Sometimes, water from the shower in the en suite drips through the ceiling of our kitchen. It doesn’t happen very often; usually because we’ve forgotten to dose the shower with drain unblocker. It needs it every few months.
It’s something we’ve learned to live with. We have agreed that it would be ideal to get a plumber, perhaps one with a high-tech camera system who could see inside the murky innards of our home.
Ah, yes. Get a plumber. It seems so easy when you just write down the words. Google “plumbers near me”, ring them up and they arrive the next day, full of smiles and competitively priced solutions to your problem. But when you try to book one, the process gets a bit X-Files. You can ring up a plumbing company but the phone is never answered. Or if it’s answered, the person on the other end loudly sighs, seemingly worn out from dealing with daft requests from the public. They ask: is it an emergency? Because if it’s not, the soonest we can do is some time around Christmas. Obviously.
You have to nag them. A lot. Text them your address, then keep ringing when they don’t show for the first three appointments – always with a cheery tone – until they finally give up and break cover
It is possible to get the number of smaller outfits: where you get to speak to the actual plumber. They’ll tell you that they’ll be out next Tuesday afternoon, though they can’t be sure of the time. Curiously, they don’t ask for your address.
This is why people get sucked into conspiracy theorism. There seems to be plenty of anecdotal evidence that plumbers exist, that plumbing is taking place all over the country. In social situations, you might occasionally meet an individual who claims to be one. Yet when you try to engage with the plumbing industry, you are suddenly enveloped in a soft goo of silence and inactivity. Something else is going on here. They seem to exist, yet are impossible to find, simultaneously phasing in and out of existence. Schrödinger’s plumbers.
To any plumbers reading these words, I wish to say three things.
1. Yeah, right.
2. Can you come to my house?
3. I’m not having a go at plumbers here. The few I have met seemed like very fine people.
None of this happens because they are disorganised or lazy. Quite the opposite: they are swamped, and haven’t got the time or the head space to deal with the volume of requests
This is about people with trades. And I’m not having a go at them either. But in my experience – as a householder who might need relatively small domestic jobs done – they are extraordinarily difficult to pin down. You have to nag them. A lot. Text them your address, then keep ringing when they don’t show for the first three appointments – always with a cheery tone – until they finally give up and break cover.
None of this happens because they are disorganised or lazy. Quite the opposite: they are swamped, and haven’t got the time or the head space to deal with the volume of requests. Because there simply aren’t enough of them. No doubt you have seen the headlines that we’ve a skills shortage: a crisis that has its roots in the collapse of the Celtic Tiger and one that has been perpetuated by snobbish perceptions of what is a “good” job. Application numbers for apprenticeships and construction courses fell off a cliff more than a decade ago and haven’t recovered since.
Unfortunately, we’ve already forgotten what we learned during the pandemic: that teaching isn’t as easy as you might think. That people who work in supermarkets are vital to keeping us all fed. And in the midst of a grotesque housing crisis, people with trades are crucial to the most basic of needs: providing a place to live. It is fundamentally important work. It has integrity. People with trades make things and fix things. Their work lasts. And the money is pretty good too.
I am occasionally asked what I might have done for a living if I didn’t do what I do now. I always fancied being a carpenter. I’m starting to wish I was. Or a plumber, perhaps. I’d be coining it now.