When I started work at Hackney Council I quickly realised I was a cog in a big wheel. Lou Olivo, the area foreman, was pig ignorant, arrogant, and annoying to anyone at a lesser grade than him. We were trash, to be bullied if he got the chance. Well he didn’t with me. During my second week in the wooden hut, laughably called a depot, I asked for more job tickets.
“Oh, you’re some sort of flash git,” he said. “OK snake hips,” he rummaged in his paperwork and pulled out a few more tickets. “Get over to Castlewood Road and fix the problem with their bog.” He rammed the job ticket at me.
“What’s all that about?” I asked Ted Carter my mate.
“Take no notice. That ticket has been punted to every plumber for at least six months and none of them has cured that leak.” At the house a nice old Jewish couple explained that every time they flushed their toilet, water seeped out of the cement at the base of the pan.
“Well that can’t be a hard job. It’s either cracked pan or a defective drain.” I hadn’t seen that type of pan before but it looked normal, with a very old wooden seat extending from one wall to the other.
My lad got my hammer and chisel as there was a noticeable crack in the base. That was clearly the cause of the problem but replacing the pan was a separate problem.
I didn’t bother asking Lou Olivo for a remedy but he contacted the plumbing supervisor, Bob Patmore, who came to see me. “That’s a cottage pan. It’s probably two hundred years old,” he said. “The best technique is to chip the cement down to the drain and replace with a new ‘two piece pan’.” A two piece pan was unique to me as I’d never even seen one never mind fitted one.
I returned to the depot, to order the materials which was a ‘two pieces Trap’pan, two bags of prompt cement, a new seat and flap as well as a rubber cone and copper wire. Lou Olivo, had obviously never ordered a two piece pan, and made disparaging remarks about this. “You do know what you’re talking about?” The next day I fitted the new pan within three hours as good as new.
I thought on the way back to the depot, this job is OK, I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder, I can basically pick and choose my jobs. The people of Hackney are nice, and the work is what I make of it. It was encouraging to know that Bob Patmore really knew the trade and was ready and willing to give advice. Thereafter, Olivo was more reasonable but basically still a nasty arrogant bastard.
Olivio redeemed himself when I did a burst pipe job in Portland Avenue. It was a straight-forward leak to a lead pipe but the house was divided with the upper floor separate from the ground floor and basement. The downstairs tenant refused me access to the stopcock in the basement. I was shocked when she told me why she’d refused, “her upstairs has got Cancer, and I’m not letting you bring her germs into my flat!” I told Lou Olivo that I had to get into the basement to isolate the water main Reluctantly giving him credit he laid down the law with the tenant. He told her he would see to it that her flat was repossessed and she would be evicted if she continued to deny entry. Needless to relate I was allowed access. The job took thirty minutes and I had no problems restoring the whole house with its water supply.