Or, that’s my job, not yours.
Those days have gone. For the most part.
Oldies like me, who grew up before Thatcher destroyed the trade unions for good, may remember it though.
There was no multi-tasking or crossing the boundary into someone else’s skill, trade or profession. That’s one of the reasons why the print union, the NGA (National Graphical Association) had such a hold on the newspaper industry. If they had a dispute about terms and conditions, newspapers didn’t get published. No-one else could do their work. Us clever journalists have never had half as much clout. Not so clever eh?
Australia in the 80s had fine demarcation. Partner worked on the dockyard in Sydney painting ships where he was in the pro-painters union. The other painting union was the painters and dockers. They did totally different work and never the twain should meet apart from when they wanted to collude about working practices.
Partner: ‘Hiya mate, can you bring your boys out on strike for a few days while we sort out a problem with ventilation in the ship?’
Head of P&D: ‘No worries mate, we’ll back you up. Just before the weekend eh, and then we can all get double pay for some overtime?’
You get the idea.
Life was easy. You all had your own little box to work within and nobody touched yours.
Now life is very different. Working in shopfitting in Gib, Partner would do whatever was required, plastering, tiling, putting up plasterboard, taping and filling etc etc as well as his original skill of painting, decorating, and glazing. (When he learned his trade, glazing was included within his remit). Working for himself he does even more. Add on plumbing, joinery, rendering, minor electrics, and changing locks. He won’t, and never has done, labouring.
Demarcation has become a relic of the nicely organised trade union days of the past.
Yesterday while I was dozing away on the sofa after lunch, and Partner was enjoying his weekend with a can of beer, there was a knock on the door.
Some new tenants had locked themselves out. What they had actually done was leave one key in the door and, they couldn’t use the other key to get in. We had a go at knocking out the key. Wouldn’t budge. We could have drilled out the lock for them. Cost of drilling out, cost of new lock, cost of fitting new lock …..
We know a good locksmith who would make a fantastic burglar as he is superb at picking locks, and, cutting new keys where necessary, by using the existing lock. Good bloke.
I offered to call him. Bear in mind this is Sunday afternoon when most people don’t want to do anything apart from enjoy themselves.
When I rang, his wife answered. He was at a party. I said I’d ring his mobile. ‘I’ve got that too,’ she replied.
‘Any idea how much?’ I asked.
‘A hundred pounds.’
I went upstairs to ask the tenants if they were willing to pay that. They were a bit short of options, and she had enough money in her wallet. I went back to ring the locksmith’s wife to ask him to come out. He rang back and we gave him the directions. He lives in Spain, so obviously has to travel and cross the frontier.
Meanwhile, another neighbour is interfering. Still in jim-jams at 4pm!!!! Having got up before 7am to take out Snowy I couldn’t believe it. I should have done, she is a vampire after all.
‘What you need to do is get a ladder and get in through the window.’
No. This is a second floor flat and would need a triple extension ladder. Where do you get that from on a Sunday afternoon? And how do you get it into a small patio down a narrow corridor? You can’t. The angles are too tight.
‘My neighbour above got me in when I locked myself out,’ she said. (This was when she tried to kick the door in and ruined the plasterwork of the block next to the frame when she failed). ‘Someone could just crawl across and get in.’
Who? You? In your jim jams? Hanging onto dodgy pipework? Like spiderman/woman?
The window wasn’t even open!!
Next bright idea she came up with was to get the fire brigade to get the tenants in.
Really clever idea. They would just break the door down. And the tenants would then have no door at all and be liable for the cost of the new door.
Some people have shit for brains. I said I had called out the locksmith and I wasn’t going back on that commitment.
‘I’m just trying to save her money,’ added Interfering Neighbour. Sure. And get somebody killed crawling around the walls. Or wreck the door, frame, and plasterwork to the building. To save £100? And incur more?
‘Nobody told us not to leave a key in the lock,’ whined the locked-out tenant. Nobody told us that either when we bought our flat but we managed to work it out ourselves.
I went downstairs to repeat this riveting convo to Partner. He then went up and told Interfering Neighbour – ‘You. Shut up.’
So then the locksmith turned up. Locked-out tenant had been invited in to Interfering Neighbour’s flat. She came out with a bottle of Heineken. We all stood there, me, Partner, locked-out tenant plus Heineken and her daughter, and IN and her flatmate.
Steve picked out a piece of plastic from his burglar’s bag, swiped it up and down the gap between the door and frame and it swung open.
Just amazing. I was stunned. Locked-out tenant was pleased to be in and handed over her cash. We walked downstairs with him, and said in a low voice, ‘Good one mate’.
What are the issues here?
Firstly, this guy has a skill and got someone into her home. The alternatives suggested by the interfering neighbour were ridiculous and would have cost more, let alone risking someone’s life crawling across walls and hanging onto rusty pipework. They could have gone to a hotel for the night, but the following day they would still have had to pay the locksmith. Less money on a Monday yes, but add hotel cost onto that and it’s far more expensive.
Partner had heard their conversation going up the stairs earlier.
‘Where are we going to get a locksmith from on a fucking Sunday afternoon?’
After hearing that, he was waiting for the knock on the door.
Secondly, is it a fair price for the job given that it took a minute or two? That’s not exactly accurate though is it? He had to travel from Spain on a Sunday afternoon, travel home and also made a couple of ‘phone calls to us on roaming. It all adds up. Say two hours or so? Most call-out charges over weekends are around £50. For the first hour.
He did a job for us, when Partner lost the keys for one of our vehicles while I was in Spanish exile. Key sorted easily – and then the barrel for the ignition fell apart. Another two hours to repair that. No extra charge, just the initial price he had quoted.
To give a price over the ‘phone without seeing a job on a Sunday is pretty reasonable in my opinion.
Thirdly, why do people want to interfere when they know stuff all about the issue at hand? The window to their kitchen was not open. We could see it quite clearly from our kitchen window. It was closed and the handle was down. We have a double extension ladder in the patio. It wouldn’t reach. A triple would be needed and you couldn’t get it into the patio anyway. We’re looking at the height of the top of a very tall gable roof here.
What is the problem with paying £100 to someone who knows what they are doing and does it quickly and easily with no damage? Or risk to property or life? (I put property first there because we all know money is more important than life).
Coming back from a dog walk shortly after we bumped into another Interfering Neighbour.
‘The new people upstairs are locked out.’
‘No they’re not. They are in now.’
‘No, I’ve just been speaking to him in the pub,’ (says it all) ‘they can’t get in.’
‘Fine. If you don’t believe me, let’s go upstairs and see.’
‘I think I’ll just go home and not get involved in this.’
Why do people want to interfere so much when they can’t add any value?
Finally, back to demarcation. Having seen what he did, we could easily do that as well. We can’t pick locks. Yet.
But would people want to pay us £100 for getting them into their flat with a bit of plastic in two seconds? Of course not, we live downstairs and it would take a few minutes max. We could do it for less money but they would want it to be done for free.
We have no intention of stealing someone else’s work and devaluing what they do.
A couple of posts back I wrote about people thinking they could pick up a paintbrush and become a painter, or pick up a pen and become a writer. Or these days, pick up a laptop.
But the other aspect to professional skill and expertise is about speed. When you have been trained in a job and have done it for years, you can do it faster. Simple as that. I type/write very quickly. I have in my head what I want to write and the fingers fly over the keyboards. Partner can paint, plaster, and hang paper quickly.
Why should we be disadvantaged because we do jobs quickly? Whether it is us or the locksmith who sorted the problem in minutes? Why are we so selfish that we don’t want to reward people who have worked for many years at their job and are fast and proficient at it?
As a society we have developed a very nasty mentality that says:
‘We must save money at all costs. We must earn more than other people. We need to know exactly what they are earning per minute, and then we can barter with them and find someone cheaper. We need to keep people down because that way we will feel better about ourselves.’
We priced a job (labour only) the other day at slightly over two grand (pounds sterling). They live in a large old house in Gib, worth well over a mill, maybe two.
Their through sitting rooms are bigger than our one-bed flat. The cost of the wallpaper is nearly a grand. Whenever you are pricing a job you have to take into account the cost of the paper. It wasn’t just papering and lining and sizing the walls, it was also stripping the paper, possible repair work to walls and damp/stain proof treatment, painting of walls below dado, all woodwork including fiddly Georgian windows, ceilings, cornices, dado rails and whatever else. They probably wanted it done for a few hundred quid when there is a month’s worth of work there. Would you work for a month for a few hundred quid?
Another workmate was asked, some years ago, to paint a flat in an up-market block in Gib. He charged two grand. He took a long time over it. They paid him three, because the logic goes, if it takes a long time, it must be worth more.
Why do we no longer wish to pay for quality work? Or did we ever?
We want to see people earn less than us, be socially and intellectually inferior, and not rise above themselves so that we can boost our own insecurities, lack of confidence and, most importantly, power and wealth.
With which I shall leave you with a link to Robert Noonan Tressell’s classic – published in 1914 – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists.
In a hundred years, nothing has changed regarding our attitude to employing skilled tradespeople.