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The Passing of Time

January 2022
Thatched cottage

The passing of time leaves its mark on all of us and I'm not just talking about the thinning hair, the fuller figure and wondering if that persistent ache is a sign of something more sinister as is not being able to remember names, despite being able to recall the shape of thatched roofs from 35 years ago.

It's when you look forward to collecting your reading glasses from Spec Savers and a 'heavy' night is more than 3 large glasses of wine. It’s when you Google famous people and are mortified to find out most are younger than yourself and you puzzle at why those that are older look so much younger than you do. It's when trips to the dentist seem to throw up problems which previously you had never encountered. It's when people call you Sir and self-service checkouts make you nervous. It's when you wonder if people have their airline boarding passes on their phones to really save the environment by not printing paper and what would happen if the battery was flat, but then what would you do if you lost the piece of paper that is yours? It's when you can’t get an e-mail to go and then a child points out you've missed a dot off the address and you convince yourself that it’s wrong that a dot should be so important and therefore computers will never be your thing.

It's when you wonder what happened to all the business bank managers and if this is an advantage or not if you need to speak to your bank. It’s when you don't feel the need to be the first to scramble into the back of the lorry and bust a gut pushing out heavy bales of reed; when you're content to carry one scaffolding board at a time instead of two or three because you don't need to prove anything to your younger workforce who you believe aren't nearly as fit or strong as you were when you were their age. It’s when you reflect on who could ever think that a proposed retirement age of 66 or older (to include manual workers) is possible and fair - especially when firemen are considered over the hill at 55 and therefore why does such a policy exist?

In other ways though getting older can be a double - edged sword like when you no longer need to address older people as Mr or Mrs but can use their Christian name, because let's face it, you are virtually the same age. It's when you don’t feel the need to give up your seat on the bus for a person of advanced years because more than half of the passengers will be younger than you and so they probably will. But when thatch owners ask if you are still 'on the tools' or when you plan to retire and the delivery driver kindly comments that you should watch your back as you lift some rolls of fire-felt, then you do feel the need to respond with an edgy response such as "I'm not that old!"

Of course, as you age so do your clients. Returning to jobs after a decade or more can be particularly poignant when you learn the owner's children who were forever under your feet and wanted to climb your ladder are now at university or have families of their own. That lovely couple are no longer an item because they divorced and you spend more time discussing with the remaining person how it all went wrong, than talking about their thatched roof. Peoples circumstances change and a perfectly manicured garden that you remember is now overgrown because one of the people you worked for is now disabled and their partner has given up work to look after them fulltime.

I remember arriving bleary eyed in Northern Ireland after a very early flight where the elderly client met me around 08.30hrs to discuss the impending Thatching. After pleasantries were exchanged he quietly and in a very matter of fact way told me his wife had passed away 4 hours earlier. On another job in the Midlands I was ushered into meet the husband who sat painfully thin and gaunt in an armchair and he explained how grateful he was that the thatching work was underway because it was a weight of his mind given his undisclosed illness. He died shortly after we completed the work. On such occasions, I always regret not having the right words to say but console myself with the thought of what words are there?

I guess though for me chatting with thatch owners has become easier with the passing of time. There are few thatching questions that I have not heard before and if I don’t know the answers I am not afraid to say so. Over the years, thatching, logistical and organisational challenges have been met and overcome, although sometimes not without a lot of stress and endless 'what if' scenarios. We know our limitations and are realistic in our own abilities so when customers ask how we will tackle a certain aspect of their job, I see nothing wrong with saying "I don’t know", but always add that we will find a way - and we do. I have found constant communication important, even if it is to say I have nothing much to say and although essentially a technophobe, see sat navs and camera phones as indispensable tools of the trade. The increasing legislation which governs all our businesses has become a burden but one that I have reluctantly learnt to accept, although it is my office manager who thankfully deals with all the paper work and keeps me on the straight and narrow.

I am certainly less tolerant of all the unsubstantiated claims and factually wrong information which is out there about Thatching, such as when a conservation architect told a client that because there was so little home grown straw and most of it was imported from Romania, then it was ok to use water reed or the time a regional newspaper suggested that thatch owners should, as a precaution, hose their roofs down just prior to bonfire night - and no, it wasn't an April fool!

I am less overawed by someone's job title, status, the size of their property or how much their sports car costs, but am always curious how these people have arrived at such wealth. I do sometimes ask to see inside their stunning homes and find the vast majority are more than happy to answer my questions about what they do for a living and of course being able to work in beautiful locations is always a perk of the job. I have become more interested in the lives of thatch owners and although my working life sets me apart from them, the fact that we are meeting is because they want to talk my language - the language of thatching and in this respect, they have entered my world and not the other way around. No longer do I need to come out with the hard sell or 'close' people on the day. My price and specification will be discussed along with more important matters such as Brexit or if the blossom is out earlier than last year.