A tribute to tradesmen

And I should add, tradeswomen too.

I have been decorating a small room in our house. It was a relatively easy project, as I did not have to paint the windows, or gloss the door and surrounding wood. Clear the room, fill the cracks and screw-holes, sand down and wash the walls. This was followed by two coats of paint on the ceiling, then two coats of a different colour, on the walls. Some fiddly finishing touches followed. Making good the straight lines, going over tiny bits that were missed, and clearing the dust and spills from the carpet. This was not a mammoth task, and many readers could have probably completed this in a weekend, without giving it a second thought. However, I was hampered by a serious decorating liability.

I am just no good at it. Adding to that, I hate doing it, and can get absolutely no enjoyment from it. I have no genetic code for DIY. I am one of those people that will pay someone else to do it, or put it off until the last possible moment, or until other factors make it absolutely necessary to undertake this odious task. That sense of achievement that inspires others to get on with things like this just does not enter into my thoughts. I chose other paths in life, and put aside decorating in the same way that others decline to write, read, or watch films. Working in this room for a few hours each day, I have only spent around twenty-four hours on this job. To me, it seemed like an eternity. As I was finishing the last of the painting on Tuesday, I suddenly thought about the people who do this for a living. This is my blogging tribute to them.

I have never held with snobbery about jobs and careers. I believe that someone who empties my dustbin is as valuable to society as a surgeon who operates on me. There is far too much made of the social standing of different jobs. This not only applies in this country, but is the same all over the world. Tradesmen make the decision, usually at a very young age, to learn their craft. And in so doing, set out their life ahead. They work an apprenticeship, low paid for some years, and either continue with examinations, or learn on the job as they grow. They become accomplished in their chosen field, and can then offer their services to anyone with the means to pay them a fair rate for the job. There may be the odd exception, but they generally take a pride in their work, and want their customer to be satisfied, and to recommend them to others. We have all had occasion to use tradesmen, or to benefit from their services at some time. But unless we are related to one, or have a close friend  who is one, we know little about them.

This got me thinking, and for obvious reasons, about painters and decorators. How does anyone actually get the enthusiasm to do this for a living? A life spent with brushes, rollers, dustsheets and ladders; Gloss paint, Matt paint, eggshell, filler, and sandpaper. Wallpaper and paste, masking tape, white spirit, spreading knives, tins, trays, and pots. The paraphernalia of a chosen trade and career, carted around daily, loaded and unloaded into vans. Overalls and hands covered in paint. Waking up to the smell of paint, and going to bed at night, knowing that the same thing awaits you tomorrow. Rolling, brushing, stirring, sploshing, cutting in, and clearing up again. This is dedication indeed, and something unknown to me.

So I can only praise you. Whether decorator, carpenter, plumber, electrician, or gardener. You do things that I could never do. You do them well, with skill and commitment; and you carry on doing them, day in, day out. This is my salute to you all.

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13 thoughts on “A tribute to tradesmen

  1. One summer (seven or eight years ago), as a means of earning some extra cash, I learned how to lay tile. I worked mostly with travertine, and mostly 12×12 and 16×16 (inches). I tiled kitchens, living rooms, dining rooms, bathrooms, entryways, and stairs. Of course, this involved ripping up old carpets and linoleum, and removing baseboards for later reattachment or replacement. It also involved using a wet saw, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Particularly, I enjoyed cutting shapes that would fit around corners and bathroom stools, and also shapes that were part of a floor design. I didn’t care for the task of mixing the mortar, but I did like grouting tile with a sponge. Of course, I also had to do a lot of caulking where tile met baseboard, and where the baseboard met the wall. As for the baseboards, I salvaged most of them, but had to replace segments, and repaint them all. Part of the job included painting walls, which is something I didn’t really enjoy, but was good at because I had a steady hand and an eye for detail. Laying tile is, of course, physical labor that can be quite tiring after a long day of it. You also have to be careful with your back, your knees, your elbows, and the dust. I could never be a professional tile setter, though, because I’m too much of a perfectionist. I take my time. In the tile business, a lot of emphasis is placed on speed of work, not quality of work.

    During that same summer, I also did a lot of landscaping. Hauling gravel in a huge wheelbarrow, and then dumping and raking it into a yard, is backbreaking work, and, as anyone who lives in Las Vegas can tell you, the summer temperatures can be pretty extreme (40+ Celsius) here. In addition to working with gravel, I installed sprinkler systems, which involved digging long troughs in desert soil; did a bit of terracing; installed pavestone patios, which involved a lot of ground leveling as well as working with gravel and sand; and planted trees, bushes, and flowers. If it hadn’t been for the heat (after about 45 minutes, I had to slip inside the house and cool down with a drink of water), I would have enjoyed this work a lot more than I did. I could never be a professional landscaper in Las Vegas, even if I were younger and only worked during the cooler months, because it really wears the body down.

    Earlier in life, I did a bit of roofing, which I found to be rather pleasant, especially because it was fun working up high, though I was fully aware of the risks involved. I also paneled a cement basement, and helped build a wall, in order to create a finished room separate from the garage.

    I don’t know a thing about plumbing, and have never dabbled in that realm of DIY. In any event, pipes do not fascinate me in the least.

    All in all, I can say that I have a lot of respect for people who engage in these various activities, and for tradesmen/tradeswomen in general. Although I found much of the work to be enjoyable, I don’t know if my body could stand up to the abuse on a long-term basis, or if I could maintain the enjoyment level job after job, year after year. There is a sense of accomplishment that is definitely rewarding, though, especially when it involves a bit of ingenuity or creativity.

    Pete, your tribute to tradesmen was exceptionally well written, and I also salute these professional workers.

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    1. Thanks David, You have now talked yourself into two jobs. Hop on a plane to the UK, get down to Beetley, and you can re-tile my bathroom. It’s only small, so not too taxing. Then you can landscape the garden before the winter comes. Again, is is not too large, and I will be more than happy to provide moral support, by waving through the window in encouragement. Luckily for you, we do not have to endure desert heat, though it topped 68F here today, unusual for the time of year.
      As always, your kind comment is much appreciated.
      Very best wishes, Pete.

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      1. In a way, this sounds like a window of opportunity. But when it comes to hopping on a nonstop flight to Beetley International Airport in order to lay tile and do landscaping at the Johnson residence, there’s one small problem. Even though my heart and mind enthusiastically shout, “Sure thing!” my flesh and bones collectively groan, “Over my dead body!”

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        1. OK. It was worth a try, you have to admit…
          Just for info, the nearest airport of any size is in Norwich, and there are no flights to the USA from there. In case you were wondering…

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  2. I totally agree with your comment re snobbery about jobs and careers….. I used to notice that some folks in higher positions wouldn’t pass the time of day with those further down the hierarchy…. Equally, like Jude I actually enjoyed getting my hands dirty, but hardly have the stamina anymore. I did paint the back door to the garage recently, that was enough for me! It’s pay a man who can these days

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  3. What a great post! I’m a bit like you: I’d rather pay somebody else to do the decorating. I used to be quite good at it, but as years go by, I seem to have so much work that I’ve lost my touch and my appetite for things like. My wife seems happy doing some decorating, she paints and does gardening. So, perhaps the decorating genes are passed on to the ones who love you!

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  4. Oh, I used to LOVE decorating! Genes handed down from my mother as I don’t think I ever saw my father as much as lift a screwdriver! I was always changing the colours in my house – I got bored very easily and there is nothing as satisfying as standing back and seeing a room transformed. Stencilling – tick. Rag-rolling – tick. Wood-staining – tick. It is one of the things that frustrates me living in a rental home! BUT I’m sure I couldn’t paint those ceilings now, the crick in the neck, the pain in the shoulders. I may have reached the age where I need to find ‘a man who can’ as I appear to have married my father [grin…]

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    1. Rag rolling and stencilling Jude? What’s next? Laura Ashley frocks, and a fondue set, I suspect. Mind you, I always had you down as a colour-changer, in the nicest way, of course.
      Regards as always, Pete. x

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      1. Haha, definitely NOT the Laura Ashley frocks! But I did have some Laura Ashley material that I eventually made into curtains for the cloakroom 🙂 And I hate to admit that I think I once owned a fondue set too, but replaced that with a bagna càuda which is still somewhere around.

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