Why i’ts a tradie’s world out there!

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renovationsJohn McNamee holds his nerve and copes with an ‘on-going’ project

YOU get the long-awaited phone call: “They’ll be there between 10.30 and midday tomorrow. That OK”?

A moment of panic sets in….was I meeting someone for coffee/lunch, will I have enough time to get the shopping/laundry done, is that the time I have the dental appointment?

I’ve been left in charge of the “Project” as the wife has to make an overseas family trip. I’m batching for the next few weeks, and having to mastermind the rest of the renovations on my own.

I’m in the middle of a self-confidence crisis. Can I juggle all these tradies and sustain body and soul in a partly demolished kitchen and an almost completed bathroom at the same time?

I can still hear her last words to me: “You’ll be OK on your own won’t you?  I can rely on you not to muck anything up can’t I?”

“Of course you can, it’s not rocket science is it..I’ll be fine.” Famous last words.

So they’ll be here between 10.30 and midday. Do I play the battle-of-nerves game and get home by 10.31 just in case they arrive early? But they never arrive early…it’ll be another five- minutes-to- midday-job and you’ve been waiting at home since 10.30.

It’s hard to get on with anything while you’re waiting. They know they’ve got you over a barrel.

Once, stupidly, I tried to call their bluff.”I won’t be home at that time sorry mate, I”ve got an important appointment” I said to the builder.

“Aw well, that’s a pity, looks like we’ll have to make it next Friday week at 6.30 in the evening then,” he replies, knowing he’s got the ace up his sleeve of his yellow and black fluoro jacket.

Damm!! You cave in. “Well I could move my appointment around I suppose.”

You hate yourself, but you know you can’t win. Even though you’re the one paying out the tens of thousands of dollars to these people, they hold all the cards. You’re the victim, unless you’re a builder/architect/designer/site engineer/whatever, you’re putty in their hands.

Sometimes they humour you. “Where would you like the kitchen cabinet downlights mate?”

I freeze. Hasn’t she specified that crucial element when she went through the plans with the kitchen people?

Apparently not. I have to make an instant decision. I can’t appear to be a wimp, I’m a man after all, not a mouse, an Alpha Male in my own domain.

“Well, around the sink area obviously I suppose and then spaced out along the work bench.”

“You sure you want that one there mate?”

You’ve got to hold your nerve. They won’t respect you otherwise. It’s brinkmanship to the extreme.

“Yep, I’m sure.”

“OK then, no worries, that’d be where I’d have put them anyway.”

You see, it was all a bluff on his part. He was testing you. You’ve won Round One.

But I don’t get too cocky. The downlights were easy.

“How do you want this handle on the pullout pantry mate…horizontal or vertical?”

Tricky one…you cast a quick glance around the rest of the kitchen and hope you’re on a winner. Once again I hear her voice saying “I trust you not to stuff up.” I think :“Can I make an international phone call to the wife at this hour and ask her what she thinks.” No way, you’re on your own buddy.

“Horizontal thanks mate, just like the other one over there.”

“Fair enough. I think you’re right. It’ll look a lot better.”

You’ve won another round. I’m getting the hang of it.

Meanwhile, it’s now approaching 11.30 and “they” haven’t arrived.

You hope it’s not going to be another case of the “Mealtime Arrival”.

You see, this is a favourite of the tradie…rock up just as the poor fools are contemplating breakfast/lunch/dinner. This earns maximum points for inconveniencing the whole household and causing major disruption for a couple of hours. But your hands are tied. You won’t see them for another week unless you let them in.

They also get maximum points for “Job Duration Estimate (or JDE).”

“How long do you think this’ll take mate,” you ask knowing that the footy match is due to kick  off in an hour or you’ve got to pick up the grandkids from soccer/jazz ballet/swimming/netball/kick boxing.

“Aw coupla hours, depends on whether there’s any problems…often you can’t tell with these OLD places…” and they proceed to tell you a nightmarish yarn about the previous “old joint” that was being renovated and the whole ash cement bathroom wall caved in while they were trying to thread the cables through.

Often, due to a language complication, the Job Duration Estimate can be somewhat of a movable feast, to say the least.

The other day with the stone workbench I once again foolishly ask the extremely professional installer how long it would take. It was now 9am. “Ah, easy.. two-three hour.”

Good, I went off and returned at around midday. The place looked like Michaelangelo had moved in his whole team of stone masons and they’d spent the morning sawing and hammering up enough stone to rebuild the Roman Forum.

The back yard where the stone had been shaped resembled a snowscape…you couldn’t see out of the back room windows, they were covered in white stone dust. It was a veritable blizzard zone.

I could see the job was nowhere near finished. Coughing out the choking fumes and wiping the dust off my favourite coffee mug which foolishly I’d left on the back table, I asked: “Much more to do mate?”

“Ah, three o’clock we finish I think.”

So instead of the three hour JDE, it became a six hour Job Completion and because of the use of the numeral “three” in the original negotiations, I didn’t have a leg to stand on.

Speaking of Maximum Annoyance Factors, up there with the best is the “Parking Over The Neighbour’s Driveway”. This is a real doozy and much beloved of all tradies and their battered and beloved utes. They get extra points because they KNOW they’re in the wrong and they’re daring you to confront them.

When you bite the bullet and ask them to move saying theretired gentleman next door needs to get out of his driveway for his regular hospital medication visit, they give you a tired glare and start muttering: “Well  I’ll just leave it here for a moment  mate while I get all the HEAVY equipment out of the back” and then they make a helluva racket unloading generators, ladders, massive pieces of cutting equipment, pipes as long as football pitches and toolboxes with enough stuff inside them to rebuild the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

It’s only after this Academy Award performance that they hurl themselves into the cabin of the ute, gun the engine and move to a “neutral” area all the while talking on their mobile phones and promising to be somewhere else in “about a hour”.

Don’t get me wrong…some of my best mates are tradies and seriously, I’m in total awe of their abilities and their wonderful air of self-confidence and self-belief. I love them all and many’s the laugh I’d had with them over a schooey when I’ve recounted  my renno horrors in the local pub.

But you’ve also got to remember with these “ongoing” projects, that at the beginning of the re-building saga, when you’re a naïve sanguine innocent, the builders will agree to everything and nothing will be a problem.

“Do you reckon you can get it all done by Christmas,” you ask hopefully.

This childish expectation on your part brings forth a gust of hearty laughter: “Christmas, sure, everyone wants their job finished by Christmas, but no worries, good as gold, we’ll be well out of here by then.”

As late November looms and the joint’s still a bomb site, then the tooth-sucking and excuses start and the old “well with these old joints, you’re always gunna have problems….”

Meanwhile, it’s 11.44 and as I’m sitting here writing this, purging my soul, I see a black tradie’s ute pulling into my neighbour’s driveway.

At least he’s on time, I sigh resignedly. “How long’ll you be mate?“ I ask. You see, I can’t help myself.

“Five-ten minutes mate..just measuring up today, we’ll be back another time for the actual job, no worries.” “Do you know when?” “Aw probably Friday, say between 10.30 and midday.”

I just hope my mate next door doesn’t need his hospital medication then.

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