The removal men

Harry and Shane are removals estimators, each working for a different local removing and storing company.

Harry arrives first, and is a chatty, personable sort of fellow. He knows this house, he's estimated moves from here before. He's been in this game for years, and he's got all his patter ready. He points out problems before I've been able to voice them ("Yes, we will dismantle the bed. No, we won't fetch stuff from the attic,") and knows what to say to put my mind at rest and make me feel relaxed ("When there's a chain of people waiting for solicitors to do their jobs, anything can happen, eh?").

In conversation I remark that one of his rivals is coming shortly to provide another estimate. Harry grins. "I expect I'll pass him on the footpath," he says.

"We all know one another," he says. "Sometimes we all turn up at the same house at the same time to do quotes. Then we'll take turns to sit in the car. Although once or twice we've all gone in together, in a may-the-best-man-win sort of thing."

Shane is much quieter, taciturn. Perhaps he's having a bad day, or perhaps he just hates his job. He asks direct, pointed questions: "Is this staying? Is this going?" and makes rapid shorthand jottings on his pad.

What I admire in both of them is the special skill they have developed, essential for their work. It's the ability to think in cubic volumes. They look at a room full of books and junk and furniture and can quickly work out in their heads how much cubic footage it will all require inside one of their vans. I would need a calculator and an evening's patience to do that kind of thinking.

Neither of them manage to persuade me that their company will be able to move my computers and precious hifi equipment safely. Harry says the PC would be put in a box and "padded out with cushions and soft stuff," and Shane simply says "there'd be no problem." I'm not filled with gushing confidence in either of these responses, so I make a mental note that no matter which company we employ to shift the beds and the crockery, the gadgets get packed and moved by me.

(19th January 2004)