My father was a carpenter, as such I was raised to know the difference between a quote and an estimate.
A quote is set in stone, it factors in materials and labour, and the only item that can be added to a quote is VAT.
Unless the quote is for an industrial sized job, where there might be an additional predetermined day-rate for unforeseen circumstances which drag the work out for longer than anticipated, tying a works crew to a particular site and away from other jobs, a quote is solid.
An estimate means nothing. It’s an airy fairy number plucked from the sky, which may only account for the financial imagination of the person giving it.
My father raised me to always get a quote.
My mother raised me to always have a quote. Something from Oscar Wilde was usually appropriate, if nothing of Shakespeare came to mind.
When the world went dark, and there was just my mother and I left, there were jobs around the house that required attention.
These issues of general leakage and door-replacement required somebody over the age of fifteen, probably taller than 5’4”, which ruled me out.
Also, I was listening to a lot of Cat Stevens at the time, as such, I had rendered myself basically useless, because it’s tricky to hammer along to Bitterblue.
I say Cat Stevens – of course, he’s Yusef Islam now, and I have nothing but respect for that. However, when the record came out, he was Cat Stevens. I suppose it’s the Boadicea/Boudicca thing all over again.
Mickey was a handyman. I use the term generously. Almost wantonly. In any case, he hired himself out as a handyman, and it was in that capacity that my mother brought him into the house.
A man composed entirely of blather, he had both a ready smile and open shirt which somehow made it easy to forget he had no idea what he was doing. He had no training, beyond what he had scratched together himself: a generalised ability to read a tape measure and intermittent common sense.
When we moved in, the house came complete with dark, hardwood covered doors, with corrugated cardboard guts, punctuated with plastic, brass-effect handles set at shoulder-height, inviting bruises round about the bra strap.
There were two doors along the hallway which, when opened, crashed into each other. My room and the spare room were always at odds.
My mother decided the doors were ugly because they were. She became convinced that the spare room door should move from the awkward corner to the flat-faced bare wall. This seemed correct. She called Mickey over. I am beyond convinced that I recognised this as a bad idea at the time, but I had Moonshadow stuck in my head, and couldn’t form words.
He pulled a number from his imagination to cover the whole job, not merely the parts he would need to purchase, and she wrote him a cheque.
It was as if she’d never heard a word my father had said.
Three days later, I was at school and Mickey returned with replacement interior doors and a lump hammer. My mother had made a lasagne with Janet, her lady from the PTFA, and Mickey started his working day with a large cup of tea and a lump of pasta.
To his credit, he was a worker. He never dragged out a job. Of course, he didn’t really need to because my mother would just pay him whatever he asked.
Still, when I returned from the long walk back from school, chip on shoulder and half-shirt bundled into blazer pocket, there was a new hole in the hallway. Mickey had put up a new door-frame around the hole he’d put in the wall and filled it with a door. He had also hung half a dozen new doors, and worn deep V’s of sweat into his t-shirt.
He gave a vague salute, and said he would be back the next morning to fill in the old spare room door, which was now a space. He’d bought some plasterboard, he said, tapping his nose because he knew about these things.
Despite myself, I was impressed. Perhaps, I was more surprised than anything. Surprised that he had managed to fit a lintel above the new door-frame, and hang new doors all in the space of a single day.
His face almost hit the floor. Lintel.
I don’t suppose it’s easy for a generalised handyman to ply his wares when he doesn’t know enough to knock on a wall to detect whether or not it is load-bearing.
He almost laid a kidney, and didn’t leave until gone nine at night, by which time, we did have a lintel and the house would not fall down.
He left, exhausted. He looked exhausted. It was better than his smug face, so I was quite pleased.
My mother informed me that nobody liked a smart arse. I informed her that the doors which had been fitted were raw, unfinished. They were still grainy with the sawdust from the factory in which they were made. They had not been sealed, and so they would warp.
Mickey had worked very hard, she said, and that was the most important thing.
If the wall had collapsed and we’d been killed in our beds by the compromised structure of the house, I would be right and we would be dead, and that would be the most important thing.
Unperturbed, Mickey returned, fitted the rest of the doors, filled in the gap formed by the former door, and got another job.
Rats had come up from the stream, my mother told him. They had reached the aviary my father had made, dug through the floor, eaten all the bird food and killed the budgerigars. She wanted the floor replaced. She would undoubtedly get more budgies when the aviary was structurally sound. (She was making a point, I have no doubt, and she never got more budgies.)
Mickey didn’t hesitate. He retrieved his petrol chainsaw from his van, entered the aviary, stood either side of the blade and set his chainsaw running. A plume of blue-grey smoke rose from his grumbling machine. He took off his shirt, needlessly, it was only 12°C and the saw was doing all the work for him.
I suspect the lady across the road was his true audience.
Mickey tore across the rotten floor with lightning speed. He cut it like a pizza, pulling sixths of chipboard up at the edges. Plunging the rotten board-bits into the wheelie bin, he mopped his underarms with his shirt, put it back on, and disappeared off to the hardware store.
He returned some time later. His shirt was almost instantly discarded and he proceeded to mix and pour concrete onto the grass beneath the aviary until it was six inches deep; filling what had been the floor space and splattering out under an uneven corner, like a small pile of grey vomit.
It took months of begging before I could get my mother to stop hiring him. I sealed and waxed the doors, and became handy very quickly.
And yes, I had to get a carpet cleaner to change the light in the kitchen from greenish fluorescent to angled spots, but I learnt that stuff later.