As readers of these texts will know, from time to time a shenanagins occurs which requires the attention of Hull’s leading scenic carpenter. “Hmmm!” a project manager might muse, “here is a right kettle of fish”. They might continue in a similar vein “Right here, I have an enigma inside a mystery inside a preponderance of carpentry related issues. This....” they probably add “....this, considered from a joinery perspective, is a Gordian knot, a plethora of interrelated hiccups, an effusion of plywood modalities, a veritable cornucopia of non-conventional angles and impossible doors, all mixed with an internecine array of woodworking-related fixes. And quite a lot of vacuuming to be done.” In these circumstances, the hue and cry begins. “Call for Mazzer!” is heard the length and breadth of Yorkshire’s East Riding, and the radio waves fairly buzz with texts until Mazzer ‘Funtime’ O’Reilly AKA ‘self’, AKA ‘me’, AKA ‘Nickson of Large Mansions’, responds. On this occasion, the alacrity with which the call was answered belied the physical status of the receiver AKA ’me’, as said response was made in the wake of a bottle of fine spiced Jamaican rum, a lake of Imperial Pale Ale and, unfortunately, several bottles of red wine.
The mission profile is simple. Attend a local, and hugely impressive, stately home and join a crack team of exhibit installers. I pop round to see the person responsible for my fragile physical condition Jerry ‘Jesse’ James, AKA ‘Hit it where it come’ to assess his availablility in respect of forming along with self, the carpenterial hub of the team. Jerry thinks for a minute:
“Well, there’s Mrs Kalowinski at Number 43, and her kitchen. And the twenty-twenty is on. Tell about the work.”
Note for Canadians: ‘twenty-twenty’ is a type of cricket, and Jerry, as a Jamaican, is, without putting too fine a point on it, keen on cricket. One might say obsessed or fanatical, but I do not want to be accused of underexagerration.
I tell Jerry what the work will be, describing a fun-filled week of larking around in a stately home, leisurely polishing our chisels, the careful carving of small pieces of wood with spokeshaves, the occasional adjustments of our artisan cravats. In some forms of business, this is known as ‘selling’, although less typewriter ink is used by the alternative, and more accurate description, which is ‘lying’. Jerry thinks it sounds like fun and agrees to the work. I breathe a huge sigh of relief.
The next day, as we are driving towards Leeds, I begin to elucidate further. Now that he’s commited, it’s time to come clean. “Erm, you know that stuff about sharpening the chisels all day?....” I say. Jerry nods, “....well there is a little bit more to it than that. And that stuff about six or seven hour days?....” Jerry nods again, “....not strictly true. Could be a bit longer than that. More like, erm, sixteen or seventeen.” Jerry nods, apparently unperturbed, so I plunge onward “......in fact the reality is that absolutely anything could happen, and probably will.... sorry, I sort of forgot to mention that bit.....”.
Jerry just smiles. “I know. Its OK. Me and you, we’ll make it work. No problem.” I am relieved Jerry is so cool, so I go into a bit more detail, finishing with “....and when Tom, the Project Manager, says he’ll be onsite in half an hour, it usually means two....not that you should mind, because Tom’s a great guy”. Jerry looks happy. From what I’ve described, exhibitions run on a sort of Jamaican schedule where the phrase “soon come” means exactly what it does in Jamaica. This also means that towards the deadline, as you get more and more tired, the to-do list piles up. This can be another source of frustration, but working for Tom makes it easier because based on past experience, Tom works harder than anyone. This job is no exception.
We settle into a pattern, returning to Hull at about eight thirty or nine pm, and meeting again the next morning at six thirty. Jerry’s car pulls up outside at Large Mansions each morning, and we ask what the other has been up to since we last met less than twelve hours ago, as if expecting the answer to comprise a list of tasks that includes building a green house, launching a space mission and decorating a couple of rooms. Naturally, as co-owner of two Canadian Barn Cats, I get nowhere near “doing” anything in the evening – instead, its feed the cats, feed myself, tickle the cats, quick shower, take the cats for a walk and finally an episode of my favourite type of TV – garbage. Red Haired Boffin is Barcelona, so I am able to fully indulge my taste for this utter televisual crap – Masterchef, Celebrity Wifeswap and Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares USA. Its perfect, and what tv is made for, apart from football. Surprisingly though, Jerry does stuff each evening, including cooking a few meals and talking to his family. I am amazed at the man’s energy, and grateful as I am for the partner I have, am very happy not to have anyone to mumble tiredly at each evening.
On-site, as predicted, we plough through the task list which expands exponentially as the deadline approaches, but on project like this, whether it be theatres shows, exhibits, movies or museum builds, there’s an energy to the work, a camaraderie that builds in a very short time unlike most other work experiences I have ever experienced. The final result is what matters, and, on good projects like this, a vibe emerges – positive, can-do, make it happen. “In” jokes develop and by the end, everyone is talking the same language – in this case, thanks to Jerry having the world’s coolest accent, its mostly Jamacian. This may all sounds corny but its true, and when I retire from it, hopefully in two or three years time, I will miss it tremendously. Ultimately, on jobs like this, its not the money (although it is better than Mrs Jalowonki’s kitchen at No 43) that counts, its getting the thing done, and done well.
And the people you work are what is important. Despite slightly glossing over the truth at the start, (AKA completely lying because I want to work with the man) about just how much work is involved, Jerry, has taken to it like a fish to water. His patience, skills, attitude and energy are perfect. We slot together instantly, forming a team. What I cant do, Jerry can. I count meeting him as another in the series of continuing happy accidents that I recognise as life – something that other people call the “daily grind”. In a bout of nostalgia that is completely atypical for a Scouser, Jerry has joined Buncey, Little Bunny Foo Foo, Benno and Fordy in the pantheon of Gods that comprise my ideal gang.
The eight day stint ends perfectly. We get the thing done. Red Haired Boffin returns from Barcelona having had a great time, and brings me what will rapidly become my favourite top – a black Barcelona FC training top. The Canadian Barn Cats greet the return of their Goddess with rapture and Large Mansions returns to its normal state, with all four of us occupying the same three square feet of space as we settle down for some intelligent television about incurable medical conditions. The first day after the project co-incides with my next teaching session and this week the class has decided it just wants to talk, , so we discuss the Moscow bombings, the weather in Syria and Lithuania and the English propensity to say “thank-you” and awful lot. Apart from living in Canada, it’s hard to imagine things getting much better.