apprentice tales & other short stories


Friday afternoon was always a bad time for me. Having been up since 7.00am with chronic hangover (weekend starts Thursday) and waiting until 9.45am to be picked up, then been driven around for a further hour calling at wrong addresses of potential customers, it became plain that an early finish was out of the question.
On the day in question my mate Stuart had been particularly unpunctual. We arrived at the job at 11.30am. It was a big job and an ongoing nightmare. A huge imposing town house that was to be converted from several scummy holiday flats to several less scummy holiday flats - all en suite! To say things were depressing would be to understate the truth.

I have to admit I lied. I told Stuart I had something important on. I had to get away by three. This of course was causing problems as we were now looking at a three hour day. Stuart was not happy. Why? I don't know. So we soldiered on and hardly spoke. We were running pipes across the second floor. Through the walls and stuff. It was a ball ache - knocking out bricks under the boards. Fortunately we had borrowed a huge circular saw so we could rip boards up ruthlessly. By around 2.45pm we had the last pipes run through. We had one joint to sweat and we were out of there. It was a miracle. Nothing had gone wrong. We'd managed the full days work in the allotted 3 hours. We were friends again.

Stuart covered the pipe ends and fitting with flux. He grabbed the blow lamp and lit it. He grabbed the solder and dipped it in the flux. He began to sweat the joint.

'Oh my God!' He yelled. Some bright spark had done there own insulation job. The gap between the ceiling and floor had been stuffed with newspapers... Very old very dry newspapers. They went up immediately. I emptied the tool bucket and ran with it to the nearest working bathroom - at the back of the building on the floor below. Stuart had the circular saw going you could hear his screams all over the house. I ran back and chucked the water onto the paper. No good! The fire was working its way across the room. The house was going to burn down. I ran for more water. Stuart had another load of boards up. We soaked everything again. The flames had gone through a hole drilled for wiring and the paper in the gap between the next two joists had caught. This was becoming the trend. More water more sawing. Ten minutes later 75% of the boards were up - most of them in several sections. The room was filled with steam and smoke. Water was pouring through the ceiling into the flat below. We were sweating badly but relieved. The fire was out.

Jim the joiner's whistle floated onto the landing. It stopped abruptly. We heard him sniff. A moment later his head came around the door. He sniffed again. You could hardly see him for the smoke.

'Is something burning?' He asked.

'No!' We said in unison.

He looked at us both wet, black and shaking.

'I'm off then... Good weekend!'

'Yeh you too.'..... I finished work at 3.15pm. Stuart didn't argue!

Richard King

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Under the Floorboards

When I first started my apprenticeship with a local plumbing firm , we were working in an empty house fitting central heating.

I was told to get under the floor and they would pass some pipes down to me. Once I got under the floor, the other plumbers put the boards back and then nailed them down with me underneath.

Then they just left me. After a while I gave up shouting and realised that they were totally ignoring me.

Then they went for dinner. They left me there all day, from 8.30 in the morning till knocking off time. No food . No drink. No toilet.

When they prised the boards up and let me out, they acted like nothing had happened merely saying that if I told the boss, I'd be nailed under tomorrow as well.

The worse thing was, the following morning I had to go under the floor again, to actually do some work. But I was prepared this time.............I took my sandwiches with me.

An extract from the memoirs of Phil Dyson: Who'd be a plumber?

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Punched in the face by a watery fist


I was only twenty years old and not long out of my time, extremely confident and I thought I knew it all........
So with that on my mind I was working for the voids department of the London Borough, I had trained with but on an agency contract.
So one day I was in the yard and the supervisor placed me with another agency bloke who had turned up but who was a gas engineer only (Plumber with his brains bashed out).  So he thought I could carry him and lend him a hand.  The day went well until I had to change a stopcock and a few other bits in a ground floor flat.
I sorted the other bits out quickly leaving the stopcock last because I couldn't find the primary stopcock to the small block.  I thought "Well I will freeze the pipe and change the guts over....no problems".
There we were, me with my head stuck under the sink unit and the gas fitter watching from the safe (I'm not getting wet) distance.
The same old script as usual, attach the insulating muff tightly using cable ties, spray in half the can of 'freeze it' spray, wait till the muff goes white, listen to the clicking in the pipe with a screwdriver, spray in the other half of the can (just to make sure), wait, I will spray half of the other can I brought with me too (just to make doubly sure).

I started undoing the guts from the stopcock.  At that moment a little trickle of water came out with the stopcock guts and I thought "oh that's just residual water".  Then.......hiss......BANG, the water came out so hard and fast that it felt like a punch in the face.......it hit me so hard that I nutted the underside of the sink bowl and was washed out of the sink unit covered in icy water.
The gas fitter nearly wet himself laughing and started running round in circles like a headless chicken (true blue gas fitters are NEVER any good under pressure....let alone water pressure).  The kitchen looked like the film set of TITANIC. Unable to fit the new guts in the stopcock I had to think fast.........
So calm as a coma, I undid the compression nut of the stopcock and let the water pressure shoot through into the sink unit and I was then able to screw in the new valve guts and reconnect the pipework.
After a quick mopping up job we chucked out the sodden living room carpets and had it on our toes.
On the way from the job I found out that the ESSEX WATER BOARD pumping station was only a hundred yards away up the road.
After a couple of years plumbing I continued up the education ladder and became a Plumber/Gas engineer too, BUT the reason why I have these views about true blue gas engineers is because my DAD's one too.

His pipework is a real stranger to a spirit level even though all the blag about his gas board training.
Glenn Stimson Plumber/Gas Engineer

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