I am woken up practically right after dawn (it’s February, remember?) by the sound of a male voice swearing close by. I’ve never been married so I’m not used to this sort of wake up call. As my brain gradually gets all my senses working, I realise that in fact it’s more than one man, at least two. Now this is interesting. I don’t recall having invited a bunch of Scots to swear outside my bedroom window at this ungodly hour in this ungodly manner. I turn round, cover my head with the duvet and pray for all men to disappear off the face of the earth until I really am ready to wake up. Don’t know about the majority, but the individuals outside my window are still there 15 minutes later when I realise there’s no way I can go back to sleep with this noise. I get up. The men don’t know it yet, but they’re in trouble.
I have a shower, get dressed, blow dry my hair, have breakfast and the men are still there, I can hear them. Eventually, I go to draw the curtains open. My front door opens to a metre or so of paved path that leads to the gate in the little fence. The gate is open, someone’s dirty jacket is thrown over it. My tiny front yard is a mess. There are three men there, two burly blokes and a skinny young one. It looks like Edinburgh council decided at last to deal with the crater in the pavement right outside my gate – the one that should have been dealt with when the Second World War was over. Some of the broken paving stones are already removed, their remains are thrown around nicely in my front yard. It rained the night before, the men are all covered in dirt; my paved path, the fence, the gate all have the mud smeared evenly on them. And if this is not enough, two of the men are smoking. And they don’t strike me as the sort of men who’d bring an ashtray with them.
Trying not to shout yet, I storm out of the door. Open the shed, get the broom, slam the tiny shed door so hard the flimsy shed nearly topples over, and charge the enemy. They are still clueless. One of the bigger blokes waves his hand reassuringly at me as I approach, a cigarette pressed between his fingers.
– Don’t bother cleaning up yet, we’ll be back again tomorrow to finish the work.
Remember my jewel knickers? I can bet them safely that this man only showers once a week. On Saturdays. Because on any other day of the week it is pointless – he’ll be going to work again the following day, no?
I get as close to him as his cigarette smoke allows me and, slowly and patiently, give him my point of view.
– Unlike you, I live here, including today. So I want YOU to clean up all this mess before you leave today. Everything, especially this sh!t.
I point at the cigarette butts on the ground and shove him the broom.
Back inside, I try to calm down but fail. I can still hear the men talking to each other, although not as loudly as before. I look out of the window. The skinny boy is crouching on the ground, picking up the cigarette butts. That’s how I like ’em – on their knees. Realising I won’t be able to get anything done if I stay at home, I throw my laptop into my handbag, put my coat on and leave. I notice that the parts of the broken paving stones are now piled up in one corner. As I pass the men on my way out, I ask the bulky one, who seems to be the leader of the pack, what time they are going to finish. He says, around 3. I reply that I’ll be back by 2.30 then.
I go to my favourite cafe. This cafe is part of a church building, which means that the prices are fair and the room is usually empty – perfect for working. I once brought K the Aussie there. He stopped just outside the front door and asked:
– You do realise it’s a church cafe, don’t you?
– Yes, so what? I don’t care what the owners believe as long as the tea they serve is hot.
– Well, don’t know about you but I probably shouldn’t be here. I’ve done some things in my life, you know… Including women…
Hmm, wonder if this is the reason the cafe is usually empty. It’s sometimes hard to say if K the Aussie is serious or not. He entered the cafe though. And nothing happened to him.
The following day the men finish early. The “leader” knocks on my door asking to fill some dirty green container with water so they could rinse the mud off the fence and the gate. They even splash the water across my paved path to clean it up, too. Is it really clean? Of course it’s not. But at least they made an effort, it’s good enough a start for them.