There’s a joiner here today, replacing a large double-glazed unit which recently died. Nice guy, name of Kevin. I try to keep out of the way, not wanting to get under his feet. But the house isn’t that big that we can miss each other entirely.
I give him a lift with the old unit, down the stairs and into his van.
When we return to the upper room where the work is going on there is a huge hole in the outer wall where the window used to be. It’s cold outside, and outside is inside now. Kevin rubs his hands together and I smile, knowing what he means.
“You begin in the cold,” I tell him, “and gradually shut it out as the job progresses.”
“There’s an old French story,” he says. “The wood warms you three times. When you chop it; when you bring it inside; and finally, when you burn it in the stove.”
“In Solzhenitsyn’s novel,” I tell him, “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” the prisoners march for ever to get to the Gulag, eventually stopping in an open plane where there is nothing but the howling of wolves and a wind and snow-covered waste-land as far as the eye can see. And then they have to set about building the camp that will house them so they may survive another day.”