A while ago my husband and I noticed that our oven/stove combo (called a “cooker” here) was starting to fail. One side of anything that went into the oven would be burnt nearly to a crisp, while the other side was fine – or undercooked. So we bought a new one, which good old Aunty Amazon delivered right to our doorstep. It’s shiny and sleek, which excited Sem more than it did me, as he is the house chef (and a very good one, too – lucky me!). We stood there admiring it for a while and then started wondering who was going to install it, as Sem wisely stays away from electrical wiring projects. We called Bobby the Sparky.
You know you’re in the Highlands when you call the (one) electrician on what turns out to be his home phone number, and find yourself having a chat with his sister. Sem is friendly with her, so after a few minutes of catching up with each other she advised that Bobby was out on a job, and that she would ask him to call us back.
Bobby and his sister live on their family croft up on the hill. Until recently their ancient auntie (no relation to Auntie Amazon) lived with them as well. It’s less and less common for siblings and extended family to live together, but it used to happen here all the time. Either they never got married or they were widowed, and they ended up living out their days together in the family home. As for Bobby and his sister, as far as I know they have never been married. They are fine individuals, though quite quirky in their way. The sister suffers terribly from arthritis but she is tough and sharp-witted, with a sparkle in her eye. There is real warmth there but she does not suffer fools gladly. Bobby, besides being a very good electrician, is a little shy, quite smiley, and quick to do his work so he can get to the next job. His hair is like the curly, fine, slightly-sweaty hair of a sleeping baby, and he’s an all-around nice guy who speaks in quick asides, punctuating his observations with somewhat nervous chuckles. I like him immensely, as does pretty much everyone else around here. He drives an ancient Range Rover which has had so many replacement parts that the chassis is probably the only original bit left. “Make do and mend” is still a watchword for many here, especially in crofting communities. Why get a new one when the old one can be patched up?
Bobby phoned us at 7:00 the next evening asking if it was okay to come over in a quarter of an hour or so. When he arrived he had a look at the old cooker after pulling it away from the wall, his bright eyes taking it all in. Scratching his curls with grubby fingers, he asked who had installed it. Sem said that as far as he remembered, it had been his son-in-law. “Hmm… then I won’t say anything!” said the sparky diplomatically, flashing a grin that spoke volumes. It appears we were rather lucky that our “cooker” didn’t cook the kitchen, the house, the cat, us… Yikes!
Bobby wrestled the old cooker outside after carefully disconnecting it, and wired in the new one with well-practiced ease. He was very thorough, testing everything while keeping up running commentary in his funny way, and when all was said and done only half an hour had gone by. When we asked him how much we owed him he thought for a moment and then said, “Och I don’t know… a fiver?”
A fiver?! Five pounds for coming out to our house – in the evening, the day after we phoned – hauling our old cooker out, meticulously wiring the new one in, making sure everything was working properly, and even helping to set the clock to the right time? Preposterous. We gave him a fairer amount and still felt like we were coming out of the exchange too far ahead, but he wouldn’t accept more. He tucked the money away and went out into the night, apparently off to wire up another cooker nearby. He’d told us that he works from 9am to 9pm, doing the smaller jobs in the evening. I don’t know where he gets the energy.
Up here in the far north it can be difficult to get tradesmen in to fix things because generally they would rather work for the big hunting and fishing estates, and the smaller jobs don’t interest them. Bobby is the opposite of all of them, in every good way. It’s not surprising he works twelve-hour days – everyone knows they can count on him. I see him often when I’m out and about as he clatters past in his trusty old Range Rover. He’s always rushing from place to place, but he never fails to give a wave and a grin. Bobby the Sparky is one of the many gems in the village, and we are lucky to have him!