I’ve got a new favourite builder.
After everyone else has left site he is still here, working solo, and trying to set the world record for the largest free standing stone built chimney. He wears a floppy hat by morning but switches for a large brimmed ladies straw hat when he gets back from lunch at two, when the afternoon and the sun is at its strongest. He spends all his time complaining that he is too hot, and makes no allowance for my lack of Spanish by speaking at machine-gun pace enabling me to catch about one word in every ten.
When the others were here they called him ‘Stoner’ not because he is a pot smoking hippie, but because he is their stone walling expert. I explained to Angel, the foreman, that ‘Stoner’ had some unsavoury connotations but that just increased the labourers hilarity and made them use it at every opportunity.
Yesterday morning Stoner decided that he needed to make the chimney another half a metre taller and sent me to a local builders merchants (with which I was not familiar) to buy a piece of stainless steel tube of 20cm diameter and 50cm length. I checked I’d got fifty euros in my wallet and programmed the satnav on the Spanish phone and set off.
A 5km journey turned into a 20km journey as the useless navigation system took me past the suppliers, unnoticed, and up into the hills and villages before bringing me back to the merchants some twenty-five minutes later. The shop was deserted save for a lady of advanced years who finished making her cup of coffee in the back kitchen before coming out to see why I was interrupting her morning of magazine reading.
I explained what I wanted and she said that they had one. Then she disappeared off deep into the bowels of the cellars for long enough to make me seriously consider calling the emergency services and have me racking my brains to try and think of how I would explain the predicament to the 112 operator.
When she returned she didn’t have the right thing, it was 40cm long, so I asked whether they actually had one of 50cm. She said yes and disappear again, this time returning with the correct item. I told her it was what I wanted and asked the price.
She eventually found the price list and after another five minutes studying a single page of figures she told me that it was going to cost me €125. I was somewhat aghast and told her that I thought it expensive but she just shrugged. Knowing I only had a fifty in my wallet I set off to walk to the bank to raid the cash machine, and returned to reluctantly hand over a kings ransom for a bit of stainless steel tubing.
When I got back home, an hour or more after leaving, Stoner asked if I’d been to Madrid, as it would have been easier for him to walk to the merchants and pick it up himself.
In my defence I told him that it was very expensive and in my limited Spanish that I had been forced to ‘visit a bank, with a gun’ to enable me to pay for it. He thought that highly amusing so I followed up by telling him that Amanda and I would be surviving on bread and water for the rest of the year. He spent the rest of the day repeating ‘visit a bank with a gun’ and ‘just bread and water’, and chuckling to himself.
Now that is where I thought that the story would end, with one of the most expensive pieces of stainless steel in the world, but this morning there was a final twist.
On returning to his shop last night the owner was in discussion with his eighty-six year old mother who asked how much she should have charged for my stainless tube. When he enquired what she’d actually charged and she told him, he held his head in his hands before asking who she had ‘fleeced’.
When she told him she didn’t know me he was distraught, and retired to the pub to drown his embarrassment where he bumped into….Stoner.
He told Stoner the story of what had happened and said he’d no idea who I was, but Stoner knew and regaled him with stories of the one-hour long five minute errand, the bank robbery, and our diet of bread and water.
This morning the red-faced shop-keeper turned up on our doorstep bearing €100, a humble apology, and a detailed explanation.
So that’s why Stoner is currently my favourite builder.