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IN THE LIFE OF A
“LIVING ON THE PREMISES”
This article is not intended to be a factual
minute by minute resume of events. It is, however, based on events
that have happened to me.
by Len Ball
I know there must be many proprietors
or even employees of small roofing and indeed many other
building related businesses who I hope will understand and
can identify with some of the types of problems that we can
all encounter in our day to day businesses. The article is
intended to be light hearted and amusing even if based on
true situations. I hope the reader enjoys reading it as much
as I have enjoyed writing it. J.J. Ball
7AM. on a winters morning.
Thank God it’s time to get up. Didn’t sleep a
wink all night. Rain pelting off the tin roof of the lath
store. Those hip ridges we bedded with sand and cement yesterday
afternoon, just got the job finished, ladders down and tidied
up before the rain came on. 50° pitch roof, natural slates,
what a mess that lot will be in.
Were the planks tied on the scaffold on Jon’s Job?
What about the job Len and his squad felted and fly lathed,
at least 18 miles away, but I could swear I heard the felt
flapping till it tears.
Don’t want to disturb Angeline, the missus. I recall,
as I got into bed, she told me she had a headache. Might
be able to get my corn flakes before the phone starts ringing.
The phone goes. It’s an old lady from the other side
of town, she says she is a friend of a friend and she knows
we will help her, she heard a bump in the night, there’s
water coming in through the ceiling rose and dripping off
the light bulb and the electricity has gone off. Could I
please come round first thing or even send someone? She’s
afraid of the house catching fire via the electrical system.
I jest to her that the rain would probably put it out but
she doesn’t think it’s at all funny and begins
to cry. She easily persuades me into promising that I will
call round as soon as possible (when it stops raining).
One of the boys rings up to tell me the battery is flat in
his car and it won’t start and he wants to know what
I can do about it. On hearing my suggestion re his battery
and his car he retorts that if that’s the way I want
it he will just go back to bed. I’m part way through
the cornflakes what the postman arrives. He won’t
get out of the van because the dogs are out so he blasts
the van horn and I have to run out into the rain with a
donkey jacket over my pajamas (haven’t
had time to get my clothes on yet) and my feet half into
a pair of heavy safety work boots. Postman Pat smiles and
bids me good morning as he pushes a bundle of mail through
his very slightly open van window while the dogs playfully
chew the lower leg of my pajamas.
I run back in, sorting the mail as I go. I push aside all
the envelopes with windows, throw an assortment of mail
from computer firms, mail order businesses, newspaper bingo
cards and the like into the bin and I am so eager to open
the only interesting one, that as I tear a strip along
the edge of it I neatly tear a half inch strip off the
bottom of the only cheque in the post, removing both the
banks official number and obliterating the signature, and
the cornflakes have gone soggy.
At least the grey dawn is breaking. It is at this stage I
notice a strange car in the yard and the employee who couldn’t
get his car started is showing two respectable looking
gentlemen the three pallets of second-hand slates that
some months ago, I bought off a gypsy, who having completed
the cash deal with me, shot off in an awful hurry. I really
was rather apprehensive at the way he left looking over
his shoulder. I was torn between pushing them into a disused
quarry hole (fear of the law) or selling them off to another
contractor at a vast profit. Looks like it’s too
late for either now! The law has tracked down the slates?
Another two cars arrive with a few more of the boys. They
are rather late because it’s raining as they drive
slowly past the unlit window of the yard office towards
the house. I move smartly towards the bedroom to get dressed,
since I believe it lowers the morale of the men if they
find me in my pajamas after 9 am, neither am I in form
for the certain sarcastic jibes!
As I go, I leave Angeline to give the men their detailed
written instructions, carefully written out by me over
a few hours the previous night. However, the main contents
of these are now irrelevant since, due to the weather,
the work cannot be done. Schedules will have to be re-arranged,
since some work, which was not so urgent, has now to be
given top priority due to the effects of the bad weather.
Priorities will change throughout the day according to
which irate customer is on the phone at any given time.
I have just kicked off my pajama bottoms when I have to reach
for the phone again. It’s the man with the hip ridged
roof we finished yesterday. There's a sickness in the bottom
of my stomach, but all he’s telling me is how pleased
he is to have the job finished and how well it all looks,
and by the way, we left a ladder and plastic container
of funny looking green liquid behind. The label got washed
off in the rain. I give a great sigh of relief, some of
the boys must have thought to put accelerator into the
mortar. Those ridges are probably alright. The boys are
not so bad after all, and the gloom lifts slightly.
I have one leg in my trousers then the phone goes again.
The local offices of an international company, with offices
in Hong Kong, Sydney, New York, and Greater Wallop (according
to their very impressive upmarket and extremely expensive
looking business literature) wants me to re-consider our
quotation for supplying and fixing roof tiles on a new
Their client has decided to install a 1.75 million pound
sterling computer designed and controlled heating, ventilating
and insulation system. They have also substantially upgraded
their internal decor, carpeting and furnishing, and the
project is now costing an enormous lot more than they had
budgeted for. As our contract had not yet been signed,
if we cannot find a way to cut the roofing costs drastically,
then they may have to consider another roofing contractor.
I wish them well and put my other leg into my trousers. I
hop about on one leg, pulling on my socks with the phone
tucked under my chin as one of the squad leaders in the
phone tells me they won’t be going to work today — it’s
too wet. I thank him kindly and pull my shirt on, removing
the telephone down my left sleeve.
I can hear Angeline talking to someone, the two respectable
gentlemen who had been looking at the pallets of slates!
(God, I had forgotten about them). My heart is in my feet
as I go to the back hall. We exchange feeble hand shakes
as Angeline remarks that I am looking rather pale. After
some discussion that sounds as if it’s coming up
13 feet of 4 inch soil pipe, my numbed brain goes pop and
I realize that they want to buy the slates. I shake hands
all over again and the morning has taken on a much greater
brightness. I am so relieved that I almost give them away
and Angeline leads them off to the yard office to type
out an official invoice including V.A.T. I feel I have
cleared my conscience.
I ring a supplier regarding tiles that did not arrive on
a site yesterday. He has been trying to ring me. The tiles
are on site at this very moment. The lorry has backed in
as far as possible but has got bogged down. Unfortunately,
the off-loading grab had developed a serious fault. The
next door neighbor who sold off his side garden for the
site is hopping mad at the mess the 40 foot articulated
lorry is making of his front lawn.
The builder and his men have gone home. Can I get a squad
over right away to “hand ball” the tiles off
and bring some planks — there’s a foot of mud
everywhere. Meanwhile the boys sit round the red-hot pot-bellied
stove in the workshop, making colorful remarks regarding
my written instructions and drink their 10 o’clock
tea. The phone goes again. The lady with the leaky light
bulb wants to know if I had the phone off the hook because
she couldn’t get through. She thinks she smells something
burning. I am tempted to tell her that smells don’t
normally travel down phone lines and perhaps the seat of
my trousers is on fire, but instead I hand the phone to Angeline
who consoles her with talk of the flower arranging class
on Friday evenings and the latest scandal at the senior citizens
Wednesday Club. I suddenly realize that I haven’t yet answered the
call of nature. That’ll have to wait for a few minutes.
I run down to the work shop whistling as I go (I’m
a coward at heart) where the men sit round the stove on boxes
of nails, upturned buckets and an old broken deckchair gloating
over page three and passing round glossy magazines depicting
various bits of female anatomy draped over motorcycles, etc.
while the cup of a flask gradually turns into a twisted heap
of molten plastic on the stove top.
The apprentice pretends to be cutting eaves slates on a bench
in the corner where it is too gloomy to even see the slates
never mind cut them. I explain my concerns regarding the
wet stormy weather, the old lady’s problem and the
broken lorry. I don’t think they hear me, must be
the rain on the tin roof and the sizzle of the water running
down the hot stove pipe. I raised my voice somewhat and
add a touch of color to my words. One of the boys turns
his head slightly, rolls his eyes and looks up at the underside
of the tin roof. They all nod sympathetically, and with
a certain amount of mumbling, all volunteer to go and look
at the old lady’s light fitting. They are a good
bunch of lads, but the weather gets to all of us.
I delegate Len and the apprentice to go and see her. He is
to take a miscellaneous assortment of slates, tiles, ridges
etc, a bit of lead and a tube of mastic if only to do a
temporary job. He also takes half a dozen new laid eggs
Angeline has promised her. The outside phone bell is ringing
again. I pack the rest of the boys off, with some reluctance
on their part, to unload the bogged down lorry and then
to visit their respective jobs and check them out. The
customers like to know that at least we are thinking about
I run back up to the yard office to answer the phone (must
try to remember where I left the cordless phone, probably
sitting on a stack of tiles in the rain. The ringer on
it hasn’t worked since it fell out of my pocket when
I was leaning out reversing the pick-up and I backed over
it with the front wheels). It is a builder who is having
trouble getting money from a customer. One problem he says
is that the roof is leaking. There’s water coming
down the chimney breast and dampening the wall and adjoining
ceiling in the drawing room. It is obvious we haven’t
done the lead flashing properly or the tiles haven’t
been cut correctly. Counting quickly up to ten to keep
my hackles down I tactfully remind him that I had pointed
out when we were doing the job that the lead damp proof
tray had been built in three courses of brick too low.
“Oh yes,” he says, not sounding very convinced
that it’s anything to do with some silly idea of lead
trays in the chimneys anyway, and knowing that he hasn’t
paid me yet he asks me what I can do with it. I respectfully
suggest he gets in touch with the bricklayer and/or the brick
manufacturers who might recommend some form of liquid treatment.
Knowing him to be a bit of a wit I suggest he has some liquid
treatment himself in the form of a couple of stiff whiskeys
before he goes to look at it. I reckon I have put that one
back where it belongs. Whatever else he is, he’s straight
with the money and I’ll get paid all right.
While I’m in the office, I fill in the mens’ time
and materials against their jobs for the last few days and
also phone a merchant who delivered lead the day before yesterday,
to advise him that I ordered code 5 lead and he sent me double
the quantity of code 3. He explains that they hadn’t
got code 5 but thought that two layers of code 3 would be
even better. He has code 5 now but can’t deliver until
next week. I need it tomorrow.
A lorry drives into the yard with a pallet of nails. Unfortunately,
the size and gauge I wanted urgently they haven’t
got and the ones they sent I did not really want until
next month, and only ordered them to help make the delivery
costs from the mainland more practical. Now we will have
to pay for two deliveries. Talk about being too smart for
your own good.
At least the rain is easing. Hopefully, I’ll be able
to get out to finish that little bit of ornamental roofing
at the Rectory in the afternoon.
I sort through a few more papers on the desk and throw two
bundles of specifications and bills of quantities into
the waste paper bin. They’re from large national
firms who are taking on work in the area. There’s
such a mass of paperwork and documentation I’m supposed
to read and understand that this puts me off for a start.
Neither is there any way that I could morally expect my own
employees or my sub-contractors to leave a quality job at
the price which these management firms will eventually accept.
I briefly consider that I should give them a courtesy telephone
call and apologize for being unable to tender, on the other
hand they don’t go wasting their time on courtesy calls
It’s now 12:15 and Angeline calls me from the house
to remind me I have a provisional lunch arrangement with
a technical rep. and friend from a local manufacturer. I
call him up on his car phone and make contact after the third
attempt. He is 60 miles away up country so we arrange another
date. I had been looking forward to an interesting discussion
on the pros and cons of some of his products, over the Chef’s
Special and a glass or two of the ‘creatur’ (for
medicinal purposes of course) at Murphy’s Cellars.
However I am somewhat relieved since I have a suspicion that
if we had kept this date, then the ornamental roof at the
Rectory might tend to become another good intention unfulfilled
The phone goes off again. The electrical lady says that nobody
has arrived yet. I assure her that Len left at 11 a.m.
and should have been there.
After calling at the bathroom, I finish off the rest of my
soggy cornflakes with a cup of coffee and four corned beef
sandwiches. I am pulling on my boiler suit when the phone
rings again and Len says he has got a flat wheel, looks
like remains of a slate nail, could someone pick up his
spare wheel from the local garage and bring it over. I
pick up my knee pads from the kitchen radiator where they
have been quietly drying, give Angeline a peck on the cheek,
pat the dogs, and as I walk towards the door, the sun breaks
through the scudding clouds.
The phone goes off just as I step into the van, complete
with the ladders and tools. I close the van door behind
me and drive off to pick up Len’s spare wheel and
then on to ‘Utopia,’ the Rectory roof, where
perhaps I will have a cold but enjoyable afternoon’s
therapeutical relaxation plying my trade as a roof slater
John Ball won the Gold Medal at the
2000 International Federation of Roofing Trades World Slating
and Tiling Championships in
Edinburgh, Scotland. More
about John Ball.
Read an article about the slate of Ireland
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