Thursday, October 17, 2013

I'm building a wall, a fine wall

There comes a point in the cycle of life when talk turns from the extraordinary price of houses, to the extraordinary rules laid down by the planning department (whose office in Southover Road, incidentally, is having a refit. I hope they got planning permission. And I hope they won’t replace the friendly automatic doors which open invitingly whenever you walk past).

Yes, this point in life (aka middle-age), is when you may decide to Get The Builders In. You stop asking friends for the number of their mechanic or divorce lawyer, and start demanding their plasterer instead. It costs a lot, in time, money and emotion, to hand over your sanctuary to a bunch of burly chaps with hammers. Builders are aware of that, and humbled by it. So in return, they give you one of the greatest gifts one human can give another. They give you the gift of story.

Builders’ tales are an art form*. I believe no other profession does this so well. Say to a mechanic, for instance, that since they changed the oil, your car now indicates left when you press for right; or tell your divorce lawyer that your soon-to-be-ex has emptied the off-shore account you were promised they’d never find; and you will not get very interesting replies. The mechanic will say, yeah, your car’s a wrecked old crock. And the lawyer will say, uh-huh, by the way you owe me twenty grand. Dull, see? But complain about anything to a builder*, and you can just settle back into a comfy velvet seat and crack open the popcorn. Here are three recent ones I’ve heard about (none of them are Lewes builders, of course). They are true.

*Disclaimer: not all builders.

Client: “This is a bit shoddy, could you go over it?”
Painter: “You’re right, my mind’s not on the job. My daughter’s just gone to prison and my wife’s left me.”
Client: “Tell you what, I’ll paint it myself.”

Client: “I didn’t realise this would take so long.”
Plasterer: “It shouldn’t have, but this ceiling is the worst I’ve ever had to deal with. You won’t believe what I found in there. Also I’ve had a horrific week with nerve problems in my head.”
Client: “Ok, sorry. Cup of tea?”

Builder: (Glancing at the rubble that was once a kitchen) “I can’t come next week as I’m looking after the kids. My wife’s away.”
Client: “Ok, that seems reasonable.” (Starts to turn away)
Builder: “Yes, a friend of ours is an alcoholic. So we’ve heard about this rehab place in Venezuela.”
Client: “There’s nothing nearer?” (popping straw into extra-large Fanta)
Builder: “I don’t know. So my wife’s got to take him to the airport, he thinks they’re going for a meal, then they’ll get on a plane to Caracas.”
Client: ?!
Builder: “She’s got to make sure he stays, you see.”
Client: (Opens a bag of pick-and-mix sweeties.)
Builder: “So I’ll put the walls back when they’re home.”

 Beth Miller. Published in

Monday, October 7, 2013

He always beat me at Subbuteo

Yes, toys!
Far as the eye can see!
“Okay,” said Country Mouse, “so there’s still nowhere in town to buy an ordinary pair of socks. But… TOYS!”
The new Clarkes Stationers – don’t let the stationery part of its name fool you – has arisen from the ashes of Clinton’s Cards (which I still miss). Downstairs there’s some reasonably-priced stationery that would have been exciting had Paperchase not stolen its thunder. But upstairs… oh upstairs! Follow me up the stairs to a proper toy shop: Playmobil, Lego, board games, practical jokes, dolls, the lot. A whole Saturday afternoon can be whiled away up there if you have small children, or even if you don’t but just like toys and don’t look too creepy.
“Right,” said Aging Lad, whose interest in these kind of toys is minimal, “If we can get a toy shop we can get the other things we so sorely need.”
“Socks,” said Country Mouse, obsessively.
“Sushi,” said Hoxton Mum, inevitably.
“An independent electrical shop that is willing to fix broken toasters and has a big box of spare springs that cost 35p each,” said Grange Girl, who is nothing if not specific in her demands.
“A Topman,” said Aging Lad.
“Any men’s clothing chain – Gap, H&M, anywhere that doesn’t sell tweed caps in fact,” added Born and Bred Boy.
“A French bistro serving hearty rustic suppers, like they used to have in Paris back in the 20 franc ‘menu de jour’ days,” said Sherpa Sal unrealistically.
“Skylark is great of course, but a bigger bookshop would be terrific,” said Village Postmistress, who was en route to her ‘quit smoking’ classes at the Phoenix Centre.
“A shop that sells ethnic food, like Taj in Brighton,” said Eco Dad.
It was most odd the way everyone I’ve ever known kept passing by, seemingly for no other purpose than to add their own suggestions.
“Marks & Spencers, for flip’s sake,” cried Sweary Mary.
“Yes, with a food hall please,” panted Absent-Minded Girl, running past on her way to a forgotten appointment.
“McDonalds,” said Pells Boy.
Ah. Hang on a minute.
“KFC. Burger King,” he continued. The rest of us fell silent. “A much bigger Tescos. A pound shop. A cheap hotel like a Premier Inn, for instance where the old magistrates court is.”
No-one said anything for a while. Then we all quietly dispersed. I don’t know where the others went, but I popped back to Clarkes to buy some Top Trumps.

Beth Miller. Published in Photo by Katie Moorman