What I wish I had known – Part Ten – Sandy Mitchell tells a real-life shaggy dog story

—27th July 2020

In the latest instalment of Sandy’s building-project diary, an unexpected four-legged problem threatens to halt his entire project

The devil is in the dribble

Sharp-eyed readers may notice our building project has gone on longer than I expected when I posted my first blog, in May last year. Now, with the project nearing completion, we face another unexpected delay. I can blame lockdown for many of the lost months, but the finger of accusation for this latest potential setback points very close to home: at my dog.

He is a Labrador, blessed with the good looks of a Hollywood screen idol and the sunny good nature of a Buddhist monk.

I named him Piri as a puppy, in honour of an electrifying All Black fly-half called Piri Weepu. ‘Some people wear Superman pyjamas,’ went the joke at the time among Kiwi rugby fans. ‘Superman wears Piri pyjamas.’

You may ask, with a straight face and a shake of the head, how I can blame my dog for threatening a major delay in my renovation project. And you may also be of the mind that, if anyone has a project that should run rigorously to schedule, it should surely be the founder of RedBook, whose day job it is to help clients put together the best professional team for each project so each one runs smoothly and perfectly on time.

The owner doth protest too much

I can explain. And I share this shaggy dog story with you simply to illustrate a phenomenon common to all building projects and as familiar as the air we breathe to anyone who has ever tackled a major one on their home. Sources of delay are like lightning, wholly unpredictable, occasionally crashing down from a perfectly clear blue sky, yet catastrophic only in the rarest cases.

So there my wife and I were a month or so ago eating in the newly refurbished dining-room of our house when she noticed blotchy stains on the floor. They were dotted across the lime-washed oak boards, laid last year in the first phase of our current project. ‘It is your dog’s dribble,’ said my wife, eyes narrowed, staring down at Brad Pitt with his tail a-wagging. ‘He drinks from his bowl in the front hall, walks through the dining room and slobbers everywhere.’

My wife is not quite such a fan of Piri as I am, it is fair to say, though to his credit he remains stoically unaware and lavishes her with love unconditionally.

‘Ha! It can’t be possibly be the dog,’ I replied, having quickly checked he was not drooling in his sleep as I said it. ‘None of the other rooms is stained, and they had the same boards put in almost 20 years ago. The stains must come from some spilled gravy.’ Case dismissed, m’lud.

Sandy’s dog, Piri: A picture of innocence or cause of the project delay?

Well, not quite. In fact, the dribble mystery remained a mild source of domestic friction until my wife chose to raise it at our latest site meeting. All of the project A-team were gathered around the dining-room table: architect, quantity surveyor, builders and the rest (suitably spaced apart of course). And as my wife laid out the charge against the dog all eyes turned on Piri, then on me at the head of the table.

It was the architect, with the cool precision of prosecuting QC, who opened the cross-examination: ‘If I may ask, which end is the dog dribbling from?’ A shocked gasp swept the courtroom.

‘My dog is not incontinent,’ I bristled. ‘But since you ask, it’s his front end.’

‘You could make him wear a PPE mask,’ quipped someone around the table.

‘Silence in court!’ shouted a stern voice somewhere in my head.

‘How old is the dog?’ continued the prosecuting architect. ‘I had a dog that started dribbling when it got slow and old.’

‘That’s coming to all of us,’ muttered the wag. The defendant, meanwhile, slumbered on beneath the table.

A perfect storm gathers

Then things turned serious. The architect explained that the builders would not be able to start painting the interior of the new extension unless we could find the cause of the stains, because the new floorboards that are due to be laid there are identical to the new ones in our old dining room. And if the builders could not start painting, the entire project would screech to an instant halt.

I could hear what everyone was thinking as they looked at me for a response: ‘Ever thought of a new pet?’

After the four-hour site meeting ended—the last item on the agenda being the plague of rats or mice that are invading the house through holes dug by the builders in the foundations—I needed some fresh air. So I wandered into the garden and bumped into Phil, one of the swimming-pool contractors. He has been working heroically on site throughout lockdown and always comes with his mate, Richard, with the two arriving separately each day in smart vans.

Seeing Phil alone by the pool, I said, ‘Sorry to see you are on your own. What happened to Richard?’

‘It’s not good. A muntjac ran out in front of him on his way to work. His van is smashed up. Could be days before he gets it repaired,’ replied Phil.

Scroll on a few days, and our architect cleverly discovered that the specialist who applied the lime wash to our floorboards in the main house all of 15 years ago (everywhere except the dining room), is still working with the same flooring company and incredibly he remembers our job. So the specialist drove all the way from Shropshire to inspect the stains yesterday.

Judgment Day

His judgment on the dog? Guilty as charged. The stains were caused by dog dribble. However, Piri has got off with a caution because a special acid solution and different type of floorboard sealant should prevent him reoffending.

I am left with the gnawing doubt—what with suicidal deer, plagues of rats and a dribbling dog—whether Mother Nature really wants us ever to finish our building project.

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