bob_the_builder.jpgAlex enjoying Bob the Builder by gordon.milligan is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A while ago Gari Nickson, CEO of GenieBelt, told me I was a real life Bob the Builder. I asked him to explain; he did and that left me looking at myself completely differently!

Now I’m fully aware that I’m a clapped out old guffer of a retiree. My day is spent sat at my desk in my home office using the internet and the phone to communicate with people. I know I’m a certificated smart-ar*e with loads of construction-related post nominals after my name and loads of site experience. These give me the ability to act as advisor and mentor to those that have requested it and with whom I communicate. Obviously I’m a very important person even if it isn’t obvious at first appearance these days. That is because, being alone at home, I don’t wear a suit and tie as I used to when I was out on sites. In fact I usually wear tat suitable for the dog-walking which provides my daily exercise.

What Gari got into my head was something I’d forgotten about; my Grandad’s words of wisdom! He told me when i was a young kid “Lad, when you grow up and have a house, find out which is cheapest; to get a man to do the job or buy the tools and learn to use them.” Well, it was obvious which was cheapest and, in any case, we didn’t have the cash to pay for someone’s labour. I bought tools!

I was down in Cornwall living in Barracks. Then I got married so moved into a house. She had a car! That was the start – I had to keep an old banger running. Into Woolworths and started my tool-buying. We moved to the Midlands and bought our first house.

One of my first purchases there was “The Readers Digest Complete D.I.Y Manual” which one of my sons still uses. The tool purchases started to stack up! When we left 7 years later what had been a badly finished new property was a very nicely customised home. Some of my features were still in place, 45 years later, when I visited recently.

We moved back up North and bought and old dilapidated Edwardian terraced place. That really started the learning process! I had a go at every trade in the building game! Re-wired, re-plumbed, bathroom, kitchen, walls out, re-plastered, extension built. Had lots of lessons from skilled tradesmen, the most important of which was knocking out a load-bearing wall. That got sold and we moved to an even older, even more dilapidated huge Victorian 3-storey place. Took me 3 years but it ended up as a 12-bed private hotel with all rooms en-suite – that’s how big it was!

Divorce and me out of a job and homeless! It was actually the bank manager who came up with the next idea. He had been so impressed with my work on the big place that he suggested he lend me the cash to buy a small terraced house and refurbish it for re-sale. I worked completely alone on it and had it back on the market in about 4 months. For three of those I’d been sleeping in a pup tent with no bedroom ceiling and no roof! The next one I had guys helping me. By the end of it I had a team of nine of us and was turning them over in 3 weeks. Then the market went strange! Ready for refurb the prices shot up from £7,000 to £17,000 but the price for them nicely done up stayed at £22,000. By this time, incidentally, I wasn’t buying tools at Woolies; I went for the dearest on the market as actually being the best for the job! The irony is that, today, many of my tools are actually classed as Collector’s Items and will sell for a lot more than I paid for them!

Anyway, I was out of work again, but this time I at least had somewhere to live! Then I got approached by a guy I didn’t know and offered a job as Site Agent on a local site for 350 houses. How he came to know about me, I don’t know. Best guess would be that one of the lads that used to work for me told him. Because I had enough sense to realise it wasn’t me building them, but the skilled tradesmen, and they were on price-work, I made sure they had what they needed when they needed it and that they co-operated with each other. Accelerated so that, with the slab already down in anticipation, we had people moving in 6 weeks after they had signed the contract! I realised while at this that I was good enough at every trade in the building game to earn my living in house-building! The three exceptions to my ability were, and still are, skimming ceilings, facing brickwork and final-fix electrics! Don’t know why, but useless at these! However, the recession of the early-90’s hit that part of the world in the late-80’s – and I was out of work again!

Somehow I then got a job in commercial construction. It was a Site Supervisor for the fit out of a new high-rise office block in Newcastle for one of the big accountancy firms. Supposed to be a short-term for three weeks but I somehow ended up there for 3 months handing over and by that time I was the Project Manager! After that it was one commercial job after another; some short, some longer running. Tin sheds; long-sea outfalls, tunnelling out to sea; retail malls; commercial parks; military barracks; hospitals; schools; universities – and I’ve forgotten most of my contracts! They add up to about 150 in total!

Then the recession of the 90’s hit the whole country! After being out of work for 9 months I signed on at the local Sixth Form College to do some up-dated A-Levels and to add interest to life! Still no work! Turned into an over-ripe mature student for the next 5 years!

After that I rapidly discovered I was getting recruited for project turnaround roles. That’s pretty simple, really. Have a chat with the subbies and come up with a really Detailed Programme to Completion that sees the project finishing on time. After that you just need to swan around site in a suit and tie looking important. Do that right and the lads will let you know about any looming problems long before they cause any delays! The downside is that you are never in a job for long, so it’s back to the Agencies looking for the next one.

Eventually I ended up with some jobs overseas. I’d had hints from working with some immigrant tradesmen here, but overseas I found out what the best bit of the building game really is! Bridging language and culture in construction!

So, people, that’s why Gari reckons I’m a real life Bob the Builder! Doesn’t matter what it is; I used to just get on and do it.