Dad dropped me off in Cambridge. It was a bit later than we’d planned, because I started feeling unwell while packing and had to take some time out to recover, but we made it. While we were unpacking, he did his usual thing of looking around the room to see if there was anything he could fix or improve, and noticed that part of the skirting board had fallen off.
So of course he went to investigate. On retrieving the broken piece of wood and observing what was actually a fairly sizeable hole in the skirting, he concluded that it was probably dry rot. We put it in a plastic bag. “You’ll have to take that to maintenance on Monday,” he said. “That could be a problem.”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said. “I’ll do that.”
While procrastinating, I did my usual thing of attempting a project. This time it was cleaning the windows. While clearing away my stuff, I noticed again the hole in the skirting. It didn’t look good.
I went to Maintenance. “I think I’ve got some dry rot,” I said, and showed them the piece of wood. They poked at it and concluded that yes, Dad’s evaluation had been correct. After retrieving a couple of other maintenance guys, they came to my room to have a look.
Fast forward a couple of hours. They’ve moved the window seat to the middle of the room to access the skirting board. The maintenance guy pokes it with a screwdriver. Definitely rotten. To test it, he moves the screwdriver along. It goes straight through the wood: that part’s rotten too. The whole lot’s rotten. With a sigh, he starts ripping it out. It comes away in his hands, falling apart as it does.
“Yup,” he says. “That’s dry rot.”
We examine the damage together. He pulls out a tree root that is growing through the wall. “The brickwork’s terrible,” he informs me. I can see that. I don’t know a lot about brickwork, but I know enough to know that this is not good brickwork. While we’re discussing what could be done, I send a picture to Dad, telling him that his hunch was correct. He advises me to check the floor as well, in case that’s rotten.
I mention this to Maintenance Guy. He doesn’t seem thrilled about the idea, but he hits the ground with his hammer. There’s a dull sort of thud, not nearly as sharp or hard as you’d expect from a wooden floor. His face falls. “Oh, no.”
“Is it rotten too?” I ask from my position on the other side of the room, holding a book.
“I don’t even want to know,” he says.
Fast forward a few more hours. There is a hole in my floor where several floorboards have been taken up. The joists underneath, it emerges, are rotten too. They’ll need to be ripped out and replaced. The bush outside seems to be trying to reclaim the building for nature, since we’ve found several more tree roots. Maintenance Guy is agreeing with me that Newnham’s definition of ‘antique’ seems to coincide with everyone else’s definition of ‘old and decrepit’.
Maintenance Guy’s Boss comes along, and assesses the situation. They offer me a choice. I can stay here, they’ll cover it up, and come back and fix it during the Easter break when I’m not here. “That’ll probably make it harder in the long run, though, won’t it?” They agree that it will. So, option two: they can see if there’s a spare room for me to move into while they repair it. Or I can stay here and put up with the noise and whatnot.
I opt to stay, because my books and computer and fridge are here and I don’t fancy having to move them. “My brother played the drums,” I say. “I’m used to the noise.”
It is a loud noise.
I can’t nap, because they’re in my room, so I start working on my essay. Every time the hammer hits the floorboards, I wince slightly. But I’ve written 1300 words, and I haven’t watched any Netflix. I consider this progress. Plus, my Amazon parcel has arrived, so now I have Rick Riordan’s The Sword of Summer to cheer me up.
“We’ll come back tomorrow and finish it,” says Maintenance Guy. “I’m going to cover it up so that it’s safe for tonight, but we need to replace the joists. What time shall we come?”
I hesitate. “Not early.”
“We start at eight.”
“Please don’t come at eight.”
They tell me they’ll come at ten. I set four alarms.
I get up and dressed and eat breakfast before they’re due to arrive. By half past ten, there’s still no sign of them. I look at the window seat. It mostly covers up the destroyed skirting board, but you can still just about see it. For the inconvenience, they’ve said they’ll credit my college account by £50, and I’m happy about this, though with the bills as expensive as they are I think the college should probably have fixed this before it became so major a job.
I make sure my room’s tidy. If they arrive while I’m out, I’d rather they don’t encounter my dirty laundry and unmade bed. Not that I ever make it at home, but then, I rarely have random men in my room at home.
“How can I make this entertaining?” I ask myself, sitting in my room looking at the quiet and unassuming corner that will soon become a building site again.
I come to a conclusion: I’ll blog about it. Blog posts and bad puns make everything better, even holes in the floor. Right?
It’s ten forty. Maintenance Guy just arrived, with another guy with him. The saga continues, and you can rest assured that you’ll get a blog post about all of it.