“Can you come and listen to something for a moment?” I asked Mr Blue-Shirt as I padded into his work room. Just out the shower, I was still wrapped in a towel, my freshly washed hair dripping down my back. He sighed, reluctantly broke off his Internet browsing and threw me a wary glance as he stood up from the antique drop-fronted writing desk and matching chair that had been his mother’s. He knew from bitter experience that such apparently innocent requests seldom meant good news.
Back in our shower room, I stepped into the shower cubicle. “Listen…,” I said and rocked back and forth on the slightly raised tiled platform around the square shower tray.
“Can you hear that?”
“You mean that squelching noise?”
“So I’m not hearing things.”
“No,” said Mr Blue-Shirt wearily as he knelt down to investigate further, already sensing a new task being added to his never-ending job list.
The same squelching sound came from three further tiles, one of which we could actually see flexing when it was pressed. “The grout or the sealant must have failed somewhere. Whatever’s under these tiles is soaking. We can’t use it like this. The whole lot will have to come up.” He stood up and peered out of the window down onto the half-tiled terrace below. “At this rate, I’ll never get the bloody terrace finished.”
I really felt for Mr Blue-Shirt. For pretty well all of the preceding three months now he had been building the broad, seaward-facing main terrace at the eastern end of the house, his thirty-eight square-metre magnum opus that linked the northern and southern sections he had built the previous year. But by the time he had waited the requisite four weeks for the concrete base to set properly, the country had gone into complete coronavirus quarantine, all his usual builders’ merchants had closed and, having used up all his existing supplies, he was now having difficulties sourcing the quantity of tile cement and grout he needed to complete the job (which even in the most favourable of circumstances was always going to take a solid four weeks or more to complete). Hence the Internet search I had just interrupted.
“Well, let’s just leave it for the time-being, then,” I said. “It’s hardly any great hardship to use the shower in the guest bathroom for a few weeks if you want to get the terrace finished first. After all, we’re not likely to be having anyone to stay for a while, are we?!”
Mr Blue-Shirt smiled weakly. “That’s true,” he said. “But even if I do find a tile cement supplier, I bet it’ll be a couple of weeks before they can deliver. I might as well get this sorted out in the meantime.”
“Well, only if you’re sure. It’s not as if it will put the whole shower room out of action; we can still use the washbasin and loo in here, so waiting really isn’t any inconvenience.”
I always felt slightly guilty about finding problems and spotting glitches about the house as they invariably ended up involving far more work for Mr Blue-Shirt than my casual observations would immediately suggest.
“No it’s OK. We’d agreed we wanted to make improvements to the shower anyway. This has just brought things forward a bit.”
He was right. The spacious, purpose-built, walk-in shower in the shower room off our bedroom was one of the many features that had attracted us to the house in the first place and we were actually very fond of it. With its generous proportions and thick, waist-high walls that were topped with glass on the two outer sides, edged with oak sills, and clad in large, stone-effect tiles, it had always had something of the feel of a Roman bath about it: simultaneously rugged and decadent. And the novelty of taking in the glorious view out over the olive trees down the valley to the sea while actually standing in the shower had never worn off. But while we loved its individuality – and its amazing views – it had for some time been suffering from a series of niggles that were starting to become rather tiresome. The grout between the tiles that got the wettest was starting to break down and drop out in small, soggy, chunks; we had already had to replace the sealant around the shower tray several times because it flexed underfoot; the oak sills were beginning to warp; and the tiled floor of the door-less cubicle turned out to slope away from the shower tray. This meant that the water at best puddled badly, but at worst ended up trickling out of the cubicle and all over the bathroom floor if one of us took a longer shower. So we had decided some months earlier that we would in the relatively near future solve the problem of the wonky tiles and the ill-fitting shower tray by installing a larger rectangular one to fill the entire space. We had also agreed that when the time came to re-do the bathroom completely, we would think seriously about replacing the sturdy tiled walls with a full-height glass cubicle. For while we liked the idea of the Roman bath-house walls, they did make the room, feel unnecessarily cramped. But our lingering fondness for the space – and knowing that it would require a lot of work to carry out either of these changes – meant that none of the niggles had become quite annoying enough to spur us into action. Right up until I had discovered those loose tiles, which had elevated the project’s status from ‘would like to do at some point’ to ‘need to do as soon as possible’ in a single squelch.
Mr Blue-Shirt trudged straight down to the shed and soon reappeared, armed with a hammer and chisel – and that look of steely determination that I knew so well.
“You’d finished in here, hadn’t you?” he said, waving vaguely at my drooping bath towel and still dripping hair.
“Yes, it’s all yours – if you’re that keen to get started.”
“No time like the present,” he confirmed with somewhat forced jollity as he shoo-ed me out of the shower room and closed the door.
By the time I had got dressed and dried my hair and gingerly opened the door to the shower room again, he had already chiselled up all the squelchy tiles and stripped away most of the sealant. There was black mildew everywhere, the timber supporting the shower tray and surround was little more than a spongey pulp, and the entire room was filled with the musty stench of rotten wood and mouldy cement.
Suddenly I didn’t feel quite so bad about the terrace being on hold for a while.