During this last bit of the house transformation and during the whole debacle with kitchen suppliers, ill-serving glaziers, tardy carpenters, rip-off patio layers, arrogant plumbers et al – I – usually a strong person and not one to dwell on where we were but where we are – have been more or less reduced to a quivering wreck. So much and so heavily have I ground my teeth in my (very sporadic) sleep at night that I brought on toothache – severe toothache – the sort that has you crawling up the wall and wondering why you are still alive – the sort that defies gravity and penetrates the eardrum thus giving you the benefit of its full and mighty impact. It has not been jolly. It continues to not be jolly. It will continue to not be jolly for a few weeks to come. I thank, therefore, my dear friend Mary (with whom I attended Sunday school – yes – we go back that far – though neither of us has retained an odour of piety from those churchy days) – Mary has always been a quietly useful counsellor – and that other thing that enhances friendship more than any other – a listener. She listens non-judgementally. When you say to Mary that you have made a fool of yourself yet again with a dress/man/diet/map – she shows sympathy, understanding, and a hint of being the same kind of klutz herself. Which she is not.
And thus it came to pass that she rang me to see how things here were going, and she rang at one of the darkest times when I had just realised that I was going to spend another two weeks without a kitchen and using the garden standpipe (I have not had a working kitchen for four months) and when the carpenter who owns a large chunk of my money pulled a fast one and changed his start date yet again. Mary let me rattle on about it all – the kitchen, the glass, the woodwork, the slabs, the radiators – and then she said two very apposite things: She said that it was all awful and frustrating and that she sympathised utterly and hoped it would resolve itself soon. And then she added, with a bit of a smile in her voice – but remember Mavis – these are First World Problems.
And of course, dear readers, that is what they are. Problems of the First World. Not to belittle them – they are also the problems of the gracenotes of homemaking in this civilised country if we are lucky enough to afford them. But someone living in the Jungle of Calais would give their eye teeth to have their own garden with running water available, and someone on the a leaking boat in the middle of the Mediterranean wouldn’t give tuppence for a bit of woodwork (couldn’t give tuppence, as they would have given all their money to the people smuggler)… So Mary’s little epitaph to my trials did the job and gave me a little sunburst of clarity. Now when I start to chew the carpet over yet another frustration due to tradesman, I say to myself – It’s a First World Problem. Believe me – it helps. I then feel privileged to be without a high-end hob for a while longer, and if my cupboards take extra time to be made, that’s a privilege, too. It doesn’t stop the frustration – and sometimes the spark of rage – but it does, as soon as I say it to myself – deflate the situation. And that, in the current state of play here, is a continuing and salutary bonus.
I’d like to send you a short story, for free – you just need to tell me where to send it