More decisions had to made, and foremost among them was the issue of the tiles to go around the heirloom Aga, and behind both the electric hob (I’m not as stupid as I look: evolution has done many wonderful things, including presenting us with alternatives to stone age methods of cooking) and the huge double sink and drainers.
Many years previously, on a trip around the north circular to Ikea designed to provide us with CD storage boxes, I had found a lovely mirror with a blue and green mosaic surround. (And two rugs, 200 tea lights, a 4′ long green snake, several uselessly small wicker baskets and some Swedish meatballs, among other things. Sadly, no CD storage boxes.) Like the sky and the sea, blue and green next to each other have always been a personal favourite, and one morning inspiration struck: blue and green tiles it would be. In my current state of deluded grandeur the nearby ‘Topps Tiles’ was obviously out of the question and ‘Fired Earth’, in a rather lovely converted water mill about an hour from the house, was clearly my next port of call. In due course a very nice lady there made some fresh coffee, subtly sat me near the Aga gadgets (yet another retailing opportunity I hadn’t anticipated), and showed me hundreds of tiles of varying hue, shape, size and finish.
Over the years I had mocked the under-employed friends who would spend weeks crossing London looking for exactly the right shade of white for their skirting boards. ‘Get a life!’ I had seethed. ‘Get a dog – get a JOB even!’ and now, I freely admit, I had joined their number. My indecision knew no bounds. The scale of the alternatives available was baffling. If someone had said ‘Red or yellow, take your pick.’ it would have been easy. (Neither.) But just as ‘Mole, String, Mouse’s Back, Taupe or Cord’ as paint colours had caused my eyes to swivel in panic, now ‘Aqua, Navy, Sea, Moss, Lichen, Turquoise, Sky and Lincoln’ had me hyperventilating in record time. And the knowledge that after this we still had all the bathrooms and downstairs loos to do, didn’t help.
Nonetheless, with the help of the heroically patient lady I eventually chose seven colours of smallish, square, shiny tile and got two of each packaged up to take home to show to Eeyore. (A quick aside: I have always found it best in these situations at least to seem to consult – a fait accompli tends to cause conflict: the impression given of a shared decision made often softens the blow when the bill appears. Unless you manage to get to it, pay it and ‘file’/shred it first of course, in which case you’re laughing.) All was going well, until the hitherto lovely lady said, with barely a slip of her lovely polished (and practiced) accent, that we were looking at the thick end of £5,000 for the lot.
You can’t kid a kidder. Even I have my limits. I didn’t wait to tell Eeyore and have him hit the roof: I did it for him. ‘Ludicrous’ and ‘immoral’ were two words I squeaked when I could. I think ‘revolting’ might have been another. Whatever – by the end of the phone call it was entirely clear to her and half the county that I would be going elsewhere for my tiles, and two days later I was heading up the A1 with my samples on the front seat, heading for a town I had never been to before, on the recommendation of an acquaintance with frankly dubious taste, looking for a warehouse deep in the Fens where, I was promised, every tile in the world was represented.
Sure enough, there they were. Absolutely identical in every way, but price. I got the whole lot (5,318 sq in) for a grand total of £750 – and they threw in pots of grout and cement, and while I was at it I got a load of samples for the bathrooms and loos thus, as far as I could see, taking the return trip petrol costs off the overall bill.
What a fabulously economical wife I was proving to be.