The repairman

Adrian points to the scar that bisects his forehead and declares: "I'm disabled, me."

With that be bends his head down into the innards of the washing machine and swears once again at the stubborn bolt that holds the electric motor in place. His meaty arm, with dangling gold bracelet, suddenly jerks as the bolt comes free, catching on the exposed metal edge of the machine's outer case and drawing blood.

He swears again, quietly, but continues working. "I'm always doing that," he says.

Adrian came round at an hour's notice on a Saturday afternoon to repair the washing machine. He's a proud family man, but you can sense that he's lived an unusual life before turning his hand to domestic washing machine repairs.

His scar is vivid purple and his face sweaty as he works in the greenhouse heat of the laundry room. Adrian is only 37 but already has two grandchildren. He says he loves them to bits and wouldn't have it any other way, but he's a grandfather who has to support a large family, which is why he doesn't turn down work, even at short notice on a Saturday afternoon.

Adrian is probably moonlighting, claiming benefits and working at the same time. His scar might be from a youth spent fighting outside pubs on Saturday nights, or equally might be a mark of bravery from a spell in the armed forces. Or perhaps he cut his head open on the edge of a washing machine. Whatever the cause, the result was "a brain injury," he says. "Officially, I have a disability."

The disfunctional washing machine slithers to pieces beneath his heavy set hands, the motor sliding out of place with a thunk to the floor. Adrian points out the ruined electric coil, then admits: "Fixing washing machines is an easy job," fixing me with a cheerful eye as he says it.

"It's just parts. Machines like this will go on forever, they just need new brushes and new motors every once in a while. These are good machines," he adds, giving the Creda a friendly bash with his huge fist.

"I expect you have a better job, eh?" he asks. I mention something about computers. "Yeah I thought as much, you look like a computer freak."

Adrian says he can't switch a computer on without it crashing. "Don't matter what I do, I always break it. I don't know what I'm doing most of the time. My daughter gets angry with me, she says I should just leave it alone."

It's not Adrian's business. The company is owned by a man called Gary, a man Adrian has very little respect for.

"Gary's an funny old fella. He's been in the Phillipines for a year, he married one of 'em see. But he's got a thing about money, he always thinks someone's ripping him off.

"He called me the other day, he accused me of ripping him off. I said to him - you come back over here and see how good business is, you try making a profit on this - then you can accuse me of anything you like.

"It's been dead, see, for months. Hardly any work. Now this weekend I've got more work than I can cope with, but that's unusual. I've been sitting around with nothing to do. That Gary, though, he's a cheeky so-and-so, he calls me a lazy goodfornothing but all he's doing is sitting out there next to his swimming pool, living off his rent income."

Adrian gives me a pointed expression and continues.

"Gary, see, owns about 14 properties round here. He has money falling into his lap. On paper he's a millionaire, but he's stupid with his money, he doesn't invest it like he should. But the banks have got him over a barrel. They'll give him as much money as he asks 'em for, they don't care cos they've got the 14 properties they can always take back if they need to. Gary thinks he's got it all worked out, but he's headin' for a fall one of these days."

The job is done and Adrian tests the washing machine, which purrs as if it were new.

"There'y're, he's happy now." He smiles, pleased that he's been able to help.

I ask what I owe him.

"If you pay me with a cheque, eighty-five. But if you got some cash, we'll call it sixty-five, and we don't have to tell Gary at all.

"After all, he's having the time of his life innee? He don't need to know."

I hand over £65 and Adrian leaves, with a final tip: "If anything goes wrong, call the office and ask for me, OK? Just say you're a mate of mine. If it goes wrong, you ask for me and I'll sort it out."

And disability or not, he hops out of the house and leaps into his Sierra, off to return to his chaotic house and permanently broken computer.

(23rd March 2004)