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Sunday, 15 April 2007

The Ploppyshank Syndrome

Its called many things in different parts of the world - in Liverpool and England there's different words or phrases for it - blagging, fronting; in Eire its called blarney and its exponents are said to have the gift of the gab; in New York it takes a certain hutzpah (or chutzpah) to carry it off. Some parts of the world that practice Plain English just call it lying, but there's no romance in that. Nova Scotia has its own variation on this theme, and this post is about the Nova Scotia variety.

I loved many, many things about Nova Scotia, the air, the scenery, the space, the climate, the friends we made, and most of the time, the work I did. There was, however, one aspect of Nova Scotian life that has plagued me, and still continues to, and that is the Ploppyshank Syndrome(PS). PS has been named in honour of one of its chief exponents, a carpenter who we'll call Tony (real name withheld for legal reasons), whose complete inability to take any responsibility at all for any of his actions was elevated to an art form. Shoddiness and shirking are the hallmarks of his work, and lying abou the consequences the usual outcome. He would prefer to take short-cuts, easy-fixes and "tricks of the trade" in every circumstance, even if it took him longer, cost more money and failed in every measurable way. Unfortunately as I discovered during my time in Nova Scotia, among a percentage of the population, Ploppyshankism can be as intrinsic to a culture as ugly American capitalism is in Ontario, and jingoism is among British politicians.

In the case of Tony, this manifested itself in various ways. He fancied himself as craftsman, but looked like a pan-handler, and approached woodwork with the finesse of a blind, emaciated, drunken, angry-at-life lumberjack. He proudly told me of his fishing exploits, but could'nt swim. This, you'll have to understand is not the logical "cannot swim" of the deepsea, or even inshore, trawler man. This is the "cannot swim" of the idiot who regularly takes his children 1/2 mile out to sea in his beautiful pea-green boat. A boat, as I discovered later, he'd built himself. He proudly told me that he was a woodsman, who could be dropped anywhere in the world, and who would survive. Later, on a trip to Port Hawkesbury, 2 hours away from home base, Tony got the tummy upset because Tim Horton's coffee tasted different in Cape Breton. As a man who was a self-made disaster in waiting, everything was always someone or something else's fault. For anyone who is interested in the specifics of one of Tony's incidents, see the comments section at the bottom of this post. The incident is'nt actually that funny, although at the time, once I realised he had'nt actually killed Kenny, I was able to laugh about it as a funny "typical Nova Scotia incident" in a hysterical kind of way(usually after half a bottle of Jamesons).

Up to about twelve months ago, Tony was the best exponent, (or worst sufferer of PS?) I have met. However, around 2006, a new master emerged, someone whose Ploppyshankism is as down home Nova Scotian as it gets. Step up Tammy, our property manager. I cannot reveal Tammy's real name, or the name of her company, for legal reasons, but as you may know we have been renting our Nova Scotia house to tenants pretty quietly for about four years, using the same property management company. Tammy took over this company in 2006, and the problems started - firstly monthly payments got later and later. We were very busy and at first just made polite e-mail enquiries which were met with plausible sounding replies - vacations had delayed payment, the office accounts system were being re-organised. The tendency to pay late, or not at all, however, really took hold in summer 2006, around about the same time that the company's office phone became permanently transferred to voice mail.

By the end of 2006, the company owed us three months rent, with no explanation. I had even had a meeting with the company when we went to Halifax before Christmas. Tammy, was, I was told "on vacation", but the property manager Colin assured me that everything would be taken care of when she got back. January, and now we're in the UK, and still no payment, either of the overdue rent, and now January's rent as well. I had been consistently pressurising the company for months, but as the stridency of our e-mails and phone calls increased, the company's responses decreased, apart from a pathetic string of excuses.

The excuses we have had from this company include "I'm transferring all owners accounts over to direct debit payment - once that's sorted out the payments will go smoothly" (never happened), "Our office has been broken into" (I could'nt find any Police Report or news item on this on the web), "I was in Laurencetown, looking after a broken water tank so could'nt deposit your money" (for three weeks), and twice she told us "I've couriered your money to your bank in Ontario". The first time she gave this excuse, she even invented cheque numbers and a postal reference so we could "check with our bank". Needless to say, the cheques never arrived at our bank, ever. I pointed this out to her in an e-mail that talked her through the logic of this - as the cheques had never arrived in our account, and as she'd had to subsequently deposit new cheques, how did she feel about lying so blatantly? She never replied to this e-mail. The most stunning excuse was probably the "Tammy's had a brain hemorrhage" excuse. On this occasion, we ignored the excuse, threatened legal action, and so Tammy made a miraculous recovery and came in to work the next day to sign and deposit our cheques.

We now only have three months left with the house, as we'll be selling it this year, and have given Tammy's company, and our poor tenants (who Tammy has NEVER blamed because she knows we can verify whether they've paid or not) notice to quit. We're now sort of up to date in rent, and I was looking forward to ending my relationship with this lying, deceitful,untrustworthy Ploppyshanker. I was looking forward to reducing the amount of PS I had to deal with on a day to day basis until this week. This week, I started trying to recruit realtors to help us sell the house. One of the e-mails I got stated in breathless tones "If you are looking to purchase a home within the HRM region, it would also be my great priviledge to assist you in finding a home that meets your needs" and finished with "Again, I am honoured that you have requested my services in assisting you in the sale of your home. " More Ploppyshank awaits.


MJN said...

The pinnacle of Tony's career came when we were fabricating a display for an exhibit on shipbuilding. Part of the display involved recreation of a 17th century scaffolding that would have been used to work on the ships while in dry dock. The wooden scaffolding had to look authentic, being made chiefly of tree trucks lashed and pinned together but be secured by modern fasteners, all cunningly concealed. Tony's task was to bolt the trunks together so the scaffolding was secured. The young artist following him had to disguise the locations of these modern fasteners with hemp, cleverly glued bark inserts and plugs. Tony reported to me one morning that the scaffold was ready and that the artist could commence his work. I told him I was just about to go out, and that the artist(who had'nt arrived at work yet) should'nt start until I was back from my meeting, and I had checked the scaffold and briefed the artist.

I got back from my meeting just before noon, and was walking into the Production Area to see what progress the guys had made that morning when I heard, and felt, a long, massive crash that reverberated round the shop. I hurried to the noise and saw a pile of 18 ft long tree trunks all over the place, and a severely shaken young artist just getting up. No need to ask what had happened, the scaffolding had collapsed. But why? I called Kenny, the artist(and yes thats his real name) into my office, and asked him what happened. Kenny told me that as soon as he'd arrived that morning, Tony had approached him, told him that the scaffold was ready for painting, and although I had said to wait, he himself was the real expert, having forgotten "more about boats than that Englishman will ever learn" (Tony was World Cliche champion 1985 -86), and Kenny should go ahead and paint. This confidence completely overlooks the fact that we were making scaffolding, not boats, but in Tony's mind, the exhibit was about boats - definitely his territory.

I examined the pile of logs, then called Tony into the office. I told Tony what I had found, namely that the tree trunk scaffolding did not appear to have any bolts securing it together at the top, although the lower sections had been bolted as instructed. Tony sighed heavily and agreed. It was, he explained, Kenny's fault. Tony, as expert, had bolted together the lower layers of scaffolding, because this was, he explained, "all that was needed". The upper sections, 8ft and 16ft from the ground respectively, he had pinned together. With a pin gun. This is a bit like trying to staple the Titanic, I observed, and he agreed that it was unsafe, so in order to make it safe, he'd made a small scratch in the end of each unsecured log. I went to the Production Area with him, where he showed me the inch long scratch he'd made on one trunk. Kenny had obviousy ignored his marks. Tony volunteered that maybe "a few pins had'nt caught", but "it should have been ok", and maintained that Kenny had been careless. He'd stopped drilling holes for bolts at 8ft because it was a "right royal pain in the ass".

The list of problems with Tony's explanation could take up a page. In short, I fired him (unfortunately NOT for the first time) not so much for what he'd done but because even though he knew he'd been reckless, careless and utterly wrong, he persisted in blaming Kenny, the pin-gun , the design, the logs, the drill and the bolts, and accepted no responsibility at all.

Stacey L said...

I must say, although we didn't have such an attractive name for the deceit at the time - we believe now that PS must have somehow spread to Stratford (could you guys be carriers?)! We encountered similar problems with the delivery of our "custom" kitchen. First it fell off the ship, then it had to be reassembled from scratch, then it missed the transfer in Nova Scotia, then it had been mispackaged so it was actually still in Germany....From there, as we began to assemble this 'simple' kitchen and daily problems popped up, they were all created by a company in Germany, or were somehow our fault. Apparently we were to predict that he would import a fridge illegally that could not work in Cananda without major alterations and would then remain uncertified (I'm sure, in the case of a fire claim our insurance company would have generously overlooked this fact....).

The one question that I asked during the 4 months that we had only a bar fridge and microwave for mealtime preparation, was, if he has only one job - to sell and transport kitchens - how can he be so bloody useless at it?!

MJN said...

This terrible case does seem to indicate that PS is spreading - possibly developing into a global pandemic.
All the ingredients seem to be present - total incompetence and full and thorough rejection of any responsibility.
I suppose for this to be confirmed as an active case you would have to have also been promised at least excellence, if not world-leadership in the "art" of making kitchens, and an overly friendly attitude, until the problems started.