My battle of Hastings
Monday, 30 November -0001

'Months of rain had done their worst. The local burglar had done the rest'

Sam Taylor collects the keys to her wreak and entertains the builders

As far as fantasy holiday homes go, the Georgian rectory comes out on top (minus the poor old vicar). This is swiftly followed by a whitewashed cottage at the seaside. Dream hideaways. Except for the maintenance bills. There is a reason the Church of England flogged off most of its accommodation – and it isn’t just the drop in numbers.

Despite this, most of us still hanker after a home with period features. Everyone, that is, except builders. And why would they? The average general builder spends 30 years of his life sucking his teeth at rotten floorboards, beetle infestations, porous roofs and disintegrating banisters before retreating to his beautifully finished, solidly built bungalow.

Looking out to sea from our balconyLooking out to sea from our balcony

Nick and Terry are no exception. By the time I took possession of my (our) seaside wreck in Hastings, months of rain had done their worst. The local burglar had done the rest. Two of the fireplaces had been stolen, and a third had been smashed in the attempt. Still, there was good news. The water was still connected. We knew this because it had been leaking throughout the ground floor.

I inherited Nick and Terry from my friend Alastair Hendy. Nothing fazed them. Seven years of painstakingly restoring Alastair’s Tudor house to its original condition and then crafting his eponymous Georgian store on the high street had taught them that clients are not only right, they are often mad as well.

Over the years, they had been asked to paint ‘dirt’ on the walls; remove all but the bare minimum of electrical lighting so that even by day the Tudor stairwells have the capacity to cause life-changing head injuries; and reintroduce lead piping. My own attempt at renovation, they assured me, would be a doddle.

On the day I collected the keys, we met to walk around and assess what Nick called ‘the damage’. My husband Mark declined to join us. As far as he was concerned, he and the bank manager had already seen ‘the damage’ and it wasn’t looking good.

Nick the builderNick the builder

As we pushed our way over the piles of junk mail, Nick said not to be downcast. In a few months, we’ll be fine. It was then that we heard the cries for help. Terry had gone to find the loo but instead appeared to have discovered a whole new dimension – he had dropped 10 feet through the bathroom floor. ‘Shall I get him some sweet tea for the shock?’ I said. Nick looked at me and then looked at the hole. ‘I don’t think he’s the one who’s going to need the sweet tea,’ he replied.

Next week: Kitchens are overrated.

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