Working on the Tools


Working on the tools

After writing 164 tales mostly about old east Leeds I’m running out of new things to say about the old area, but I’m sure there must be some of you out there who can add a tale to the site. If you think you have a tale that might suit the purpose of the site please email it to me at

In the meantime I hope ‘Working on the Tools’ will make you smile.

Working on the Tools.
In the engineering we called working down at the sharp end where the real work gets done as ‘working on the shop floor’ and we had our iconic tales to tell. Miners call it ‘working at the coal face’ and teachers ‘working at the chalk face’ When I joined the building services section of a local council I found their tradesmen called it ‘working on the tools’. And they had a goldmine of great tales to tell too, mostly about jobs gone wrong with disastrous consequences. .
There are ‘brickie’s tales, joiner’s tales, roofer’s tales and probably best of all, probably due to their working environment being concerned with excrement: the plumber’s tales. There is something intrinsically humorous about people coming into contact with excrement. Take Ray’s experiences as an apprentice plumber. His first job, straight from school, happened to fall in that bitter winter of 1962/63 when the country was frozen for months on end, including a bank of about ten well used toilets at his new place of work. Those toilets were banked up so high that users had needed to pile bricks across the top of the pedestals topped off with a board in order to get more in. Well; when you’ve got to go you’ve got to go! The foreman told Ray to take a shovel and scoop out each frozen bowl in one solid lump and to lay each lump at the side of its pedestal while he thawed out the pipes with a blow lamp. When the water was flowing again he had to break up the piles and flush them away
You can imagine as a baptism of fire that takes some beating but his first job at the Council came close. His first job there was to free a blocked urinal at Morley Town Hall. Being unsure how to go about this job Ray rang his boss for advice.
‘Go down into the cellar,’ said his boss, ‘there you will find the bottom of the waste pipe – there will be a ‘U’ bend and a locknut, unlock the nut and clear the bend, it’ll probably be blocked with match sticks.’
Ray went down into the cellar and located the ‘U’ bend. To undo the nut he needed to stand directly underneath it and reach up. When it came free so did the contents of a two inch diameter pipe four stories high filled with urine, right onto his head.
Much later on another job for the Council Ray had to replace a w.c. pan. It was just before lunch by the time he had removed the old pan; it was then that he realised that the replacement pan he had brought along with him was the wrong size. Ray apologised to the lady of the house. ‘I’m sorry,’ said Ray, I’ve brought the wrong size pan; I’ll have to nip back to the stores and get the correct one. Will you be OK for half an hour?’ The lady said her husband came home for a sandwich at lunch time but that it would be alright. Unfortunately, when Ray returned with the new pan they had already made a deposit into the hole.
Finally, Ray, now in charge of a gang was advised by his lads that they refused to work in a certain house because it was so dirty and smelled terrible.
‘Course you will – we can’t pick and choose where we work,’ said Ray, ‘follow me.’ With that he walked into the house, slipped on a pile of dog excrement on the bottom step and measured his length up the stairs coming into contact with another pile on virtually every step; he was covered in the stuff. He reckons he ripped out the stair carpet himself and waked out of the house
Enough of Ray – another plumber replacing a complex of pipes realized he needed an elbow joint from the old pipes to use on the new pipes but it was tight and he couldn’t get it off cold so he heated it up with his blow torch until it was red hot that enabled it to expands and free itself. Unfortunately when it came free it fell onto the bathroom carpet and began to burn it, he tried to pick it up with his pliers but it was awkward to grasp and it was making a hole right through the carpet now, so he panicked and tried to pick it up with his hand but of course it was really hot. ‘Ouch!’ he had to drop it; it began to burn another hole, he tried to pick it up again. ‘Ouch!’ he dropped it again and it began to burn a third hole; he picked it up again, ‘Ouch!’ a forth hole. He finished up with eight holes in the bathroom carpet and then it got away with him down the stairs and made a burn on every step of the stair carpet. The tenant complained that she had 26 mysterious burns in her carpets – how could this have happened? She demanded and got a new carpet from the Council.
Still on the subject of carpets, a joiner this time, screwing in a new threshold near to the door was horrified to see a weft of the carpet had wrapped itself around his drill-bit and had pulled a ladder all way across the lounge carpet – virtually cutting it in half. Yet another carpet tale was that of a lad cleaning a chimney. He found himself with a shovel full of hot ash and no bucket. Instead of taking the shovel to the bucket he rested the hot shovel on the carpet while he went seeking the bucket. You can imagine what happened to the carpet. Another joiner needing to ease a door removed the door and rested it along the back of the settee in order to plane a shaving off. Unfortunately he removed a shaving off the back of the settee at the same time.
Mind you sometimes visits highlighted bizarre habits by the tenants as well as ‘clangers’ by the tradesmen. For instance one lady called for a tiler to replace her fireplace tiles, which she said had just dropped off. When he attended it transpired she was burning old railway sleepers. She would stand a chair with its back facing the fireplace and balance a sleeper with one end on the chair back and the other in the fire itself, as the end of the sleeper burned away she would just feed it further into the fire.
The same lady called for a plumber complaining her bathroom carpet was wet: damaged by a leaking pipe. She was after a new carpet from the council but she had been seen getting the same old carpet, dripping wet, out of a skip.
While in the process of studying glazers at work I recall another weird occurrence. We had arrived to refit a small bathroom window, we had the new window already manufactures and on the van. While we were there removing and fitting the small bathroom window it was noticeable that the lounge window had no glass in it at all! The inhabitants were sitting unconcernedly watching TV on a bitter cold day with just a piece of dirty plastic flapping in the window aperture. The lounge window had evidently been dispatched by a hurled dustbin and not by fair-means, so they would have to wait a replacement for that window.
Putting a bath in is a plumber’s job but boarding in the bath is a joiner’s job. There was an old tradesman joiner who would say to his lads, ‘Never let a hammer head come close to a bath edge, hammers and baths are a lethal combination.’ We are talking here about the old cast iron baths covered in white enamel: if the hard surface of a hammer head comes into contact with the roll over edge of the bath a thick chunk of enamel would flake away right down to the cast iron. On this particular day the old tradesman came back from lunch and saw a huge chip out of the bath edge. He went ballistic but none of the lads would own up to being the culprit. He considered his options – as the bath had already been plumbed in the cost to remove and replace it with a new bath was really ‘big money’. So against his own better judgement the old lad decided to attempt a ‘bodge up’. He bought a tin of enamel touch up paint and secreted it on the job, at the same time masking the offending bath edge from prying eyes with a piece of ply. Each day he proceeded to apply a layer of paint in an effort to try and build it up to the original thickness. It was a painstaking task which had to be completed to perfection as he knew the Clerk of Works would inspect the work and he was a real ‘hawk eye’ at any kind of a cover up; if he suspected any impropriety he would insist on the whole job being stripped out and replaced.
On the day of the initial inspection the masking job wasn’t great but considering the old saying: ‘A blind man would be pleased to see it.’ The old tradesman thought he’d take a chance; he crossed his fingers and removed the plywood. The Clark of Works went straight to it. ‘What’s this,’ he said, ‘it’s had a touch!’ The old joiner feigned surprise and ran his fingers along the damaged edge, ‘Well I never, I haven’t noticed that before, it must have been like that when it came,’ he said.
The Clerk of Works wasn’t happy, he pointed to the damage and then put up his finger, ‘It’s had a touch he repeated,’ but as he spoke he slowly walked on. The old joiner thinking perhaps he’d got away with it continued to improve his work with a further layer each day for he knew there would be a final inspection. Unfortunately he couldn’t find the pot one morning when he arrived. He went to the bathroom and there was the Clark of Works holding up the pot of enamel in triumph. ‘You’re nicked,’ he said ‘strip it out and gerit replaced.’ So all the old boy’s work had been for nowt and his credibility had taken a knock too all because a hammer came too close to a bath edge.
When the lads were working on site they would get up to all sorts of pranks; like nailing the cabin door shut while their mates were having their snap then blocking the chimney with a slate so that those inside almost choked to death on the smoke. The site toilet would be a hastily constructed hut over a manhole direct to the sewer. To complete the job they would secure a couple of boards across to form a makeshift seat and this would serve as the ‘thunder box’ as the lads called it. They tell the story that while a lad was already using this contraption they jammed the door shut, nailed a shaft to each side and raising the whole lot off the manhole ran around with it like a sedan chair with the lad still inside.
Things tended to go missing from those building sites ‘big time’. It was a regular occurrence for ladders to disappear from one side of the building site while the lads were working at the other. More spectacular was the case of a bricklayer grinding out between bricks for pointing with a hand held grinder which was being powered by a compressor located around the other side of the building. He was amazed when the grinder was ripped out of his hand and away out of sight around the corner of the building. He raced around the corner just in time to see the compressor disappearing up the road on the back of a ‘gyppo’ pick up with the hand grinder bouncing along the road behind, still attached with its pipes.
Then there was the case of the cement mixer – brand new – never been used, it was left outside the cabin while the lads had their lunch, when they came out it had disappeared never to be seen again. It never mixed a bucket of concrete in anger for the Council.
Best of all was the disappearing engine. The vans were kept in a depot compound overnight secured by a fourteen foot high wall. On the particular morning in question a guy couldn’t get his van to start so he asked his mate to give him a tow start – still no joy, so they looked under the bonnet and there was no engine there at all! Take about ‘my engine’s missing’ this engine was really missing. But how did they manage to remove a 1,600 cc diesel engine and get it over a fourteen foot high wall without anyone seeing or hearing anything? And there were houses all around the depot.
Finally, a roofer’s tale to finish with; this roofer was working on an old lady’s bungalow roof when he lost his footing: he went clean through the roof and the ceiling to arrive amidst a cloud of rubble onto the settee next to where the lady was sitting having a cup of tea. Quite unabashed and quick as a flash he said, ‘We’ve got to stop meeting like this you know.’

6 Responses to “Working on the Tools”

  1. Douglas Farnill Says:

    Pete, what a marvelous collection of tales. May I guess a lot of truth, and perhaps just a sprinkle of elaboration here and there as those tales get told over again. There are so many good ones that I find it hard to choose my favorite, but the last one, of the roofer landing on the settee and his comment “we have to stop meeting like this” is well up there on the list. I hope your request for other East Leeds contributions is successful, and I deeply hope that we will continue to “meet like this” on the first of every month for a long time to come.

  2. Eric Says:

    164 not out , a great record Pete with many top class yarns in there. Likewise, ,looking back at my submissions ( around 40) & along with all other contributors , it must be around 300 or more in total.
    As you say, almost every nook & cranny of the old area has been covered (often more than once) such that it’s difficult to find any other unexplored matter. Although most topics have been covered , individual experiences of those places events, people, trials & tribulations , different peoples experience of those can always add a new slant so perhaps there’s still a rich seam to be mined. Let’s just hope a few more come forward with their own reminiscences

  3. peterwwood Says:

    Hi Doug, I think they are all true all thought the last one takes a bit of believing as it stands, perhaps that was a bit ‘tall’.

  4. peterwwood Says:

    Yer, You have certainly played your part in the success of the site . 40 tales and most of them the best .well done Eric. And that’s a good idea, folks individual experiences, I’ll have think along those lines.

  5. beauair Says:

    Well done Pete. Smiling about the missing engine. My son in law had the same thing happen to his car while it was parked outside the THF flat At Knostrop. He got in the car , turned the key, pressed the starter and ‘nothing’ lifted the bonnet, No Engine. Plus the plumbers tales brought a smile or too, thinking of the ancient drainage at Knostrop. There was a time when they were doing some drainage work that they discovered a well and someone fell down it!
    Hope your keeping well Pete.
    Girl in the Green raincoat.

  6. peterwwood Says:

    This comment was made by John Steel
    My maternal grandparents lived at 321 Halton Moor Avenue, a property I visited frequently at pre-school age during the 1960s and my Mum and Dad lived there for the first 18 months of their married lives before they were able to afford their own home on Clifton Mount; a red brick street of back-to-backs ‘twixt Harehills Lane and Hudson Road; there is a grisly family tale around the unfortunate demise of their milkman who undertook his job with the assistance of a hand operated, electric milk float of the kind shown below:
    One snowy winter’s morning, the milkman slipped beneath the wheels of his own float and was no more; electrocuted or so my mother claimed….
    My main connection with the area, however is East Leeds Cricket Club. My father was brought up in Morley and played both football and cricket for Gildersome, but when he married Mum and moved to the East Leeds area, it was sensible to find a local club rather than “play away” every week. He wrote to Colton and East Leeds; the former did not reply, whereas the latter, through the good offices of its secretary Mr Eric Yarnold, invited him to try out for the 1955 season and he remained there until he packed in playing in the early 1980s. By the time I came along as the third of four siblings, we had moved to Gildersome, however now with his own transport, Dad continued to play for East Leeds until he retired (to play golf) at the age of 50; his connection with the area didn’t end there though as he played snooker for the East Leeds WMC, (the Spit & Slaver) for a number of years alongside such luminaries as Colin Benson, Jimmy Croll and Dave Greaves, (all of whom had played cricket at ELCC) as well as Ronnie Saville and a number of others.
    As I had spent summer Saturdays and Sundays at East Leeds, it was natural that I would play for them too – I still do, but have to be manoeuvred into the slips to avoid unnecessary exertion. I met my future (and current) wife of 33 years at East Leeds and even when I played elsewhere for 10 years or so, the club was always a part of my life.
    Times change and so do the surroundings; when I was a lad, the east end of the ground was dominated by the abattoir, beyond which stood the meat market, fruit and veg market, foundry, sewage works and power station; fortunately the prevailing wind blew from the south west, but you knew when it changed if it was warm as eau de Knostrop assailed the senses. There can’t have been many cricket grounds to have been blessed with not just a “Pavilion End” but also an “Abattoir End” – poetic in a very LS9 sense.
    That’s all for now.
    John Steel

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