I’m in the Ladies toilets of a local pub.
I’ve come to replace the missing crystal on their chandelier.
It’s a metre long and hangs across the two cubicles.
My ladder is ready but I'm waiting for Miss Tinkle to finish in the loo. I don’t want to alarm her by reaching out across her head.
She sounds like she’s drunk a fair amount.
tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle...
A pint of beer?
I tap my pliers against the rung of my ladder and wait for the flush.
Instead it starts again.
tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle tinkle...
The main door opens and another girl comes in.
I hadn’t anticipated these interruptions and am beginning to worry that this job will take a long time.
The girl eyes my ladder.
“I’m not a pervert. I’ve just come to put some crystals on the light.”
“If you say so,” she says.
The toilet flushes and Miss Tinkle comes out. The second girl goes into the cubicle.
“Do you mind if I put them on while you’re in there?” I call out. “I can’t see you.”
“Yeah, go on,” she calls back, “as long as you’re not a boy.”
So I go up my ladder and awkwardly manoeuvre myself so I can reach the gaps in the chandelier. I can’t see her but she can see my hands fiddling about above her.
“That looks weird,” she says.
It doesn’t take long after that and I’m glad to get outside into the fresh air.
We do this sort of thing for local customers; turn up to do the fiddly bits.
One local woman still asks after my brother when her halogen bulbs blow.
“Where is the boy?” she’ll ask.
And I have to tell her he turned into a man a long time ago and doesn’t live in England anymore.
Other jobs are a little grander.
Like the 2 metre tall spiral chandelier we dressed at 8am this morning in a stairwell at South East London’s most famous Funeral Directors.
It was like entering a country estate; beautifully maintained with its gardens and clock tower. There was a buzz of activity as everyone got on with their jobs for the day; each person appropriately dressed for the task at hand.
Their spacious car park was full of gleaming black vehicles.
They were all so smart and shiny that Mum hesitated before going in.
“What are you doing?” I asked her, as she reversed.
“I can’t go in there with this car,” she said. “It’s covered in bird’s poo.”
“But this is like, our van,” I said.
“It still doesn’t need to be covered in bird’s poo.”
To reach the chandelier we needed two ladders locked together down the stair case and two Polish builders to hold each side.
I climbed to the top and Mum handed me up a string of crystal, one at a time.
There were hundreds of strings, each one a different length; it was going to take a while.
The builders didn’t speak much English and watched in silence.
At one point I felt an urge to chat to them.
I’d done four classes of Polish while studying TEFL* (teaching English as a foreign language).
I knew how to say ‘bread’ and ‘one sausage’.
But half an hour later I was still wondering how I could put my knowledge to use.
In the end I kept quiet and let the chandelier do all the talking.
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