The Merry Month: by Robert Merry

Robert Merry, MCIOB, is an independent Stone Consultant. He ran his own stone company for 17 years before becoming first an independent project manager and now a consultant. He is also an expert witness in disputes regarding stone and stone contracts. 0207 502 6353 / 07771 997621. [email protected]

Stone correspondent Robert Merry goes out on the mean streets of Marble Town and files his report for the Chandler & Bogart News

The editor made it clear: “Get me some real stories from real people and fast! We need to know what’s going on out there.”

OK, I said. I’m going undercover in Marble Town.

“Be careful out there,” he said.

Disguised as a marble mason, covered in dust (actually  I couldn’t find any dust in my street, so I used self-raising flour), I entered the sleazy downtown world of Marble Town, with its steaming workshops, grimy streets and quartzite attitudes – hard and real. Where the marble people survive on cut to size, bespoke and dust.

  • The Kitchen Manufacturer – Granite Street, Wild Northwest, Marble Town.

Me: How busy is the industry at the moment?

KM: Who wants to know?

Me: Well, I’m doing some research into the industry and….

KM: We are merrily up the proverbial creek right now. No staff, loads of work... you looking?

Me: Well err no… I was just interested in how the industry was managing in a post Covid, post Brexit world.

KM: Drowning in work, staff off sick, no drivers, it’s a nightmare getting goods out. That sums up the industry in a nutshell!

Me: Oh I see – well it sounds good… and bad… all at the same time.

KM: Are you OK? Your skin has gone all lumpy.

Me: I’m fine, just a little flour rash.

It had started to rain and the self-raising flour was turning into pastry on my face.

I walked on past state of the art machinery crammed into tiny workshops. Dust clouds obscured Marble Town like a sea mist, as the rain bounced hard off the ground and I slowly turned into a walking pizza base... thick crust.

  •  The Estimator – Numbers Street, Drawing Avenue, Deep South, Marble Town.

Me: Hi – just wondered how the world of estimating was going? Are you busy?

Estimator: Now? Today? Yes, today I’m busy. But not yesterday.

Me: Oh, I see. Has work increased over the past three months?

Estimator: Yes. But if you’d asked me if it had increased over the past six months I would have said no, it hasn’t. You see, it has increased recently but overall, taking everything into consideration, it hasn’t increased. Do you see what I mean?

Me: I think so. It hasn’t increased but it has?

Estimator: Just like an estimate, see? It starts as a huge piece of work – plans elevations, specifications, finishing schedules – and then you dig around a bit and find there’s only one floor to price. Sometimes I don’t know why I bother.

I was confused. Nothing seemed to add up in Numbers Street. I headed north to clear my head.

  • The Stone Contractor – The Summit Towers, Building Site Boulevard, Marble Town.

Me: Hi, I’m… No, I’m not from Health & Safety… nor trading standards… no, I’m not the client’s stone consultant.

SC: Good. What about VAT? You’re not from the Main Contractor?

Me: No, no, just here doing some research into how the contracting industry is going?

SC: What’s left of it. It’s harder and harder to make a living… excuse me, do you mind not leaning on the new Range Rover. Where was I? Oh yes, staff nowhere, contractors begging us for more labour. But where do you go? Other than increasing the rates and complaining about the unreasonable behaviour of the Health & Safety inspector.

Me: So you’re struggling.

SC: Always struggling.

Me: And the new car?

SC: Well, I ordered it a year ago and had to take delivery. As I said to the lads this morning, it’s a burden I have to drive round in for three years now. We’ve all got to make sacrifices.

Me: Yes, I guess so. And how do you think the industry will be in the next year?

SC: There won’t be ‘next year’ the rate we’re going. Listen, Blue Eyes, current contracts are a nightmare. Fixers know they’re in demand, so they want more money. If they don’t get it they leave. So you put their rates up and the job starts to lose money. Transportation costs have gone through the roof. Supplies are delayed and costs are rising. New contracts, now they’re a different story. We got cute. We price at higher rates to cover the men, we quote longer lead times to cover the supply chain. And the client – well they’ve got no choice. What can I tell ya?

The sun came out and I started to bake… slowly.

SC: You OK? You’re face is going all hard and flaky.

Me: Its OK. I have an allergic reaction to the sun. It’s called pastry… er… pastryitus. Quite rare.

SC: Looks nasty.

Me: I’ll be fine. Thanks for your time.

I headed home through the rough, tough streets of Marble Town, unsure how I was going to get rid of the effects of ‘pastryitus’. I needed a cake slice – and fast!

Here’s cooking at you, kid.