SAUSAGES. TICK. BACON. TICK. White sliced. Tick. Tomato ketchup. Tick. Yup, I’d filled the fridge with everything needed to feed two hungry plumbers.
One of them, Col, was a sturdy looking fella but his mate, Pete, was as skinny as a downpipe. I might need more of those sausages, with added cholesterol, to put a bit of meat on him.
We agreed at the outset they would leave the hob in place for as long as possible while they were fitting my new kitchen, so I could get the frying pan out. I told them not to bring packed lunches as I would do them a cafe-style sarnie.
Well, the kind of sarnies cafes used to do before they started knocking up duck wraps with hoisin and rocket, or Brie and cranberry with radicchio.
“That would be amazing,” said Col, who ran the plumbing outfit. “Some places we work they don’t even offer us a cup of tea. And I see you’ve got a proper teapot for a brew. You don’t see them everywhere these days.”
“Actually”, I bragged, “I’ve got four teapots. One small one just for me. Two big ones for when one is in the dishwasher and a spare for good luck.”
Col shook his head slowly in admiration and stroked his chin appreciatively. After a conversation about how many sugars (two for Col and one for Pete, who looked like he could do with another four) we debated the merits of a teapot for a quality brew rather than a pathetic bag in a mug.
Warming to our greasy-spoon theme, we talked a bit about bacon and why the cheap and nasty brands have white liquid running out of the rashers when they hit the lard. Standards were falling everywhere, we agreed, as they got their fags out.
Work began, with Little and Large smashing out the old cupboards, stopping for the odd tea, a Hobnob and a custard cream, while i made a note of what time they would like their sausages and whether they were brown sauce or ketchup types.
Afternoon tea followed, with more Hobnobs and Kit Kats, plus extra pints of tea to drink on the job.
It was my mum who taught me to be hospitable to visitors, whether they were pools collectors, the Co-Op insurance or a workman. Now that she’s gone to the Great Canteen in the Sky, my sister and I knew we had to carry the baton (or baguette!) in her honour.
But horror of horrors! Col and Pete put a ‘pressure thingy’ in the airing cupboard which showed up leaky spots in the utility room: they would have to dig out the floor to find the leaky pipe. Water was dribbling from an electric socket. The kitchen refit would take longer than anticipated and an electrician and apprentice were turning up. There was only one thing for it. . . I would need to expand my kitchen repertoire.
There were now four men round the kitchen table and the emergency teapot was commandeered, along with more Hobnobs, extra bread, burgers and chips.
I was thrown into panic one evening when Col broke the news that the electric would be off throughput the following day. What could I give them all to eat?
I phoned my sister. “Jen, I’ve got a prob. I don’t know what to do for their lunch.”
“Just give them a ploughman’s, “ she said.
“But they are used to something hot.” I protested, dropping a heavy hint that she should help. I put the phone down, disappointed in her. She had been brought up better than that.
The phone rang. Jen had relented. “I’ll do them lamb and veg pasties, a Victoria sponge and a lemon drizzle cake. Tell them to be ready when I deliver at 12.30 while the pies are still hot.”
Col and Pete had taken to photographing their lunches and sending the pictures to their mates who were eating packed lunches in their white vans. It drove me on to better things, like filled jacket potatoes, chilli, ham andegg and chips, a roast leg of lamb for them to carve while I toasted the pittas and tossed the coleslaw vinaigrette. . .
And so we went on, week after wearying week.
Then Col broke the awfulnews. He looked embarrassed as he worked out how to tell me without hurting my feelings.
“My wife has made me join Slimming World,” he blurted out. “She’s worried that I might not be able to squeeze into lofts if we carry on like this. I’ll be bringing my own lunch in future. I’m sorry.”
I took a deep breath. No man was coming into MY house with a packed lunch. We had reached a crisis point. My plumber had turned into a soft, Southern bastard.
“Don’t worry, Col,” I stammered, knowing that my pride was at stake here. “I can do Slimming World. I’ve got all the books upstairs and I know everything about Syns and red and green days. We can do this.”
I roasted chickens and took the skin off, serving with no-Syn romaine and pepper salad, wholemeal bread, prawns, lean ham, hard-boiled eggs, carrot batons, grilled peppers with courgettes, and fruit.
We reached the climax with home-sprouted brown lentils topped with shredded raw vegetables and herbs from the allotment. They made him fart all afternoon while making their way around his human U-bend. Pete made sure he was always upwind of his boss.
Col had tea without sugar and munched apples while the Hobnobs stayed in the cupboard. My sister’s lamb pasties were but a distant dream.
Months later, Col turned up to refit our bathroom. With his overalls and boots he looked like a well-fit stormtrooper. He had packed in smoking and lost a stone. I put the kettle on and made a good strong brew to welcome him back.
“Fancy a Hobnob?” I asked with some trepidation.
“Oh go on then. Just the one…”