How reassuringly like old times it is, going to a God-forsaken retail park with Stefano.
We mooch about the DIY store together like an old couple, me with a face like thunder, he quietly pointing out boring things that we need like door handles, whispering the price, knowing exactly when I am liable to blow up.
It doesn’t seem five minutes since he was a brave young adventurer from the wilds of Albania making his way in London, colliding with me one day while painting the outside of my neighbour’s house.
I pounced on him and got him to paint the outside of my house as well, then made him take me to Croydon Ikea in his Skoda estate car to buy my ideal Nigella shelf for stacking plates above the sink.
He drove all the way in fourth gear, seemingly impervious to the choking sound as he told me about corruption in his homeland that I didn’t like to say sounded identical to the official policies of Lambeth council.
When we got there, he refused to follow the arrows one way around the showroom. Also, despite being a Muslim devout enough to have a Koran on the dashboard of the Skoda, he was freaked out by the sudden appearance of a ‘prayer and contemplation room’. He went inside for a look, laughing so loud I had to call him back.
When we got home, half the bits were missing from the box and he had a meltdown even though I told him this was normal. Then, as he attempted to fit the shelf, he hit a pipe near the ceiling and a tide of water hit him in the face. He cursed and spluttered water, finger in hole, and I had to run and get Tony the plumber.
That must have been nearly ten years ago. He has come back into my life uncomplainingly to fill the void left by the builder boyfriend. And void is the right word.
Holes in walls, holes in floors, holes in roofs, a crater in the basement.
My most finished room is the bathroom, but even there the BB left one tile gap ungrouted. Just one. It was almost as if he didn’t want to finish anything. I’m sure the reason for that is quite poetic, but it’s not going to get me anywhere to wonder about it now.
I wake up every morning and the horror of the holes in the walls and the floors bears down on me.
The only thought that makes me get out of bed is that ‘Stefano is coming today’.
He has told me his fully costed plan in detail. It is: ‘I come…bish bash bosh… do do do… everything… do do… bang bang…maybe sit on grass, lunch in sun, don’t worry, Melissa happy. I say I come, I come. You know I come. I don’t come, I say. So when I here it’s this this this… bang bang… done. Yes?’
I actually know exactly what he means.
He arrives with two or three of his boys, they set about banging and clattering, and usually, after a day of ‘bish bash bosh do do’, they finish something. Door frames, floors, fitted wardrobes take shape. I come home and find them sitting on the sofa smoking and eating, quaintly enough, scones. Always scones. I don’t mind their smoke or their crumbs. They make me happy.
But when they leave, and the silence settles down, the house begins to frighten me. One bit or another becomes maddening.
Everything will be fine when I get a new floor laid in the basement, I decide. The BB dug up the old floor to dry it out after it flooded and to lay a new damp course. I have been walking over heaps of rubble to the garden for months. The dogs think the inside is the outside. Ideal for them. Not so much for me.
But once the concrete lorry has been, and the floor has set, I go down there and stand on my new floor and cry and cry.
Because, of course, the concrete floor doesn’t change how I feel at all. I still feel desperate.
So I decide that everything will, in fact, be fine when Stefano makes me a mezzanine rail around the gap in the second-floor ceiling that leads to the loft, a sort of skylight feature clumsily designed by me against all professional advice because of the vicious draft.
And that is why we stand in the DIY warehouse and he counts out spindles. ‘Is one… hundred… needed to make,’ he says, really quietly. ‘What?’ I shriek.
We add it up and it is going to cost £1,000.
‘Or I could just do… stud… bang bang… done,’ he whispers. ‘Yes?’
‘Yes, yes, do stud, put stud around it. Bang bang. Done. Please. Bang bang done soon?’
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