Charles Nevin: A lone voice in favour of plumbers

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The Independent Online

Once again it is my duty to defend some maligned groups in our society, victims of prejudice, overheated anecdote, and, I regret to say, media stereotyping. Dogged readers will doubtless remember vividly my passionate plea for the plumber earlier this year. By the time I had finished describing a noble tradition of selfless service reaching back to Babylon and Rome by way of Warsaw and Gdansk, my eyes, and, I trust, yours, were as moist as a defective washer.

Not that it seems to have done a great deal of good. Only last week the noble wrencher and stauncher was once again much complained about, placed high on the list of disgruntled calls to the Government's national consumer helpline, falling between the builder, kitchen fitter, roofer, electrician and secondhand car dealer. And this was immediately followed by the revelation that politicians are now less trusted than estate agents.

You might survey that list with narrowed eye; I see large numbers of upright individuals simply doing their best who are, from time to time, badly let down by the odd unscrupulous colleague.

Open your mind, then, while I once again try to excite a trickle of understanding and regard that has real potential to grow into the warm flood of affection and respect which suffuses and encourages good work and a mutually beneficial client-service relationship. (If you are having difficulty with this, ask an estate agent to explain it to you.)

Perhaps I might start with what, on the face of it, is the least promising of the callings. On reflection, though, there's been quite a bit about politicians, so let us turn instead to the second hand car dealer.

Yes, indeed, Arthur Daley, sheepskin, an alleged obsession with nostalgia (or, as it's also known, putting the clock back) ... the charges against the best endeavours of the pre-owned motor sector go on and on. But then consider the charm, the wit, and the smile that invites you to kick a tyre, peer hopefully under the bonnet, nod wisely and join a conspiracy against the dull, routine transactions of the world.

Who knows, you might also discover a life-enhancing interest in the classics after such an encounter introduces you to the phrase "caveat emptor". You might even go on to become a lawyer, another group often sadly misunderstood, even at £350 an hour. Never neglect the potential positives at the sharp end of the consumer experience.

Do not ignore the "give a dog a bad name" aspect to all this, either. Why is it that we never hear anything untoward about, say, diecasters, flaggers, caulkers, cable jointers, or tachograph analysts? Is all perfect in the world of overhead line instructors and extrusion operators? It only takes one rotten apple. Dentists, for example: very respectable, but did you see our story the other week about the one who slipped LSD into the Beatles' tea? Exactly. Crippen was a dentist, too. Nor do librarians always conform: Casanova, Mao and Anthea Turner all served between the shelves in their time, you know.

I'm on good terms with both my kitchen fitter and electrician - hello, Tim, hi, Ned! - and I bumped into my roofer recently when he drove into the side of my car. Charm itself; and he was insured, too. That just leaves a defence of the builder. But I won't be able to do it today. Next week, definitely. Or the one after that. A joke, Andy. Sorry? Journalists?

Happy days for old-time actors

Christmas latest: Henry Winkler, The Fonz in the Happy Days TV series, will be playing Captain Hook in Wimbledon, replacing David "The Hoff" Hasselhoff.

Unease at what Jas Hook, an Old Etonian, obsessed, like so many of them (D Cameron, J Aitken) with good form, would have made of it is further prompted by these Fonz thoughts: "I love Hook. He's a villain but, hey, he had his hand bitten off by a crocodile - you have to feel some sympathy for the guy."

Meanwhile, another swimmer, Patrick Duffy, star of The Man From Atlantis, will be in Cinderella in Woking. And there's William Shatner. Isn't that, finally, enough of irony? Even our comedies aren't funny now. And what are the chances of a reverse trend, with the export to the United States of people we don't take seriously here? No, after you.

* Time for matters arising from recent news. First, a rider to the discussion of the changed Camp Coffee label allowing the Sikh servant to sit down with the kilted officer modelled on Hector Macdonald, who shot himself in Paris in 1903 after accusations of homosexuality: the OED gives 1909 as the date of the first appearance of "camp" in its slang form.

Next, Neanderthals, discovered in Gibraltar spoke, I notice, at a higher pitch than ours. So much for "ugh", then; more like, "ooh". Next, why did Kenneth Grahame call the vole, revealed as an evolutionary wonder, a rat? Surely Moley and Voley would have been better? And, finally, Eric Idle's claim that there's a cinema in Paris still showing the Pythons' Holy Grail every day reminded me of a similar story about Brief Encounter in Tokyo.

Any more out there?

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