At home with Bob the Builder

2008-03-17 00:00

As I type to you from under the kitchen table where my spaniel and I are sharing a bottle of Rescue tablets, I wonder about the few certainties in life. Everyone knows the first two — death and taxes. But the third one is kept a dark secret for fear of terrifying the life out of potential home owners. This third certainty is that sometime in your home-owning life, you will have to call in The Builders. I think they deserve capital letters of their very own, as their influence on your wellbeing is greater than that of most presidents of a lot of countries.

Your standard politician usually consists of hot air and has no tangible effect on your daily life. Unless, of course, you count Robert Mugabe and you live in Zimbabwe. In fact, he has exactly the same effect as most builders. That’s probably why they named that programme Bob the Builder, after him.

The thing is, builders by the very nature of their work, are essentially destructive. Ask any of them, Uncle Bob included, and they will tell you that you have to break down in order to rebuild; that destruction is just the other side of the creative coin; that it’s all for your own good. Somehow that’s hard to believe when you have five men stomping on your roof removing the only thing between you and the heavens.

Our house suffered severe flood damage in a recent storm. At one point during the downpour I was up to my ankles in water in my bedroom in spite of an umbrella which I carried over my head as a sardonic statement. My statement seem-ed, well, overstated as the bed floated by. After many years of dealing with mini floods and every receptacle in the house having served its term of duty as a water catcher, we decided to call in the insurance assessor.

A brave young man came to look at the results of the flood. As he inspected the inside damage to the bedroom, he made the deduction that the root cause of the flooding came from the roof.

As I held the ladder on one side of the building, he tripped up and across the rooftop like someone from Mary Poppins. A loud shout from out of my line of vision led me to wonder whether he’d met a group of chimney sweeps. I shouted to hear if he was all right or if he wanted to borrow a pair of dancing shoes but no answer was forthcoming. I hoped that he hadn’t taken flight with the umbrella.

Eventually, after much walking around the house and calling up into the trees, I spied him waist deep in the middle of red roof tiles. The poor man had fallen through the roof which he said was as rotten as the Zimbabwean Reserve Bank records.

Once he’d hauled himself out and we were assured that he was reasonably undamaged, his happy news was that the beams holding up the roof were like powder. They had to be replaced as soon as possible if we were to sleep through another night without the sky falling on our heads.

Of course, the decay of the beams was not covered by insurance as this was classified as “wear and tear”. His initial quote of R100 000 to replace the broken beams led to a minor crisis with us considering whether to paint and run to the nearest estate agent.

But a friend with building experience stepped in to rescue us from an ethical dilemma. And from the roof collapsing on our tender skulls, obviously.

For a fifth of the quoted price he could bring his team of builders to do the same job. The very next day.

And that is why I am typing this column sheltering under the kitchen table and considering the words “necessary evil”. At least I’ll be able to save the umbrella for outside use in future. Or perhaps Bob would like to borrow it for the upcoming elections in his country? He might need it as, I’m sure, he too might experience just a bit of storm damage.

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