Danny Wallace on the perils of being over-friendly to workmen
"I’m straight back in their faces, offering them biscuits"
I have got some workmen round, and I realise that all I want is for them to be happy.
I’m not someone who can ignore workmen. I can’t simply allow them to do their work professionally in a professional setting so that they can finish swiftly and move on to the next financially rewarding job. No. I am someone who keeps them from future employment by engaging with them, but it is only because I care for their wellbeing and must cater for their every whim.
Biscuits. Cake. Both hot and cold drinks depending on outside temperature. A working knowledge of their tea and coffee preferences, including sugar type.
It is exhausting, but for those few days when there are proper men around, it is my calling.
I do allow them a little space, though. I don’t suffocate them.
I realise there will be moments where they need to exchange short bursts of technical information with one another that a civilian can’t understand. Things about screws etc. But then I’m straight back in their faces, offering them biscuits.
My wife thinks I need to stop mollycoddling these grown men. What a very cold woman. Did I tell you she put up some flypaper recently? I watched her, and she feels nothing as those flies gasp their last. It’s been a real eye-opener. Anyway, just as I’m preparing to take the men’s second cup of tea outside – which they have not asked for – two absolute disasters strike at once.
The first is we’re nearly out of semi-skimmed milk. I do not know why, but it is my lazy assumption that workmen must have semi-skimmed milk. We only have skimmed left. But surely that is too weak for them? It is imperative they maintain strong bones and maximum calcium. And what if they think I’m namby-pamby for giving them skimmed milk?
But the second disaster is when I see that it is past lunchtime and they have not stopped for lunch. Maybe I’m supposed to give them lunch?
“I’m just thinking of ordering a couple of pizzas,” I say, nonchalantly, like giving them pizza is an afterthought. “Want some?”
They down tools a second – what a great phrase I just used – and nod appreciatively. I put their teas down and sniff in a sort of distracted way.
“Only had skimmed left,” I say, not bothering with the words “we” or “milk” because I’m being cool and using shorthand. “Soz.”
“Prefer it,” says the first workman, and I am filled with joy, but also kicking myself for not having checked what type of milk they prefer before now. What is wrong with me? I need some kind of menu system. I could start getting up at 5am to take deliveries from local delicatessens.
But now to the task at hand – because now I have a task and I am one of the guys! I check the pizza website and am overwhelmed by the options. What do workmen like? Well, meat. I order the meatiest pizza I can. But wait. That first guy likes skimmed milk. That speaks of a gentle soul and a delicate constitution. We’re going to need a vegetarian option. But these two choices speak of an unimaginative mind. I want them to have an exciting lunch. I’m going to have to order a third, more interesting pizza. Something that says, “We’re not afraid to do something unexpected, please come back please like me.” I order some kind of chicken barbecue travesty.
Twenty minutes later I’m at the door waiting for the delivery driver.
“Come on,” I think, all fatherly. “My boys need food!”
My wife drifts past, uninterested, until she remembers something.
“Did you get a pizza for us, too?”
What kind of selfish monster is she? And actually no, I didn’t. I was too busy thinking about what I’m going go do when they come back next time. I will be better prepared. I will buy a selection of pre-packaged sandwiches. Crisps of the world. Interesting juices. Milks of all sorts. These atrocities cannot happen again.
And when the pizzas arrive, the guys down tools again and pounce, hungrily tearing slices of pizza apart while making satisfied noises. I have done well.
I go back inside, every now and again stealing a glance outside as they stand around, eating pizzas and sharing jokes.
After 40 minutes, it gets very annoying.
Why the hell are they just standing around still eating pizza? I’m paying for this! They’re treating this place like a hotel!
But as they go, and empty-nest syndrome kicks in, they thank me, and I realise that in our precious time together, they had fun, and that is what I was paying for.
I check their work afterwards. One of them’s left 90 per cent of that bad chicken pizza by a shrub. And they didn’t touch their teas. And no one had a biscuit!
Screw those guys. I go inside, and stare at a fly gasping its last.
I feel nothing.
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