A blog from Mark Seymour about life and business.

Author: Mark Seymour.

Date: 16 August 2009.

Original URL: http://www.markseymour.com.au/blog/?p=11


Article Text

Doncaster was dusty and sad in January when the needle hit the forties and the air conditioners were humming up and down the hill. There’d been apple orchards there first but the developers had ripped them down and turned the soil over so all the clay was on the top. Water restrictions were in full swing. The place was dead.

The Potters moved into Eramosa Drive that summer, when the new shrubs in the front yard looked stunted and hopeless. Ray Potter built the family home in the neo-colonial style. It had a verandah all the way round with a view down to the river. Despite all the desolation, what with all the half built houses, the slag heaps of clay and the parched lawns, there was still a bit of bush down at the bottom of the street; the Doncaster Botanical Gardens.

Ray was a free thinker but he knew how to save money. He always looked at a problem from every angle. He hired a builder from over the river; some Kiwi bloke who worked on his own and never used a nail gun. He was a real craftsman, which suited Ray down to the ground.

Ray never lifted a finger but it was still his design. He drew it on a coaster after work at the “Sentimental Bloke”. “I want all the bedrooms down at one end” he said. The Kiwi nodded. Clever. He didn’t go for the split level thing either unlike most of the other architecturally designed houses in the area. What was the point of ‘split level’ he said, scratching the air? What were Jenny and him going to do when they were old and their knees were gone, hobbling up and down a couple of steps every time they wanted to watch a bit of tellie?

Ray thought of everything.

At the housewarming he took the guests around as soon as they walked through the front door. He explained how it was laid out on a concrete slab.

“Slabs are at the cutting edge. Don’t you worry about that,” he said. “Sooner or later they’ll be using slabs everywhere when they realize how efficient they are. More beer? … what with the floor electrically heated UNDER THE CONCRETE.”

Afterwards he confided to them. He’d really screwed the joiner who’d done the kitchen.

“What a loser,” said Ray. “We were pushing for time. We had to be out of Coburg by the following Friday. I sat over there at the table and did me tax, and watched ’em bring the whole thing in.” He pointed across the room. It was the feature of the kitchen, an island bench running the full length of the room, with everything in it. Sink, dishwasher, stove top, oven, the full shooting match, with cupboards suspended on stainless steel poles, reaching up to the ceiling, all in a beautiful gun metal grey, dipped in two pack off sight and trucked over from Coburg where the factory was.

“It took six of them to get the whole thing into position. Around five they were done. They were having a knock off beer so I go over for a closer look. And I see this gap along the top next to the fridge. See it?”

He pointed up and they all looked.

“So I go, see that gap? And the bloke goes ‘yep.’ I said I wasn’t having it and he goes, well what do you want me to do about it? The floor’s not level. Can you believe that? The FLOOR’S NOT LEVEL. HA! So I say, well I’m not paying until it’s fixed and the bloke looks at his mates and sort of chuckles right?

“Can you believe that?” Said Ray to the guests as he poured more beers.

“He actually laughed, the prick, so I say, ‘So you’re just going to leave it like that?’ and the bloke starts looking a bit worried right? So I say to him, ‘Why should I pay the twelve grand when that gap’s still there see?’ I told the bloke I wouldn’t cough up until the gap was fixed. The bloke said he couldn’t fix it without taking it out again but he’s got another job on tomorrow right? Said he wouldn’t be able to come back for a couple of weeks. So I just look at him right? He just stands there staring at me and I go ‘Well, it’s in right? I’ve got it. What are you going to do about that?’ The bloke just gives me this dumb stare right? He says I’ll be hearing from him. Then he walks out the front door and the rest of ’em follow. Ha Ha!”

Ray slapped his thigh. “And you know what?” he said. “He went under. Bankrupt. Can you believe it? Hell, he must’ve been close to the margins. Twelve grand. I saved myself a packet.” Ray laughed.

“More beer?” And held up the bottle. Ewen from number twelve said, “So did you pay for any of it?” And Ray said “Nuh.” Then everybody went quiet for a second when they realized that Ray hadn’t just screwed the bloke. He’d really SCREWED THE BLOKE.