My Week: Tea up] But that was five floors below: Felix Hunt discovers that for a jobless architect, helping out on a building site may not be lucrative, but it does have its compensations

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The Independent Online
SUNDAY: 'You any good with a paintbrush?' Stan asked over a pint at the local.

I said that I had done the usual bit of house-painting, and that being at a loose end, in fact having been at a loose end for several months, I was ready to exercise my elbow for a more lucrative purpose. Stan explained that it was a 'cash job'. His mate Will had fallen behind on a painting contract and needed someone to help out. I was told the when and where.

Monday: Started work nice and early. On arrival, I was approached by Will. 'There you are - one brush, a pot of paint and . . .' he said, pointing at five storeys of brickwork '. . . the wall. See you later.'

Later seemed to be a lot shorter than I remember, because after about half an hour I heard the cry, 'Tea up]'. Now, as this wall was five storeys high, it meant a long climb down ladders and then, of course, a long climb back. But being the new boy, I decided that I should join the tea ceremony. Ten minutes later it was back up to the top. After a hard day's slog, I had completed painting one storey of brickwork. However, it wasn't my elbow that was sore but my legs - I'd forgotten how many cups of tea the average working male can polish off in a day.

Tuesday: Same ladders, but only four storeys to climb; if I managed to stay on for the week, the tea breaks would be a doddle on Friday. The tea-drinking was halted today because of a slight accident to one of my workmates. He'd missed his footing on a ladder and had a bit of a fall.

During his descent he shouted out and, after falling more than 20 feet, hurt himself. I was looking down at the rescue operation when a window opened next to me, a head appeared and an annoyed woman demanded to know what had happened.

I explained to her that there had been an accident. I was given a steely glare and told: 'If you are going to have accidents, could they happen more quietly next time]' She was not at all pleased when the ambulance appeared, sirens blaring.

Wednesday: I was taken to see part of a wall, which was, in Will's words, 'a bit dodgy'. I was asked what I thought should be done with it. I queried in which capacity I was being addressed, as man with a brush and a pot of paint, or as a fully qualified but out-of-work architect.

After some hesitation - Will had that 'was I after a fee?' look - I was asked for a professional opinion. I was soon back in my non-professional mode, trying to make the offending wall passable by slapping on an extra coat of paint - not quite what the architect recommended, but I did get an extra cup of tea sent up.

Thursday: On my journey down the ladders I met the plasterer, who had arrived to repair the walls. He later explained that he was a medical student and was trying to earn some cash for a few extras. He had worked for his dad as a part-time plasterer. Over a cup of tea he said that if the building industry wasn't in such bad shape, he would be earning a packet and would have left medical school. Will raised an eyebrow and commented: 'Get more chance of a decent tea break in this line, anyway]'

Friday: Final assault on the wall. I declined most of the tea on offer in order to complete the painting on time, hoping that I might get more work if I did a good job. I was congratulated on my efforts - not bad for a beginner, etc - but was told that I wasn't needed the next week. 'Well, it's back to the drawing board for you,' said Will as he handed over my week's money. Everyone else went off for their end-of-the-week pint. Me? I went and drowned my sorrows with a nice cup of tea.