Dont buy the Sun.

Dont buy the Sun.
Hillsborough Justice campaign - Remember the 96.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

The Real Macoy

Smarty-pants, boffin head Large managed to get the image of our future tiled floor/mosaic bathroom uploaded in the correct colours in about three seconds flat. It is worth a post of it's own, otherwise I would never hear the end of how simple it is to do. So here is the first stages of design for the bathrooms, the colour palette we intend to use

The other bathroom is a 'new' colour for us, namely blue:

Cats HAVE been advised that the floor is not a scratch pad.

Renovation update - Phase Five

House renos updates

This album will be the one we use for keeping a record of our ongoing renovations. Progress has been good, steady and above all, to the required quality. The female future occupant of Large Villas is somewhat of the opinion that we are doing too much of the work ourselves, and I agree.

We are trying to plan to get the extension built by others, and I have engaged an architectural draughtsman to draw up plans, after struggling valiantly for a couple of weeks. I have already shown the 3-D representation of our plans from the outside, so I will not repeat myself, but while we are still struggling valiantly to get basic stuff done, like get the garbage removed from the yard, we are pressing on with design, as the example on the left shows. Because of the problems of converting files created in Corel Draw to Photoshop and then to a jpg, the whole point of this example is, I'm afraid, rather lost, because the colours represented here bear absolutely no relation to the colours we intend to use in the bathrooms, but the basic idea perhaps translates, which is to use a mosaic effect in small areas of the walls and a mixed palettes of linoleum floors tiles.

Linoleum floor tiles ! You mean that horrible material from the Seventies? Yes, I do - the exact same stuff, except that it has been rebranded as Marmoleum. We are trying to be as environmentally conscious as possible, but as recycled rubber was just too expensive, vinyl is oil based, after some research we discovered that linoleum is made from Linseed Oil and flax. You could practically eat the stuff.

The updates to the album this week show the massive bay windows of the front bedroom. The plan was to strip the wall of plaster, build a simple frame, stick some insulation in, then drywall the bay. Quick and easy. Unfortunately, I found an unacceptable amount of rot in the original frames (they are 100 years old), so to the above list has been added 'rebuild the frames from the inside'. As the frames all supported eachother this has been a slow process, forensic in detail as each sill, jamb and supporting pieces has had to be individually removed before being replaced with new wood. Add to this that the timber that the original frames were not constructed in off the shelf sizes. This has meant milling each piece of wood to a unique size. This kind of work requires attention to detail, patience and above all, the carpenter has to be interested in doing this. None of the tradespeople I have currently met seem interested, or were capable of doing this work. Opinions expressed were

a). Stick some mortar in it - 'no-one will know'
b). Get some new plastic frames - 'much easier'
c). Paint over the problem
d). "It's impossible".

All this means is that we either have to use specialist craftsmen, which we cannot afford, or do the thing ourselves. Which is why we are doing so much ourselves.

Elsewhere round the house the vision, given the time it will take to solve these problems, is to be as simple as possible and not to create the kids playhouse that we created in Nova Scotia. We'll see.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Carpenter, plumber, cat-wrangler, student

It is administrative day at Nickson Mansions, so I take my carpenter hat off and sit my Project Manager hat firmly on the old noggin. The renovation project at Large Villas is well into the second phase, and we will shortly begin Phase Three (Operation Taj Mahal). In truth, I am not exactly certain how many Phases this project will be divided into, although hopefully no more than five as follows:

Phase One; Tear-out and final Planning (Operation Focus)
Phase Two : Rebuild, insulate and make good existing structure (Operation Fishkettle)
Phase Three : Tear down existing 10ft by 4 ft structure and build new 15ft by 9 ft structure (Operation Taj Mahal)
Phase Four : Amalgamate old structure (Fishkettle) with new structure (Taj Mahal), including joining electrical, plumbing, heating and flooring elements into one Harmonious Whole (Operation Feng Shui)
Phase Five: Complete decoration of all (Operation Seven-Hours-in-Home-Depot-dithering-over-Paint-Samples-for-one tiny-room).

Phase Two and Phase Three run concurrently, and we are also finding that Phase One, Four and Five also have to run concurrently so every week, I take a day away from site to assess the Project and wrestle it back into shape so that it makes some kind of logical sense. English houses are very complicated pieces of engineering, much more so than the traditional North American built wood frame house. To build a wooden frame house, the process is simple - tear a great big hole in the ground, fill it with concrete, throw a bunch of wooden sticks together as a frame, nail some plywood to it and drywall the inside. If, in the course of this process, you discover that you've put the holes for the windows or the doors in the wrong place, you just cut a new hole in the side of the house(not particularly accurately) add a few more sticks or wood to frame out the new hole and fill any gaps with caulking or expanding foam. It is the way house building should be. Once built attaching

English houses are an entirely different matter. Take the outer walls for example. These consist of an inner leaf, made of things called blocks, and an outer leaf made of bricks. The inner and outer are separated by an air space, or cavity but are tied together by small stainless steel clips embedded into the mortar(mortar is the glue which is between bricks and is a different product for the outer leaf and the inner leaf) of each respective leaf. Not only this, but the cavity is also partially filled with insulation, and has a damp proof membrane. It does not help that the blocks and the bricks are different sizes by several order of magnitude, and that there are a myriad of different specifications within each category. Additionally, where windows or doors are required in a structure, a separate material - either structural steel or concrete - is required by code to act a lintel. Just to build a wall requires amalgamating five different materials together seamlessly. It is, I have to admit, a good solution in a deforested country, but as we are running this whole project ourselves instead of employing a building contractor, it is a massive learning curve, a curve that I've only just grasped, and one that has involved several false dawns. Local building suppliers will, I have discovered, sell you anything you ask for without providing advice, so the research has to be thorough and the results of that research accurate, as well as regionally specific (the soil type determines which materials you can use, how deep your foundations have to be and when you can build).

The process has been amazing and fascinating, and I'm now knowledgeable, if not expert in structural load calculations for type 4c soil, and have all sorts of ready facts available about the load bearing properties of all sorts of bricks (in Newtons per cubic metre). The cats have been useless in helping with this research. During any learning process, there is for me a cusp, a pivotal moment, when struggling with a complicated three dimensional puzzle. Suddenly the solution to the problem you are trying to solve becomes clear, lucid and you just grasp it. But the moments before these epiphanies are the most dangerous - the problem floats just in front of you, tantilizingly just out of reach. You know however that this is the moment of discovery and just a little bit longer in silent contemplation will give the solution. Usually at this point, Tosh jumps up on the desk, rubs my chin with his head and goes "MIAOW!!!", driving the solution away like a frightened bird.

THe best thing though is that these admin days are how I anticipate my student days - problem solving, writing essays, discovering information. If this is the next three years, I'm a very lucky carpenter.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Creating fish kettles....

nk is

Back on the jobsite, and now in rebuild mode, after a month of frantic tear out, the team is reduced to self and RHB. One of the reasons for this is that this is Mike's version of a finished piece of work:

As someone who has in the past been known to "bodge" things, I can understand that Mike was thinking "Well, it is only a cupboard at the very top of the stairs in the furthermost corner of the house". My objection to this monstrosity is that while I may have occasionally bodged things for myself, I've never done the same for someone else AND THEN PROUDLY SHOWN THEM THE WORK AS IF IT IS NOT AN ABOMINATION. Bear in mind dear reader that this is supposed to be a finished piece of work, and that, our design did not include dirty handprints all over it. In short, Mike is off the project.

Andy, Nel's partner in work, has gone to Tanzania, and unlike Mike is welcome back to site whenever he chooses. Andy was fun, diligent and intelligent and promised to help out when he comes back, which is good news.

The next picture represents a confession. The last time this room was shown, I had just framed it out - it is our nearly en-suite shower. In the current picture you can see the correct moisture resistant drywall (green), the new channels for the hot and cold feeds that I chiselled out of the cold, hard brick, and the two cunning recesses which will be build into the shower to hold shampoo etc. What the picture does not show is that I kinda, sorta, like maybe, a bit forgot to plumb the wall. On a scale of 1 to 10 this is an eleven, because I just followed the line of the original wall when I rebuilt the green wall. The original wall, being 100 years old was not even related to 'plumb', even distantly. Nel's task was to tile the wall, but in omitting to plumb it, I unleashed a Gordian Knot into her world of straightness. Racked, uneven, unsquare, unplumb, bent, distorted, unlevel, twisted and out-of-true - it was all of these, and more. It was, as the physicists say, not even wrong, and it has taken me a day to fix. However, when completed(and tiling is due to start tomorrow), the new shower will look great and will be a brilliant morale boost.

The final images show the current state of our back garden. We have demolished so much of the interior of the house that the back garden is now full. A priority is to get someone (else) to move it. Having moved this much brick, plaster and wood once, I have no desire to do it again. As a side note, this is the third time the garden has looked like this, although the first time was with the effects of the tenants. Bear in mind that the height of each pile of junk is about five feet and it forms a kind of Himalayan mountain chain along the length of the garden.

The Three Stages of a Renovation

Eventually the tide subsides, the heaving seas settle to a gentle calm, the sun breaks magnificently through the clouds and the relentlessly pounding, heavy, grey rain blows away over the headland to the South. With the clearing skies, everything becomes more defined: there’s a small island about a mile out that looks like a really pleasant daytrip, and the lines of colour as hills stretch to the horizon become dramatic bands of pleasing blues and greys.

Which description is entirely unlike how it felt when the Course Director of Educational Studies with Urban Learning called me to let me know that the degree course I was enrolled upon had been cancelled. Paul, Director of the Educational Studies Department, is hugely apologetic and full of solutions. We have a detailed conversation, and rapidly conclude that if I enroll on a very similar degree course, the probable outcome, for me at least, will be the same. I have one call to make, so I call the Red Haired Boffin:

“Do you have any objections to teaching me?” I ask.

My question confuses her, so I expand and tell her about the course cancellation, plus the suggested alternative. RHB sees no problem for her, so I call Paul back and tell him that I would be delighted to accept a place on the degree course Educational Studies with Psychology. That would seem to be the end of the matter, except that it is not.

The problem is that I sporadically have bouts of Panic Attacks, a weakness that has led to fully fledged depression on two occasions. A day after resolving the ‘issue’ with my course, the first of a wave of panic attacks hit. This happens just as we finally complete the ‘tear-out’ phase of our renovation project and I begin my second in-depth budget analysis, based on what we now know(as opposed to assumed). In a misguided effort to lighten the gloom, I decide to go the pub to watch Liverpool. Drinks are had.

Two days after Paul’s phone call, the monkeys are jumping up and down on my back with gleeful abandon, and I’m finding it very difficult to ‘focus’. This is one manifestation of the ‘condition’ that I experience. For me, there is also the palpable sensation of adrenalin coursing through limbs, it can almost be felt as a thickening and a concentrating of the blood as if it’s chemically changed. Physically, nothing works properly; swallowing is difficult because I seem to be producing gallons of saliva, but my throat feels constricted, there seems to be an avalanche trying to escape out of my temples, but finding no exit it heads for the ears and I can hardly hear anything.

Mentally, thoughts are coming and going, crashing and conflicting, too quick to complete – no thought is ever finished - and I am completely restless all the time, but sleep is hard to achieve. There’s not even a comforting obsession as subjects to ponder vary from Global Warming to whether the cats are safe, rolling through the old noggin like very fast tumbleweed. One thing I can focus on successfully during these bouts is Internet Shopping, and it is only Panic Induced Indecisiveness that has prevented us, in the past, from owning an island in Cape Breton, a collection of Japanese pottery and a Shitzui.

As always happens, the tide subsides, islands in Cape Breton do not get purchased and sleep returns, and Neitze is proven correct once again, provided that is, you are misquoting him about that which does not kill (fear of dying seems universal among panic attackees), improves. The sun breaks magnificently over a calming sea. As we commence the rebuild phase of our project, we analyse the finances and realize that we can complete the majority of what we’ve planned, and a letter arrives from Hull University confirming my new place on the Educational Studies with Psychology degree course.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Not even wrong.

I ask Mike if, by chance, he understands what the word 'Ploppyshank' means. He replies that he's never heard of it, in all his "30 years in the trade", then carries on explaining to me why we should just "fill it with cement". The 'it' in question is the gap between a window and windowsill that has been made apparent by the removal of some rotten wood surrounding it. Mike concludes his explanation with "No-one will know".

I tell Mike that I find his 'simple fix' actually complicated. For a start, the phrase "No-one will know" implies two things:

a). We know that his proposed solution is a quick-fix piece of bodging.

b). It also conveys an attitude of "What the homeowner does'nt see, wont hurt them".

Bearing these implications in mind, his solution (while on face value simple), would for me, I tell Mike, be even more complicated than the construction of this, relatively short sentence, and definitely more complicated than doing the thing correctly. This is mainly because it would involve keeping a secret from myself, while at the same time still charging me for a job well done.

"Oh, I did'nt mean you would'nt know" says Mike, "I mean you're not stupid are you? Of course you'd know. But anyone buying the house after you would'nt have to know, would they? That cement probably wont fail for twenty years or so. We did it all the time in Spain."

It is only 9.30am, and I can feel a firing coming on. I explain, a little more politely than he is due, that the window gap will be repaired my way, either by me, or by him, and I dont care who because I enjoy doing that work.

The tiny exchange we've just had is illustrative of a phenomenon that is sadly familiar. A certain lawyer from London, Ontario did it, (most) doctors do it, and practically every builder I have ever met does it, with this particular "it" being accepting work from someone, then proceeding to do that work with absolutely no reference to the wishes, and sometimes against the best interests of, the person paying them to do the work. It is, for me, the worst type of arrogance. With builders, the pattern of behaviour starts when they get awarded the job.

Mike's first few days on site went well. He listened to what I wanted, made some helpful suggestions, worked hard and deserved his pay at the end of each day. As the week of his employment has progressed he came to the conclusion, based on the fact that I'm generally easy-going (and have accepted some of his suggestions with a genuine "Thanks Mike, I never thought of that"), that he could make life much easier for himself by running "his" job the way he wants to. He came to see it as 'his' job by virtue of being on-site every day and being generally left alone to complete each task as he sees fit. In Mike's eyes, he rapidly became the Gaffer, the experienced old hand helping out a couple of kids who dont really know what they're doing. In reality, the only reason Mike has been left alone so far to do things his way is because, up to now, he has not been in a position to screw something up so badly that he causes us more work.

After our minor disagreement, MIke grumpily works for an hour or two, until Opening Time at the Bricklayers Arms, then, at eleven sharp, heads off for a quick pint or six. He returns in a much happier mood, and spends at least some of the rest of the day making himself slightly useful. He contrasts strongly with my co-workers, Largey and Andy. Largey and Andy are a team of inexperienced but enthusiastic apprentice bricklayers/part-time boffins from Hull University's NeuroScience Department, and they set about their (today) filthy, hard work with a chirpy, can-do attitude. Some much so that we tidy up one of the many holes I've created in record time.

The house reno is approaching the end of Phase One. Phase One involved remedying all the work done by Mike-equivalents over the last forty years. It has taken a hard month of dirt, graft, effort and dogged determination on the part of all who've helped so far. Next week is the start of the rebuild. A rebuild that will be done properly, with or without MIke. A photo tour is attached.

House renovation

Friday, 8 August 2008

That'll do micely....

I am not a person of temper - "he has a long fuse", "patience of a saint", "I dont know how you put up with it" - all descriptions of self, provided by my completely unbiased maternal parent. This week, the legendary fuse snapped. It was time for one of those talks.

"Look, I dont mind doing the tea every night. I dont mind working sixteen hours a day on this house so it will be comfortable for you. I dont even mind the fact that yor schedule is completely unpredictable, or the fact that you take up the whole bed. But, you have to admit that this week, you've really pushed it. And being Canadian is not really an excuse. We need to look very seriously at the whole situation and come to some sort of agreement."

Callisandra looks at me and blinks twice, then looks away briefly. In cat language, this is the equivalent of a kiss, and the fact that she does this with eyes as big as plates, licks her formerly broken paw and then cocks her head to the side at just enough of an angle to look adorable, as if she's desperately trying to understand what I am saying is enough, she thinks, to make me loose my resolve, give her a tickle, and then, give her the 'precious', the whole point(to her) of this conversation, the Holy Grail of most of her interactions with me, namely, a Whiskas Dentabit Tuna Flavoured Treat.

I am, however, made of strerner stuff, and I have a point to make.

"I dont mind the frogs because you guys dont bite them ..[this is true, the cats pick frogs up 'soft mouthed' and bring them in, watch them for a bit, then loose interest.]... but last night was just not on."

Last night Callisandra brought an adorable little mouse home. It had big eyes, beautiful tan fur, and it scrunched up it's nose when it sniffed things. As soon as we discovered the mouse, cowering under the sofa, but otherwise unhurt, we threw the cats out of the room, and began a series of tactics and strategems that eventually lasted three hours, trying to catch the creature and release it unhurt. At one stage, it crawled into my shoe, and I pounced, grabbed the shoe, ran outside and shook the thing out. Alas, no mouse.

Eventually, exhausted, we went to bed and let events take their course, and in the morning the mouse was gone. We were both pathetically upset, and we discussed this over our chicken stir fry that evening. Unfortunate as it is for mice though, we will be moving, later rather than sooner, to a new neighbourhood, and while the renovation work we have been doing on Large Villas has, according to all reports from our new neighbours, resolved the local mice infestation that seemed to be centred on the property we bought, it's nice to know that our $8000.00 cat may yet turn out to be useful.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Cit y of Change and Challenge.

Grasshopper commented on Liverpool's bright and sunny aspect. I replied (Home truths but the comments made by this most astute of observers made me think a little.

There is absolutely no doubt at all that the climate of Liverpool has changed dramatically in the last forty years. My father, an avid gardener, now grows Mediterranean crops at home. He is, for reasons of finance and principle, an organic gardener, so the peaches, coffee, oranges and lemons he has grown over the last ten years are not assisted by being unnatural hybrids, and he grows the plants in the exact same spot that he previously had a cold frame (a small greenhouse used to protect seedlings etc from frost). Dad memorably pruned his roses one recent Christmas. On weather patterns, generally, I was, on my recent visit to Liverpool, viewing some fine black and white childhood photographs, taken between 1962 and about 1975 where we kids built real igloos, from real ice and trudged to school in 2ft of snow. It has not snowed in Liverpool, with any significant accumulation, for at least twenty five years.

The usual arguments apply to how long, deep and significant this climate shift is, but the effects are there, obvious, measurable, recorded. However, a further shift in the local environment is evident, and the roots of this are slightly more surprising. There is nothing that we Scousers enjoy more than bleating about the Thatcher Years, and the devastating effect they had on the city. We even had World Famous Riots (in '81) and maintain the distinction of being the only city in the British mainland to have tanks patrolling the streets(instead of policemen on bicycles as is usual in England). Most of us (Scousers) took Mrs Thatcher's government as an affront, and blame her personally for the evils that affected the city, especially the chronic unemployment, during the 1980's. My mother still refers to Mrs Thatcher as "that woman", unable to speak her name, but if my mother is right, and Mrs Thatcher was responsible for the industrial wastelands that Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds and Newcastle became, then the surprising result is that Mrs Thatcher was among the first elected politicians in the UK to go Green. Why? Because the River Mersey, once the most polluted river in Europe (it was either No 1 or No 2, trading places with the Rhine on an annual basis), has become a Mecca for salmon fishermen. Since industry died along the banks of the Mersey, the river is cleaning itself.

Nan used to take us to Otterspool Prom, a riverside park on the South side of the city, built on a landfill. We would get the number 61 bus, walk about three miles through an area of crumbling Victorian terraces, blissfully unaware that we were strolling through Toxteth (an area of the city claiming another European record as the most 'deprived' inner city) before arriving at the gates of the park. Nan would give us a little shove, telling us to "run you little greyhounds, run" (greyhound racing being one of her many vices), before she retired to a nearby bench from where she could stare rudely at, and criticize vocally, everyone who passed by. We would run, like greyhounds, but sometimes we'd have to do this with our backs to the breeze from the river, because the stench could be overpowering. The local nickname for this area was the Cast Iron Shore, derived from all the junk lying round the sandbanks, and from the shipyards that issued the junk. By 2001, the shipyards were long gone, but from the same playing fields were we'd coughed up industrial strength phlegm, the first rumours of sightings emerged. Seals, sunning themselves on the sandbanks, were seen, and before the end of that year, verifiable photographs made the local papers. There's seabirds returning too, not just the ubiquitous filthy gulls that infest most seaside towns, but real Wildlife; birds that have the words "Yellow" and "Crested" and "Long" in their names, and are scared of humans.

Sadly, Mrs Thatcher cannot even get the credit for this "greening" of Liverpool. To be absolutely fair she was, in fact, most definitely not single-handedly responsible for the end of a mass-employment, factory-based economy in Northern England, and even if she had been, the origins of the dramatic change- cleaner skies in Northern cities - came with the Clean Air Acts of 1956 and 1968, Acts which drastically reduced air pollution. European coal burning had blackened our cities, given chimney sweeps lifelong employment and small children asthma, as practically every home was heated by an open coal fire. Even moths were affected. The Peppered Moth exists naturally in two forms - a light coloured version and a darker one. Peppered Moths hang out on trees, and brick walls, anywhere warm really, wings flattened against the surface, deciding which of your tweed suits to eat next. Pre-Industrialization, the dark and light forms were equally distributed. As soot darkened trees, and coated walls, the balance shifted. Dark forms of the coat-eater were better camouflaged against predators and so became the dominant (numerically) form.

As the cities have cleaned up, many have been transformed. The majesty of the Victorian Corn Exchanges, Stock Markets and Court Houses have been restored in Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool as the clean air has made it worthwhile to clean up all the old sandstone and granite. And new, high-end, up-market, prestigious, bespoke(aaaghh), gleaming glass and zinc, talking elevator buildings have been added to the mix; either cathedrals of Shopping or Temples of the banking and service industries that now dominate our economies. On the surface, these regenerated city centres are anything but grey, and because air-borne particulate pollution ('not including diesel' tm) at least, has decreased, they'll stay non-grey.

There is, in my mind, no doubt that the slaughtering of British Industry by the people(and although this includes Mrs Thatcher, it was, to be fair, not just her) that own this country helped towards a cleaner(air borne particulates only, 'not including diesel' tm) country. Heavy metals not poured into rivers because steelworks closed down, coal not burned because mining communities were destroyed, oil not spilled because the shipyards were sold, (literally) down the river, all this helped. But, apart from those precious Clean Air Acts, Acts whose results were to directly improve ordinary people's lives, none of the improvements in our environment have been deliberate. They have been side-effects of a system that remained, and remains, fundamentally unchanged.

I think that some of Grasshopper's perception of the North of England is based on the lingering Dickensian image that Britain exudes. Tony Blair tried to change this image of course, by inviting popstars to Downing Street, and trying to fit into the whole "Cool Brittanica" thing. But 2000 years of history, a history and a structure that Dickens managed to reveal, describe and criticize savagely, does not get rewritten just because Ginger Spice grabs the Prime Ministerial bum in a photo shoot. And although those old industrial cities have now been cleaned up, even though the skies are bluer, even though my Dad grows peaches the fact is that nothing has changed. The swans that swim on the now-clean Mersey still belong to the Crown, the pristine downtown cores still belong, in large part, to the Duke of Westminster and other members of the super-rich elite, and our political leaders interfere patronisingly, and paternalistically in every aspect of ordinary people's lives, while being careful to NEVER, EVER, EVER offend, censure, or financially restrict the rapacious top-hatted industrialists that treat British people with contempt.

The view from this particular bridge remains. If it profited "industry" to return to mass pollution, it would. It would have no more hesitation in once again pouring mercury, lead and cadmium into the rivers than it would have relocating to India. The Government would do nothing, stating "economic necessity" - just listen to Blair justifying another expansion at Heathrow, (one of the world's busiest airports), at the expense of the environment and the local people. The perception of English cities, as grey and dreary, particularly Liverpool, is I would say much more than just a vague visual but is a reference to a reality. That reality (by expectation and by Human Right) should have changed by now. But it has not. Change will come to England, eventually, maybe, hopefully, but for now, it is all on the surface.

Monday, 4 August 2008

A cautious whiff of optimism

I have never posted on the beautiful game before on this blog, perhaps because the most succesful club in the history of English football have been rather disappointing over the last few years (apart from a fifth European Championship in 05 and runners-up in 06 and semi-finalists in 07).

But watching the first two games of the new season, I think every English, and European club should be very afraid of Liverpool Football Club this season.

There, I've done it, I've made a prediction. Now all I need to do is persuade Nel to let me gamble the proceeds from our house sale on Liverpool success this year. It's a sure bet, a dead cert.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

The Canadian Job - Putting the team together

As with most hit-em-hard, play fast and loose with the law, devil may care gang of roughnecks assembled for bank jobs and other blags, our team is gradually taking shape. After weeks of planning, the job is set up, ready to go and all we were really lacking was a sexy, wisecracking elite cadre of task specific experts to fly at this thing and, (in the immortal words of David Jones, ex-marketing manager of Atlantex Creative Works), 'fabricate the Hell out of this sucker'.

Alky Mike is first up to the plate. I note his advert in the local store window "30 YEARS EXPERIENCE. HANDMAN. PLUMIN. PANTING AND DECARROTING. JONERY." I call Mike and ask when he can attend. My strategy is to give him a smallish task, pay him, assess how well he's done what I asked, wait a week to see if Large Villas gets burgled and stripped of copper, then if he has performed well, ask him back. The precautions named above are not exagerrated, but are derived from the advice of the local police, who by now we know quite well.

"If you dont know these guys and they know the property is empty, they might decide they can make more money from your copper than from working for you".

I listen carefully, but am finding it difficult to frame my reply, mostly because I'm trying to avoid using the word 'copper' when talking to a member of the British Police. Inevitably, though, I reply

"So, Copper Officer. I mean they'll take my copper, Constable? Well that's something I didnt know. And it's worth that much, copper? I mean is that common plumbing material really valuable? Copper?"

I go on at some length until the copper receives a call on her radio. Apparently some pigs have been stolen from a nearby farm.

Mike agrees to see me, after 2.30, on a hot afternoon. He smells like he's been sleeping in a brewery, refuses a cup of tea and promptly falls into one of the holes I've made in the floorboards. I show him the task I have in mind, which is to remove the bathroom suite from the smaller of the bathrooms. Mike asks me several times what I want doing and promises to return two days later.

To my surprise, Mike turns up, offers me a Polo mint from a copious supply I discover later he always carries, and sets to work. The task I have set him is easy to perform, and easy to assess, but my initial fears, at least about his workmanship dissipate rapidly. He works hard and very efficiently, not even stopping for a tea break (I have several) and tidies up after himself, finishing just before opening time at the local pub. I'm slightly concerned about his colour change while he works, as he goes from a ruddy red to a kind of fluorescent puce over the course of the morning, but he assures me it is no more than "minor heart trouble". If we dont get robbed over the next week or so, Mike is a 'keeper' ( as long as he stay vertical).

Next up is Steve, plumber extraordinaire. In common with many plumbers, Steve is critical of the work done previously on the property, and while he stops short of describing this work as a 'kettle of fish' he does point out that it was 'probably done by an amateur'. He looks at me accusingly. After plausibly denying any responsibility for the mess of stealable copper we examine, Steve, makes a few suggestions and starts telling me his life story. Divorced once (as is Mike), he lost his business a few months ago and therefore, while he retains his licence and qualifications, he has had to find work as an employee. Anything he can do for us is therefore 'on the black', but certified. Like the plumbing itself, it is a tangled web we have woven, but seeing a kindred spirit in Steve (he is sueing a family owned company that refused to pay him for a massive job he had taken on and went out of business as a result) I agree to his prices and arrange to see him onsite later that weekend. Steve, like Mike, is cash only.

The third member of the team is 'Brains', a graduate student at Hull Uni whom I have never met. 'Brains' is a friend of Matt (another graduate student who I have met) who was suggested to me by Matt after it emerged that Matt wasnt able to do the work. The main reason for this is that Matt is on "Graduate Student Time", which means his working hours are 12.00 noon to 16.30 {web sudduko and read the papers} 16.30 to 19.00 {pub}, 19.00 to 03.00 {work}. Matt was slightly non-plussed to discover that the rest of the world did not operate on this timetable, so could not commit, but suggested Brains. I e-mail Brains, sexing up the project by telling him that the use of power tools might be part of the deal (once I have satisfied myself that he can do so without severing an artery). 'Brains' is psyched and wants to start immediately. I tell him to meet me on site (this was an e-mail conversation) and that is that last I hear from him.

So we have the makings of an elite squad. Mike, who may possibly drop dead on me at any moment, and who I dare not give anything too physical; Steve, who's life has fallen apart fater building a business for twenty years: Red Haired Boffin, who gets a 'hurty arm' after sanding for two minutes or longer and Mazzer, the mastermind, who's broken arm is still broken, and who only has the vaguest idea what we're doing. I only now need an Angelina Jolie analogue as a roofer, and a Brad Pitt equivalent as a hard-but-intellectual jack of all trades and we're good to go.