Doctor on the house: So you had a rounded education at school? Think again, says Jeff Howell

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The Independent Online
Buildings are such simple things to construct and maintain - it's amazing that people find them so bewildering. I mean, be fair, when you get some "builders" round to work on your home, they're not usually your actual white-coated scientist types are they? They're not often what you'd describe as intellectuals.They're just ordinary blokes. In some cases a bit too ordinary - tattoos, fags, beer bellies hanging out of their trousers, racist and misogynist attitudes by the shovelful. Some of these guys have problems reading the Sun. So how come you defer to them, and assume they are possessed of secret skills and knowledge that you yourself could not hope to attain?

The problem clearly lies with inadequate education - yours, not theirs. Let's face it, the teachers at your school never came in and said, today, children, we are going to look at roofing. Or plumbing. Or how to choose the right plaster. If they had, then 98 per cent of the population would not be in thrall to the other 2 per cent who have chanced to find out about these things. They would still employ them to do their building work, but they would be more able to tell a good job from a bad one, and would not be so easily duped into having inappropriate or unnecessary work carried out. They would also be able to deal with minor emergencies without getting ripped off.

As I write this, I am looking out across the back gardens at a man sweeping a flood of water off the flat roof of his rear addition. It is a lovely sunny evening, but the water continues to pour down on him. It is coming from the warning pipe, or overflow, from the cistern in his loft. The flat roof is obviously too flat because the water is ponding instead of running away into the hopper and downpipe; it is probably seeping back into the brickwork of the main house and appearing as a damp patch inside. So he stands there, in his suit, sweeping, pausing only to look up at the source of the nuisance. I imagine he must have called for help, and he may even have tried the water company. After all, following the recent Drought Summit with that nice Mr Prescott, the water companies agreed to fix everybody's leaks, didn't they? Unfortunately not; the water companies only undertook to mend leaking service pipes, from the company stop valve under the pavement to the rising main inside the property. Leaks in customers' internal plumbing systems remain their own responsibility.

So the man is probably waiting for AAA Excellent Plumbing Services out of the Yellow Pages to come and save him. They will charge him pounds 80 for turning up, pounds 35 for turning the water off at the stop valve under the kitchen sink, and pounds 68.73 for replacing the fibre washer on the ball valve in the cistern. Plus VAT. This is a task that the man should be able to do himself in 20 minutes, if only someone had told him how. Instead, he stands there sweeping.

Now, I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, why don't I just nip round and tell the man what to do with his ball valve, and stop all that water being wasted, and save him being fleeced by the emergency plumber. Well, if you must know, it's because of his constantly barking dog, and his recent really loud birthday party that went on till 4am. And also because, when I thought about it, I remembered he was one of the 98 per cent and I was one of the 2 per cent. Sometimes, we minorities have to stick together.

JEFF HOWELL IS A BRICKLAYER

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