When you have two weeks to spare…
The great thing about Google Earth is the ability to revisit the scenes of your own history, to open up the museum of recollections and then zoom into a photographic street map of the location really enhances the history, confirms to you what the museum of recollections is telling you, reminds you that no, you weren’t mad, it really did happen just like that for look, thats where it happened.
In the spring of 1976 I had been working for the electrical contractors for two years and a lot had happened in those two years, the people who had employed me were no longer with the company and a new management team was in place, the person who was supposed to have been training me for a life as a quantity surveyor and estimator had left the company and left this planet in a confusion of pills for his nerves, it was nothing to do with having to train me, honest, and I was now training with Eugene and his gang of slightly mad and always drunk compatriots, life was good for the 19 year old me, a responsible job with no responsibilities, no bills to pay, money in my pocket, I didn’t know it then but life would never be quite like that again.
The company was quite a large business, we employed at that time around 120 electricians working on building sites across the north of England, and on two refurbishment sites in Edinburgh, two large council estates where the tenement buildings were being completely stripped out and rebuilt, our part of that being the re-wiring of each apartment, hundreds of them, in fact about a thousand in total.
The spring of 76 saw both of those contracts coming to an end and in the estimating office we were busy trying to win contracts in Scotland in order to keep employed the two teams of Scottish electricians that we’d established , in the event we won a large contract to refurbish another council estate in Scarborough and sent them all there, yes I know its nowhere near Scotland…
I was approached one Friday morning by one of our directors who handed me the keys to one of the pool vans, a three inch thick pile of papers, some site plans and an address to a lodging house, “Got a job for you” is what he said.
It was the first time I’d worked away from home, it transpired that the almost 1000 apartments that we had so lovingly rewired had a few loose ends to tie up, specifically three things, three little bits of extra work that our electricians had been carrying out but not noting down on any paperwork – now was the time to note these three bits of extra work, outside light, socket for a plumbed-in washer, door bell, plus get a signature from every householder to say they were happy with the work.
If any of the apartments had had any of those three things done as “extras” to the main contract then I had to note it and charge to the council at the agreed rates, it was worth several thousand pounds to my employer and they spared no expense in getting me up there the next working day, that is they filled the van with petrol and put me in a very cheap lodging house and waved goodbye at the office door.
The memory of those two weeks are still fresh and well indexed in the museum of recollections, I can still taste the food I ate those two weeks, mainly mutton pie in gravy, I still recall those endless hours sitting on park benches feeding the ducks while waiting for 5pm to come around so I could go back to the lodging house…
“But we thought you had a job to do…” you all cry,
I did do the job, I did the job for about one hour on the first Monday, I met with our site foreman and he took me to the first block of tenements, dour concrete rendered blocks of six apartments on three floors, a central concrete stairwell, this was the Stenhouse estate, the posher of the two, you probably wouldn’t call it posh if you had just arrived in Edinburgh and were taking a walk around it but then you wouldn’t have seen the other estate yet, Craigmillar.
We knocked on six doors in that first block, got an answer at four, got a signature of satisfaction at two, got incoherent grunts from the other two but no signature, “Aye, good luck wi that laddie” said our foreman as he walked off back towards the site offices, I was on my own, 1000 doors to knock at, 500 of them on an estate that was rumoured to be considerably rougher than the one I was now stood on, which looked fairly rough to me – I went and sat back in the van.
A plan hatched.
This was a paperwork exercise, something to satisfy some pen pusher at Edinburgh council who was never going to get off his lardy arse and come out here to check these ticks and signatures, and, well, you know the rest don’t you, I filled in the forms and signed all the boxes myself.
The “extras” bit was easy, in fact one of the two tenants that signed my form gave me the answer to the problem,
“Have you had a new doorbell fitted ?” I asked
“Aye laddie, ye’ve jest rang the bloody thing” replied the tenant
“Oh yes” I replied
“Have you had an outside light rewired ?” I asked
The tenant just stared to a spot above my head, I followed his gaze to a new outside light, tick the box
“Have you had a plumbed in washing machine rewired ?” I asked
The tenant just laughed, this was 1976, plumbed in washing machines were for the 1980s, three people on Stenhouse had plumbed in washing machines and the tenant told me who they were.
The next morning I drove across the city to the Craigmillar Estate, they were right, it was a rough-hole, although with the magic that is Google Earth it seems quite nice now, its obviously been renovated again – one of the ways that you know that you’re getting old is when refurbishment building contracts that you worked on have since been refurbished again - I didn’t get out of the van, just drove around the streets staring at the stairwells to see if any new doorbells or outside lights were apparent, didn’t even bother with plumbed-in washing machines here, It didn’t look like anyone had ever heard of the concept of washing here.
I needed somewhere to sit and do the mountain of paperwork that had to be returned in two weeks time, needed to forge 1000 signatures and tick lots of boxes and whilst driving around aimlessly I found a park, with a duck pond, and it was a sunny, if cold, spring morning, so I bought a newspaper and a sandwich and sat in that park all day, read the paper three or four times, forged some signatures, fed the ducks and then went back to my lodging house.
I’d done the job in two days but I had two weeks to fill so for the rest of that first week I went to the park and sat and fed the ducks, then went home to Leeds at the weekend.
For the whole of that weekend I pondered on whether to just go into the office and declare loudly that I’d rushed around the job and got it finished in super quick time and how good was I, or just go back to Edinburgh and doss around for another five days.
Back to the park every day then, buy a newspaper, buy some pies and some sandwiches, feed the ducks, forge some signatures, tick some boxes, go back to the lodging house for pea and lentil soup and mutton pie every night.
I still don’t really know why I never thought of visiting the centre of Edinburgh during those two weeks sitting on a park bench for if I had then I could have wandered for days on end window shopping, real shopping, pubs, but no, I stayed away from the city centre and just drove around the ring road every day to the park with the duck pond and sat with my new friends The Mallards and together we put the world of public parks to rights, ate a lot of Greggs pies and sandwiches, ticked a lot of boxes and forged a lot of signatures.
I was right, no one ever looked at those reams and reams of paper when I took them back to the office, no-one from the council ever got off their lardy arses to double check my work, it all got filed away, we got paid, happy days.