Better Dream

Prior to the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974) tradesmen like me, would regularly work at weekends or night-time after our days normal work. This was universally recognised as “custom and practice” and although it was appreciated that working in the building trades whilst tired was dangerous, to me with four children, a wife and rent to pay for there was just no alternative. Over seven or eight months of working seven days a week I was used to graft and had even saved enough for the wife to book a holiday for the whole family, which I hated as it was an expensive waste of my time.

On returning to work one of my friends B.B. another plumber said “do you fancy doing a P.J. (Private Job) with me, a partial new roof renewal, on a car parts shop, off of Lea Bridge Road?” I didn’t take more than a minute to say “OK, did you price the job and what are the details?” “Yes” he said “I have provisionally quoted two hundred to two fifty but the price can be revised after you have seen the job, the only thing is, the roof is leaking badly every time it rains, so the shop owner is more than a bit desperate!”

After work, that same evening, we went to the shop. Up two flights of stairs we entered a cluttered room with engine parts and body panels – where the owner pointed to the ceiling showing a large patch of bare wet laths bereft of the plaster coat that once covered their naked ribs. Fortunately, because I had not brought a ladder with us, the room had a dormer window overlooking the street. Without any difficulty, in minutes, I had clambered through the window, up the eight by twelve slates up to the “hip ridges north, and east. However between them running north to south was a wide valley zinc gutter running down to a box chute into a rain water hopper head. On closer inspection of the zinc, it was obvious that it had come to its natural end. Zinc cladding has a life of about twenty five years and this one seemed to be beyond that where some cowboy had buttered it up with hessian and bitumen paint. This showed me the owner of the shop was well aware that his roof was a problem long before he had asked B.B. to quote for a professional replacement. I quickly mentally calculated that the work would need five eight by four sheets of eighteen gauge zinc plus the slates ripped on either side of the valley as well as any ply boarding that might need replacing after I had exposed the damage. I also knew the work would take two of us at least two days of hard work to complete.

Although I wanted the job, I also knew that B.Bs. estimate was well under a proper price. So in swinging back through the dormer window about fifteen minutes later I had my price firmly decided in my head. The shop owner looked both eager and apprehensive, as he asked “well”. With my best, bland, roofers face on I said “No thanks mate, you might do better to get the cowboy back who conned you whenever, when you had that leak last treated and squeeze his bollocks until he does a proper job!” “Oh” he said” “that was a mate of a mate of mine, who said I would have no more worries, for ten years”.

I laughed, and said “when was that then, how much did you weigh out”? “About three months ago at ninety quid” he replied. “OK. The bottom line mate, is I will take it on, this next weekend, but my cost will be five hundred, take it or leave it.” That weekend, I remembered to chuck my old stick of French chalk into my tool bag, and with the zinc sheets as well as my slate rip and double sixteen ladders, after chalking both left and right slates with the appropriate position numbers, the old zinc was out within twenty minutes and I was pleased to see that the wooden sub-frame was not so rotten, that it needed replacing.

From seven thirty that Saturday morning we worked until seven thirty night and through from seven thirty the next day we grafted under that hot weekend sun, we sweated buckets, finished by four that day and cleared away at five after an hour. After chucking the ladders on my roof rack and B.B. stashing the scrap zinc in the boot of his car – we split after I had paid him two hundred quid. Well I had to pay for the sheets of zinc and the clout nails for re-bedding the slates.

I was dog tired that Sunday night and fell asleep in front of “The Professionals.”


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