After school, I worked in a succession of jobs that required me to use my head rather than my hands. And I ended up spending most of my life in business – the suit-shirt-and-tie-wearing sort of business. Then when I retired, when I had the opportunity at last to get to grips with the mysteries of DIY, I entered instead into that other Nancy Boy occupation – writing.
So, yes, I’m very limited in what I can do to fix things. I can manage to change the fuse in a plug, and that’s about it. Most of the DIY jobs are left to my wife, who is a dab hand at that whirring drilly thing that frightens the life out of me, and who knows all about drill bits and rawlplugs and the like. But there are some jobs that are even beyond her – and that’s when we have to call in the dreaded tradesmen.
Now you may think that because I don’t possess any of my own I live in awe of the skills of tradesmen. You may also wonder if I have some sort of inferiority complex when it comes to the manliness and overall handiness of those demigods. Well, I don’t in both cases. You see, over the years I’ve had many opportunities to study their habits, David Attenborough-like, and hence to recognise their faults. If you’ll indulge me, I’ll list a few of those faults here.
To begin with, there’s their insistence on arriving at your home to start work at eight o’clock in the morning (or earlier if they can get away with it). You might be fooled into thinking that they are extremely busy men who need such an early start so that they can put in a full day’s work. Wrong. They want to start early so that they can also finish early, preferably by about two o’ clock, and have the rest of the day to themselves on the golf course (if the weather is good) or at home watching sport on the telly (if it’s not). It doesn’t matter if you would prefer more time to wash, dress and eat breakfast before they arrive; the early start is for their convenience, not yours.
Then there are the breaks they take. At precisely ten o’clock, no matter what state the job is in, tools are downed and they’re off out to the nearest Greggs or equivalent for something hot, which they’ll usually eat leisurely in their vans while reading the paper and listening to the radio (at full blast, of course). They’ll be back on the job at half-past ten or thereabouts. And they’ll repeat the process two hours later for their lunchtime break. By the way, once the breaks are taken into account, a full day’s work for them turns out to last no more than five hours. By the way, too, you’re paying for that hour or so they spend eating and relaxing.
And not forgetting the holidays. Most tradesmen I’ve come across are self-employed. You would think that would mean a flexible approach to the days they work. Aye, right. They never don the overalls at the weekend, naturally. And they take every holiday going – the trades’ fortnight, it goes without saying; a week or more at Easter; a fortnight or more over Christmas and New Year; every Bank Holiday weekend; and every local public holiday. Notwithstanding how urgent the job they’ve agreed to undertake, weekends and holidays always take precedence.
You may believe by now that I’m being unduly harsh on those poor tradesmen. Up until a year ago, I would probably have agreed with you. But a year ago my wife and I were in the throes of having an old, dilapidated house (which is currently our home) renovated, and we had to rely on a whole army of roofers, plumbers, electricians, joiners, builders, plasterers and tilers to carry out the renovation work. Some of that experience was good – we are delighted to call one or two of the aforementioned our friends today – but most of it was bad. During the process, we discovered another major fault of many tradesmen, the biggest of all. It’s called greed and it works like this.
They agree to carry out a piece of work by a set time. They are fully aware that they already have other work on the go which needs to be completed within the same timescale, but that knowledge doesn’t prevent them from taking on even more work and giving out even more promises. Then they spend their weeks juggling between jobs – spending a day on one, a couple of days on another, giving out this excuse here and that excuse there. And all the time they continue to work only five-hour days; they take their full breaks in the morning and at lunchtime; they refuse to come out at weekends; and they halt work for every holiday the calendar sends. Every job will finish late. Every customer will be dissatisfied. But so what? Once the work is in the bag, it’s like money in the bank, sucker! Yep, no’ a bad wee life if you can get it.
Our experience of the greed factor caused my wife and I a great deal of frustration and anger. But it also supplied me with the inspiration for my latest short story. The story is called A Parcel of Rogues, it’s true for the most part (although the names have been changed to protect the guilty) and you can read it on McStorytellers. So why not nip over there now and meet Deke the Weasel, Fat Tony and Zebedee, the contractors from hell?
By the way, if you haven’t already recognised it, the picture at the top of this post is a still from the Dire Strait’s video of Money For Nothing. Just sayin’.