Bernard the Builder – an extract from ‘Farther from the Sun’.

My Dad was no handyman – neither am I.

Bernard came to build our kitchen.

Bernard was a really nice guy who, though untrained, had set up as a builder. I don’t know why he had settled for a career in that field, as far as I could see he did not have any background for that kind of work.

I know exactly how we came to get Bernard. It was because he gave us the lowest quote, which meant that he was the only one we could afford.

Our kitchen was too small. We wanted the walls knocked out and the old outhouses and scullery knocked into one big kitchen. It was quite a big job really, although we did not really appreciate that at the time. One of the walls was the main support wall for the back of the house. We did not have to worry, Bernard had it sussed.

He began pounding and smashing away until he had created enough rubble to fill the place three times over. This is an aspect of building that always seems to defy the laws of physics. It defies the laws of entropy. You start with an amount of matter (walls) and create ten times as much matter (rubble). It proves the Big Bang theory for me.

We couldn’t afford a skip so we carted the rubble to the tip in plastic bags.

Bernard set about the support wall which ran the width of the house. He brought in Acros to hold it up. Soon he had knocked it all down and removed the rubble. He had purchased these big beams from the reclamation centre and proceeded to knock holes in the outside walls to put them through. It was quite a feat. In order to insert the beam through the hole he had created Bernard had to balance on our garden wall and thread it through. He was incredibly strong for a small, slight guy, and at one point looked like a mad tight-rope walker with a massive balancing pole, teetering on the wall six feet above the ground. That beam was incredibly heavy but he scorned all assistance. Eventually, he got it inserted through the hole. The problem was that he could only push t in so far because then it came up against the first of the Acros. Bernard’s answer to this was  to get off the wall and come inside to take down the two Acros that were holding up the rear wall.

I was inside at the time and came out into the kitchen to observe the progress and offer further assistance. No, he did not want my help. I surveyed the work with the beam poking through the wall and the two dismantled Acros.

“There’s about 50 ton of bricks up there above our head,” Bernard remarked looking up at the back end of the house suspended above our heads.

I looked across at the twenty-foot expanse and the dismantled Acros.

“So what’s holding it up right now Bernard?” I enquired a little apprehensibly.

He considered this for a few minutes. “It’s just got used to being there,” was his reassuring answer. With that, he set back out to clamber back up on to the wall and thread the beam through so that it could be lodged in place to support the wall. He then used the acros to raise the beam up as high as it would go and cemented it in place.

I was talking to another builder about this some years later. He went ashen. He’d heard of whole buildings collapsing because of similar actions. We could have easily been killed and the whole back end of the house demolished.

“When they go, them buggers come tumblin’ down,” he remarked. “An’ I bet he weren’t insured, neither!”

Good old Bernard!


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