In our previous, suburban, life, we enjoyed the society of neighbours, now and again, and occasionally we entertained, in our garden: bbqs, lunch parties, family Christmases. Waving off our loved-ones at the end of a sunny afternoon was always joyous; we’d flump down on our couch together, brew some coffee, and relish the returned calm and quiet. We cherish our tiny “nuclear family” life: just us and our cat and dog, comfortable in our private language and shared eccentricities.
For the past three months we have been sharing our lives with a team of craftsmen: electrician/plumber, carpenter, builder, blacksmith, decorator, and four travelling work volunteers, who lived with us as one of the family, in return for their labour. It has required an adjustment on our part. Having a gang of rowdy, large men around the house is… different!
Our whole domestic dynamic has altered: we make endless cups of tea, and make sure that “our boys” have a decent lunch every day. Traditional female domestic roles have settled naturally upon our shoulders, like the shawl I now wear to keep off the morning chill while I write. Jobs that we might have once tackled together, we now leave to “the boys”, which, as enlightened, independent women, scares us slightly!
The discovery of a dead mouse in the sitting-room led to a discussion: which of us would dispose of the unfortunate, tiny creature? We were too proud to summon one of the lads! Our dog has developed man-crushes, and likes to sit beside the boys at lunchtime. Unfortunately, he also indulges in some indoor leg-cocking to display his new-found machismo – marking his territory out clearly so that the other males respect his boundary lines. Fortunately, the builders have not found this to be necessary among themselves.
We have both recently left female-centric office-based environments, so the noise of power-tools, banging, and intermittent loud, manly singing (all builders are frustrated performers, I have discovered) are new to us.
I am used to boys and their ways. A stint as an army officer cadet, and years as a jobbing chef encultured me. My years as “one of the lads” inured me to guy-stuff – the horsing around, the practical jokes, the sheer physicality of a working environment that is, primarily, a boys’ club. Sarah’s life-path was different. The males in Sarah’s working world were mostly academics and creatives – an altogether quieter species.
The work that our team has accomplished in a short space of time is impressive. Every day some aspect of our home is transformed by their sheer determination and skill. It’s a joy to behold, and it’s also messy, noisy, dusty and sometimes it gets us down. At the moment, the kitchen is a work in progress, so the dog must eat his lunch with the girls once more, and the boys retreat to a local café.
When the kitchen is completed, I have promised our hard-working lads a celebration lunch. Feminist friends, look away now: I have found a deep spiritual satisfaction in the feeding of working men. Some genetic memory has been stirred! Sarah, on the other hand, remains mystified and bemused by the aliens!