On my first day at Hackney I went to the depot and met two men who I told I’d been sent my Mr Lacy. “Oh, that wax work dummy, at the Town Hall – is he still standing by his office window?” This gave me an understanding of the ‘Them and Us’ atmosphere in Hackney as he was contemptuous of the management. I introduced myself as Mickey Davis the plumber, and Lou Olivo (a swarthy Italian man) shook hands.
“I’m the area foreman, and you’ll be working for me.” Turning to the other man he said, “this is Archie Oats and he’s my charge hand.” The atmosphere seemed very aggressive and it wasn’t a pleasant first meeting but I thought –I’ll give it a go for a couple of days.
“What’s the procedure for working here, I asked?”
“One of my plumbers retired a week ago, so you’re taking his place. “Archie, go and dig Ted out of the basement storeroom and get him up here to meet his new plumber.” Archie was back within a few minutes accompanied by an old skinny white haired man, whose wrinkled face made him look to be about a hundred years old. He was to be my first ‘lad’. “Got your tools with you?”
“Yes I left my general kit just outside, at the back of this hut before I came in.” I replied.
Archie told Ted, “Go get his tools.” Lou went to the back of the hut to a box of papers that were in some sort of alphabetical order. He leafed through them taking one here and one there. When he had about twenty in his hand, he gave them to me. “Ted will show you the ropes. I want you back here at four in case there’s any urgent work.”
Ted and I left the depot and I showed Ted the work tickets. Ted said, “Right, the nearest job is Tower Court, which is down on the left over there.” He handed me the ticket. I read it and below the address was the instruction ‘remedy fault to defective WWP’. “What does WWP mean?” I asked
“It’ll either mean a new diaphragm washer or a ball valve washer.”
“Well where am I going to get the materials for these tickets.”
“Don’t worry about the bits and pieces. There’s loads of stuff saved up at our hideaway, at ‘Craven Close’ – it isn’t far from Tower Court.
“What’s Lou Olivo all about? Is he rude and nasty all the time?”
“Pretty much. So never trust him, he hates everyone especially anyone who disagrees with anything he say’s.”
We entered a smallish brick built building on the Craven Close estate, which was our hidey-hole. I suppose it was storeroom originally for the estates caretaker to keep his buckets, mop and brooms etc. It also had its own toilet, a sink and a large electric metal water urn. to provide clean hot water for washing entrance, floors and communal windows and making tea, of course. However, this cosy little hidey-hole, was filled with plumbing materials – any number of tobacco tins of screws, metal washers, nails, as well as plastic and leather washers. One shelf had rods and other drain clearing tools as well as a hose. “Wow, I said, this looks like Aladdin’s Cave. How long have you had this place?”
“It was here when I first came to work with old Tom Pringle who’s the plumber you’re replacing. So he must have come to an agreement with the caretaker. He provides a store and we prioritise his work tickets. That way the residents get a top rate service and we don’t have to lug gear from the depot.”
I thought this was a great idea and I decided then and there that’s exactly what I would do with my caretakers. I ended up with reciprocal arrangements with about twenty estates in Hackney and got a great reputation for getting jobs done quickly and without too much effort.