Country houses for sale

Sandy Mitchell: Taking deliveries

It was 6.30 on Monday morning when our bedroom began to rumble. I ripped off the duvet and, rubbing my eyes, dashed to the window to investigate. Just a few feet below the level of the sill stood a nightmare vision a belching exhaust pipe poking up from the bonnet of a long silver tanker. What on earth was the vehicle doing here?

Pulling a sweater and a pair of jeans over my pyjamas, I shambled out into the chill morning air. ‘I’ve come about the concrete,’ barked the tanker’s driver. Concrete? At least that made some sort of sense to my sleepy brain because the builders had told me, last Friday, they were planning to lay a floor or ‘slab’ this week in the cart shed/dovecote that they have now begun converting.

‘You know where it’s supposed to go, then?’ I asked the driver. ‘I do. They said the spot’d be marked out in blue,’ he replied grumpily. Neither of us could see any blue markings in or around the cart shed, however, so I told him he had better tip his load into the giant hole covering the entire area of the rotten old cart-shed floor that three workmen had spent the whole of last week digging out by hand in readiness for the new slab. The driver looked at me, puzzled: ‘You sure? ‘Cos I reckon it’s meant to go out here on the drive. But I’ll tip it inside if that’s where you want it. You’re the boss.’

I was about to return to bed, and only a small mental alarm bell made me pause. ‘You did come to pour concrete? At the manor?’ I shouted through the window of the tanker’s cab as the driver backed up against the cart shed. ‘Nah, I’m here to pour on top of the con-rete,’ he said. It was only then that he revealed that his lorry was not full of concrete at all, but of some kind of liquid bitumen. In fact, it turned out he had got the wrong address completely. He was meant to be pouring the tar on top of an old concrete farm track somewhere nearby.

It was 6.45am when I headed back indoors, sweating slightly at the near disaster. Just then, the doorbell rang. Outside, two more lorries had appeared, smallish ones this time. ‘We have got your plants and shrubs here,’ announced the driver of the first truck. ‘We’ll need a hand unloading though. We’ve got hundreds of pots to shift.’ (My wife and I have been counting the days until our new ‘garden’ arrived from the nursery.)

As I stood there, stomach moaning for breakfast, a third lorry joined the back of the queue and this one was loaded with five cubic metres of organic compost that the driver proceeded to dump on the gravel blocking the way for the builders who turned up minutes later in their usual convoy of vans.

To my amazement, they, in turn, were followed soon after by a lorry that had come to pick up the skip filled with last week’s diggings from the cart shed, and yet another truck that arrived to empty the Portaloo on the site.

It was 10am before the traffic jam in the drive had unblocked itself and I had unloaded the last of the young plants from the nursery trucks. Then I changed out of my pyjamas and had a cup of coffee at last, thinking that I’m beginning to miss the quiet life, in London.