“The delivery time is six weeks,” said Mariam, the amiable and knowledgeable saleswoman at the swanky ceramics place just outside Deruta, the small town in central Umbria with a centuries-old reputation for pottery. We had just chosen the colours and pattern and formally placed the order for the glazed volcanic stone panels that will cover the short wall of the new shower cubicle in our en suite bathroom. This was a post-lockdown treat we had awarded ourselves that, only thanks to their fifty percent coronavirus discount, had become just about affordable (if we whispered the figure really fast and kept one eye tight shut). Then, in the face of such a never-to-be-repeated offer, we had naturally talked ourselves into a new washbasin too – the old one was cracked after all, and so needed replacing anyway… didn’t it… And then, of course, we persuaded ourselves it made perfect sense to include smaller panels in the same pattern and colours to go round the washbasin as we’d always intended to tile this area too… hadn’t we … Which was all very lovely and exciting, but it had also made the refurbishment of our shower room an even bigger (and costlier) job than it already was.
My finding a couple of floor tiles that squelched underfoot was what set a row of hefty dominoes tumbling, creating a succession of tasks that included (deep breath) chiselling off most of the wall tiles, removing the shuttering on a section of stud wall, taking out the shower tray and demolishing the walls that formed the shower cubicle. And on top of that, we had now decided to rip out the wash basin and along with it, the very tired-looking vanity unit it rested on. On the plus side, however, we had at least reached the point where everything that needed to come out was out (or very soon would be) and – an important, morale-boosting stage in any refurbishment project – we could finally start to put new stuff back in.
So while our hearts had sunk slightly as the six-week wait for our swanky new tiles, it wasn’t as if Mr Blue-Shirt was going to be left twiddling his thumbs until we could finally christen our glamourous new shower room. It was just a pity that so many of the jobs on the still growing to-do list would be very much ‘behind the scenes’. The pipework to the shower had to be extended and moved to allow an access panel to be fitted, the stud wall needed to be re-shuttered and once the drainage from the shower had been sorted out the concrete base for the new shower tray could be poured, and after a few days’ wait for the concrete to dry, the base and walls could then be tanked with a kind of waterproof plaster. All of which brought us to another milestone: the point at which Mr Blue-Shirt could at last start doing jobs that would be visible. As soon as the tanking was dry, we could lower the surprisingly heavy solid resin shower tray into position and re-connect the drain, after which the missing floor tiles around the base could be replaced and the long wall of the shower cubicle could be re-tiled. Fortunately, we still had a good stock of tiles left behind by the previous owners, although working out the right permutation of large, medium and small tiles to ensure a seamless transition from old to new meant that there was little room for breakages. So within a few days the place was at least starting to look more like a shower room in the making than a building site with a dust-sheet-draped loo in one corner – even though this left the swanky new tiles, the shower cubicle, the basin and the vanity unit for it to sit on all still to go.
Ah yes: the vanity unit. In a reckless moment we had asked the tile supplier to quote for the one that had rather caught our eye in the showroom. But when they came back with a price that even including the fifty percent coronavirus discount was significantly more than what we had paid for the pair of large comfy three-seater sofas in our sitting room, we knew that our brief and uncharacteristic ‘what the hell’ phase had run its course. So Mr Blue-Shirt simply decided to design and build a lookalike version of the vanity unit we had taken a shine to himself – as if he needed to another job to his never-shrinking list. This would come to involve lengthy periods spent sawing, routing, gluing, hammering, sanding and varnishing, but within a couple of sweaty and sawdust-coated days it had become far too hot to spend longer than a couple of hours at a time in the cramped and airless shed, so Mr Blue-Shirt had the best possible excuse to switch to indoor tasks. Which meant that it was at last time for The Big One: the job he had been itching to do since we had stumbled across that showroom in Deruta on our first post-lockdown trip outside the region. It was time to install our three gorgeous (but extremely large, extremely heavy and extremely fragile) jewel-coloured volcanic stone panels that we had taken another trip over to Deruta to pick up a week or so earlier.
Now, in most aspects of life, Mr Blue-Shirt and I happily live together on largely common ground, but there is one key area where there is a huge gulf between us: our respective attitudes to risk. While Mr Blue-Shirt is always firmly in the ‘how-difficult-can-it-be?’ and ‘what-could-possibly-go-wrong?’ camp, I am equally firmly always in the camp that can answer both questions with a full-blown, Michelin-starred, seven-course tasting menu with matching wines of worst-case scenarios. So as he merrily bustled about, mixing buckets of heavy duty tile cement, spreading generous trowel-fulls on the waiting wall and no doubt picturing the gleaming new panels just dropping effortlessly into place, I nervously bustled about clearing away trip hazards, spreading out dust sheets, finding our grippy lifting gloves, and finding it impossible to shift from my mind the image of our precious panels crashing onto the spanking new shower tray and splintering into a jagged mound of jewel-coloured rubble.
With our respective preparations finished, we pulled on our gloves and each grasped one end of the first panel.
“Ready?” asked Mr Blue-Shirt, looking me square in the eye.
I returned his gaze, tightened my grip and nodded.
“Right! Let’s do it…”