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

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