Building Relationships: 4 Simons and a Peter
Renovating houses is, often, a miserable and expensive project, but the folk you meet on the way can lighten the load, somewhat. When I modernized a London house, some years back, the electrician was an ex-City man, stock-broker. Bored with the financial sector, he took exams, exploited City contacts, and developed a 2nd career as a successful tradesman. The conversations over tea-breaks were different, to say the least, to the usual ‘3 sugars-and-make-it-strong’ patois. My father worked with his former dealer company, thus I knew them, too.
Apparently, the building gang often worked at the house at the weekends (I lived in France at the time), preferring plastering/carpentry to the weekly shop and/or demanding children/partners. I was happy to offer a retreat, and it explained why the renovation project was completed ahead of time. Win-Win. The building team were health-conscious, too. Another sign of the times. Gone was cigarette-behind-ear, door-step sandwiches and/or chip butties. The team would bring salads, limit the amount of caffeine and often have soup. I started to doubt if they were, in fact, builders. Perhaps they were secret service spooks, staking out the road in these troubled times?But who would be under surveillance in my Mother’s London street? Mrs Armitage, opposite? I’ve known her since I was a child - perfect cover - suburban housewife, with a pathological loathing of most people. Or Mr & Mrs Greenock, next door. I’ve always been wary of the time he spent with his roses, spraying and pruning. Just an excuse to keep an eye on the street. Anyway, if they were spooks, they were also expert in masonry, plumbing and installing central heating. I don’t think MI5 have the resources to double-train their staff in such a way, and if they do, Sherlock has an image problem.
So, spin along to now. Renovating another house in South Yorkshire. No less than 3 Simons were working on the house at overlapping times- 4, if you include ‘office’ Simon (logistics manager at the damp company) making conversations interesting. At one point, I thought one of the Simons was speaking about himself in the 3rd person, when he explained that ‘Simon is just popping to B & Q to buy some more mastik’. He was, of course, relaying a message from another Simon. In the end, we agreed that labelling was essential. Thus, we settled on Damp Simon (oh, the laughs), Simon-the-Roof, Overall-Simon (decorator) and Office Simon. Pete the plasterer (he was really called Pete), brought his own mini-thermos cooker each day, and had some nice soup with his sandwiches. He also had his own kettle, so I had cups of tea from a builder. The world has really changed, and this time, nothing to do with Trumpy-Brexit.
Damp Simon excelled. Whilst waiting for bits and pieces to dry out, he pottered around the house, mending and improving things which annoyed him. He fixed window latches, made and air-vent more secure, and tutted at the poor quality of doors which my project manager had procured. He did, however, approve of the paint he used, so that’s something. He also seemed genuinely interested in the Brexit issue and did a very good job of disguising a yawn as I provided a mini-lecture on judicial review, or - as Simon put it - ‘what the Supreme Court was all about’- if only I had used that as a lecture title when I taught law undergraduates. Damp Simon also owned spaniels and rottweilers, too, so it was in the stars that we would get on just fine, but he never shared his tea or packed lunch with me, so I clearly did not make the grade.
One of the uniting characteristics of builders, globally, is the fear they have of their partners. London Dave had a police siren ring-tone on his mobile, and he only ever interrupted his work to respond to this incoming call, from his wife. Across the world - and this is evidenced based - builders seem terrified of their other halves. One of the wives - a particularly scary-sounding woman -would berate her builder husband if he so much as produced plaster dust anywhere in the house. Given that he was renovating their home in his (not very) spare time, I found that a little unreasonable, but kept my own counsel, as is wise, when on site with builders.
Listen, watch, learn, say nothing, perhaps the spooks are onto something, after all?