It seemed like a good idea at the time. You couldn't say we'd rushed into it. I'd be embarrassed to admit how long it is since one of our two main bedrooms was decorated.

Suffice to say that wallpaper like that hasn't been around since the 1970s. But both rooms needed attention.

It wasn't just the wallpaper and paintwork. We only had one delapidated wardrobe - a 'flat-packed for easy self-assembly' MFI purchase. We recall to this day the family drama of putting the thing together. Then there were the carpets, one of which had been second-hand 30 years ago. There wasn't much of them left. So we'd get the whole lot done - decorating, wardrobes, carpets - and put straight again before Christmas.

That was months ago. We tend to talk things over rather a lot before coming to a firm decision. Somehow by the time we'd got it all organised, it was early December. Still weeks to Christmas, we thought. Plenty of time before the first members of the family arrive.

So we booked the joiner, decorator and so on, cleared the rooms, and let battle commence. It was then that we realised there were only just over two weeks left before our son landed with the two grandsons, with their mother, then our daughter and son-in-law and my mother, hot on their heels. We started to worry.

You can hardly open a newspaper or turn on the television these days without coming across a story of one rogue trader or another. They're everywhere: plumbers, electricians, builders, all kinds of so-called craftsmen who don't turn up, or disappear half way through a job; men who ask astronomical prices for botched work, or work they haven't done at all.

And we'd booked three different lots of people to come and renovate our house, all exactly timed to follow one after the other, leaving just two days at the end of it all to get the house tidied and cleaned. It would take just one thing to go wrong and we'd be welcoming our guests into a house still turned upside down, with nowhere to sleep, nowhere to sit, nowhere (except our small two-person kitchen table) to eat.

But, we'd started; we had to see it through. We got in lots of tea and biscuits, cleared enough space for writing the Christmas cards (we could at least get them done), and braced ourselves.

There were some hairy moments, like the one when the men delivering the wardrobe pieces said they'd never get them through the awkward corner by our back door, so they'd have to take them away again. In the end they took the door off its hinges and got them in. The carpet fitters didn't even try the doors; they hoisted the rolled-up carpets on the end of a broom through the upstairs windows.

Now, three days before Christmas, the work's all done. Everyone turned up precisely when they said they would; they all finished exactly on schedule. It looks every bit as good as we'd hoped.

You hear a lot about bad workmen. The good ones seem to get taken for granted. So I think it's time we gave a grateful thought to all those true craftsmen who take a real pride in their work and make our lives the better for it.

As for me, I shall raise a festive glass this Christmas time to Bill and Les, Cliff and Ian and Tony. Thank you, one and all!

Published: 22/12/2005