Applying standards and modus operandi of musicians to others

We are so governed by our standards and modus operandi in our chosen professions that we subconsciously apply them to others when we probably shouldn’t. As a musician, I expect builders to be on time and finish what they started. I didn’t expect that they’d leave things undone or that they’d have to redo anything. I certainly can’t, as a performer.

In music, timing is everything. You can’t play catch up when you perform with others. You have to be in sync. Setting the tempo, keeping to the tempo, and getting your timing right all refer to the important art of time keeping.

Timing also refers to punctuality and the modus operandi of musicians when it comes to rehearsals and performances. My high school band director famously said, “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, forget it.”

As a performer, you get one chance to play it right. As a professional, you don’t get to say “Oops! Let me do it again.”

One shot. One chance at that time, venue, and audience. That’s why every performance is different.

A live musical performance is real time. It’s not a recording where you get to edit out the bits you don’t like, redo and patch it up. It’s not an image that can be photoshopped until you get it perfect. If you make a mistake, you don’t get to revisit and correct it. You have to continue and not flinch to pretend you hadn’t stumbled or made an error.

An additional meter and half to the new cavity wall

Subconsciously I applied these standards of tempo, punctuality, and one-shot real time perfectionism to home renovations. This probably explains why I’m staying in an unheated house with no hot water, cooker, and washing machine.

One of my fellow ukulele players whose house has undergone major renovations said, “Builders have a tendency to disappear. They’re good at not finishing a job, packing up, and leaving you feeling abandoned.”

I know the feeling of abandonment. In late August, after barely two weeks of excavation, foundation, and one layer of brickwork, the builders disappeared leaving my garden a building site. More than a month later, they returned to finish digging, doing the drainage, and building up the walls. In mid-October, they abandoned me again, this time leaving me with two new external walls and the skeleton of a kitchen. The electric oven, gas cooker, and dishwasher had been disconnected. But I was able to survive with a washing machine, fridge, microwave, kettle, and toaster.

Two weeks later, they returned to dismantle my kitchen completely, carefully removing kitchen items for my e-bay sale. Removing the Spanish natural slates off my kitchen roof and drilling the stubborn 100-year old bricks from the walls took longer than they thought. Afterwards, they knocked down the back wall and installed a steel beam that took three men to carry.

The 3 meter steel beam that opens the dining room into the new kitchen

I left London on Friday 17th November with my boiler covered in plastic, the only appliance hanging outdoors, exposed to the elements. It wasn’t until Saturday 23rd December that the new roof was completely sealed, protecting the not-yet two-year old boiler which cannot be switched on until it gets moved to its new location. I have no idea if it has been damaged by the wind, rain, and other elements in the meantime.

If I thought abandonment was unique to these set of builders, I was wrong. The bathroom/toilet project over ran by three weeks. I had to cycle to the gym to take a shower for seven consecutive weeks. As soon as the new shower was connected and the electric underfloor heating installed (but not working), the builder packed up his tools and left.

One neighbour had warned me before these projects began. “Building projects never end on time. There will always be delays.”

I didn’t believe her. How else would they manage projects and costs? They must be able to keep time.

The kitchen extension with bi-fold doors. The shed must go!

When I tried to get the extension contractor to tell me when his brother would begin installing the new roof, he replied, “You’re asking me to predict the weather.”

Sure enough, even though the new roof was manufactured and ready to be delivered by end of October, the new bifold doors and windows weren’t ready. When they were ready in mid-November, the roof fitter was finishing another job. Two weeks later, in early December, he arrived to do what he thought would take eight working days. He is still here, insulating the roof and fixing the new box gutter and downpipes.

At least now I know the reason for the delays. The roof fitter can’t work if it’s too wet, too cold, or too windy. Elements don’t stick. Elements don’t seal, he says. It all depends on the weather. And I am grateful that he hasn’t abandoned me. Even though it seems slow to me, he is at least taking care and finishing the job.





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