Replacements Man: Knobs, Dials and Rings

Have you ever thought about how things are made?

[I’ll warn you now, this line of questioning will inevitably lead you to considering the source of where everything comes from.]

Take a minute to think about the mind-blowingly huge nature of the world we live in.

It can be really easy to take the current modern world we live in for granted, but it’s important to remember that for every incredible piece of technology or innovation that we use on a daily basis there will be dozens (if not hundreds of parts) that will each have been designed by a team of people, which would then be sent away to a factory, which could hire hundreds more people to produce the part. These parts would then have to be shipped and delivered in bulk to another factory to be brought together by yet more people, before the finished product is sold on to retailers and finally handed to the consumer.

A single person could spend their entire life slaving away in a factory, performing a basic task that will combine with hundreds of other workers to create something as simple as dial for an oven or a computer chip for a budget LCD television.

Thankfully, my life’s work has not been spent in the service of creating such tiny parts or pieces.

No – my life’s work has been spent in the service of hunting down and fitting such parts.

My work as a handyman and procurer of specialist parts has taken me all across the country, hunting high and low for the small parts that are integral for appliances and consumer goods to function. Admittedly, my job is one tailored to my nature, that of an obsessive collector and hoarder. My London base, a nondescript cargo container in Hackney, is home to the thousands of parts that I’ve collected over the years – each of them has their own place in its own custom box, with a label, archived amongst hundreds of other similar boxes. Each label is given a code, unique to a system that I’ve created myself and means that I can easily locate the part I need, when I need it.

It might seem a little over board, holding on to all these bits of plastic and metal, but I’ve got a Father’s love for each and every one of them. Once upon a time each one of these tiny pieces were in abundance. Belling spare cooker knobs, Armitage Shanks taps, Magimix mixer dials – all of these weird little totems would have been mass produced in huge factories, but time and wear has meant that their number has grown fewer and fewer, until the point where they are now essentially collectors items.

For those like me, anal individuals who believe that the right part should be fitted to its proper place, my collection is a treasure trove of missing puzzle pieces.

For every faulty filament or lost gizmo, I have a replacement and I consider it an honour to reunite these parts with their long lost appliance.

‘Tis the Season: The Christmas Lights Specialist

For many, the notion that Christmas only comes once a year is something to pleased about.

Although it’s tempting to brand these folks as ‘scrooges’ and misers, the truth is that Christmas, for most people, is an expensive, stressful time of the year.

We may all be blessed with extra time off during the festive season, but can this really be counted as a ‘holiday’ when we’re essentially forced to go out into town when it’s as its most busy and spend hundreds of pounds on gifts for our friends and family?

The costs of the festive season don’t end there though – there’s also the hoards of food that we’re expected to load the house with each year.

This isn’t just a bumper shop either, at this time of year we’re pressured into purchasing the kinds of food that we would never think of going near at any other time in the year: we’re talking port, cheese (4 or 5 types at the very least), huge quantities of chocolate and don’t forget about bucks fizz – that strangely moreish beverage that you only drink at wedding breakfasts or Christmas mornings. Once we’ve fed the whole family (and then some) you’ve also got to ensure that your home reflects the festive season suitably.

As I’ve said, many are grateful that Christmas only comes once a year, but for myself and my competitors once a year is never enough.

I’ve been working as a Christmas Lights specialist for the last 10 years – it’s a fun, creative job that allows me to reap big rewards during the lead up to the Christmas season, but finding and sustaining consistent contracts is something that I’m constantly struggling with.

The kinds of clients that I work for on a yearly basis varies greatly. One day I might be designing a bespoke display for a particularly competitive Dad, looking to best his next door neighbour, the next day I could be installing a huge centre piece for a shopping mall.

As much as the variety of jobs that I work on keeps me busy throughout the year, it can sometimes be difficult to maintain the necessary festive spirit for the whole year round – unfortunately, like a perennial Santa Claus, I’m required to keep a cheerful disposition for 9 months out of 12, after all, would you really consider hiring a glum looking person to design your Christmas decorations?

There is a reason why I focus solely on Christmas lights.

Despite having to constantly blind myself with shades of white, red and green throughout the year, working exclusively for the festive season means that I only work for 9 months of year, allowing me to enjoy the spring months of March through to the end of May without glowing neon outlines of reindeer haunting my dreams. Capitalising on the Christmas season has been my business for the last decade and I’m truly glad for every 25th December when it comes by.

If you’re one of those people who can’t stand the festive season forever encroaching upon the rest of the year, then I wouldn’t recommend stepping into my line of work.

One Simple Job in 2008

Sometimes the hardest jobs to complete are the simplest ones.

In the summer of 2008, my work as a handyman was steadily drying up.

The skies were blue, the sun beat regularly upon the fertile English soil and my business was slowly, but surely, going under. I’d struggled for months leading up to the financial crash. Of course I didn’t see it coming, I’m not sure if anyone really did – still, when it hit I was not prepared for the complete and utter loss of business enquiries.

Luckily, I’d managed to tie down one last big job before the crash really set in.

An outdoor pursuits company in Wales just so happened to be looking to commission a decent-sized building on their land, for the purposes of housing the ever shifting bank of instructors that found their way into their employ over the course of each year. The job was large, but simple enough. A steel structure, one-storey with breeze-blocks and double glazed windows – it would be a lot of work for one man to do, but they didn’t mind paying less for work to be completed at a slower rate.

A number of things happened over that summer (some of them connected and some of them not so much) and I’m inclined to blame all of them on the corrupt bankers that caused the Financial Crash nearly 10 years ago – although I’m willing to take my fair share of the blame for a few of these things:

  • My wife left me
  • I had an affair with a kayak instructor
  • A 6-week project was stretched out to 18-weeks
  • I lost everything in the eventual divorce
  • My building supplier went bust
  • I discovered a new love for outdoor pursuits

Now, as I said, I feel like some of these things might be connected, some of them might well be my fault, but most of these things are pretty much the fault of those damn bankers.

Holly liked to kayak – it’s one of the first things that she told me, when we met on my first day in Wales. She showed me around the activity centre whilst I wondered how old she was.

‘I’m 27’.

I had trouble keeping thoughts in my head at the time.

That Summer was an eventful one for me.

Crooked steel beams meant that the project was delayed by a week, it would have taken a day to drive back and it was Monday, so I thought I may as well stay put and camp out in the temporary accommodation they had set up for the instructors. With nothing better to do, I found myself roped in to all sorts of activities that I’d never tried before. Rock climbing one day, caving the next, then it was kayaking and even white water rafting, with no phone signal in the Welsh valleys there could be no phone calls with my wife.

The instructors were all so…accommodating. I’d not experienced such friendliness or joviality in a long time.

When the manufacturers of the steel beams called through to the centre to inform me that they’d shut down indefinitely and that they couldn’t refund me the £3,000 for the steel – I didn’t find myself cursing or worrying about the future, I’d already started sharing a bunk with Holly and I had a stag party of 5 to take zip-lining.

I was far too busy to worry about anything.