Monday, March 12, 2007

A tale of two postcodes

Fitting a torpedo hot water cylinder in a mean part of town
Originally uploaded by joellaflickr.

This morning, I got up early to drive into deepest darkest Oxfordshire to hand tools to J the plumber while he changed a hot water cylinder for a housing association. I was proper work experience girl.

The plumbing side of it was interesting, and I learnt a lot. I cut some pipe and did some soldering and melted something I shouldn't've (which fazed J not one iota, and he patched it up beautifully).

But the human side of it was even more interesting. The sun was shining when we arrived, and the houses, set round a grassy common area, seemed cheerful and full of life.

Then J took a call from his wife while he was hacking away at the thin-walled copper in the airing cupboard (there was a copper shortage in the 80s and this was all local authorities could get) and said 'yeah, I'm out in Drugland'.

I thought it looked quite nice round here, I said, and he took me into the back bedroom and pointed out the window to where the neighbourhood changes. Two streets over, he said, and I wouldn't be taking you into those houses. He then told me some stories (he's not a big guy, but you really, really wouldn't mess with him) that I don't feel that comfortable repeating.

The teenage daughter of the house was sitting on Bebo downstairs, wrapped in a Playboy pink fleece blanket (wrong on so many levels) because the front door was open while we drained down the hot water and the central heating. She told us that they'd just been allocated another house, as they'd wanted to move ever since her mum got beaten up by one of the neighbours. They'll be moving in four weeks or so, but they've already packed.

It's shit round here, she said, it's all smackheads and single mothers. J asked her if she was doing her GCSEs, and she laughed and said she left school ages ago, she works in childcare.

I liked her, she seemed smart and together and focused. I wish someone would send girls like her off for a shit hot sixth form education. She'd go miles, I'm sure, given the chance.

J did a pretty tidy and thoroughly kosher job, though it's hard to know who would have cared if he hadn't (which gives me pause for thought given my previous rant about social housing which passes into private ownership). I helped tidy up, then headed back to a land where people separate their recyclables and add essential oils to their biodegradable washing liquid.

About an hour later, as I was eating sunflower seeds and drinking green tea, my mobile chirped. Did I want to come and check out a float valve replacement on a close-coupled cistern that was pissing water everywhere? Sure I did, and headed over to a privately rented flat in a part of town where they brought in residents parking so the nannies and the cleaners wouldn't have to compete with commuters for parking spaces.

We're talking Montessori Ashtanga wine cellar central. This is not just ladies who lunch, this is ladies who lunch and then go to the M&S food hall on their way home.

Having said all that, the plumbing in this flat was just as shit as the plumbing in the previous house, in an absentee-landlord-letting-agent-managed sort of way. It was functioning, and its worst excesses were largely hidden by the upmarket his-and-hers toiletries, but you really wouldn't need to be an expert to spot the bodges -- the best one was the basin in the bathroom, which had a hot tap on the right, not connected to anything, and a mixer tap on the left where the cold tap used to be, which was plumbed in but which was so badly fitted you could twist it round 180 degrees.

I am left, overall, with a philosophical question: if nobody actually cares whether you do a good job, and you will get paid the same amount whether you do one or not, is there any point in doing one?

Maybe I should listen to Adam Curtis and get busy, game-theory-stylee, focusing entirely on my own self-interest of making as much money as possible. But hang on, isn't having pride in one's work essential for self-esteem? Doesn't it pay long term societal dividends to make things look good and work properly? Or am I just hopelessly out of date?


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Blogger Phil said...

I would say doing a good and thorough job benefits you on many levels.
1/ Walking away from a job well done gives you a psychological boost.
2/ Protects you from repercussions of doing poor quality work. Namely being sued having your hard won reputation spoilt.
3/ Time spend doing a job well is efficient use of time as correcting complications whether practical or administrative always takes longer.
That's my two pence worth.

10:55 am  
Blogger Timbo said...

I'm of the 'if you're going to do it, do it properly' school of thought, therefore I don't fit into Curtis's model of a selfish individual. Which isn't to say I can't be selfish on occasion, I just like my taps to work properly.

1:20 pm  
Blogger Delboy's Daughter said...

Because doing the best job often equates with the easiest and fastest?

2:36 pm  
Blogger Jo said...

I also belong to the 'if you're going to do it, do it properly' school, and we are surely the counter-argument to the selfish individual school, but it's sobering how many people I come across who aren't. I think it's different for plumbing than for surgery (but I see it in IT all the time, it's not just in manual trades) - the 'do enough to fix the problem long enough to get paid, and never mind the next person who might have to deal with it'. And when you are dealing with other people's bodges, you are far more likely to re-bodge. Maybe it's not always wrong to do so (if it will probably last five years and take half the time of doing it by the book why not?) but it just *feels* wrong. My ethics are 20th century, I need to re-examine them, though that doesn't mean I will necessarily change them...

12:09 am  

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