Two weeks ago, an enormous shipping container arrived at our apartment complex, containing about 85% of our combined worldly possessions. It had survived six weeks on the ocean, during which time we had visions of it going the way of the Costa Concordia, spewing our personal belongings into the ungrateful ocean, or being pillaged by Somalian pirates on the specific hunt for cheap western guitars, cookbooks and ikea crockery. For two frustrating weeks, after arriving the same way as my convict ancestors, it sat in a port 25km away, while the company put up its collective feet and took a break over Christmas. Meanwhile, we spent the festive season the same way we had spent the rest of November and December, wearing the same three outfits, eating with someone else’s cutlery and sleeping on borrowed mattresses.
So, we were more excited than a bogan on Australia Day when the truck pulled up in the clearway, and three suitably burly removalists began carting our 75 boxes up to the third floor. I stood officiously in our hallway, checking off each box as it arrived, as if my vigilance was important to stop them running off with box #31, ‘outdoor shoes’. After ineptly assembling the bed, making sure that eight structurally-important-looking bolts were left out, and unwrapping selected furniture items with the enthusiasm of an emo teenager at a great-aunt’s christmas party, they disappeared to be burly at their next destination.
When we had finished unwrapping our goods, we were knee-deep in between eight and ten football fields’ worth of endangered rainforest, which had been pulped, pressed into slightly woofy paper and utilised for the globally beneficial task of protecting our crockery. Clearly, the company’s insurance firm had terrorised them, as they had separately wrapped anything that could be pulled apart into components. The removable part of the garlic press was swathed in three separate sheets of paper, for instance, and each of our twenty-seven shot glasses was the size of a small balloon.
Inevitably, we came across a number of items that had, by mistake or miracle, avoided our first round of ruthless sorting and disposal. We marvelled at our past selves, who, when presented with the task of ‘packing essentials for overseas’ had apparently sanctioned the shipping of a glass cake platter (complete with dome), and a crushed ice maker.
Upon initially finding out that we would not be paying for the container that was to ship our goods, we did what any sensible misers would do and pointed at the largest item of furniture we owned, demanding that it go with us. And so it was that an enormous wall unit arrived in six pieces, which we were quite keen to get mounted so that it could do what it does best, which is house our liquor cabinet.
The Two Ronnies
When the glorious day of assembly arrived and there was a knock at the door, I was expecting a couple of chippies decked out with tool pouches and polo shirts covered in wood shavings. Somewhat resembling Mike Delfino from Desperate Housewives. They, in turn, most likely expected me to look like Teri Hatcher.
We were all woefully disappointed. I opened the door to Ma and Pa Kettle carrying a black and decker. ‘Nick’ was a stocky, white-haired guy in his 50s, I guess. I would like to say that his carpentry training had taken place at the school of hard knocks. Unfortunately, it does not appear to have taken place at all. He was accompanied by a polite, wizened woman with stringy hair who looked like she had just stepped out of a vegetable dehydrator. My suspicion that this was a result of cigarette consumption was confirmed when she came back up after a break smelling like there was a tobacco field on fire inside her skull. Her husband explained that she had just been made redundant, and he had taken her on as an apprentice.
What that actually meant, it emerged, was that she had lost her job at the school canteen, and now she followed him around every day like a desiccated greyhound. She was, at any rate, the only apprentice ever to avoid an arse-kicking after being asked her to go downstairs for a chisel and bringing back a file.
I figured that, even allowing for an incompetence buffer, I should be seeing the back of tweedledum and tweedledee in about 2 hours. Even though my fitting and joining expertise comes from watching Better Homes and Gardens with a rude hangover, I knew that this job basically just involved measuring up, screwing some wood to the wall, hanging the unit on the wood, and drinking a cold beer. After all, it had only taken about an hour for the initial installation, in between cups of tea and bikkies.
Ma and Pa Kettle, on the other hand, saw things differently. Astonishingly, they felt no need for such rank amateur steps as measuring the length of the wall. The chief just asked ‘which side’ll we start from then?’ In retrospect, I should have felt less awe and more foreboding at his ability to measure up the space with his naked eye.
Now, you can do a lot of things in six hours. It is the approximate length of a school day. A leisurely round of golf might take that long, if you stretched out your time at the nineteenth hole. A neurosurgeon might get through a couple of biopsies and lunch. You could watch Braveheart twice back-to-back and still get change from six hours, including toilet and popcorn breaks.
Turns out, amateur handypersons can also spend this same amount of time making our rented walls look like swiss cheese. Finally, at 7pm, stoically missing out on the Biggest Loser weekly weigh-in, I was admiring the way our newly-installed furniture tilted at a slight angle, clinging precariously to the gyprock.
Nick gave me his card, if anyone is interested in his services. Apparently he does all kinds of odd jobs, and his unique selling proposition appears to be that you get to enjoy his company for four times as long as it would take any other tradesperson. I personally have filed his contact details in a manila folder labelled ‘complaint letters’. I will get around to drafting a recommendation to the removalist company to never again use his esteemed services, right after I send off the ones to an internet provider, the building manager and Kyle Sandilands.