Hummus, complete with carrot palm trees and chickpea camel droppings. Yum.
So, apparently while I’ve been whirling in a hideous vortex of transcontinental travel, heavy drinking,large quantities of single parenting, and actual work, it would appear that Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year have occurred. And yet still I have failed to put fingers to keyboard and start typing. So here we are. Happy new year and all that. I have flu, which, although this is really not much to complain about, is making me feel gross and bad tempered. So while my big boy and the little one galavant around the garden, having not seen each other since Boxing day, I am roaming the house, sniffing and sighing like a crazy but slightly house proud animal, and indulging in the thankless pursuit of sorting, boxing, binning and fixing everything in sight.
Living in Dubai seems very attractive at this time of year. It’s good to be back, despite missing log fires, pub grub and knee high boots, and countless other things that make living in the UK in the middle of winter vaguely bearable. But when you’ve just returned from the dim wet murk of England, everything looks so wonderfully bright. The sunshine is just so good to come home to. Only one big problem: Sunshine doesn’t just light up the room, it magnifies it. And by default, therefore, it shows up all the flaws – in your face, your clothes, your floors and your furniture. Once you start looking closer than, say, a couple of metres or so, at any of the above, it’s fairly easy to see what you used to class as ‘reasonable wear and tear’ beginning to look a little less reasonable. Let’s avoid any discussions about my face and head straight to the heart of this particular discussion: furniture.
We were never meant to still be here. Our lack of investment in our home is starting to reflect this. Our sofas are so tired they fell asleep standing up. Our walls don’t just need a lick of paint, they need an enthusiastic dog slaver of the stuff. Various side tables are still adorned with toddler-safe corners that are welded on and would require a crowbar to remove. And far too many Billy bookshelves still lurk, sagging and groaning in their pre-adolescent state. There is nothing IKEA make that was supposed to last anywhere near this long, and I’m pretty sure there are several items in our house that are fully aware of this fact and plan to fall apart next time I look at them.
There are also the things you can’t see from a surface glance, or that have been long forgotten about, that are rearing their ugly heads once more. A favourite hobby of our cat has been, over the years, to burrow into the underside of our sofa suite and sit in a nest of stuffing. We have tried all sorts of things to stop this delightful practice, including stapling industrial strength canvas to them. No worries for our feral friend though. She just works on the staples until one finally comes loose and then hey presto! We start all over again. On arriving home this week I sat down and looked in horror at the sofas, which have once again been systematically broken into in our absence, the canvas lining loose and the stuffing leaking out from the bottom once more. I glanced into the TV room and remembered that we had no rug, due to a series of red wine and cat pee incidents that nearly gave me a nervous breakdown last month. And I realised, I can put it off no longer. It’s time for (gasp) new furniture.
And so began the negotiations. It was unanimously agreed that we needed new sofas, and a rug. A budget was loosely discussed, in line with what we were willing to spend for what might be only a few years’ worth of use (well you never know, one day we might leave Dubai. Alternatively I’ll be the one sweeping up after the Exp0 2020 with another set of worn out furniture to get rid of). When it came to the shopping part, I realised very quickly my plans for Pottery barn or Crate and Barrel were the stuff dreams are made of, and instead turned to Dubizzle for inspiration. I held my breath as the search ran. Could I get my dream sofa within budget? Dubizzle is the ebay of Dubai, and you can get some very reasonable stuff on it if the wind is blowing in the right direction. And indeed, it was. I found a beautiful, pristine sofa and chair for nearly the right price, and called immediately to arrange a viewing. Eight hours later, I was kindly informed they had been purchased by a friend of the owner. My dreams blew up in smoke. I searched again, but nothing.
My heart sank as I realised what had to be done. I loaded the car with a tape measure, my son, and a face set with grim determination, and headed to IKEA.
I swore I would never have another IKEA item in my house, but it’s like saying you’ll never shop in Debenhams again – you can’t help yourself. And blow me down if there wasn’t exactly the right sofa and footstool for the living room AND a little comfy number for the TV room in there, all brand new and delivered and assembled for free, for under my budget. And a rug. So I loaded up the trolley with eight packs of shoeboxes, some box files, and some lightbulbs and kitchenware, then remembered what I went in for and ordered the sofas.
So, it was done, and so it shall be, that on Sunday we once again have the blue and yellow truck outside our door. I am happy because I get new things. My husband is happy because it didn’t cost him a fortune. My son is happy because he got to help choose them. And best of all they all sit tight to the ground so my evil cat can’t get in. I’ve sold the other stuff, by the way, so with that and the money I’ve ‘saved’ from the budget, I’m off to Crate and Barrel for an armchair and some cushions. The key, I’m told, to having a house full of IKEA, is to accessorise expensively. I shall remember this tip next time the sunlight spills onto the mirror in my bedroom as I gaze in horror at my increasingly crinkled face, and see if they sell diamond earrings on Dubizzle.
This weekend sees the UAE’s first ever Theatresports show, being held in the wonderful newly opened Courtyard Playhouse, a performing arts centre focussed entirely on producing grassroots theatre using ‘homegrown’ talent, and the only official theatresports venue in the Middle East. I am so excited to be part of this – improv is addictive, funny, (occasionally) intellectual and really, really good for the soul, whether you’re in it, or watching it. I’d love to see you there. Go on…do something different this weekend. Have a laugh. Be part of Dubai history.
Tickets are free; yes, FREE! And there are two performances on Friday and two on Saturday, at 7pm and 9pm. You can even pop along to the open day from 1pm to 3pm on Saturday, as part of ‘Quoz Happens‘ – if you’re at the Ripe Market at the Courtyard, or grabbing a coffee and a carrot cake at the Lime Tree – we’re just upstairs. Get involved, cheer us on…play your part in building grassroots theatre in Dubai!
To reserve your seats for the evening shows, click on THIS LINK. Come on…as if you could resist this pretty face….
What’s the hardest part of living away from home? For me, as I imagine for 99% of expats, it’s a close run thing between missing family and a decent cup of tea, but I’m guessing family win out for most of us.
I’ve spent the past decade flying around the world to visit family – my sister in
New York Hong Kong New York, my mother in law in Florida, brothers and sisters in law in MA and NH, (with a stint in Maine for good measure), plus of course my parents, grandparents, siblings and so on, that are sprinkled across the south east of England. It’s all good fun until someone gets hurt, and then, like a one night stand in the cold light of day, living thousands of miles from your blood relatives turns out to be not such a great idea after all.
This has not been the best of years for my family. The events that have passed, and are still passing, are not my stories to share, so I’m not going to – but suffice to say that all plans to sit in sunny Dubai for the winter and enjoy the time in our little unit of three are being systematically abandoned as the responsibilities that come with being a daughter, a sister and a mother slowly rise to the surface.
Is it possible to live away guilt free? I have never managed it. Dragging myself, and on occasions my husband and son across the globe and through several time zones costing thousands of pounds is just part of life as far as I’m concerned. Times like these turn my mind into a war zone, a battle between what’s right for my family unit here versus what is the right thing to do for my family there. It is the hardest thing in the world, to figure out what is more important, who has priority, and know that due to sheer limits of time and space, all decisions are final. There is always a compromise to be made, and it’s impossible to keep everyone happy. By everyone, I am including me, but I wonder if I should, because all the logistical planning, cross-continental communications, and normal life in between leave very little time to consider ‘me’. In fact, if you asked how I felt about everything going on in my life right now, my only answer would be that I really don’t have a clue.
Part of the pleasure/burden of having a small child is that they don’t give you time to process very much. You tend to only deal with things in terms of ‘stuff I can explain to a four year old’. Which simplifies things, I admit, until your very adult brain catches up and bites you on the arse with all the things you were supposed to think and feel days, weeks, or months ago. Combine that with living away from home, and people tend to think your actions and reactions to events at home are a result of being either a) extremely calm, b) extremely good at acting, or c) being a cold bitch. The truth is that the combination of being time-poor and distanced from events not just by miles, but by GMT+4, means dealing with stuff has to happen in super-intensive chunks, preferably when everyone else in the world (including said four year old) is in bed, so that you don’t turn into a snivelling mess just as you have to do the school run or go out to dinner, or when you are trying to sleep.
The word ‘distance’ weighs so heavily on my mind at times like these that I wonder if it’s only in moments when you want to erase it that you can understand its true meaning. I can only hope that in the coming months, I can balance distance and time and family in both my worlds, and maybe use the flights in between for figuring out how I feel about all of it.
Oh. My. God. I just served a locust with our roast chicken.
Those of you who are regular readers will know that nature and me are not on the best of terms. There have been camel spiders, queen cockroaches, and giant moths in abundance, all of it unwanted and all of it leaving me emotionally the worse for wear. But right up there on the list of ‘lasting memories of living in Dubai that I would rather not have’, has to be tonight, finding a chuffing cooked locust in my dinner.
Let’s dial back a bit. The supermarket have been stocking kale of late, which may sound like a normal everyday occurrence to those living back in the west, but to us out in the desert, a green vegetable that isn’t broccoli or cabbage has been a long time coming. So when I saw it on the shelf this morning, I decided a bunch of kale would make the perfect accompaniment to our Sunday roast.
I grabbed the best looking of the bunch, popped it in a bag, and there it remained until this evening when I took it out of the fridge to chop up for dinner. Lazy cow that I am, I figured the boiling water would probably wash the leaves better than chucking it under the cold tap ever could, so I took the bunch, sliced it off the stems (and possibly a leg or two), gathered it up in my BARE HANDS and threw it in the pot.
Ten minutes later (and a quick taste test to make sure it was cooked…oh I’m so glad I did that) and voila! Beautiful green kale. I carved the chicken, placed the roast potatoes, stuffing and carrots on the plates, and proceeded to serve up the kale. Reaching the bottom of the pan, what do you know, but gathered on my fork next to the last of the leaves was a three inch long locust, boiled and perfectly preserved, ready and waiting to garnish the meal.
A locust. A friggin’ LOCUST. As my husband commented, lucky he was there to witness it this time or he’d never have believed the size of it, or indeed, that it was there at all. Needless to say dinner was a slightly less pleasurable experience than I had planned, as I gagged on my carrots and stared at the green veg portion-sized gap on my plate, imagining what might have been had the revolting creature not sunk to the bottom of the pan and instead been dished out onto a plate. It was one of the most horrific moments of my culinary life, as I retraced my steps and visualised over and over again, the awful moment when we nearly had biblical plague pest for dinner.
I’d like to point out to anyone that I’ve entertained at home in the past present or future, that I usually wash my food. It was a mere moment of madness that made me skip the process this time around, call it karma if you will that it just happened to be the time a giant insect was nested inside to reveal my slack housewifery. My mother will be delighted to hear I will be washing my vegetables meticulously from now on. And I will not be buying kale again this side of repatriation. I bet I put a fair few of you off it too.
As part of my studies this week I was asked to make a list of words that I associated with the word ‘Home’, to include personal, concrete examples that might include names, places, objects, feelings, sensory experiences, and so on. Here’s what I came up with in a five minute brainstorm:
family – Dubai – sun – city – heat – happy – sad – homesickness – London – childhood home – childhood friends – sadness – missing out – friends – irrelevant – unknown – secret – packing – saying goodbye – depressed – lonely – guilt – grandparents – parenthood – love – phones – skype – email – travel – holidays – visitors – achievement – intensity – strength – coping mechanisms – girlfriends – hobbies – time difference – sausages & mash – green – seasons – trees – walking – the pub – tube train smell – summer nights – cold – Friday club – music – independent shops – carpet beneath my feet – heating – fires – touch – hugs – absence – laughter – eccentricities – familiarity – forgiveness – joy – being together
It made me nostalgic and warm for the vague fuzzy definition of ‘home’ I keep tucked away most days. I honestly haven’t given it much thought since we got back after the summer, but instead of sinking into a funk, I sat and mused about my friends, and wondered how they were all getting on, how their kids were doing in school, how their jobs were going, what they were doing for Halloween, Guy Fawkes, Thanksgiving, Christmas….I miss them in much more of an abstract way these days; the desperate homesickness I got used to over the years seems to be replaced lately by acceptance that time passes so quickly, it probably won’t be long in the grand scheme of things before I am back in the fold and living life alongside them. (Hey, what’s eight years or so between friends?) But still, it would be nice to feel counted a thousand miles away, to say I love you and hear it back – and to know what they’re up to this very minute. And that’s why this post is so short. Because I’m off to find out.
What’s on your list of ‘home’?
What an interesting article you published recently, on the agony of flying on planes that have – gasp – children on them.
I love how the author of the column assumed that every child who ever flew on a plane is by default loud and annoying, that all babies scream, and that they, as a childless passenger, were entitled to make us parents sound like the most inconsiderate, incompetent set of people ever to travel the earth. Talk about alienating half your readership, right there. The suggestion that all families could be given a section at the back of the plane was particularly generous. Personally I would prefer the upper deck, if that’s okay, and you can go and sit at the back and inhale 350 people’s farts and bad breath. I also love the assumption that all parents would want to sit together…”somewhere they can sit with other sympathetic parents who understand what it’s like to have a small child, and who won’t tut or glare when the kid goes into siren mode”. Ah yes, you’ve really got the measure of parents there. We don’t just love our own kids and forgive them anything, we love all children. Especially the small ones that cry all the time, or the little gits that run around during a night flight like they own the joint. This is just a suggestion: you might want to observe parents a little better next time you’re on a flight. You might just see that if someone else’s child is screaming, or kicking, or being loud, we don’t generally do much except look smug and thank our lucky stars it’s not ours. How ridiculous, to think we’re all going to club together at the back of the plane, shrug our shoulders, and mutter ‘kids, eh?’ to each other while they run riot on sugar highs and boredom.
You mention that top airlines have created bar areas, massage rooms, and showers on board, so why not soundproofed zones for kids? Great plan. Maybe we should have sections for the business travellers who lie snoring like juggernauts the whole flight too. And one for the people that don’t seem to be able to walk down an aisle in the middle of the night without hugging the backs of all the seats on the way to and from the bathroom. Maybe all the fat people could go in one section in the middle so that the rest of us still have space for our elbows. Ooo, and maybe there could be another part of the plane for people who smell bad. Really?
Flying is a necessary part of life for many people; everyone is different, none of them are perfect, and it is generally annoying for us all, no matter our personal circumstances. That’s what happens when you stick 350 strangers in a tin can and throw them through the air in order to get from A to B. If you don’t like it, take the car, or hire a private jet. But leave us parents out of it. My son has been commuting with me from Dubai to London and the US since he was four months old. Never once has he screamed, never once has anyone had cause to complain about him. I’m not saying there aren’t some horrors out there, but don’t tar us all with the same brush. How about considering that most parents dread long haul flying beyond anything you can possibly imagine, but that many of us have no choice in the matter – and that most of us do our best to make it as pleasurable as possible for everyone – the kids, us, and you included. If you’re going to attempt to take a stand, maybe publish something that offers your opinion on what civil behaviour and parental responsibility should look like on planes to those that need a kick up the backside. It would certainly offer a more positive message than encouraging persecution and segregation based on lifestyle choices. Making the world a better place and all that, don’t you think?
Three years ago I was a completely different person. I was lonely, depressed, desperately homesick and, save the odd coffee here or there, completely friendless. I sat at home with my one year old son and tried not to cry quite a lot, wondering how I could make things better and failing to come up with any ideas. It was a very low time in my life and clearly something had to change. With my husband’s support, I revisited an idea I’d had a few years’ previous, and signed up to be part of the Desert Monologues, run by Drama Dubai. An old hand at musical theatre, I’d never done ‘straight’ acting before, and didn’t know what to expect. It was six weeks of workshopping followed by a performance of my very own four minute monologue, playing a knife wielding crazy lady who had murdered her husband for laughing during an argument. I loved it.
Fast forward three years and once a week, sometimes twice, I leave behind my studies, my parental responsibilities, and all the other every day stresses and skip into rehearsals like a very theatrical Bambi. I have been lucky enough to take this exciting journey at a time when the cultural scene in Dubai is really beginning to take off, and as a result, I’ve performed in a play, appeared at the Emirates Literature Festival, the Sikka Art Festival, and Short + Sweet Theatre festival. I am in love with improv’ theatre – from theatresports, to long form, to musical improv (my current squeeze)…anything goes, I can’t get enough. I am surrounded by people who make me laugh – big belly laughing – and they are my kind of people, from all walks of life, who love every aspect of being up on stage just as much as I do.
Six months ago, the owners of Drama Dubai, Kemsley Dickinson and Tiffany Schultz, did something brave and inspiring. They walked us into a boiling hot, dilapidated office space and told us they were going to turn it into a theatre. Into our theatre. The Courtyard Playhouse. I am so proud to have been part of this story, and I’m so excited for what it is about to become – a performing arts space that’s as unique as the people that will fill it.
It’s nearly finished; there are a few things that still need to be done – lights, dressing rooms, and some decent washrooms – and so a crowd funding campaign has been launched to raise the money that’s needed for the project to be completed. Click on the link and watch the video (you will even get to see me in it!) and if the mood takes you, donate what you can to support.
Being an expat often means you are detached, uncommitted, and uninvolved in the society outside of your immediate home, school, and work life. You don’t always get involved like you would at home. I spent a lot of time being that way, and I can say, hand on heart, I wish I hadn’t wasted so much of it. I am immensely grateful to Drama Dubai for handing me a lifeline even if they didn’t know it – and know that I will always carry the most amazing memories with me of this place because of the people I have met by doing all of this, and the experiences it has given me.
If you love theatre, even if you only love watching it, please think about helping enrich our city with something unique and inspiring. Click on the link and grab your wallet, tell your friends, share this post. Be involved – play your part.
That is all.
In most situations here it’s standard, along with ‘how long have you been in Dubai?’, to ask the question ‘where are you from?’ when you first meet someone. I’m starting a personal campaign to get this particular question banned from all social events, and it’s not just because I don’t like answering it. (Although, when you are an Essex girl, it’s fairly easy to see why you might want to avoid the subject). Aside from the fact I think it’s the second most boring question on earth to ask someone at a Dubai dinner party, I don’t think it captures the information a person is looking for when they ask it. What will it tell you about me, to know where I spent my childhood? It allows you to put me in a box, sure – to think you know me, my ‘type’. Except it’s more likely to provide you with a stereotypical idea of me than anything real about who I am or how I grew up. I prefer the more cryptic ‘Where were you before?’; it encourages people to open up a bit, tell you something of their personal history, allow you to understand their ‘now’ a little better. ‘Where are you from?’ doesn’t really have much bearing on who I am right now. And with four decades of life behind me, where am I really from, anyway?
On the surface, it’s easy enough to answer. England. Yes, alright – Essex, to be precise. Go on, get it out of your system….you can take the girl out of Essex….hahaha….it’s part of me, I’ll give you that. But deeper beneath the surface, it’s not quite so straightforward. I didn’t grow up, get married and have kids all within the same five mile radius as my parents. Some people do, but not me. It was never for me. At the age of eight I remember driving through London with my mum and dad, falling in love with the huge Victorian mansions of South Kensington and announcing I would live there one day. Of course, South Ken was a pipe dream; I ended up in Catford. Hardly the stuff fairytales are made of, but at least it was away. That’s all I ever wanted to be, was away. Not because my life was so awful (although my family were, and still are, a little above average in terms of strange behaviour), but because I always wanted something different. Specifically, to begin with, I wanted to be in London. Drama school in New Cross seemed like a good place to start, instead of going to get a BA in Communications from Leicester university like I was supposed to – and somewhere between shutting the front door to my parent’s home and opening the one at Dallinger Road SE12, my nomadic days began. For a decade, I went through more houses than most people do in a lifetime. If I drew you a line between all the places I’ve lived in London, from Eltham to Richmond, you’d get the south circular in glorious technicolor. I didn’t stint on career changes either. Or career breaks, taken in order to get on a plane and see the world. It’s become clear to me over the years that I have the attention span of a toddler and the staying power of a chicken caught in a tornado. I am easily swayed by the prospect of adventure until the moment I get what I want and then I’m bored all over again. Shall we move to Surrey? Australia? California? Dubai? Sure. Oh, I’ve changed my mind. And back again. And once more for luck…
But all these places I have been, every house I have stayed in, they have all been home, they have all been where I’m from – a reflection of my life in that moment: the grimy flat on the Loughborough estate in Brixton where I’d stagger back to after a night of clubbing; our first purchase, a little wooden house on the river Wey, where we pottered around the garden and watched swans lay their eggs by our door; the Dubai villa we wake up in every day, filled with the gentle roar of family life. Each and every one held my hopes and dreams and shaped me, and whether for six months or four years, each place, each street, each walk home from the bus stop kept my secrets, saw my tears, heard my laughter and allowed me to feel like I belonged. So where am I from? A small village in Essex, where I grew up. London, where I studied and worked, lived, laughed and loved, for over a decade of wonderful life. The US, where we have a home, family; where a piece of my heart rests, waiting for me to return. Dubai, where I have spent my married life, given birth to my son, where I’ve finally grown up and learned so much, and had a ball doing it. Destination unknown, wherever the next adventure takes me, where I know I will make a place for myself once more.
What will my son say when people ask him the same thing? Will they even ask? Or, in a globalised world full of third culture kids, international marriages and long distance friendships, will the question finally cease to be relevant? I do hope so. I’m getting so tired of Essex girl jokes.
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.