More contractor’s capers: Tyntesfield’s tribute to Monty Python’s Flying Circus

May 12, 2010

One story I have been waiting to do is regarding the contractor capers that went on.
Some of this you will find the following almost unbelievable for such a
professional crew as the National Trust.

As the estate was falling into disrepair due to the extraordinary length of
time to acquire the lottery grant – story pending – contractors were brought in
to put right health and safety issues.


It soon became apparent that the Trust had given the instructions to the
contracting company over the phone and the tasks then passed down to the workers
that would turn up to do the work.


To be fair, the National Trust surveyor that organised this had so many
properties to look after it was virtually impossible to be in so many places at
once and this was the cause of some catastrophic balls ups.


At best the contractors would turn up and wander around looking for the job
to do until I would stumble on them and pointed them in the right direction. My
first impressions of these contract workers was non to impressive as my
following story shows.


On site was the Victorian glass houses that were basically large lean – tos
that were always a challenge to work on. When there were several pieces of glass
to replace they called in the professionals.


Their approach to the job was somewhat novel and exciting to the staff that
knew how things should be done. All of us waited with baited breath as they
parked their pick up on top of the underground water tanks and from the back of
the truck they proceeded to slide a ladder up the 3mm glass roof. Once in
position, somehow the weight of the ladder and man would be evenly distributed
across the glass and would be held by the hand of God and several green fly.


By now, a crowd had gathered to watch. Some from a home made platform of what
looked like first aid boxes. When it was at this point some one stepped up and
said not very safe is it, have another think.


And so they did. The little cogs could be heard whirling around both their
heads accompanied by what seemed to be the fragrance of a slipping clutch. A
phone call to their office was made and a cherry picker was delivered for them
(a hydraulic arm with a works platform).


Now even the most novice of novice could see that they had very little
experience of such machinery. This was apparent as they fought with the controls
over the glass roofs, accompanied by yells of terror from above, and ooohhs and
ahhhs from staff watching below. It seemed to be more luck than judgement that
they never went right through the glass.


Their next job was on the stable yard roofs with the cherry picker. All I had
to do was show them where to go and make sure they had the right tiles for the
job. To get to the next job they elected to drive the cherry picker off road, on
wet grass down a slippery slope with smooth tyres. The results were inevitable
as the machine slid further and further away from the task in hand with the
operator fighting with the controls, wishing the machine came with toilet


At last they managed to get where they were meant to be and I looked for
welfare facilities after witnessing what looked like a scene from Monty Python’s
Flying Circus.


Near to completion of their works, I noticed that the next roof along needed
attention. I showed them the problem and asked what they would need to do it and
how long so I could let the surveyor know?


Before leaving them, I explicitly told them “don’t under any circumstances
touch this roof until I check we have the materials and the surveyor has said
yes.” This I repeated several times until they got board with the sermon, what
could be simpler.


The following day I still had no confirmation from the surveyor and made a
note to chase this up while the machine and contractors were still on site. It
was then the contractors came up to me and asked for tiles to cover a hole.
“What hole?” I asked. “The one in the roof you showed us.”


To say I was livid was an understatement. My first question was Did you not
hear what I said on site about don’t touch? Followed closely by asking if he was
on day release from some institution. This remark seemed to go over his head so
I assumed his firm were an equal opportunities employer and left it at that.


Unfortunately, I had to explain to the surveyor what had happened. His reply
was an out burst of what were you thinking of? Don’t ever talk to them again!
Never show them anything! They can never be trusted alone on site unless they
have very basic instructions and no room for thinking!


It was after his anger had subsided a bit I asked what was he doing employing
idiots? His reply was: “I have very tight budgets.” I can only assume he was
paying them in nuts.


Stories still to come:
Crazy contractors sand and cement repairs to grade
1 listed building illustrated with pictures (not for the squeamish)


Scaffolders block off doorways to my house, property manager tells me to wait
till morning to get in. Yes it’s true you couldn’t make it up.


Pick and mix your own rare tiles from the skips. Illustrated


The car park will go where we want it, we know best and that’s final. Whoops
costly mistake eh?