Getting steam up for some thirsty work

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The heat is on in the walling world, as Billy Topstone explains.

Although I tend to work on my own for the most part as a dry stone waller, there are certain occasions when some stones are just too heavy for a solo worker.

When I started a wall the other week, I knew that the large footing stones and lower courses would cause little trouble, but the sight of the massive bottom through stones made my heart sink.

Each one on average would weigh about 150kg and lifting and placing them carefully was going to be a problem.

It was going to be a two-man job. It was time to call in the favour that Bobby Linepin owed me from last year when he was faced with a similar situation.

Bobby was working a couple of miles away on a new garden wall and his face dropped when I told him of my plight. “Billy, I suppose I’ll have to come and give you a hand but I’m not as fit as I was 20 years ago when I was the national walling champ y’know. It’s all hard graft these days and the trouble is there’s nowt for the working man any more apart from a couple of glasses of red wine at the end of the day.”

Bobby’s face grew even longer when we arrived back at my job and he caught sight of the enormous throughs all lined up. “You’re joking Billy! We can’t lift them big boys! I’ll not make the end of the day.”

I managed to persuade him that a bit of positive thinking and a large grunt on the lift was all that was needed. Perhaps if we did the largest one first the others would seem easier?

A few minutes later and the peaceful clear air of the valley was painted blue as the first stone was laid on the wall. Bobby’s colourful language escaped his throat with a gasp as he questioned the parentage of the large slab of millstone grit we had placed on the wall. An hour and fifteen throughs later saw Bobby’s face develop a purple hue and drips of sweat trickling from his chin. “D’ya know, Billy, I’m going to have to lose some weight and get fit again.”

Bobby was breathing heavily after his exertions. “I saw a thing on the box the other night where a group of jockeys went into a sauna and when they came out they had all lost a few pounds.”

I tried to stifle a laugh as I imagined a dozen lithe, eight-stone, superfit jockeys sitting in a sauna with Bobby on the last seat looking like a sumo wrestler in comparison.

Two days later I had a message from Bobby. It seems he had just bought himself a sauna on the internet and I now owed him a favour.

Bobby, his nine-year-old son, Wally, and myself were to go and collect it. An hour’s journey with those two in the close confines of a pickup was just short enough for me to emerge with my sanity barely intact. Wally is, in effect, a very miniature Bobby with a sharp, cutting sense of humour and the verbal attacks on me started the moment he climbed into his seat.

I had expected the sauna to be flat-packed and ready to load and drive away but that would be too simple, wouldn’t it? We went up two flights of stairs and the device was stood in the attic fully assembled and had the look of a telephone box. “Billy, can you nip down to the motor and fetch a screwdriver – there’s a good lad! Wally will bring the wrong one and my legs are giving me some pain.”

Four hours later, the Tardis-looking device was installed in Bobby’s house and the temperature was climbing to 130°F.

“This will do me the world of good. The weight will just fall of me now, Billy, and we’ll find it easy next time we are faced with any heavy work.”

I warned him that he would have to take plenty of fluid on board if he was spending any length of time in the sauna and left him to it.

I couldn’t resist calling in the next morning to see how he was coping with the new toy. He was in the kitchen making a cup of tea and looking sorry for himself. “It’s my head, Billy. It’s ringing like a bell. I’m not sure that 30 minutes in that sauna is all it’s cracked up to be – and yes, before you ask, I did take plenty of fluid on board.”

I knew straight away what had happened. Bobby’s idea of plenty of fluid amounted to a bottle of red wine!