All you need to know about Labourers




You know what you think about builders in general – dirty smelly types that you’d rather avoid at all costs? The kind of human sub-species that when they try to talk to you, you’re are both acutely aware that you the customer have a far superior intellect to him and that your time is way more valuable than this ham-fisted grobian…

In fact, given the choice, these quite frankly sordid interactions that occur when you are in DIY dire straits and your wife suggests you get a man in, would ideally, take place in one of those hermetically sealed bubbles that keep diseases and nastiness at bay. Or, from 250 yards away with a megaphone.

Well how you customers feel about us, is
exactly how we builders feel about labourers… (Yes, amazingly we tradesmen aren’t actually the bottom rung of the social ladder!)

You don’t want to shake a builder’s hand because you sincerely believe that his social status inevitably makes him less hygienic than you. You don’t know where he’s been, do you?

Again, we feel the same. I remember one of my first contracts as a proper builder. I was working with my brother and we were on site doing a shop refurbishment in Floral Street in Covent Garden. All the trades were there (we were tiling on that job) and the whole contract was being overseen by a project manager who had provided the site with a labourer for everyone to use.

His name was John. We were in our early twenties and he was a man of about fifty. It was like being able to order our dad about. He would fetch and carry for us, make tea and sweep up after everyone. He was the first on site and the last to leave. He earned half of what we earned but was diligent and invariably chipper. However this upbeat personality was not due to the feel-good factor of the modern day’s labourer’s frequent and furtive visits to the WC.

No. John was a career labourer. He loved his job, thrived on doing the best he could and had
happily settled into his life’s roll. I asked him why he didn’t want to take up building proper and he just smiled and said that he liked being a labourer. No more, no less.

The reason I tell you about John is that he is the Bertrand Russell of the labourers’ world – both man
and superman in his chosen domain. And like Russell being the exception to the rule of intelligence, John was the exception to the rule of diligence.

Nowadays we
builders have to put up with work-shy, attitude-ridden post-pubescent imbeciles who have actually asked me if white coffee contains milk!

There are no more career labourers. We have to deal with slack-jawed teenagers who have the common sense of gerbils.

We usually take labourers on as a favour to either a friend or relative and then spend the next fortnight trying to get rid of them while trying to finish the job without them breaking anything (or themselves) and without causing offence to the person who asked the favour of us.

Whereas we all started in the trade many years ago as lackies: we were keen not to incur our boss’s wrath: yet these kids are more of a hinderance than a help.

Try as you might, pairing sounds or “words” as we call them with “things that are in front of you” – we call these items “tools” – doesn’t seem to work. I ask for a hammer and the disinterested juvenile brings me a sliding bevel.

We don’t even bother sending them to the builders’ merchants for a glass hammer, striped paint of a long wait anymore. You sit them in the corner, leave them to “facespace” on their phone and hope that they get bored and tell their mums that they’d rather sit at home than go to work.

And then one morning, usually three days into their “work” experience, when you get a text from them saying that they are poorly, you get your shovel out and start digging those trenches that you’d lined up for the labourer with a gusto you thought you’d lost long ago. Your fear of a youth impaling himself on a spoon when trying to make a pot noodle subsides and you begin to look forwards to that nice cup of tea at ten o’ clock, that
you will make, just how you like it, knowing that yes, white tea does contain milk.

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