Dad the Builder (Can we fix it?)
Heavens, the dire depths to which a chap can be reduced. Here I sit, on a saw-horse, in the wreck which will soon become the family kitchen, surrounded by perspiring navvies, dressed like an oik and fully prepared to pick up a tool. In the last weeks I have dug several trenches, mastered the mighty pneumatic drill (we pros call it a 'breaker'), laid miles of brick, unloaded three tons of wet sand single-handed and eaten more bacon sandwiches than any man who doesn't drive an eighteen wheeler will consume in a lifetime.
Hard though it may be to believe, there are positive aspects to such ghastliness. I am surrounded by a team of eight handsome, 20 year old Kiwi rugby players who exist only to do my bidding without their shirts, I get to wear a tool belt and a sort of Velcro girdle which, though ostensibly designed to save my back from injury in fact gives me the trim stomach of a 20 Yr old Kiwi. I have learned that Mohammed, my labourer, is not only a fully qualified MBA and fantastic cook but also operated a rocket-propelled grenade in the Bulgarian army.
Killian, a five foot high, 18 stone demolition team, is related by blood to the whole of London's Irish criminal underworld whilst George, the brickie who looks like Omar Sharif and sounds like the Rev.Paisley works like a demon for three days at a time before disappearing for a similar period in a haze of Bushmills and cheap speed.
Ali appears to be related to Mustapha. He weighs about 80lbs and can shift three tons of intractable wet London clay in under an hour while smiling beatifically. He doesn't speak at all except to offer brief sermonettes on the advantages of Western Capitalism, which he appears to have learned by heart and with no comprehension whatsoever.
Mario, the Polish plasterer arrives at work with a thermos full of vodka that he consumes at lunchtime accompanied by two Marks and Spencer microwave beef stews (with dumplings). Before lunch he can create a surface that Michaelangelo would feel unworthy to fresco, after lunch he is a potent force of demolition. His assistant appears to have no name and even less English but is very good at handling his late afternoon fits of mournful weeping.
His compatriot, Mario the sparks, is a brilliant young electrical engineer who is currently ruining his career prospects pursuing English girls and 'Metal Music'. His day is divided equally between constructing an electrical system for the house more complex than the Kennedy Centre and avoiding the attentions of his boss, Ricky, a South African club queen who looks for all the world like Niles Crane in workwear. Ricky (actually, I think he spells it Rikki with a little star over the second 'i' ) is a touch under 4'11" - I know this because I've measured him against Killian.
All this multi-ethnic mŽnage work like slaves and turn out tremendous results bang on time. The only thing holding us up, I regret to report is the only Englishman on the site, Pete, the plumber. This lugubrious Essex midget combines an almost sublime level of laziness with the low cunning of a shithouse rat. His knowledge of health and safety regulation means that almost any condition of working environment is enough to preclude his actually doing any work. Too dark, cold, cluttered, dusty, or late and he downs tools. Travelling in from some benighted hole in Essex he arrives at the site on the dot of noon and immediately sits down for a sumptuous lunch packed by the wife he volubly and repetitively despises. Every seven minutes he stops work for what he refers to as a 'smoko'. Fifteen and a half minutes of concentrated mysoginistic, bigoted winging, through the noxious haze of a hand-rolled fag.
He's a kind of malignant, workshy hobbit. Alf Garnett meets the smurfs. Though he has a certain Alfie Bass costermonger appeal, it only works with the painfully middle class - the Kiwis will have none of it and keep offering to take him out for a kicking on the grounds that he's a 'bludger' who refuses to 'hook into it'.
In case I haven't made it painfully obvious, I'm loving every second of it. Apart from the fact I have developed forearms like a bas-relief Hoplite Olympian it's a thoroughly cathartic experience. My career thus far has involved being paid to lie enthusiastically to other liars to the ennobling end of improving market penetration of polluting or pointless consumer goods. I have probably spent more time and energy feigning enthusiasm against impossible odds than the most raddled and syphilitic harlot that ever drew rank breath. It is, therefore, with joy and relief that I spend days actually making stuff with real people.
Last week, according to her teacher, L told the class that her Father was building her a house. You don't get that sort of feeling from a really kickass Powerpoint presentation on how to sell underarm deodorant to the under 9s by increasing their level of social insecurity.
This is all strangely reminiscent of TE Lawrence who often waxed maudlin about his men even though he'd never be able to mix with them socially outside of the army or the desert. Perhaps the comparison doesn't quite stand up - I've no intention of changing my name and joining the Airforce, let alone paying sailors to beat me.
We're due to move in on the 16th and everyone is very excited. Though the phenomenal kitchen will be completed I've saved two final jobs to complete alone, after the builders have left. The first task will be the library, an entirely book-lined room with fauteuil and broadband wireless. The second will be an outbuilding - a traditional post-and-beam oak hut at the end of the garden for which I've already laid foundations and services.
There will, of course, be a raising ceremony that I'll naturally invite you to attend. I'm having a pair of lemon kid rigger's gloves run up for you as we speak.
Do you want your toolbelt in alligator or ostrich?
Tote that barge, lift that bale etc.