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Monday 29 August 2011

The Day They Raised The Roof

I am still on the subject of Painting and Decorating, and will remain so for some time, because I have many stories, dredged from my cerebral hemispheres, which are well worth telling.

This story goes way back to my first sojourn with the trade; long before I met Chris. It was during the early 80s, 1982 to be precise, the year of  The Falkland's War with Argentina, when unemployment here was rife, exceeding three million. Until recently I had been one of them after our company was unceremoniously closed due to cheap and nasty foreign imports.  This was so typical of what was happening across our manufacturing industry and it was the beginning of the demise of many of UK's famous engineering names when company after company was closed down.  Our government did not seem to mind too much and they tried to steer people into service industries which they thought was the answer to our future prosperity - the short sighted fools!  We are still suffering today due to their total mismanagement of our faltering industry and economy.  I had lost my job in middle management and frankly had given up on the job market front after 200 rejections.  I remember getting so fed up with not even getting a single response to any of my applications I telephoned one company and said that since I had not received a reply from them I was assuming no news was good news and therefore I had got the job and what time would they like me to start working on Monday, 8.30 or perhaps 9.00am.  They were highly embarrassed and I received a "No" letter the very next day, delivered by hand. Eventually I decided to work for myself - at least I could not make myself redundant, so I chose to work in something I enjoyed and in which I was very competent - I was always good at DIY and decided to try it.  At the time people were very cruel about the unemployment situation, saying catty remarks like, "I know how to cure the three million unemployed - send them all to the Falklands!".  I almost came to blows a few times with characters saying things like that because I understood what it was like to lose one's job, with a young wife and family, and I had, and still have, every sympathy for decent and honest folk losing their jobs through no fault of their own.  Of course I have no sympathy for scroungers - that is different.

Anyway, enough of all that!  I have a very amusing story for you and it centred on the owners of a local Post Office when they planned to move his elderly mother from her home in London to Bristol so they could look after her.  The house they bought was just four houses up the road from the Post Office, the proprietors who owned and lived in accomodation over their shop.  I imagine they had arranged the sale of his mother's house to finance her new house.  I had placed a small advertisement in a local newspaper and a few days later and I was delighted to receive a phone call asking me if I would view a job and provide a quotation for painting and decoration the entire interior and all the external paintwork. It was a huge job and I quoted as requested and to add to the list they wanted also someone to paint the outside woodwork of the Post Office.  I left them with the quotation and the next week they asked if I would mind sharing the work because they had a very tight time table and there was too much for one person to achieve the deadline.  I did not mind at all so two weeks later I set off with my ladder and equipment - I was doing the external paintwork.

When I arrived I was amazed!  There was a chap installing a kitchen and he seemed to be doing all the co-ordinating, if you could call it that.  There was absolute chaos prevailing everywhere.  Two guys were doing the internal painting and decorating and there was also an electrician and a plumber. We all seemed to get on OK but we did get in each other's way a lot - in fact on occasions we literally fell over each other.  There was a huge clash between me and the internal painters because whenever I opened a sash window from the outside they moaned I had spoilt their paintwork and whenever I completed my painting of windows a grubby pair of hands invariably opened the window from the inside and ruined my work, particularly new putty work. Tempers flared on occasions and the kitchen fitter, being by far the worst culprit, constantly caused copious amounts of sawdust to fly from his work by the bucket load all over the internal decorators' new paintwork, causing them to utter long phrases in very strong language which was certainly not in "The Queen's English" and invariably punctuated with a generous supply of adjectives, not appearing in any recognised or authorised dictionary.  His response was usually just two words illustrated by two fingers! which almost caused a serious fight on several occasions.

Prior to starting my self employment I was receiving unemployment benefit, known as 'being on the dole', but because I had started self employment work I signed off.  During my visit I was amazed to see three people I knew queuing for their unemployment benefit (dole money) . . . . . and yes, you've guessed it, they were non other than our two internal painters AND the kitchen fitter.  When they saw me they gestured me to 'keep mum' about it so they did not get into trouble.  I duly obliged.

After a frustrating week all the upstairs work was done and I must say the chaps had made a lovely job of the internal decorations.  I made good progress also and after a few more days we all had finished with the exception of the kitchen fitter who seemed to be making a big meal of the job.

But what should we see that very afternoon?  A fellow called round to work in the roof and his job was to, you're not going to believe this, jack up the roof because it was sagging.  Stone the timbers!!!  What a time to do that!!!  Who the hell arranged the work sequence - it was a disaster!!  He went into the roof and jacked it up, inserting extra supports to straighten the sagging roof.  It creaked and it groaned and outside we could actually see the ridge moving upwards.  Surely this should have been done first!!  We were all horrified, including the owners, because all the decorations were ruined 3 inches from ceiling down the walls and the ceilings and top of the walls were cracked.  The owners 'did their nuts', as we say, because time was at a premium and his mother was due to move in early next week - it all had to be ready for her.  We all put our heads together and came up with a solution and that was to add plaster coving to cover the damage and to repair the ceiling cracks. The decorators rubbed their hands with glee because they would earn extra money for the additional work and repairs. Adding the coving worked and it all looked fine a few days later. By now I was working at the Post Office but I popped round regularly to see how things were progressing.  Once I arrived to see the mother's entrance to her new home. In my mind I was humming Handel's "The Arrival Of The Queen Of Sheba". We were all expecting to hear sounds of appreciation and see big smiles but . . . . . . instead she flew into a violent rage, saying she did not like the house, did not like the decorations, did not like the 'small' rooms, did not like the kitchen or the bathroom or the garden and she did not like any of us.  She demanded to be taken back to her house in London.  Methinks the lady did protest too much LOL.  Hell certainly did not have fury like this woman's scorn.  I felt really sorry for the Post Office proprietors.

I am not sure how it all panned out because that was our last day.  I often wondered but never plucked up the courage to see the Post Office proprietor to ask him but I sometimes think about it and have a chuckle.  I also often wonder what became of my dubious work colleagues whose names escape me after 29 years, and whether they were ever caught by the authorities for falsely claiming unemployment benefit, Shhh!.

I'd like to invite my wonderful followers and readers to a virtual Labor Day BBQ  over at my dear friend, Karen G.'s blog. It starts now and will continue through the 3 day weekend. Why not visit  and meet some new bloggers and get a bunch of new followers. Oh, and don't forget to take some BBQ treats along with you. Don't miss it!

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Confused Stan Gets The Cheque Wrong . . . . and Wrong . . . . and Wrong

Chris and I had been working for a dear old gentleman called Stan. He was in his early 90s and was very pleasant and loved our company, which he had for several days while we decorated his kitchen and hall.  It was a complete paint and wall papering job and I hope it brightened up his life.

I remember Stan well because he loved discussing theology, which is an interest of mine, and although he went to church regularly he had difficulty fully believing the whole New Testament, let alone the Old Testament.  He was searching for proof in secular fields and said he would be a full believer if he could find irrefutable evidence. I don't envy his job because I suspect none exist outside The Bible. As I write this short story, I do hope Stan found the answer to his doubts.  Anyway, we completed the job, he was satisfied, and it was time for payment.

Chris and I were particularly lucky because in the 15 years we worked together we never once had a problem with a payment - they all paid 'on the nail', even the lottery winners.  We presented the invoice to Stan and the amount was for £813.  He pulled out his chequebook and wrote a cheque and, bless his heart, the amount was £8.13 LOL.  We pointed out that although we were highly competitive we would soon starve.  He roared with laughter when he saw his mistake and promptly wrote another cheque, this time for £8,130.  Goodness!! our boat had really come in!!!  We laughed and laughed and pointed out that this was extremely generous of him but we did not intend buting a villa in the Maldives this year or purchase a cabin cruiser.  He roared with laughter again when we pointed out his mistake and promptly wrote out another cheque for £813 and handed it to us.

"Thank you, Stan", we said, "but hang on a minute, there is another mistake!"  By now tears of laughter were rolling down our faces because we discovered he dated it with last year's date. "Oh! Lawdy me!" - poor chap!

He handed over the book and asked Chris to write it. With the correct amount and date we thanked him and bade him goodbye.  And that was the last I saw of him but I heard six months later he had died.

We got quite close to several of our elderly customers and we were always sad when they departed, but I shall always remember Stan for his discussions and his cheques.

Monday 15 August 2011

Working For Some Strange Lottery Winners

Yes, you read correctly!  Chris and I once worked for a very weird couple who had the good fortune to win £5.7 million. Let us call them Mr and Mrs Y, partly because I keep asking myself, "Why oh why of all people did fate dictate these two should win?  This was a huge win 15 years ago and the trouble was that this couple were completely incapable of dealing with it.  Prior to their new found wealth they had both worked as cleaners for a large factory and they were so hard up they actually borrowed money from a friend to pay their gas bill.  Then suddenly, whoosh! . . . . a cool £5.7 million.  They actually bought the friend a small flat in gratitude and at least I give them credit for this rather rare act of decency.

Whereas most of us would try to avoid making a complete lifestyle change if we were fortunate to win a large sum of money, these two went out of their way to change every single facet of their lives, almost immediately.  The first thing they did was to buy a top of range Mercedes car but since neither could drive they persuaded her brother to chuck in his good full time job so he could be their full time chauffeur.  The silly man accepted and today lives to regret this decision. He was bored to tears for most of the day because he was not required to drive them often and there are only so many times you can clean and valet the car.  So he just stood around for most of the time, awaiting instructions  - poor thing.

After a few false housing starts where they always succeeded in upsetting neighbours with their unreasonable behaviour, they bought a big isolated house - much too big - there were only two of them in a 20 bedroom house which we thought was ridiculous.  Imagine it! All the family grown up!  Grandchildren grown up!  No friends! No parties!  They were incapable of entertaining guests!  Just them there and all alone in this huge house. Then they proceeded to have the whole thing decorated, a new roof, new wooden windows throughout, extensive garden alterations and installation of a gymnasium, which they never used.  They chose to renew the roof during the winter and, surprise, surprise, rain water came flooding inside, ruining existing plaster coving and decorations to this lovely grade two listed building.  Then we noticed that a taxi proprietor was actually commissioned to replace the roof. They also employed a gardener to cut down thirty beautiful trees, once providing an elegant lining to both sides of their drive. They had two tennis courts, never used, and their total interest in the garden appeared to be starting a vegetable garden, growing runner beans, peas and potatoes.  We had to laugh because these vegetables are so cheap in supermarkets that even I don't bother to grow anything these days. They had a wonderful opportunity to do something interesting to develop their lives, like learning to drive and attending courses which might later provide interesting hobbies and some purpose in their lives, and perhaps to use their wealth to help people.  I, for example, would learn to fly small propeller aircraft and perhaps get involved in a gliding club, and get involved in charity work.  Instead they seemed totally preoccupied with security even though there was a large electrically operated wrought iron gate as the only way in.  How on earth are the unsavoury characters suppose to get in? Grappling hooks!  Parachutes! . . . . and how do they imagine they are going to get out with all their tatty belongings, even if they had any commercial value?  There were CT cameras all over the place - blooming heck, the place was surrounded by a 20ft high stone wall.  Who needs all that security?  We were once totally baffled at the response we got from Mr Y when we knocked on the back door.  We were greeted with a raised clenched fist about to strike us - perhaps he thought we were burglars and perhaps he requires the services of SpecSavers.  He displayed equally totally weird behaviour many times and it was difficult to get any reasonable conversation out of any of them, except the brother.

Mr and Mrs Y were virtual prisoners inside their own home and their 20 acres of land.  They had absolutely no sense of humour and he rapidly became addicted to horse racing and started telephone betting to the bookies, heavily.  He began losing large amounts of money - one afternoon he lost £250,000, would you believe?  £250,000! my word, that could help a few people, couldn't it?  This betting we thought was very paradoxical because during our first meeting with them they openly stated they intended never to help any of their grown up children financially - none of them got a single penny.  Truly amazing!  They fell out with the bank, then another bank.  Then they fell out with the roofer/taxi entrepreneur.  Then the cleaners, then the gardeners . . . . . . an so on.  Not very nice people and they preferred to lose money on horses rather than help their own kids.  The mind boggles.

Chris and I were invited to quote for the decorative work plus painting the new wooden windows. This was a large job and we had to re-schedule some of our regular work to accommodate it.  Our first project was to decorate the 'Wedgewood Room' - they had some plaster Wedgwood designs on the walls and we were to paint the rest of the room.  Honestly it looked dreadful! Not our painting, but the overall effect which looked sheer tat.  Next was the 'Italian Room', of equal ill taste and providing a very cheap and nasty effect. And so we worked gradually through the rooms and then started the windows. 

They did go abroad for a week and brought back some statues for the garden - all utter tat!  Who wants Grecian gods and goddesses in their garden?  First, there was the armless Aphrodite showing all she had, except her arms.  Funny this Grecian female is always denied arms - anyone know why? Then they had Apollo in all his glory, including arms and showing us his 'credentials'.  Here he is, just like the statue they bought.
One evening Chris and I played a little joke.  We placed a breathing mask over Apollo's important little place. Well we didn't want to see the cats embarrassed. did we? The mask fitted perfectly!  Next morning we were greeted by two stony faces - obviously not amused.  Honestly, these two had no sense of humour whatsoever.  From that day on their attitude was cool towards us and things cooled further when they asked us if we could devote a year to them to decorate the entire house.  We had to decline because we pointed out to them we had other customers and work was already scheduled.  We explained we could not risk losing our existing customers but could return when we were free and do their work in stages.  They did not like it and cooled off completely.  We walked away after completing the next phase.  It was the same with the builder - they wanted to take him over too but he declined and left quickly. 

What became of them?  A carpet fitter friend we know said they have separated - he has gambled away ALL his share and lives in a house in which we would not want to live - in total squalor.  She has moved three times after selling the mansion, each time upsetting neighbours. Now in my book these people were privilaged individuals to have been awarded so much money - they had a duty and a responsibility to themselves and to others to make the most of it, and they blew it! - in more ways than one. They could have helped a few people and their children and they didn't!  I think when they end up 'upstairs' they may face questions about this.

And what about the brother/chauffeur?  Poor chap lost his job and he could not return to it - we are not sure what happened to him.  We liked him and do hope he managed to repair his life.

What strange people we met during our Painting and Decorating days - and I have some more for you..

Sunday 7 August 2011

Eddie, Help! I'm Stuck! There's No Toilet Paper!!

With a title like this - it can only be a continuation of my Painting and Decorating experiences.  The gentleman uttering these panic stricken-words, "Eddie, help! I'm stuck! There's no toilet paper!" was Ron, who is a very large man who sometimes used to help Chris and I with our decorating jobs.  I have no photo of him so I am using this elephant because:
a) It is large like him.
b) He is keeping his trunk crossed that Eddie can find him some toilet paper.
c) An elephant never forgets so it is to remind us always to have sufficient toilet paper with us at all times so we don't make an ass of ourselves.

Ron is a retired British Rail engineer and he loved being with us on our decorating ventures. He loved the work, the comradeship, the leg pulling and general excitement - he got a real buzz from it all.  He was extremely enthusiastic with a brush and a roller, so much so we could let him loose on just a few jobs where the resultant mess on the floor was not too much of an issue, being at pre-carpeting stage.  He went at his work with such gusto that paint was sprayed everywhere in addition to the surface on which he was working. His hair, face and work clothes were rapidly covered, in whatever paint he was using, invariably brilliant white ceiling paint, and he very often looked like we had somehow used him as a brush because his hair stood on end, saturated in paint, often resembling a toilet brush.  I have never seen a paint roller move so fast over the ceiling and whereas Chris and I always loaded the roller with paint to apply a thick coat of emulsion with a slow and deliberate roller action, Ron's technique was something to behold. He loaded the roller from the tray, lifted the dripping roller to the ceiling and rapidly whizzed the roller squeezing it hard and covering the same area time and time again so very little paint actually stuck to the ceiling, yet paint was sprayed in copious amounts everywhere else. He was rapidly covered from head to toe. He then waited for the paint to dry (but not long enough) and proceeded to apply a second coat with equal abandon.  We did not have the heart to 'have a go at him' but explained our technique to him time and time again with little or no apparent success.  On one occasion he made a very good job applying a coat of coloured acrylic eggshell to a bathroom wall and when we complimented him on his success he immediately got his roller out and went hell for leather over the same wall and promptly ruined it.

Anyway on this occasion Ron was helping us to prepare some flats for a good customer of mine and Chris and I were a bit pushed so we asked Fred for some assistance.  It was late, Chris had gone home, and Ron and I were just finishing something off before Ron 'took short' and headed off to the toilet.  After a while I heard a rather embarrassed voice saying, "Eddie, I'm in a spot of bother here! There is no toilet paper! Can you find any out there?".  It is on such occasions that if anyone says that to us we acquire a sudden sense of superiority LOL.  They are completely at our mercy - I am sure we have all been in that situation. I replied, smiling to myself,  "Sorry Ron, looks as though you're in trouble in there 'cause there is nothing out here and the shops are all shut and we are miles from anywhere!".  "God, what do I do?", grumbled Ron.  I said I would have a good look round and after a while I shouted. "I have some good news and some bad news!  First the good news, I have found some newspapers.  Would you like 'The Financial Times' or 'The Guardian'"  "I don't care! Either, Eddie, pass them both and what's the bad news?"  "The print is smudged on both and there's not much of it!".  Anyway I handed them through the door and left him to it. He seemed slightly irritated when I asked him if he'd managed to do the crossword - then I heard a rustling of paper. Smiling to myself, after a few minutes I heard some swearing, culminating with Ron complaining, "Hell! my finger's gone through and there's print everywhere!".  "Hang on a minute!" I said, trying not to laugh, "I'll have another look . . . . . wait I've found something else!  Yes, I have some good news and some bad news for you!  First the good news.  I've found some wallpaper.  Now the bad news, it's ready pasted!". "Oh Hell!"

That did the trick, eventually, as a temporary measure I would imagine.
Anyway the moral of the story was that from that day onwards we always made sure we had a couple of rolls with us at all times.

Ron was, and is, a great character and I shall be recalling some other funny experiences when we shared his delightful company.