FOLLOWING the metrical dictum of
Hillaire Belloc, "It is the duty of the wealthy man to give employment to
the artisan," the Morris household has been engaging the services of
selfless citizens who have placed their energy and skills at our disposal
for the esoteric tasks of roof repair and windows’ replacement.
our little grey home in Edinburgh South has been ringing and shaking to
the sound of breaking glass, the rasp of metal saws, the crash of roofing
debris and the demotic and stentorian cries of the Scottish working man,
who, if all else failed, could make a living calling the cattle home
across the sands of Dee.
A fine, constructive coagulation, who, if they did
not actually sing at their work like the seven minuscule, mountain-core
miners of Disney’s Snow White film classic, went about their tasks with
unremitting vigour and helped to throw doubt on the myth of the criminal
sloth of the working classes.
My wife, considering that
labourers were worthy of more than their hire, offered the lads
non-alcoholic refreshments lest any should swoon because of lack of
sustenance, a provision that was accepted with alacrity.
domestic commissariat swung into action: enough coffee and tea, it seemed,
to float a whitewater raft was dispensed as well as a supply of biscuits
and buns to keep up, when it came to the crunch, the men’s carbohydrates’
Amid the surge and thunder of demolition and
reconstruction, my wife could be heard faintly asking, "Who is coffee,
milk without sugar?", or stating plaintively, "I’m sorry, we’ve run out of
shortbread," and receiving, amid gratitude, the cry of an artisan in his
agony, "Missus, ah telt ye, we only take milk chocolate and the lad
definitely said two teaspoonfuls of sugar."
We didn’t grudge a single
caramel wafer. The crumbs of comfort left to us signified that the men had
arrived on time and completed the work with brisk efficiency.
who used to lurch recklessly in the do-it-yourself minefield and found
that a so-called "easy-to-assemble" product often needed the manual
dexterity of a Swiss watchmaker and the mind of an Einstein, that
interchangeable parts don’t, that products cut to length will be too
short, and that if four screws are needed for the job, the first three
will be easy to find, I have a great respect for skilled craftsmen and
rejoice when they arrive at our house; I’ll amend that - if they arrive.
The non-appearing, disappearing and fervently-promising tradesmen
constitute an enigma of our times. A newspaper advertisement extols the
industry and ability of some toiler willing to undertake household
maintenance or construction jobs so you telephone him.
problem," says an eager-sounding chap, sometimes speaking with children
crying in the background, and promising to be at one’s home at lark rise
or thereabout next day.
Comes the dawn and he either, bafflingly, fails to
turn up or, if he does and takes notes for an estimate to be sent by
return of post, that is likely to be the last you will see of him.
response to an irate telephone call - "Sorry, been out of town; just
posted the estimate; no problem," but after a week of its non-appearance,
hope coughs quietly and dies.
Companies can be as bad, their
rapid-response team of competent craftsmen failing to turn up on time, or
if they do, throwing in the trowel early and failing to return for days,
pleading sickness, domestic upsets and work pressure.
other side of the cement mixer, you can have too many workers with you for
too long. Central heating defects in our house led to workers practically
living there over three months while trying to hammer out the problem and
crack open a solution.
For a time, it was like having an extended family;
we got to know their domestic problems, hopes, fears, zodiac signs and, of
course, their choice from our extempore menu of drinks and snacks, but we
were glad when last orders came and they left our delicate morsels and
paper napkins for work and provender elsewhere.
Meanwhile, our latest lads took the biscuit for a job well done. "A piece
of cake," they told me on leaving: they said a mouthful.