There is little to like about the present predicament, but one thing I don’t miss is checking my diary every evening for a reminder of what tomorrow will bring. Our social life is not what you’d call a whirl, so usually memory can be relied on for the occasional gatherings. Here in Hoolet, socialising is often impromptu, a random encounter leading to a casual evening drink a few hours later, or a last-minute supper in a kitchen, so soon after the invite that nobody could possibly forget.

It wasn’t until we moved to the country that I needed a diary the way fish need water. We got the keys to the cottage on a brilliantly frosty Friday and moved our belongings in over the weekend. Until then, we’d forgotten that we had nothing to sleep on. Two nights in a nearby hotel was our last experience of domestic warmth for many months to come. A mattress was delivered on the Monday, which was also the day the first tradespeople arrived, to measure for shutters. With Christmas looming, we needed to put things in place as fast as possible, ahead of the long festive shutdown or, as that chapter in our memoirs will read, The Big Freeze.

It would be quicker to tell you who hasn’t been over the door these past two years. Thanks to ill-fitting windows, draughty doors, a leaking roof, and a central heating system suffering from poor circulation, for the first three months I worked in the kitchen, as close to the boiler as I could get. Some books are kept under wraps until the day of publication, but the one I was battling with was typed from beneath layers of thermals, wool and eiderdown, with a hot water bottle on my lap where once there had been a cat.

The extent of our igloo-like crisis was brought home the day we stood in front of the French windows, discussing triple glazing with the man from Everest. His breath and ours met as we spoke, sending up a mushroom cloud above the packing boxes. Snow fell steadily outside, blown sideways by a gale, like a film director’s idea of a backwoods scene. Somehow it also managed to get inside, through the jambs. At this point the comparison with an igloo, which is better built and insulated, collapses.

In the months since, we feel as if we’ve got to know half of the Borders’ tradesmen. Each week the diary has been stuffed with appointments, as we set about tackling all our problems, some immediately evident, others only making themselves known after stormy weather or excavation.

The local economy must surely have taken an upturn since we arrived. Diary entries from the week we arrived to the Friday before lockdown began show that we have had window fitters, joiners (four), plumbers, heating engineers, roofers, painters, locksmiths, glaziers, IT experts, telephone engineer, loft insulators, pest controller, kitchen fitters, electricians, wood-burning stove suppliers, carpet cleaners, carpet layers, stone masons, carpenters, plasterers, chimney sweep, fencers, drystone dykers, and a landscape gardener, all contributing to the home front.

We even had a man with a scythe to tackle the so-called lawn which, after a fortnight’s absence in the first springtime, had turned into a waist-high meadow. After that he came every two weeks with his Rolls-Royce of a lawnmower and extendable shears, to keep the ancient beech hedge under control. His return every spring after the long winter is a bright spot on the calendar.

Men – and apart from one Polish window fitter and a locksmith who replaced several door latches they have all been men – have inspected the chimneys by binoculars and ladder, crept into the crawl space under the roof with torch in mouth, and delved beneath floors in an attempt to trace the labyrinth of pipes. I’ve seen the original 18th-century lath and plasterwork exposed in the kitchen, and been shown a field drain predating the cottage at the front. The old cart house at the back, which later became a cobbler’s, was reached by a flagged path, and remnants of this, which had served for 200 years and more, were exposed when our tumbledown old wall was rebuilt. That would explain why, previously, whenever Alan attempted to drive a spade into this part of the garden he would shudder as if he’d had an electric shock.

Clearing the front flowerbed a couple of weeks ago, I pulled out a long-buried rubber pipe, perished with age, which disappeared, goodness knows where, under the Buddleia. While I was tugging, Alan came upon a smooth oval stone, so hefty he could barely budge it. It was either the mould for a giant Easter egg, or the first rugby ball in the Borders.

If there is one common factor with the army that has worked on the house, it is rugby. An astonishing number of tradesmen are either players or former players. All but a very few are avid followers. One chap was undergoing treatment for his latest injuries when he first turned up, having on earlier occasions broken his back and a leg at play. He was clearly in a lot of pain but, several months and many injections later, he was finally fit to rejoin his team.

Give how physical their work is, you can see why so many of them are sportsmen. There was one young man who, unbeknownst to us, was clambering around our rooftop without any sign of a harness, nearly giving our neighbour across the green palpitations. For the space of five days while he worked, the front door stood wide open – it was January – but when I asked if the cold bothered him, he said he liked it. He never put the heating on in his flat.

Two months later, in the wake of the Beast from the East, the kitchen was installed and the door stood ajar for a further five days. This time I had to work upstairs, typing in rhythm to the bass beat on the joiner’s radio, and thereby generating a frisson of heat. He too seemed not to notice the Arctic blast. All of them seem exceptionally tough and strong. Which is just as well, because there’s a lot more work still to do.