A Year Ago
All I could think as I lay on the wreckage of the stairs there was that I was paralysed. I could feel blood running down my arm and everyone shouting my name. For our first morning in France it wasn't going well.
It had all started with a phone call. One of my best mates, and a fellow carpenter, had rung me up about a trip to France to go and do a job for a week, would I be interested as he couldn't do it. The money was good and it sounded like a bit of adventure, just what I was in need of as I’d been working on the same house for 18 months and I was feeling a little stale.
I rung the firm, someone I had worked for 10 years previous, everything was paid for, hotel, food, etc. All I’d needed was a work mate and my tools. The job was fairly simple, install some stairs and second fix a house.
I knew straight away the carpenter I wanted to take with me. He’s one of the most energetic blokes I've ever met and one of the very few that I rate to be as good as I am (sounding big headed now but never mind) I rang him up. “Tom , what are you like at fitting stairs? And do you fancy a week in France?”
We were all set, they even sent someone to the passport office for me to pick me up a new passport, and on a Saturday morning we set out for France in two rental vans. We were accompanied by our drivers Ricky, a plasterer and jack of all trades, and Paul, who was coming along for the ride. The journey was eventful, we missed our ferry but they just put us on the next one.
As we stood looking at the white cliffs and leaving England behind, Tom said “I've never fitted stairs before…”
We arrived late that night, the owner of the hotel cooked us a huge BBQ and we went to sleep happy. The next morning we arrived at the job and started to have a look round. Straight away we could see problems, The door linings they had brought with them were the wrong size, and as we unpacked the stairs I could see that they had been made to measure but with no tolerance what-so-ever to get them in.
We got to work, assembling the bits we could and laying it all out. It’s important to methodical with a job like fitting stairs, if you do something in the wrong order then the chances are it won’t go together. The instructions were as much use as an empty crisp packet so we set about measuring up and marking the walls where everything was going to go.
The stairs turned a full 180 degrees as they came down but we could see that all the walls were too tight to get any of it in. Basically they’d designed it to be airlifted in with the roof off. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We started by putting the top treads and newel posts together and when we lifted it up we could see straight away that we were going to have to cut the wall away to get them in.
We wedged them in place, I held the top and Tom started to mark the underside.
That’s when it happened. The wall broke on the far side of the stairs. Instinct takes over and I grabbed the top of the newels to try to prevent the oak stairs from landing on Tom.
They went down anyway, somersaulting me over the top of them. When I landed, after the 3m fall, I was facing the other way. The lower half of my back was on the sharp string (the thick bit on the side of the stairs) and my arm had a nasty cut on it. I just lay there for a few seconds.
Weird things go through your head when something like that happens; I just thought I wasn't going to be able to walk my daughter down the aisle. I remember I wiggled my toes before I did anything else, then the adrenalin kicked in and I got up and lay down on the floor face down. The others said later that they thought it was like something out of a car crash where the victim walks around with a broken leg without realising it. I lay for a few minutes, Tom was unharmed, a small scratch down his leg, but luckily he’s pretty quick and managed to jump out the way.
The guys wanted to take me to hospital but I was feeling alright by then. We patched up my arm at the van and I told them that if I stopped I’d seize up, best to keep working. Within 15 minutes we were back at it.
It was only later that night, as I lowered myself painfully into an empty bath and ran the water with me already in it, that I stopped to think about what had happened. In the end it was a combination of my good luck and my thick leather belt I always wear that had saved me. The point of the stairs I had landed on was right on the belt and it must have spread the pressure and turned it into a nasty bruise rather than anything more serious. The bottom of my back went black with the bruise and was still there after I got home a week later.
It’s funny, in the building we always talk about health and safety gone mad, but when you’re fitting stairs you have to have the safety rail removed, it simply can’t be done with it still in place. In hindsight we should have cut a few props and wedged it in place, and I'm sure we will in future, but then we didn't know they’d slip like that in the first place. I was always told I was born lucky and this was one of the days when I realise its true!
Then Ricky nearly killed us all on the way back but that’s a story for another time….