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Roy Bainton’s guest column: Businesses and trades not the same as they used to be

Undated Handout photo of an AA Home Emergency tradesman, repairing a radiator -  the type of job which people will no longer be able to do for themselves once DIY skills have disappeared. See PA Feature DIY DIY Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/AA. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature DIY DIY Column.

Undated Handout photo of an AA Home Emergency tradesman, repairing a radiator - the type of job which people will no longer be able to do for themselves once DIY skills have disappeared. See PA Feature DIY DIY Column. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/AA. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature DIY DIY Column.

 

“I no longer understand it. Tradesmen are not the same as they used to be, apprentices are not the same, business is not the same, business commodities are not the same.”

That was written in 1847 by Charles Dickens in Dombey and Son. Fast forward 167 years - what’s changed? Is Mansfield totally blessed with decent washing machine repair men, reliable builders, efficient plumbers who respect their customers? Should Dickens be alive today the advance of technology might impress him, yet I doubt tradesmen would.

Today, should you need a bricklayer, plasterer or plumber, you might well fall for the current batch of TV adverts by on-line sites such as Checkatrade.com, Rated People or Trustatrader.

It looks fine - tradesmen ‘recommended’ by people in your area; problem solved.

Yet if we carefully look behind the concept, the internet employs all the usual ‘smoke and mirrors’ verbiage we’ve come to accept from modern commerce.

A trade has to pay to be included. You want four or five ‘recommendations’? One or two may well be genuine, but friends and relatives can easily supply the rest. Forget going on line. You may as well stick a pin in the classified section of your local paper.

For 20 years we knew an honest and reliable electrical engineer who kept our washing machine and cooker going. You’d call him, he’d suggest a time, and sure enough, he’d be there, do the job, we’d pay him, we’d get a receipt. Then he retired. But he ‘knew somebody’ he could recommend us to. The new young man duly arrived, with his smart sign-painted van and professional business cards. He dismantled the washing machine, fixed it and charged us a reasonable fee, £30, saying “Now, if you have any further problems, just call me and I’ll come back and fix it.” The following day it broke down again. My wife called him. “I’ll be there tomorrow afternoon”. But he never appeared.

So I called him; both mobile and landline were on answerphone. We left messages. We have had no response. Strange; he seemed such a nice, efficient chap.

So I googled his name and found this one-star anonymous review on Thomson Local: Never got back to me about a replacement part for our dishwasher. Removed screws from the front panel, charged £10 for the privilege and we never heard from him again even after leaving a message a week later. Now we still have a broken dishwasher with screws out and a loose panel.

Well, disgruntled customer, if it’s any consolation, we’re still waiting for the vanishing man from Rated People.com to finish off the job of concreting our garden path, or the disappearing plumbers from another trades website to return and clean up the mess they’ve left. But thanks for the review - I’ll be adding mine shortly, so you’re not alone.

My father was a tradesman, a joiner. I still consider myself a member of that out-dated concept, ‘the working class’. We used to honour one another with honest mutual support. That honesty has evaporated, replaced by websites, nice vans and smart business cards. Morality and reliability? Forget it. Too expensive, and anyway, there’s always another sucker in the next street.

What do you think? Email your views to newsdesk@chad.co.uk

 

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