I am a what was known as a time served joiner. I served a traditional apprenticeship that doesn’t exist anymore. I’ve worked in the building trade for coming on 30 years and have been involved in all areas of that industry. The reason I include this is, a number of these stories are based upon those experiences during that time. I’ve spoken to some people over the period I began writing this blog and they don’t actually seem to understand.
They’re all true stories.
All these stories, all those people and situations that I’ve written about, are folk I’ve come into contact with over the span of years I’ve been in this job. From fitting out bars and clubs, to shuttering foundations and sub structures of large industrial buildings, to manufacturing items on the bench or on site, there has always been a rich variety of characters involved in this area that I’ve wanted to remember by writing about them. Generally I change their name or the area where I worked more to protect their dignity. But on the whole, the aim of this blog is to share the ridiculous, and satirical situations that have arisen and the people involved I worked with or for.
And I found it was only as I started writing about those situations that I began remembering things that I had long forgotten, things that sprang back into my mind by pure association of each given story.
Because, as I was shocked to discover, the passage of time does funny things to your memory and incidents you could never imagine forgetting at the time, well, you do. So I decided to write them down.
Considering how my memory stands at the moment, if I go any further down this road I’ll have forgotten how to tie my own laces 10 minutes from now, never mind recall what happened 30 years ago.
This particular job that I worked on involved removing entrance doors and frames and replacing with new, in a renovation drive on a council estate. On the whole any job can be a mundane run of the mill routine. But every now and then things happen that you simply wish you couldn’t, recall.
In this instance I found myself looking down at my pencil lying in a puddle on the vinyl covered floor of this particular kitchen. The floor covering ended in a neat line across the threshold of the entrance to the outside step, bare concrete now exposed where minutes before the door-frame had sat. I’d only noticed the water after I had removed the frame and was now staring at it thinking it was a good job it was being replaced because the rain had obviously been driving in under the cill.
I had been working on this site for a coupe of months and generally it was a straight forward job. Go to the compound, prep a door and frame, have it sent out to the house in question, remove the existing door and frame and refit the new. Back to the compound and prep the door and frame for tomorrows address.
The only thing that varied was the type of house, or the attitude of the occupants that lived in them.
You would generally turn up and be met with a cheery cup of tea and be pestered every hour or so to see if you wanted a top up. After all, these people were having their house maintained and renovated for free. The sensible tenants recognized this and were welcoming and accommodating due to what they were gaining. Don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t expecting a rapturous welcome. Any disruption or upheaval can be an irritant when you’re trying to live your life.
But there were always those that saw you as a target for their dissatisfaction or as an opportunity to benefit from the disruption and use it to abuse the system. It wasn’t beyond some tenants to claim you had damaged wall-paper as you carried tools through the property, or to take a finger to the mastic around the newly-fitted door-frame and rub it in the carpet. All aimed at getting the council to replace the damaged area with new.
So you tended to be wary all the time.
Then there was the sheer state of some homes.
Take the middle aged lady whose house I turned up at to change her back door. Seeing the curtains still drawn, I heaved a sigh and began some prolonged knocking. With the door and frame prepped and stood up outside the house, I went back to the van and made a call to the office.
“Yeah. S’me. Same again.”
“Yeah. They’re waving me in with a cup of tea. That’s why I’m phoning you…”
knock a bit more.
“Knock a bit more? My arms gone numb. They’re still in bloody bed mate!”
Just a bit more
“You did let them know I was coming?”
Yeah. Give ’em 10 minutes
“Jesus. Bollocks to that. Bell ’em. Wake ’em up for fucks sake!”
Just hang around for 5 more
“Listen. Pal. If I hang around for 2 more, I’ll be doing it on my way home.”
Okaaaay. Calling now
“Thanks. At-fucking-last. I’m sat outside the house here mate – the door’s ready to go in. Just Like I will be, in one and a half and counting..”
There would then follow a call from the office to the residence in question, which I would be able to hear ringing from outside the house. The ringing would stop, the curtains would twitch and I would head back to the door to knock again because now, I knew, someone was finally up.
I would then hear the drumming of feet coming down the stairs. The carrying noise of steps and echoing ringing tone when the phone rang answered early questions about the house. It would give you an clue towards of the state of the interior then and there. Initally you had begun to draw conclusions of what the resident was like just by the fact that they were still in bed. The sound those steps made as they came down the stairs would help you draw another.
Bolts would slide, locks unlock and the door would be opened a crack, and a waft of weed proceeded a skinny face, as this lady peered out, squinting against the light like it was something she was unaccustomed to. Beyond through the small gap I could see an absence of carpet, bare boards enhancing the sound of steps and giving the ringing phone that echoey sound.
“You not s’posed to be here till tomorrow! Tuesday!! They said you were coming Tues-Day!!!”
The enunciation on the word Tuesday was becoming more pronounced.
“This isn’t TUES-DAYYYY you know. Its MON-DAYYYYYY. Typical council.”
(It’s going to be fucking next week at this rate I’d be thinking)
Yes love I know. Today is, Tues-Day. I think you’ve gotten your dates mixed up. Your doors being done today. Could you open the back door so I can start taking it out? Cheers I’ll just head round there..”
What followed then would be The Moment Of Trepidation.
If the house had a dog, (if they did it was unusual if it wasn’t a Staffordshire Bull Terrier) the steps around to the back of the house were taken like dead-man-walking. Slowly walking round preparing for what the back garden may look like. If the house wasn’t well looked after, the dog was usually left to its own devices at the rear. And it was like walking through a mine field of dog deposits up to the back door. Then you would have to argue that you weren’t prepared to work at the address until it was cleaned up.
The other problem at some houses was the sheer smell as you walked in to plug into a power source. As I found out at this particular venue.
The woman opened the rear door and held it open for me, drawing deeply on a cigarette that visibly shrank as she did so and ash falling from the tip to the floor. She stood with the door in hand, ciggy hanging from her lips, eyebrows arched over her glasses in obvious distaste that I had disturbed her, while I thanked her and squeezed past into the kitchen, trying to ignore the dirty lino on the floor, the overloaded cat litter tray, the stack of unwashed pots, the un-eaten take-away food and boxes left lying around the kitchen work-tops, abandoned at different stages of consumption.
Placing the transformer on the floor I bent down to plug it into the socket. This took moments so that by the time I straightened I only then had an opportunity to take a deeper breath.
Its hard to describe really what happens in those situations. I’m not saying it smelt this way but the closest I can come to what hit me then is by comparing it to almost taking a mouthful of sour milk. You know? If you’ve actually gotten to the point where you have taken a bottle of milk, removed the lid and lifted it to your lips to take a swallow. And as you almost, almost tip the milk into your mouth you feel the lumpy bits of milk tumbling around the bottle an instant before the smell pours up your nostrils.
And the only thing you can do is turn, retching in any direction, trying to distance your self from that smell, holding it as far away from your body as possible but unable to stop retching long enough to put it down while frantically trying not to spill it.
Imagine that texture in your nose, with your stomach rolling and bucking, eyes watering while still bent over double, dry heaving, unable to get out of your mind the realization of how close you came to putting that cottagey-cheesy liquid- almost -solid, in your mouth and swallowing it..
As the smell in the kitchen hit me, I managed to stumble past the woman into the garden. Bent over heaving, then trying to stand straight only for another dry retch to roll out, and have me lurching forwards. And the woman stood there, in the doorway. Oblivious to the smell now rolling out from the entrance, the open door drawing it out into the garden, while she watched me, cigarette hanging from her lip forgotten, looking at me like I was a lunatic.
“You alright lovey?”
She threw out to me.
“Yeah – urrrrrgh! Yep just giz a – UUUUUUUUUUUrrrgggggg!! – minute! Not been – uuurrrrGGHHHH! – too well last couple of – UUURRRGGGGHHHHHHHH – days.”
I offered, heaving over my knees, trying not to embarrass her over the effect the state of her house had had on me.
Only to raise my head to see her clutching the door like a shield, and sputtering over her ciggie,
“Ere! We don’t want you passing the bloody lurgy in this house you know!!”
The only other house I came across a similar situation was sometime later when I became a bit wiser to the problem. When I arrived at that address with a work mate I first took note of the direction the wind was blowing. As there were two of us working on the property, one would refit the front and the other would fit the back. The wind would blow what smell there was straight through the house to which ever side it was heading. Being first to the door I automatically claimed the rear entrance for myself, as the wind was blowing from that side. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with the property at first glance, it was just that you learned from experience then made damn sure you avoided being in the same situation again given half the chance.
Today was a good day to get that right.
An old man dressed in dirty sweat shirt and filthy saggy track-suit bottoms answered the door.
“‘Allo son. You ‘ere to do the doors?”
“Aye mate. Can you open the back door up and I’ll pop round that side and this lad will stay and do the front.”
“Yep, no problem lad.”
During this the odor – particularly bad I might add – had been drifting out through the door-way so that I was gradually leaning off to one side to nonchalantly, to avoid the smell. All this had been noticed by my work-mate, unloading the van, who as I turned smugly back to face, let his head tip back and shoulders slump as he looked to the heavens in resignation.
It didn’t take long to remove the rear door and frame which only exposed the filthy kitchen area and enabled the wind to blow the odour with more conviction through the house to the open front door.
Where I could hear the dry heaves of my friend.
My happiness was momentarily disrupted by the appearance of the old man who said,
“Cuppa tea son?”
I took a second look around the kitchen and hurriedly replied,
“No! No. No-thanks mate. Not long had one and the clocks ticking. Need to get done and away. You Know what these gaffers are like.”
“Yeah. Bastards the lot of ’em! Well, don’t mind if I have one me-self.”
And he turned his back on me and began rummaging through the dirty work top, covered in stuff.
I watched him as he went through jars and cupboards – everything had a greasy dirty sheen – looking for what ever he was searching for. Until he finally opened a lower cupboard, pulling the door wide enough to see in. And he leant over, that slow old man gesture, hands on knees, arse up and bending slowly. It was as he lowered his head into the cupboard and stuck his arse end out, my eyes followed his stiff movements, that he exposed everything to me.
As he leaned into the cupboard and his be-hind pointed out towards me the huge hole in the rear end of his saggy track-suit bottoms became visible. And as he went lower a pair of saggy, old-man-balls, dropped out the split, followed by the over exposure of his narrow arse cheeks, spread, spread, spreading and…well. It wasn’t a pretty sight.
If ever, ever there could be a time to be struck blind, then that was it. I leapt away from the view sucking in deep breaths, marching round the small garden Hrumping, hands on hips, asking God what I’d done to deserve this job. And all I could hear in the back-ground was my work mate at the front door throwing out odd heaves, still dealing with the smell, while I tried to regain some composure, wishing I’d taken that fucking spot now.
As I turned back to the house the old fella leaning out of the back door with a cheery smile, two cups in hand saying,
“You sure you don’t want a nice cuppa of tea son?”
But finally, back to staring at the pencil lying in the wet patch.
Fortunately, the only way this house was similar to the other two was that it wasn’t clean.
Although it was dirty – every work surface was stacked with something in various states, plates, cups, oil cans(?) and I kid you not, car tyres – all taking up any available space so it was hard to imagine any food preparation taking place. The godsend was, it didn’t have the terrible smell that emanated from the previous two.
I’d picked the pencil up and was stood chewing it, contemplating where the rain had worked under the door-frame into the kitchen and wondering how people live this way.
“I’ve had to have a day off for you to do this you know. From work!”
Was what was thrown at me as I stood there looking at the floor.
I looked into the kitchen to see a very short 5 foot nothing, block of a woman, hands on hip, a look of dissatisfaction on her jowly face.
“Oh yeah? (Chewchew) Well look at it this way love. (Chew) Your getting a brand-new back door for free! (Chewchew)Its a win-win situation when you think what it would have cost you if you had to pay for it. (Chew)Yes?(Chewchewchew)”
“Aye, well. It’s still a pain in the bloody arse. Look at the bloody mess on me floor.(!!)”
I took a long sidelong look at the kitchen, then raised my eyes back to the woman.
“Well, its happened at the right time surely? Look here.”
(Gesticulating with pencil)
“You can even see where the rain has been driving under the door frame. I’m fitting you a new door! So it’s going to solve that problem straight off!”
“No love. I doubt that’ll do any good for that problem.”
“Oh. You do?”
I asked, resting the pencil on my lip contemplating the implication and slightly offended that she was questioning my workmanship.
“Aye. I do.”
“Because that’s where the dog has a piss every morning.”
I spat the pencil at her.
Believe it or not, and this is Gods truth, it turned out the place she had taken a day off work from was the local hospital. I know this because I asked her. She worked on days on the same ward where my wife worked as a nurse.
She was a domestic.