Home » Agony Uncle » Zen and the art of paying a man to do the work

Zen and the art of paying a man to do the work

I have to chuckle.

Nestling in my Spam folder over at Yahoo! Central is one offering me the opportunity to train as a plumber, builder, electrician, etc.

I should really have opened that file and acted decisively on it, instead of bulk-deleting all 45 messages. Not only could it save me a fortune, it could make me a wealthy man of leisure.

Right now, I am in need of a plumber to replace my leaking and unattractive kitchen tap, which I think you still call a faucet; the one I tried last week sneered at me and said to call back in three or four weeks, after he has finished plumbing five hundred caravans on the nearby caravan park.

Spring is here.

And if the electrician finally shows up (he’s eight days overdue, no apology or explanation; caravans, probably) to re-channel the wiring behind the false wall I’ve had to build myself, given that the small builder didn’t turn up either (that was last July), so that I can have an extra power-point fitted in my new little kitchen area, about an hour’s work for a certified man, I can finally finish fixing the plasterboard to the sturdy wooden framework I’ve constructed and call in a plasterer to give it a skim coat, which I am lousy at on account of not having had The Training.

And once the wall is skimmed and the plaster dries, maybe by next August while the plasterer is off sunning himself at his holiday home in Barbados, I can get in a man to help me hang the heavy wall cupboard, I can fix on some doors and finally enjoy my newly extended bit of kitchen, all ten square feet and a thousand pounds or so of it.

The young man I accosted in the car park of B&Q because of his sweetly painted van covered in bright, Spring-like green leaves and a legend promising all kinds of garden work will, I hope, stick to his offer to come over sometime next week and discuss replacing my collapsing garden fence. I do know how to demolish and build fences, of course I do, but this one’s a bit tricky on account of it’s both horizontal and vertical, and definitely a job for two.

And of course, I’m laying my own kitchen floor tiles. It doesn’t look too bad from a distance, but I know they’re uneven and the job has taken me five days already. I still have two rows to go, I haven’t even started grouting, although I dream nightly about it.  I’ve ruined a pair of jeans and my best (only) cashmere sweater, that are all blobby with tile cement, and my fingers have turned black and painfully swollen because I always ignore the safety instructions.

That’s why I had to get an expert in to lay the wood laminate flooring in the living room, if you can call it living. I didn’t trust myself to do that, but now I’ve seen how it’s done I consider myself fully qualified. It’s really just a matter of patience, and a can of spray glue.

And I went round to pay him his money, and he invited me in to show me the beautiful expensive flooring he has put down in his own little home; and his fabulous new kitchen, and his enormous suite of interconnected sofas, his iMax-size TV, his fully computerised home office, and he explained how he got them all on the insurance after his house flooded in 2012, and he showed me where the raging waters had briefly risen to, basically just below skirting-board height, and I sighed wistfully and hoped my house could flood someday too.

Only (dear Buyers) it never does. We just have the same postcode.


Keeping up appearances

Walking with Hunzi through the dogshit-strewn exurban space that passes for our local park, along the cycle track over the river and past the cricket ground to the sewage works and back, we seem to have acquired two new characters whom I would cheerfully walk on broken glass to avoid.

I’ve Posted before on the subject of the tiny, taciturn but ineffably smug-looking, woolly-ginger-bearded man, with his mysterious black box and the bicycle whose wheels he is always cleaning in the river; his little tattooed arms, who appears everywhere even at night when I am miles away from his usual haunt.

Tim or Jim, I’ve recently learned from a mutual dog-walker that the mystery box contains only a sandwich.

Then there is Dumpy Man, who pushes his bicycle along, its pannier laden with small items he has scavenged from the Recycling Centre. Sometimes he is in the mood for conversation. ‘Old Mr Mason, he died.’ he avers, emphatically.

Now, a total outsider to this strange community, I have no idea who Mr Mason is, or was, other than that he was a nonagenarian who dealt in scrap metal and lived a few hundred yards along the road from me, in a farmhouse, his former landholdings having disappeared profitably under the ever-expanding town.

‘He fell out of bed. Broke both his hips.’ ‘That sounds painful’, I reply. ‘But it wasn’t what he died of.’ ‘No? What did he die of?’

‘They say it was eating too much chips.’

And now there is Terrified Man, a shy paranoiac with a surprisingly high-pitched voice, wearing a parka under a high-viz jacket and khaki cap. Terrified Man has acquired a cute little puppy, possibly all or part black-Labrador. They have taken to spending their entire lives together in the park. Every time he sees Hunzi and me approaching in the distance, he scoops the happily snouting little creature up in his arms and backs off the path as far as he can go.

This morning I call out to him, I hope reassuringly: ‘it’s alright, he won’t harm you’. I thought, the harm has already been done. I get pretty indignant, to be honest, Hunzi is such a lovely dog who wouldn’t hurt a flea.

And Terrified Man calls back from the distance in his surprisingly high-pitched voice: ‘I lost Sandy!’, and gives me a sad little wave.

I’m not speaking, either, of the nuggety, sunburned man in army camouflage trousers and a hoodie, no stranger I’d imagine to rough sleeping, with whom I exchange grunts on the narrow path today. Especially as he appears to have a chain attached to his nose. What some people will do to keep up appearances.

Worse, though, is the bedraggled, muddy Golden retriever bitch, who waits to ambush us by the sewage works. She hangs out with a little mongrel terrier. I once took him home with us, believing him to be a stray, but he escaped while I was calling the police. He had no collar, no ID, but I was told, it’s okay, he belongs to the man with the house in the woods. Everyone has taken him home.

So that’s alright then.

The old bitch is a different matter. We met her yesterday, just as the groundsman was passing in his little car on the way to the cricket club, where he has been mowing the grass all winter because it’s been too warm. And he calls out: ‘She’s having pups in two months!’ and before I could discover how he knows, I had to go drag Hunzi off her rear end and shout at him to desist.

If I can’t anymore, a satirical little voice nags me, then nobody should!

Anyway, after that she wouldn’t leave him alone, and trailed along mournfully after us. Occasionally she would veer off the path into the underbrush and reappear cunningly ahead of us. I tried screaming at her to go away and waving a little stick. I tried throwing the stick in her direction, but to no avail. I’m not taking that home, I thought, forcing Hunzi along who, with many wistful backward glances, was stopping every now and then to leave her an encouraging p-mail.

And there she is again today, with her tatty old blue collar, her sad eyes, her matted fur, and I make him wear the lead and drag poor li’l Hunzi homeward, cutting short our walk, screaming and muttering foul imprecations, and there is Terrified Man again, ahead of us, clutching his puppy and backing away in terror.

I think I’ve Posted before about shuffling.

It really is the most comforting method of locomotion at our age. It’s like surrendering to gravity, the pull of the earth. And today as I shuffle along in my expensive red tennis shoes covered in blobs of tile cement, weeping silently beneath my old woolly hat, my mouth falls open and my tongue lolls forward and I feel a moment of sheer, moronic pleasure at having absolutely nothing left to prove.

What some people will do to keep up appearances.


Love me or leave me

I’ve bogld before that I think Chancellor Gideon ‘George’ Osborne is a pretty sneaky feller.

I noticed a while ago that he often seems to leak stories in advance of big announcements that he’s going to do something really Tory and cuntish, which stirs up a media storm – and then announces that he’s been persuaded to change tack and not do the horrid thing he was badly advised to do, that would force disabled poor people to live in fields and eat grass.

This makes him seem reasonable, human even, a listener not a didact. It offsets his otherworldly manner with a bit of cheap popularity. For he’s a jolly good fellow, sort of thing. And his mate, Dave has unwisely promised to stand down at the next election, obviously never having seen or read King Lear, which will give George a run at the leadership.

And here we are, look, he’s gone and done it again.

For seeming-ever, the money people pay into their company or private pension plan has come off before tax. You pay tax on your earnings, but not on any money you invest in a pension fund. When you finally claim your pension, you pay no tax on the first 25% of it, which you can take out as a lump sum. You only pay tax on the income from the rest; assuming it’s more than the personal tax-free allowance, that is.

Now, this has two effects. First, higher earners can obviously afford to mitigate more tax unfairly by paying more into their pension funds. And secondly, the tax George gets from pension incomes is about one-third of the tax he would get if you paid no tax on your pension income after you claim it, but the money you paid in to the fund was taxed upfront along with the rest of your earnings.

This would get him about £17 billion a year extra almost immediately, helping him to balance those damned elusive books, keep the NHS afloat and order some new submarines by 2020. And with a budget coming up, it seems reasonable to leak the story in advance.

The idea immediately met with a howl of outrage from well-heeled Tories. The Government is already raising the pension age incrementally and many people starting work today will have to go on paying into their pension funds for an extra ten years, during which time the Government will be hitting their contributions for tax. So potential future Tory voters weren’t happy either. Not only that, but the Tories made a specific election manifesto promise not to even think of doing this.

And guess what?

That’s right. Good Ol’ George has already backed down. Hurrah for the Chancellor. Nay, thrice hurrah, for he’s a jolly good fellow, and all that.


Q. Can you give me three good reasons why we should remain in the EU?

A. Yes. Ian Duncan-Smith.







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