Men at work in and around home

Pamela Brown and her wallpaper house. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Pamela Brown and her wallpaper house. Photo by Craig Baxter.
Man alone. While the rest of the family and extended family revel and wallow in the Ida Valley, I remain in Dunedin trying to clear up after the damage wrought by Christmas hordes. I made some calls, got some quotes. Six people spread over two to three weeks, was the typical response, somewhere around $7000. Plus personal liability insurance.

So I am doing it all myself. I do not have $7000. Housework has never been this hard. The stains on the dining room carpet are so prolific that the stains have become the pattern, the few unstained patches of original carpet occasionally shining through as stains themselves. How did this happen? I watched carefully through the Christmas period and gradually pieced together the conundrum that is modern childhood. As children, we were metaphorically tied to the chair; we left only when every scrap of food, even the bad bits, and there were a lot of bad bits, had been eaten.

Not so the modern child.

The modern child starts eating an hour before a meal, potato chips, lollies, biscuits ... and then when dinner is placed before them, their appetite is already well assuaged. They have a few disconsolate bites, knock a few globs on to the floor, and then decide to go for a walk, making sure they stamp the discarded globs on the carpet into the carpet before continuing on their journey around the house.

So, I have been down on my knees trying out various traditional Google solutions on how to remove stains. There are probably commercial cleansers out there, but I know from experience these will have asbestos in them or some such deleterious thing, some such thing that eats away at the carpet like hydrochloric acid, burning a hole right through the floorboards to the basement. Very hard to explain to a returning wife, her cheeks flushed with joy and excitement from the perfection of the Ida Valley.

This morning, wearied by extensive housework until 4am, I slept in, woken finally by a cacophony of work noises from next door. It seems the abandoned house and front section there are being cleared, maybe house improvements in the pipeline as well. Two men, their backs bent, are working almost as hard as I have been on the carpet stains. This is good.

It was exactly a year ago when the strangest of men appeared on this property hailing the high heavens with outstretched arms, chanting in tongues. It would be a cliche to say he looked like Charles Manson, but alas, he did look like Charles Manson. It was a gorgeous day and there was every chance he was trying to bring about rain, him being Charles Manson and all, so I popped over there to suggest he move on, using, of course, sophisticated psychological spin.

''Mate,'' I said, ''you and I, we're both on the same side, on the run from the cops.''

The word cops stopped the chanting in its tracks.

''And the cops will be here any minute if you stay here,'' I continued.

''Someone will ring them. I suggest you make a run for it. I'll cover for you.''

And he made a run for it. Never saw him again.

Now we have the prospect of new neighbours arriving to live in whatever the workers turn this house into over the next few weeks. I am naturally apprehensive. Neighbours are desperately important. On the other side we have as fine a neighbour as anyone would wish for, the wallpaper house, gazed at by thousands in passing cars and buses, the work of local artist Pamela Brown. Many years ago, this was the Dulux Paint Shop, and then slowly decayed into rundownness beyond what the eye could tolerate. But now one of the city's true icons, on a par, I have to say it, with Olveston.

But the other side? I can only hope they won't be carpet-stainers.

• Roy Colbert is a Dunedin writer.