Painter Man

Many of us have enjoyed a forced holiday recently, and this has presented the opportunity to catch up on tasks that we’ve put off for months, or even years. I made a fair stab at painting walls and a ceiling, and did a just-about acceptable job on the front door with sticky black gloss paint. Thankfully the cat’s half-black anyway.

I’m painfully aware of my lack of practical skills though, particularly after experimenting with different work. I hate working in the run-up to Christmas so I left my cab at home and signed on at a local temp agency. A stint in an office or warehouse would excuse me from working the cab in December and hopefully take me through the cab trade’s flat-as-a-kipper season after New Year.

After just a few days I was offered the position of Assistant Caretaker at a local secondary school. On arrival I was given a map of the school site. It was a big school. The caretaker said he’s known people take five years to learn it. It was like learning the Knowledge of London.

I thought a caretaker would sit in a shed all day drinking tea before changing a couple of light bulbs and perhaps move a TV set in a cabinet into a classroom. Taking down the Christmas tree would provide a bit of extra work in January, but I was prepared for that. The poor chap was rushed off his feet, and this is where I came in as an extra pair of hands (he told me changing light bulbs takes a full two days). When he left me on my own I just hoped the boiler lights didn’t turn red, or there was an outbreak of Legionnaires disease (such eventualities have to be prepared for).

I was surprised to learn how involved a caretaker’s job is. I’ve always been in awe of people who can do stuff, and not just write about it. Even unlocking the school gates looked complicated. I can’t even dress for practical work. The caretaker had to lend me his waterproof coat. I only have clothes suitable for beach holidays, sitting in a cab with the heater on, or going out on the town. It was a humbling experience.

In the end I only worked 8 days at school, either side of Christmas. It was intense physical work and I wouldn’t want to do it again. It was a good experience though. As I was sweeping leaves, digging up moss, stacking chairs, and carting bit of wood and metal on a trolley to a skip, I knew I was doing useful – nay, essential – work – but it wasn’t really me.

I realised that I didn’t know how practical things work. I’m not from that world. It’s alien to me. I’m more comfortable with a pen than a drill. I’m more into ideas than practices. Hard work to me is agonising over sentence structure. I don’t know how to use a drill properly, or how to arrange the collection of a skip load of metal. I did a lot of soul-searching while at school. Is it just me who doesn’t know how to put a shelf up?

One interesting thing I learned was that no-one notices the cooks, cleaners and caretakers. For 8 days I was part of the invisible workforce. I came away knowing more about myself, but with a respect for the invisible people. Back on the Goldman Sachs rank I’d watch someone sweeping the street and I wonder what story he had to tell.

I’m sure many of us have thought about doing different work recently. You might find you were happier where you were, but it’s a valuable exercise in self-awareness.

The Good Life

Since the Covid-19 lockdown, I’ve vowed to support local businesses wherever possible. In the area around Leighton Buzzard I can buy milk direct from the dairy and beer direct from the brewery. Self-sufficiency is the logical next step…

I’m not going to start keeping chickens in my garden like the Good family from the 1970’s comedy series, The Good Life, but I have retrieved my old home-brewing equipment from the loft. I wasn’t expecting much from my first brew in several years, as I’m still practising my skills. My brew is based on a kit from ‘Wilco’s.’ The kit method is easy – it’s just sterilising the equipment that’s a bit of a chore. Everything needs to be scrupulously clean. Bacteria that can taint beer needs to be eradicated.

Three Brewing Methods (& Fermenting Taxis)

There are three main beer-brewing methods: kit, extract, or full mash. With a kit, the malt comes mixed with hops and pre-boiled. You basically just bung a can of malty gunge into a bucket with water, sugar and yeast. You keep it somewhere warm for a few weeks to ferment, then put it somewhere cooler to allow the beer to clear. If you have a taxi that you’re not using for a couple of weeks, park it somewhere warm and it’ll make an excellent site for your fermenting bucket.

Bottling it…

When the beer has cleared it can be served from a pressurised keg or a collapsible polypin. The beer goes off quickly, so unless you’re a hard user you might want to bottle some of it. This takes a bit of work and it can be messy, especially if you lose control of the syphon and flood the kitchen floor with sticky beer. Thankfully the wife was asleep when I disinfected twelve swing-top bottles in the bath and went to work with my syphon in the kitchen.

Fish Batter & Remaining Upbeat

I bottled twelve litres and added a teaspoon of sugar to each in order to help secondary fermentation. I sampled it after the recommended time.

The resulting brew wasn’t quite the apex.  It was drinkable, but not something I’d like to be served in a pub. I’m not drinking it neat but mixed with lemonade it makes a decent shandy. My cheap beer will also be used to make fish batter. As to the stuff left in the barrel/fermenter, it’s little better than vinegar. I’m not sure if this is recommended by gardening experts but I treated my sunflower sprouts to a gallon of beer, and they seem to be thriving.

It was a useful experiment and I remain upbeat. My next step will be to buy a boiler and brew up malt extract and fresh hops to my own specification, but I need to get rid of several litres of dodgy ale first to free up the bottles.

Man Cave on Tour

How’s this for a blokey activity? The Home Brew Shop in Farnborough are offering an All Grain Mashing Course. £36 buys you five hours practical tuition on mashing grain, wort chilling and sparging techniques. You are encouraged to discuss hops, grain and yeast with other like-minded folk. A buffet lunch is included, and tea and coffee are available all day. For added excitement, you are invited to bring samples of your own home-brewed beer. Perhaps bring the missus for a romantic day out – you might need someone to drive you home. Or maybe take a taxi?

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