It was only when I noticed the albino mushrooms growing from the black seam in the ceiling above the kitchen pantry that I began to momentarily panic.
I climbed the stepladder, butter knife in hand, determined to cut them down without becoming a hapless victim in some real-life iteration of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. They slipped into my trembling paw like dollops of rancid margarine, their spores coating my knuckles.
Two-year-old granddaughter Ruby, her gaze fixed firmly on the objects of my revulsion, promptly announced through the Popsicle planted in her mouth: “Poppy, yucky; fix it!”
I would if I could, dearest, but the Internet – try as it might – does not provide an instructional video for feckless scribblers on advanced plumbing. As for the leak in the bathroom almost directly over your head. . .well, let’s just move your chair to another location, preferably across the street.
Naturally, I elocuted all of this in my “inside voice”. Outwardly, I made a frantic round of calls to old contractors and tradesmen of my acquaintance who had, over the years and on more than one occasion, saved my sorry derriere in this “vintage” property I assumed more than a decade ago.
“Is Jim home? No? He’s gone to Alberta? You don’t say. Okay, thanks. . .No. . .No message.”
“So, Frank is retired? And he closed up shop? No forwarding address. . .Right, thanks very much anyway.”
“Waddya mean Ed disappeared without a trace? You think what, again? You think aliens abducted him, and they’re now using him to build party decks on Alpha Centauri?”
As it happens, I’m not alone in my all-but-vain search for quality trades. Where once, in New Brunswick, they were as plentiful as the rain in spring, they’re now like dust in the wind. And not just here.
Two years ago, Forbes Magazine writer Joshua Wright penned this: “For the last three years, according to ManpowerGroup the hardest segment of the workforce for employers to staff with skilled talent hasn’t been registered nurses or engineers or even web developers. It’s been the skilled trades – the welders, electricians, machinists, etc. that are so prevalent in manufacturing and construction.
“In 2012, 53 per cent of skilled-trade workers in the U.S. were 45 years and older, and 18.6 per cent were between the ages of 55 and 64. (We are using the Virginia Manufacturers Association’s definition of skilled trades, which encompasses 21 particular occupations.) Contrast those numbers with the overall labor force, where 44 per cent of workers were at least 45 years old, and 15.5 percent of jobs were held by the 55-to-64 demographic.”
Conditions for tradesmen and women in Canada aren’t much better. Three years ago, Rick Spence, writing for the Financial Post, observed: “Despite rising unemployment in 2009, a Statistics Canada study that year found 24 per cent of Canadian companies weren’t able to find ‘the right talent’ to fill the jobs available.”
Fortunately, my granddaughter and I are luckier than most. Through a reputable, locally owned building supply company we found a fellow by the name of Josh – a sturdy, durable man with a penetrating wit and exhaustive knowledge of the “right” and “wrong” ways to rebuild a bathroom and, one imagines, just about everything else.
He, in turn, employs a carpenter by the name of Adam – whom I would trust to erect a cathedral composed entirely of locally sourced hemlock – and a plumber by the name of Elliot – whose knowledge of metallurgy and water density is almost mystical.
I’m no longer panicking – at least, not at at the moment.