The barn conversion

Unforseen complications muddy a couple’s vision for their weekend home – can their son help them see the silver lining?

I don’t like this house! It’s dusty and smells of mud. I don’t like this house! It’s dusty and smells of mud…”

If Joshua didn’t stop singing those words as he rode his trike round and round what was meant – one day – to be her fully integrated, glass-fronted Fisher & Paykel kitchen, complete with boiling‑ water tap, Celia was going to crack.

And as usual, Tim – her husband, his father – was doing absolutely nothing about it. Hard hat perched jauntily on the back of his head, the man whose dusty, muddy idea this whole ridiculous thing had been was leaning against a scaffolding pole checking his stocks and shares/the football results/the online dating service he said he’d resort to if she didn’t stop being so horrible to him.

It had seemed such a simple proposition  to turn his parents’ rambling old barn into a weekend house. That said parents would be living just metres away was a major downside, but they were in their 80s, after all, and got through at least two bottles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape a night.

At least the cameras weren’t here today. Being asked if the build could be filmed by Channel 4 had certainly sweetened the deal. After all, she’d looked quite pretty in her fur-lined Woolrich parka, with a high ponytail and no make-up. But that was before they had found bats in the belfry, mercury in the mud and a cameraman had tracked her and Tim to the edge of the ha-ha and secretly filmed her shrieking that she was going to file for divorce.

It hadn’t taken long for Celia to clock that Simon, the programme’s presenter, was in fact a smiling assassin. He’d been so enthusiastic at first, so full of admiration for their “vision”. Flask of ginger- and turmeric-infused tea in hand, he’d pored intently over their architects’ drawings as if they contained the secret to eternal life. The merest mention of words like “travertine” and “cantilever” had made him visibly tremble with delight. But as soon as autumn gave way to winter, he – like the leaves on the trench-like wasteland that would apparently one day be their garden – had begun to turn. As the cameras rolled, he’d probed them on their budget, their confidence in their builders and, most ruthlessly, their belief in each other. “Do you really feel like Tim has all of this under control?” he had asked last week, while playing back footage of her husband in the back of their Range Rover, watching Power Rangers and eating wine gums.

“Coooeeee!” Oh, God. That was all she needed. Her mother-in-law was teetering tentatively over the two scaffolding planks acting as their entrance hall. With any luck she might get stuck in the mud.

“Watch your step, Ma,” said Tim, reaching out protectively.


“Dear, oh dear. We haven’t got very far, have we?” Sally sighed, forlornly shaking her headscarfed head. “You’ll never be in for summer. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know, Professor Seeker phoned and wants to speak to you urgently.”

Celia groaned inwardly. Professor Seeker was the Elizabethan wattle-and-daub expert Simon had invited to the site last week, and who had overstayed his welcome by about eight hours. He’d been very enthusiastic about the barn’s magnificent timber cross members and enormous unsupported span, but had been all too easily hoodwinked into telling Simon, as the cameras were rolling, that the sort of lath-and-plaster work on display in a 16th-century barn of this kind should be “celebrated, not decimated”.

“He just wants to tell us we shouldn’t be doing what we’re doing,” snapped Celia, trying to gently remove the trowel that Joshua was digging up the floor with.

“No, no, it’s not that,” Sally whispered, looking conspiratorially over her shoulder to check no one was listening in. “He thinks there might be something of value here. Real value. Historical value.”

“What, like buried treasure?” Tim snorted. “If only…”

“Daddy, look, daddy, daddy, look daddeeeeee!” clamoured Joshua.

But Tim had gone back to his iPhone and the pressing question of whether or not to buy an Aga that could be switched on from the A303. As Celia coaxed her mother-in-law back towards the door, Joshua popped his haul back in the ground and reburied it.

“I don’t like this house! It’s dusty and smells of mud. I don’t like this house! It’s dusty and smells of mud…”