The Great Christmas Rush: Will it be the same this December?
Brian King provides a vivid description of life for a fitter in the lead up to Christmas, and wonders why fitters keep doing it to themselves, year after year.
I BACK my van up on the drive, turn the engine off and sit for a moment taking a deep breath. It's finally over, another long hard day of installing floors. It wasn't this hard 10 years ago. Why is it so hard now?
I moan like an old man as I step out of the cab, noticing not a single sound or any sign of movement in my street. I open the front door and once again everyone is in bed. In the kitchen, I dump my bag on the table knowing the ear-bashing I'll get in the morning for not putting it in the cupboard.
I open the microwave door where my shrivelled up tea (or dinner depending on what part of the country you’re from) is; a couple of hours earlier that meal would’ve been delicious but as the evening has progressed it suddenly doesn't look as appetising now.
I shut the door, press start on the microwave and open the door on the cooler. My ‘I’m-not-drinking- in-the-week-anymore’ promise to myself is completely forgotten tonight as I grab a beer quicker than a boxer throws a jab. The sound of the bottle-top hitting the worktop sounds more appealing than the ping on the microwave heating my dried-up tea/dinner.
I notice the fire is still on, so I throw a log on and sit on the sofa with no lights on watching the flicker of the flame, soaking up the silence. I start to feel the pain in my hands and as I look down, I notice the cracks on my fingers opening up. I regret not using that hand-cream my wife got me for my birthday.
I wince as I start to pull the adhesive out of the hairs on my arms and rub the infected hole in the palm of my hand where I leaned on a piece of gripper rod the previous day and didn't clean it. I dab the back of my hand on the cold sore on my lip to see if it's stopped bleeding because every time I laugh it cracks open. I'm exhausted and it's beginning to show.
I'm usually busy all year but there's always one month of the year it all goes crazy and has done for the past 29 years I've been in the trade. Yes December. The Great Christmas Rush.
After years in the trade I still can't get my head around why so many people insist on having new floorcoverings for Christmas. I've done some crazy festive season hours in my youth. I remember a few years ago setting off from Wigan to fit carpet tiles in a store in London at 4am, finishing the job in the afternoon before heading to the other side of London to do a hall, stairs and landing as well as four bedrooms in carpet. Then I got home at 4am the next morning having two-and-a-half hours sleep, then embarking on another long day before wondering why I was so lightheaded.
That type of work-rate would see me off nowadays. As any carpet-fitter and floorlayer will know, this job can be an unrelenting slog. To stay in the game, you can’t be faint-hearted.
I don't think I know a single lazy floorlayer. It’s a physically demanding job. On the plus side, we make decent money at Christmas. My kids get spoiled over the festive period. I take three weeks off, going on holiday for New Year. What’s left of my money after that, the tax man usually sorts out.
While my job gets physically more demanding each year, I weirdly still love it, although you wouldn't think it speaking to me.
Every year I say to myself ‘Right, I'm not going to work at a daft rate this year’. Then, once I’m booked up, the calls start streaming through: ‘Please can you squeeze my fitting in?’ It pulls on my heartstrings, so I usually end up working extra hours in the evening.
Then there are the builders I have contracts with who expect me to drop everything to accommodate them. Very quickly, evening work turns to night work, which turns to really late night work. Then I get customers ringing me on the week leading up to Christmas. They’ve often been waiting for me to call them, thinking I’m just hanging around waiting for work. I turn them down straightaway.
One rule I’ve always had and will never break is that I don't - and will never - work weekends. I have young children and don't see as much of them as I'd like to during the week because they’re mainly in bed when I return from work. Like many of you throughout the year, we work until 5-6pm. Then I have to start measuring and quoting jobs and if I have two to three measures (depending on the customer) it could take a good few hours.
December becomes a blur of eat, sleep, work and repeat. Even eating takes place on-the-go. For lunch you only get to take a bite of your sandwich before you have to get back to work, so unlike January when I can sit down and read the paper with my lunch and take as long as I want.
After a couple more beers and about an hour of gazing into the fire, deep in thought, I notice I'm rolling a small ball of adhesive in my fingers mixed with my hairs I've collected from my forearms. I get up making that same ‘old man’ sound and head for a shower. Then I head for the bedroom so I can get some sleep in order to repeat the whole process again the next day. As I get into bed, I let out a loud sigh of relief, and get another ear-bashing for waking everyone up.
I wonder how many of you can relate to this? Do you also wonder why we keep doing it to ourselves? I suppose for me it comes down to the opportunity to make a few extra quid, and to enjoy spending a bit of it. And when December 2020 rolls around, I can assure you I’ll be doing it all over again.