Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Racing the builders

Some good friends are leaving the city to live in the country. We’ve mainly got to know Mr and Mrs B through going to the same childbirth groups, by watching our toddlers pretend to be snowflakes in dance workshops, and by chatting to them in the playground as we wait for the kids to come out from school. Now they are leaving our inner-city enclave and heading to rural Kent, where houses with gardens are still relatively affordable, and the pressures on growing little boys are perhaps fewer than in the urban hothouse.

Before they go, to remind them of their time here, they ask me if I’ll do a drawing of Newington Green, a historic square close to where we live, and upon which their flat looked. I’m happy for anyone to ask me for anything, and it’s a good excuse to work on something nearby that could have a demand locally.

Rather than just being a busy roundabout with a high crime rate, there are some great stories behind the place. A Tudor hunting venue, Henry VIII installed his mistresses there, Samuel Wesley and Daniel Defoe attended a school there, and it was a hotbed of non-conformity and radicalism from the 1660s. Four of the houses that overlook the green, built in 1658, are among the oldest surviving in London. Most important, for some, is that Newington Green is home to Belle Epoque, a sensational French patisserie and cafe that is the ideal bolt-hole when the call of tea and cakes becomes too overpowering.

I do some drawings and email them to Mr and Mrs B. There’s no rush because they are still waiting for the builders to sort out some problems with the new house, and they can’t move into it as soon as they had hoped. I’m busy with other things anyway, and it slips down the list of priorities. I do a few more drawings, and one or two get approval from a group of kids playing football on the green.

I have kept my text messages to Mr and Mrs B over this period. There is no urgency in getting the job finished, and I am enjoying working on it when I get the chance. “No rush for pic,” one text says. “It’s such a busy time of year coming up. We know it’s work in progress.” “Look forward to seeing drawings,” says another, “but no rush.” Isn’t that the best thing to hear when the pressure is on with other projects, and Christmas and all the other stuff we are dealing with?

Except now this project has been going on for long enough. I know that I could have turned it around in a couple of weeks if I really had to. Deadlines can be a wonderful thing. Mr and Mrs B are in their new home now, and I have taken even longer than their builders have taken to complete work on their house. Slower than builders: a damning indictment. It will be ready soon now, Mr and Mrs B. I promise. Thanks for being so patient.