Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Cheer.

For some unknown reason, we had our Xmas breakup at the local lawn bowling club - the last bastion of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant and/or Catholic at leisure, maybe. No idea what to expect, apart from the stereotype of the elderly Aussie lawn bowlers' hangout.

Signed in - Fraudster, C/- The Windsor, Melbourne.  My nostrils were assailed by something foisty, faintly mothbally, and something else; essence of je ne sais quoi.

'Don't like the smell.' Fraudster curls lip, sneers a bit.  'Smells of old.' I'm sitting there at noon on Thursday before Christmas, kitted up to out-do a Christmas tree.
'Quite like it,' says Work Husband, guarding his pot of beer.  'Reminds me of my great-grandfather's house.'

The rest of the staff arrive.

'Don't forget to sign in.'

We sit in a bar around capacious ten-seater Formica topped round tables.  As people make their way across the enormous wooden dance floor, some of them trying out a few tap steps along the way, their faces, too, take on that look of searching for the source of the odour.

The brick bowling club dates from late 'fifties or early 'sixties.

'Perhaps someone could pop back to school to get some music,' a teacher suggests, given the echoey bleakness of this old people's place, bedecked with pennants from bowling comps past.  But that wasn't to be.

'We're here for a spit roast.  You can bowl later if you want to.'  That's our officious, put upon staff association leader, who'd organised the venue and catering..  (A coup was mooted by some of the young things last year, but ultimately no one either cared that much come the new year.  Or dared.)

I sipped my 100 ml of Chateau Cardboard wine and tried, unsuccessfully, to savour the ambience, like waiting for a game of bingo to commence.

We lined up like refugees for our 'meals'.  It was the usual spit roast fare, or what was left of it by the time I got up there, not being one to enjoy queuing for fifteen minutes in a pair of, for me, moderately high heels.  It was nutritious, I suppose.  The beef end was quite tender.  I don't eat much.

Then the floor show:

An aussie gent, sixty-something, Ted, in washed out striped polo shirt and shorts, unceremoniously held up a used Bandaid - sticking plaster.  'If any lady's lost the Bandaid off of her nipple, I've got it here.'  Embarrassed laughter ensued briefly.  Is that what the old 'ladies' do to prevent high-beams penetrating their bowling shirts?

Unabashed by lack of appreciation for his jest, Ted held up the wire stopper from a bottle of champagne.

'How long's this wire?' he shouted.

'What do you mean?' called one of my colleagues.

Ted frowned, a bit put out.  He spelled it out for the idiot.

'If you unravel this wire, how long is it?' Jeez, dumb teachers or what?

'Why?' called another temeritous soul.

Finally he explained that it wasn't a trick question, but a competition.  Ah!  The correct guess would win a bottle of wine.  Next question:

'How many hankies high is a horse?'  Huh?

'Men's or ladies'?' called a female teacher, getting into the spirit of it.  He reached behind the bar and produced an ironed, folded men's handkerchief.  Ostentatiously, he shook it out, grabbed it by two diagonally opposed corners and held it up for his captive audience.  Can't remember the answer.  I'd downed three 'cardies' by that stage.

I approached the bar.  Ted was the barman now, floorshow being over.

'Diet coke, please?'

'You don't look like you need a diet coke,' He narrowed his eyes; leered at me. Perhaps I only imagined him licking his already wet lips.  Wink.

'Ahahah!'  Hilarious. 'Thanks, but I'd like one anyway.'

'But you don't need it!'  He cast a raunchy eye over me, grinning lasciviously.

'Oh!  Ha ha ha, too kind.'  I tittered  'Can I have a diet coke, please?'

'You don't need one, love.'  Same deal.

'Look, I actually have diabetes.  Can I please have a diet coke?'

At that he changed tack; beckoned me along the bar, away from the others waiting for drinks.

Here we go, I thought.  Wants to share his own diabetic trials, or those of his dead grandmother.  Go with it.

Rictus smile on my face, I indulged him.  He waved me closer, the better to hear his confidence.  Okay.

With one elbow on the bar, grinning, catching me in an eye-lock, he recited some doggerel.  For about two and a half minutes.  A long time for me to smile and occasionally shrug politely, to feign interest.  Wasn't really focused, given 300 ml of chardy, that early in the day.  But the protagonist of the poem, a dog, was 'piddling' here, there and everywhere.  Meanwhile, a heavily made up, coiffed bowling club lady, ceased polishing the bar, to lend a delighted ear.

The rhyming punchline of his recitation, which he'd waited perhaps forty-five years to deliver?  'That dog's got diabetes!'


'Can I have my diet coke now?'

'No, you can't.  We've only got Pepsi Max,' he said, grinning like an imbecile, pleased as punch.

Merry Christmas.

That piece of doggerel?  The piddlin' pup.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Being at the mercy of tradies.

I ‘hooked up’ – to use modern parlance – with my husband, Al, because he was tall, good looking, well built and athletic.  Chemistry.  He also cooked breakfast when I had sleepovers.  He was, and remains, kind and considerate.

When we moved into our rental house, we didn’t have to do home maintenance.  Al did paint the bathroom once.  It looked all right.  Who cared?  We were renting.  He also installed a bamboo blind in our front room.  He got it backwards so the draw string was on the inside, against the window.  No matter.  He removed the blind and got it round the right way.

Al cooks.  Every night.  The best spaghetti marinara ever on Saturday nights.  He continues to give good breakfast in bed too. He's been a great dad to our two kids.  He can do complex mathematical calculations in his head in an instant.  He's a fair gardener.  He can do heaps of stuff.

But he can’t do ‘home maintenance’.  And neither can I.

As home-owners, therefore, we’re at the mercy of trades-people. 

After 25 years I decided it was time to replace a grotty jerry-built hall cupboard.  Do you know how hard it is to get a tradie to even return a call?

After hours searching the net and making phone calls, leaving messages that didn’t get responses, finally got through to a carpenter who seemed interested in taking on the job.  He asked me to phone through some photos, which I did.  He sent back some rudimentary drawings then quoted close to $10,000 to build a largely chip-board, melamine lined two door cupboard.  WTF?  An entire bathroom renovation not that long ago cost that much.

Perhaps he didn’t want the job so over-quoted it.

The only other person who returned my call - a ‘handy man’ -  was Costa.

Costa said he’d ‘make a few calls’ to his friend the cabinet maker and see what he could do.  Having done that, he quoted less than half the price of the other tradie.  With only two options, I ‘commissioned’ him to do the job.

Here was the rub.  He wanted, up front, $3,500 – most of the cost - before he’d take on the work. 

‘Youse’ve got to see it from my point of view.  If youse back out, I’ll be stuck with a cupboard I can’t do anything with.’ I suppose that was a fair call.  He seemed polite.  Didn’t let the black strands combed over his bald pate put me off.  Bells were ringing, but I gave him a cheque anyway.

‘Youse’ll have your cupboard finished in five weeks, once the cheque clears,’ he said, writing a receipt in one of those receipt books you can buy in the stationery section of Big W.

That was on October 14.  On December 8, we were still waiting for him to start the job.

‘What youse’ve got to understand,’ he said when I called, ‘is that everybody wants the job done before Christmas.’

‘But when I gave you a cheque on October 14, you said it would take five weeks.  See it from my point of view.  I’ve paid you $3,500 up front, and you haven’t started the job yet.’

‘I’ve been a business man in this area for twenty years.'   Costa was arcing up. 'Do you think I’m gonna run off with your money? $3,500 is nothing, anyway.’  

‘It’s a lot of money to us.’  He couldn’t really argue with that.  Moved me up his priority list.

The other source of anxiety?  What if he was crap?  I’d handed over heaps of money without having any idea whether he was up for the job.

Costa almost finished the job yesterday, December 15.  He proved to be polite, and did a clean job, but he kept weird hours.  He only did half days.

‘Are you doing another job?’  I demanded.  Well, I was interested in knowing how it worked. ‘Or do you have to look after your mother?’ He’d told me when I’d interrogated him at the first meeting that he was thirty-eight, single and lived with his mother.  Amazing what a nosy person can discover.

‘Mornings just don’t work for me,’ he said a bit too loudly.

So Al and I took two consecutive days off work to let him in.  It’s taken three half days and a couple of unscheduled after hours visits to do a job that could have been completed, as far as I could tell, in a day and a half.. 

The door knobs aren’t quite aligned, but overall, he’s done a good job. I trust the $400 I’m still to pay him will be enough incentive for him to return in the new year and ‘finish the seams.’

Meanwhile, I needed an electrician to replace the thermostat displaced by the demolition of the old cupboard.  Booked the electrician; took yet another day off work.  The bastard didn’t front.  No call; nothing.

At that stage I was prepared to live without heating until autumn – it’s summer after all.  But I made one last internet search and called some random electrician.  Lo and behold, someone answered the call.

Next day, right on time, two thirty-something sparkies arrived and briskly completed what looked to me like a tricky job.  Up and down the ladder; ‘fishing’ for flex behind the walls, as they do.  Swept up after themselves.  Great legs.   

I was curiously aroused.

And as soon as Al gets home, he'll cook dinner.  I've only had to replace the cupboard once, but I get dinner every night.  So you can stay, Al.