboards are being sanded manically in the background. Through a mist of dust and chaos steps a handsome, strapping man with a tool belt swung low on his hips. He's got a thin sheen of sweat glistening all over his torso and he is wearing a vest. Yup, a vest.

BUILDER: "Wotcha Claud. You know you said you fancied a bookcase being built on that wall upstairs? Well I whipped one up straight after lunch. Now come on Treacle, let's talk about your closet space..."

ME: "Oh goodness. Yes. Um. Great. Can I carry your saw for you? Or can I just, uh, get you a damp cloth?"

It's true. I am in love with my builder. He's called Peter and I breathe that little bit faster when he calls. True, he's not ringing to find out if I fancy a movie and a curry but because he wants to know how my husband and I are getting on with the chrome vs brass debate. I hate it when he uses that word. Husband.

In my weird fantasy world Peter and I are living in a loft conversion somewhere sunny. He walks around in nothing more than a tight, slightly stained singlet and he carries a power drill. After a robust yet tender kiss on my neck he lays down a bit of sisal flooring before stopping to measure an area for a hand-crafted console table. He occasionally mutters something about Capital not being as good as Heart and then he manfully erects a power shower. This is my perfect world. Peter doesn't ask for much - just a hot cup of tea and the odd wad of cash.

When I visit the building site which will one day be my home, I find myself perturbed by my appearance. Having recently had a baby, it's safe to say I'm not looking my best. I'm pale, hairy and wobbly. I turn up covered in regurgitated milk and I last washed my hair in March. My postpartum diet consists of bowls of roast potatoes and Nutella straight from the jar. On our second meeting Peter took me into the bathroom and I was so heavy I managed to crack one of the newly fitted floor tiles. I am not making this up.

Thing is, Peter doesn't really mind. He laughs (which makes his eyes sparkle even more by the way) and he talks intensely about light fittings. He wants to know how I feel about door handles and will bring brochures of mirrors that we pore over for hours. He even once took me to Homebase to look at sinks. As far as I was concerned it was a date. I laughed a bit too loudly when he told me a joke about his van (hilariously a friend of his calls it a lorry) and I kept touching his arm when he talked about taps.

Unfortunately my daydreaming has to stop when my husband walks round the house with us. My husband is perfectly nice, don't get me wrong, but he couldn't fix a plug if his life depended on it. Modern men, the metro sexuals, seem to have missed those all-important lessons. Sure, they're happy to buy bumper packs of Tampax for their partners and they want to talk about relationships. They probably went behind the bike sheds to talk about how to make girls tick when their young soon-to-be painting and decorating friends attended metalwork with gusto. My husband likes nothing better than throwing on a pink Lacoste and grilling me a tuna steak - but he doesn't know what to do with a hammer.

I am not alone in my need for a man who can hang a picture in less than an afternoon. Like the Jedi, the pull of the builders is strong. Elizabeth Taylor married a senator, a Hilton heir, Eddie Fisher and Oscar-winner Richard Burton (twice), but it was the builder Larry Fortensky who really broke her heart. After him, she never got married again. Well it was either that or the brain tumour, but you know what I'm saying.

I do know that this story will not finish well as every relationship with a builder has an unhappy ending. There's the matter of money owed. A builder will suddenly ask for a vast hunk of cash for fixing something you never asked to be fixed. I'm not naïve enough to think that Peter won't throw in a late request for a random couple of grand. And then something will fall apart two days after moving in. When I bought my first studio flat I panted over Mark the plasterer until the plaster fell off the wall a week after he'd gone. And when I did up the next place, Simon, a dashing chiselled man with a chisel, promised me that the skylight was safe. Hmmm. Tell that to my little brother who was sitting under it at the same time as a pigeon sat on it.

The worst thing of all is that two weeks from now, when I'm still looking at the tap catalogues remembering the good times, Peter will have moved on. He'll be in another home laughing at some desperate new mother's jokes. He'll say the right thing about a speedily painted lilac room that her husband hates and he'll be with someone else. I will be left with my (chrome) light switches and my memories. So there's only one thing for it. I've ordered my husband a workbench. I've told him he doesn't need to actually do anything but stand there, head cocked to one side asking if I'd like a flush finish. That'll be a yes.

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