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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


Grasshopper said...

Wow!! And I thought you'd gutted your place in Dartmouth. That was mere aesthetic work compared to what you're doing now!! I can't wait to see it all finished. Thanks for keeping us "in the loop".

MJN said...

Dartmouth was nothing in comparison to this place - this place has 9 rooms, and we're insulating the frig out of it, plus all the decorating, plus rectifying 50 years of dereliction, plus adding a few Nickson/Large design features, plus solar and renewables.
In truth, the project is a massive strech, not financially (although of course there are costs) but more brain-wise, because integrating all the renewable systems into a British built 100 year old house is a challenge. Today, though the reults started to show as we finally finished the "tear-out" phase and started building. One really freaky thing is that we've been working in an upper room, which previously, uninsulated, was as hot as hEll. As we insulated the place, the temperature in the room evened out and evetually stabilized. It was actually indescribable how happy this made us.Months of research becoming reality as we worked. JUst brilliant. Having a barrel of fun.