Real life

The builder and I are done with Surrey

16 July 2022

9:00 AM

16 July 2022

9:00 AM

As he grouted the last tile, five years after the bathroom was finished, I knew the game was up.

‘I guess this is it,’ I said, as the builder boyfriend used a filler gun to bring about closure.

This single ungrouted tile where the bath meets the wall has been something of a symbolic fight between the two of us. It baffled and infuriated me until I simply gave up wondering and made my peace with it.

I plastered it with Hippo tape, thinking that would shame him, but it didn’t. Why he stopped short of an otherwise perfect job two seconds short of completion, he never did explain.

I came to various conclusions about the psychology of the ungrouted tile. I decided that whatever it meant, it went to the heart of our relationship. Solve the mystery of the ungrouted tile and you solve the mystery of the builder boyfriend and me.

Did he fear that I would no longer need him if he grouted that tile, that I might throw all his belongings out on to the street? Did some abandonment issue from his childhood make him withhold ten centimetres of grout in some sort of bid for security?

Or perhaps this small gap was a private joke, something he kept for himself in this eternal trampling of boundaries we call a relationship.

We have often said, however, that the last tile will have to be grouted if we ever decide to move on from this house. And so when he marched into the bathroom with a filler gun, I said: ‘Is this really it? Are we really going to make this happen? A big old farmhouse and land, and us living in the middle of nowhere with the dogs and the horses?’ And he said: ‘Yes. This is it.’

The last straw was losing yet another rented stable yard. It is barely a year since we were given our notice from a farm where the entitled Surrey walkers were trampling daily across our fields and the neighbouring millionaire was demanding free access to our land to stand guns for his shoot.

The landowner backed us for a while but after a year of being pummelled by this ill-mannered posh boy, she just couldn’t take any more rude phone calls and letters, and she basically gave in. We were moved on so she could get on with him better by leaving her land empty and letting his men trample across it, along with all the entitled Surrey residents, middle manager types who wanted to walk about in their never-muddy Dubarry boots with their non-working spaniels, hobnobbing with the shoot boys while subscribing to Peta and the RSPCA.

It’s hard to explain how it feels to be evicted with four horses because the locals have bullied your landlady into giving them her land for free when you were paying her for it and looking after it.

But that’s Surrey for you. After that we had to move to two different places because we couldn’t find anywhere to keep the horses together. My mares went to a very nice livery on a farm with a cross country course, while the BB’s cobs were turned away in the parkland of a nearby country estate.

A few months after my horses arrived at this livery, the farmer’s wife approached me in the barn while I was stuffing haynets and told me, ashen-faced, that they had just been given their notice by the landowner. The place was closing and everyone must be out in a few months’ time.

The stable yard was being bulldozed for industrial units, while rumour had it the land was going for rewilding.

Luckily, a few days later, we spotted an advert online for a smallholding down the road and after meeting with the owner to view, we signed the lease. On our first day there, after the lorry had just dropped off our horses and they were in their new paddocks grazing, five young children from the mansion next door ducked under the fence and ran around our new stable yard screaming.

The builder b told them to leave, but I knew we were done for. Sure enough, every day after that we caught them marauding. Often the slim, blonde mother in her Lycra gym pants would duck under the fence with them. She told us they would be playing with our horses whenever they liked. We told her they might get kicked to death. She told us they had better not. We must make it safe for them. They were Surrey millionaires, you see.

The landlady backed us at first, then informed us she didn’t want to argue with them. If we wouldn’t let the neighbour’s children come under the fence, we would have to go.

We agreed. We’re done here.

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