For the past six years I’ve been working as a handyman in south-east London.  I’m my own boss, I’m generally in a different work space every day, I get to cycle to work – from Bermondsey to Penge and all SE points in between – I work at my own discretion leaving time for school runs and finishing my MA and, best of all, I get to meet some very interesting people.

Some of these people I will write about in future postings.

When I enter a client’s home for the first time, there’s always that brief moment of awkward examination in which I, standing in front of the still-open door, am given the quick once-over.  Her eyes (it’s usually a ‘her’) send out laser-like beams that scan me from my bald head to my cheap hiking boots, reflecting off my bike helmet and high-viz cycling jacket, glancing at my weathered bag of handyman tools before concluding that I must be somewhat trustworthy.  I maintain the smile on my face until the mental probing is complete, after which I am nearly always offered a complimentary cup of tea.

With hot cuppa in hand I’m typically taken through the house, guided as if the client has resigned herself to the realisation that the top-secret activities that occur under her roof are somehow about to be revealed to this tall, smiling stranger.  I follow as she points out, room by room, all of the various jobs that require repair, renovation, alteration, assembly, mounting, hanging or any other item on her list that falls within the jurisdiction of my skills.

It’s about now that I begin to feel like a bit of a trespasser.  How easy it was, I think to myself, to enter this person’s home and almost immediately gain her trust.  I consider the possibility that her need for my services must have been so desperate as to welcome the first capable volunteer into her home no-questions-asked.  Indeed as I entertain this thought, she commonly makes some malignant remark about her husband’s lack of proficiency around the family toolbox.  Sometimes, even before my tea is cold, she’ll hand over her spare set of house keys and head out to her nondescript office job or fire up the pram to attend the nearest Mom-and-Baby oestrogen-fest.

So there I am, alone in a stranger’s house, moving freely, tools in hand and the iPod on shuffle.  And I go about my business knowing I have the confidence of my employer-of-the-day.  Not that I’d ever do anything untoward; I never snoop, pry, meddle or enter any room I hadn’t been invited into.  Still, this is my office, at least for today.

Often she will stick around while I work.  She doesn’t hover, exactly, but she does find it useful to make herself available, ensuring, for example, I hang the mirror another half-inch to the left or adding at the last minute, ‘While you’re here, could you just …’

It very quickly becomes a symbiotic relationship, one in which both parties recognise the unique dynamic.  She’s just granted me entry into some of the most intimate corners of her home and I acknowledge her trust by carrying out my work with care.  Although I never quite have the heart to tell her I’m not really a big fan of tea.

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