house construction

October 5, 2006

Spotted in the golden boy’s speech at Bournemouth:
“Getting ready for the responsibility of government is like building a house together. Think of it in three stages.

First you prepare the ground.

Then you lay the foundations.

And then, finally, brick by brick, you build your house.”

I am truly grateful to Master Cameron, who has really done his homework on this. I presume he verified his information with the National House-Building Council first. Here was I labouring (oops) under the misapprehension that you put the bricks together first, then worked your way down to the foundations.
Then I remembered my experience of having a house built in Thailand about ten years ago and, would you believe it, he is spot on. In case anyone’s interested, this is how it goes in Thailand. First, I found a plot of land in a new village which was being developed and paid these guys a sum of money towards the house they promsed to build on it. Farangs I spoke to were scathing: ‘you parted with money without even seeing the house, you must be etc etc’ being the most oocmmon reaction. I explained that that seemed the Thai way of doing things and anyway the developer had assured me there would be a house there in 3 months. At that, the farangs fell about in uncontrollable laughter. ‘Three months’, they gasped, ‘it’ll be six before you see anything at all.’ After a few days some men turned up at the site and embarked on what looked like archaeological excavations. They seemed to go deeper and deeper until I got a little concerned that they might have misunderstood my Thai and thought I had asked for an underground shelter. Eventually they returned to the surface, however, and when I pointed out that houses are normally built upwards, explained that this was a process known as ‘laying the foundations.’ The next step in the process was to call in a few monks (you can’t do anything in Thailand without hiring some monks for the day) plus a ghoulish looking man from a neighbouring village who reportedly was on good terms with the spirits and together they blessed the site while we poured in bunches of flowers and fruit, lit candles and tied mysterious bits of string round things. Still, if it kept the spirits happy, who was I to argue? Things went quiet for a few days until one morning work started in earnest with the arrival of a posse of six year old children, their mothers and grandmothers plus a couple of men whose duties consisted of lounging around in a pickup alternately smoking and sleeping. Naturally before any actual work could be done there had to be some serious eating so straw mats were laid out on what remained of the level ground and pots of sticky rice, chilli paste, spicy sausages and boiled vegetables appeared from nowhere. Thais operate the reverse working system to the west, having an eating day punctuated by occasional work breaks. After a while the 6 years olds got bored and started playing with the bricks, then the women joined in under the bored gaze of their menfolk. The kids would run around each with a brick in their hands (yes, I knowingly condoned child labour!) till one of the women grabbed one (brick) and put it in place. Occasionally one of the men would wander down, cast an expert eye on the contruction and move a brick by about a fifteenth of a millimetre. All the time, the gathering looked like a particularly boisterous birthday party with shrieks of laughter and constant bantering adding to the impression that any work done was entirely coincidental. (The Thai word for ‘work’ also, oddly enough, means ‘party’.) One day I turned up as usual and the foreman, or foreperson, greeted me with a broad grin. ‘It’s finished’, she announced. It was two months and a half to the day after I had signed the contract. Sure enough, the thing looked like a house to me, it had walls and a roof and all the other things houses are supposed to have and, in fact, ten years later it still stands exactly where it was built all that time ago. No tiles have been blown off the roof, no walls have cracked, the only damage to the construction having been cause by the cats who enjoy scratching at the mosquito netting.
If you’re reading, David Cameron, I somehow think that your building task might not be quite as plain sailing.

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