I don’t want to boast, but my partner and I are quite good at Lego. And by ‘good’ I think I mean ‘prolific’ rather than accurate. We have almost-perfect models all over our flat – treehouses and Batman cars and other colourful delights. When we’re not busy shagging or counting pennies, we like to build things.
We like to build things like cardboard models, jigsaw puzzles and burgers. We spend time stacking exactly – exactly – the right quantities of each ingredient, selected over a long iteration period. We agonise over the perfect dicing size for Marks and Spencer gherkins, and battle it out over the best brand of veggie burger and exactly how long to toast the bun.
Then we sit beside each other on the sofa, laughing at the fact that our burgers have fallen apart in our hands and we’ve lost the Lego manual, and that cardboard giraffe looks a little bit wonky.
I suggest to him that one day we should build our own house. If only because – like the Lego and the burgers and a collection of sex toys – a house is a thing that we can build together. Sometimes he says ‘maybe’ and sometimes he says ‘fuck no’ and other times he suggests a hot tub in our imaginary new garden.
Our dream home is weird. If asked to draw you a picture of our ideal house, I would scribble something with odd angles and unusual nooks. A secret bookcase that tips round to reveal a kink dungeon, probably only half-finished because we got bored reinforcing the brackets for the sex swing. It has bookshelves for me, and gadgets for him, and each bit of DIY has been accomplished using a combination of precision (him) and speed (me), with the result that the whole thing looks decidedly wonky.
We build wonky things together.
We bravely attempt to remove a dodgy radiator and end up flooding the hallway. We paint ceilings and pretend we don’t see where one or other of us has made a mistake. We tell each other off for fucking up the garden, knowing full well that we both played our parts in creating this hellish dustscape. We give up projects partway through, or we half-arse them and say ‘that’ll do’, then we sit beside each other on the sofa, laughing at the fact that our burgers have fallen apart in our hands and we’ve lost the Lego manual and there’s a puddle in the cellar that we’ll have to ignore and just hope that one day it dries up.
Our dream home looks nothing like the sleek, spotless behemoths that I love so much from Grand Designs: all sharp angles and minimalism and a different bedroom for each night of the week. Shiny glass and metal that would show up every imperfection. Bathrooms with no doors and sometimes no walls, so your ambitious plans must be matched by inhuman control, installing toilets you will never really use. Those houses are fun to look at because they belong to other people – distant, TV-ready people. People who will sweat and toil and fuss over every detail until two years down the line (and probably a few hundred grand down the line, having lived in a caravan for six months, while pregnant) they get to move all their perfect furniture into their perfect home and put on tense smiles as they assure the camera that this operating-theatre-cum-furniture-catalogue is exactly what they’d hoped it would be.
What good is building the perfect house if your very presence in it looks – and feels – like mess?
In a house like that you can’t shout at each other, or drop crumbs, or assemble Lego on the carpet. In a house like that you have to take yourself seriously – striving always for streak-free reflective surfaces and arguments that are solved via calm debate. Sex which leaves no mess on the bedsheets, and dinner parties which never escalate into orgies. In a house like that, when you cry on each other’s shoulders, there is never any snot.
We like to build things. But only because everything we build is a little bit wonky. We’ve lost a crucial brick or the stickers are peeling off or the superglue didn’t hold and you have to put your finger in the right place to make it stay together. Like a hand-drawn card on Mother’s Day, the fact that it’s wonky is part of its charm. Our dream home combines a few sleek lines with some bad DIY, and more than a few suspicious carpet stains.
We are messy when we build relationships, as well as when we build other things. We fight badly and try to make up, and it’s like trying to build a Lego spaceship without having the manual to work from. We hurt each other without trying to, then double-down on the awful things we’ve said because we want the other person to see just how much they’ve hurt us. And we cycle down and down until one day we hold each other and realise: shit! We messed this up.
In the perfect home, we’d need to build the perfect life. But in our ideal home we can fuck things up. We have permission to not be perfect, and a daily reminder that neither of us is expecting the other to be.
We like to build things, and they will be wonky.
Like we are.