I’m still talking about my bathroom. Having got really fed up with John Lewis’s surprisingly chaotic attempts to centralise its flooring service, I mugged them off (please John Lewis, pull yourself together, your country needs you to stay stable in these uncertain times) and ordered a roll of vinyl direct from the internet. I found a number for someone who could fit it and the guy came round to see if he could help.
I took him into the bathroom, where I had already removed the old stuff, exposing the plyboard underneath. The man’s reaction to the plyboard was both unexpected and kind of lovely. I thought he’d prod it a bit, perhaps measure it, check it for the looseness of the old glue. He didn’t.
He said ‘Who did this job?’
I wasn’t sure. John Lewis possibly.
He got down to inspect the place where the pipe comes up to join the radiator. ‘I thought I was the only person who did that.’ He peered closer at the patchwork of shapes.
‘Those triangles, see,’ he said, brushing a finger along the lines. ‘I thought I was the only one who did triangles like that … Wow.’
He agreed to the job, and is coming back on Monday. Later, I was thinking about this reaction. Sure, it was funny that it could have been the same guy who’d done it before, though he didn’t think it was. There was also something charming in his curiosity and surprise at finding someone else was using what he thought was his unique system, like spotting footprints in the desert. But what I found myself thinking about was all the talent, capability, information, understanding, experience and know-how in the world. How detailed and specific and technical so much of what we and other people know is, and how easy it is to forget or ignore.
Everyone has stuff like this – intricate, interesting, oblique knowledge. It’s a kind of treasure. Sometimes, it’s just really nice to be offered a glimpse – no showing off, no huffing and puffing to demonstrate how difficult and specialised something is – just triangles of plyboard that fit nicely round a hole, learned through experience and developed over time.