The one about the house next door

In hindsight, buying a house off plan, in a record-breaking property boom, in the middle of the desert, weeks before the global economy came crashing down, was not the best move. To add insult to injury, the completion date moved no less than seven times and by nearly two years, with many assurances along the way that it would be ‘finished soon, inshallah, madam, please don’t worry’ turning out to be – for want of a better phrase – a crock of sh*t. Instead of moving into our new home when I was was three months’ pregnant, which was ‘the absolute final completion date madam, we promise you’, we finally made it into our house when our son was eight weeks old. By then I had shouted myself hoarse on the phone to the management company, been in floods of tears every day for weeks and we had 24 hours left on our old lease before we were rendered completely homeless. It was not the best start to family life. Our only clue as to the progress of our home during the time it took to finish it was gleaned by gazing at the building site from the distant golf club terrace, and several photos taken by a heavily pregnant, desperate, hormonal crazy lady (that would be me) who gatecrashed onto the site by way of driving through the security gate as fast as possible and taking as many shots as she could before the guards caught up with her.

But, eventually,  we moved in. And to have our own home these past four years has been worth the pain, for the most part. I don’t miss the days of wondering if the rent is going to double or if the landlord is going to sell the house from underneath us. I got to decorate my bedroom and design my garden. We gave our son security and familiarity in an environment where it’s easy to forget the importance or significance of either.

But smug home ownership comes at a price. Let’s ignore the horrific effect of the financial crisis on the value of our villa, because (inshallah) we seem to have nearly recovered from that. The more in-our-faces issue blighting our happiness from nearly day one was our neighbour. Shortly after all the houses in our street had been finished and occupied, she began dismantling her brand new villa in order to make it bigger. Why she didn’t just buy a bigger villa is, to this day, somewhat of a mystery. But the contractors came armed with jackhammers, and the next thing we knew from 8am to 6pm, six days a week, the sound of reinforced concrete being smashed up filled our house, along with large amounts of dust vibrating gently onto our belongings and into our lungs. Our beautiful brand-new garden became a haven of hell, filled with noise, dirt and the added attraction of several workmen staring down from the roof of next door’s house at any given time. It took them four months to tear down the back half of the villa. We figured they’d be done rebuilding within a year.

Oh, how wrong we were. The site stood abandoned for six months after that, before some guys suddenly turned up and starting building. They put up new walls, and a roof, and things were starting to look really good…and then one day they were gone. Another three months went by. The garage door gathered dust and some kids drew penis graffiti on it. We waited patiently for our neighbour to restart the work, then not quite so patiently as we threatened to call the authorities and shut her down. Finally, over a year after the project had begun, a car turned up. I was so excited!

I needn’t have been. The jackhammering began again the next day, and the day after that, and so on…until it became clear they were – horror – demolishing the extension. WTF? We discovered our neighbour had ‘changed her mind’, which is code for ‘didn’t get planning permission’. The whole upper balcony and roof was taken down and then…left for another few months in great hunks of concrete all over the site.

Time went by. A new set of workers appeared, and lo! The roof went back on. After a few strained episodes, including ‘the one where they installed an air con generator on the roof facing our garden’ and ‘the one where they illegally demolished the garden wall and got banned from the site for two weeks’, progress was finally made. A few weeks before summer, we watched the floors and electrics go in, then the windows and a few chandeliers, and then suddenly, it was over.

I bumped into the chief contractor the day they were leaving the site.

‘All finshed?’ I asked.

‘All finished, madam,’ he said, smiling and puffing his chest up with pride, ‘beautiful house now.’

‘Yes, and it only took three years,’ I said. I don’t know why I did this, sarcasm was bound to be lost on the guy.

‘Three and a half, madam,’ he replied, clearly revelling in his project management prowess. ‘Very long time.’

There was a pause as we both considered what he had said. Then he turned to me and fished a card from his pocket.

‘You need work on your house?’

Not bloody likely, mate.