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"HOW TO choose a termite control company - look for companies whose employees are well-trained, security-screened and drug-tested to ensure the best, most reliable service."

If, as the timber treatment industry assures us, we really are about to be invaded by termites, let's hope they are followed from the tropics by similar pest control measures to the above, taken from a US company's recent internet advert. "Well-trained"? - well, that goes without saying. "Security-screened"? - I must say, that hadn't occurred to me before but, when you think about it, yes, why shouldn't the employees be security-screened? After all, if some bloke is spraying toxic chemicals around your home, then you might at least be reassured that he isn't eyeing up the video recorder at the same time. Good point.

But "drug-tested"? - come on, the guy's not an Olympic swimmer, he's just spraying a few pesticides around. What does it matter if he's stoned? Oh, I see - in the Land of the Free, the only people who will work as insect exterminators are those from the poorer social groups, who might be more prone to drug use and felony, and therefore it is wise, when getting your bugs zapped, to ask for these attributes to be absent from the operatives' CVs. Fair enough. Here in the UK of course, we do not need such safeguards, because anyone taking up the noble profession of insect exterminator is obviously of high social standing and not at all likely to be tainted with the whiff of wrong-doing.

All that American stuff on the Internet makes you think, though. When I started out in the building game the only advice anyone ever gave me was "Never employ a man who rolls his own cigarettes". After quite a few years' experience I think I can endorse that one and pass it on; the Rizla brigade do spend a lot of time rolling up, and even more time trying to keep the wretched things alight. And more than that, people with a fag- rolling habit also have a chatting habit - and that is what uses up the time. I now realise that this invaluable advice may not be entirely appropriate to the Nineties, although considering things Stateside I guess you've got to take the rough with the smooth. After all, as long as the guy's straining away on his roll-up, at least he's not feeling around under the mattress or shooting up in the toilet.

But let's face it, if you introduced security screening to the British building industry, the whole thing would grind to a halt: four-fifths of labourers would be unemployable for a start. And as for drug testing - this would cut heavily into the ranks of plasterers and bricklayers. Why, even Steve the plumber would be out on his ear, following his recent adventures up in the West End. Still, you know what they say: whatever happens in the States happens here two years later. First reader to spot a similar advert in the UK gets a free copy of my book.

`Struck Off - The First Year of Doctor on the House' by Jeff Howell is available from Nosecone Publications, P O Box 24650, London E9 7XQ, price pounds 9 including postage.