A Beginner's Guide to a Builders' Merchant (1)

Norman Goes To The Builders’ Merchant - Part 1

diy problems

Why are you going there anyway? Hopefully it’s only to choose the type of brick or patio slabs you want, so you can let your builder know. But if you fancy yourself as a bit of a handyman, here are a few tips.

It’s probably best to let the yardman know, that you know, that he will be thinking you’re a Saturday Morning Plonker. Laugh at yourself and your inadequacies, try and engage in some sort of sad male bonding process. Blaming your wife for wanting the job done is a good starting point. When he calls you a wimp, agree with him, you’re only there for half an hour, let him feel superior, after all he lives in a shabby little flat over the launderette. When you go home, it’s to a big house in a tree lined avenue and you’re going to Borneo for your holidays.


Before you go, (to the yard, not Borneo), know what you want to get and try and learn some of the terminology. For a start, cement is the grey powder that comes in bags. Builder never “mix cement”. They
use cement (which sometimes they call dust) to make either concrete or mortar which they sometimes call muck (or Don in London. Don…Donald…Donald Duck….muck…mortar….. geddit)?

Concrete is fairly straightforward, you know about that don’t you. It’s made by mixing stuff called ballast which itself is a mixture of sand and aggregate (small stones) with cement powder, a good healthy strength concrete for domestic use will typically be one part cement to 5 parts ballast.

Mortar is different, it is used in 2 ways, one of which is for bricklaying. Bricklaying mortar used soft (or builders) sand, This is mixed with cement and a very common, brick laying mortar strength is 4:1. That’s 4 parts “soft” to one part “dust”. See it’s not so scary after all is it?

By the way, builders never use those bags of pre mixed mortar the sheds sell, for some inexplicable reason it dries pink and is therefore only used by DIYers!

Mortar is also used for rendering. (plastering over walls, usually outside ones). Just for the record, different sand is used when rendering. It’s usually been “washed” to remove the natural salts.

You don’t need to be told about rendering sand. If you are rendering, you already know. If you don’t already know, don’t attempt to render, you will make a monstrous pigs ear of it and will almost certainly fall foul of the lovely phrase “one coat billy goat”!

There is also sharp sand, which is used for screeds. The same rule applies to screeds as it does to rendering I’m afraid. Were not about teaching you how to be builders here.

Look the Part

Don’t go dressed for the office, you
will get dirty. The “yard bloke” who serves you will expect you to load your boot alongside him. So empty your boot before you go, don’t start to cry if a bag of cement powder snags on the catch and goes bloody everywhere. It’s done, the yard man won’t even notice it. Grit your teeth and keep smiling.

If its winter, bags of sand will be covered in freezing water. Within a minute your pathetically sad little pink fingers will be so mind numbingly cold that Ranulph Fffeinnnesss will arrive to ask for your autograph.

The bags (full of frozen sand) will be hard as granite, you wont be able to grip them, your nails will be ripped off. Whilst wimpering with cold, you will have to pull them pathetically towards you like you love them and walk with them balanced on your knees to the car where they will crush your girly digits to a horrible pulp as they grate over the edge of the boot..

The icy water from the bags will have saturated your new elephant cords. Your legs will look like that ice man’s they found on the telly. You know, the one who had been on the top of Mont Blonk for 20,000 years.

Your man-parts, after recoiling in horror will have gone to seek the warmth that only a warm bottom can bring. You may be able to coax them back in a week or two but if that bird off Nature Watch is waiting for you at home, best send her back to her husband, you will be of no use to her whatsoever.

None of this by the way, will have been noticed by the brute next to you. He will have put twice as many bags as you in the back whilst also phoning his girlfriend and having a fag at the same time.

Be a man, it will all be over shortly, get in the car, drive slowly round the corner, get in the back seat, curl up, suck your thumb and sob quietly until all the horrid pain seeps slowly, very slowly, away. Think of your mummy, and those lullabies she used to sing… that will help.

Next week ……..Norman goes on a scaffolding course!

For your must-see guide to Tradesmen's Rates please click on the map…


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