Apprentice girl: I was about three when my dad took me on a tiling job

Family Fortunes: The oul’ ones thought maybe I was there for the actual job

Róisín Browne knew all about grouting as a girl

Róisín Browne knew all about grouting as a girl

 

I cannot remember the first tiling job I was on, but I suspect I was about three years of age. I do recall being lifted up by my mother into the passenger seat of the green Volkswagen van. I was very close to the glass and could see the huge drop on to the ground below. She looked even smaller beyond the door.

I started to shake, and my lower lip quivered. She quickly opened the door again. I’m going to fall out the glass, I’m too high. She assured me I would not and pushed the seat back. The seat belt pulled me back further into the chair.

The front of the van was littered with green and pink delivery dockets. Uncapped markers, blunt pencils and dabs of white adhesive on the dashboard. By my dad’s side I went measuring. “Seeing oul’ wans.” He’d grin and put his finger to his lips. I was aware we couldn’t tell my mother we called them oul’ wans.

Róisín Browne knew all about grouting as a girl
Róisín Browne knew all about grouting as a girl

For the most part the oul’ wans were very nice and always smiled at me in a concerned way. They would ask me about teachers, favourite subjects and offer me biscuits. I suppose if they thought a girl-toddler was coming along for the measuring of the job, there was a chance she could be there for the actual job.

That was a ridiculous conclusion to come to – you were at least nine before you were on the job; dabbing adhesive on tiles, laying tiles flat and avoiding lips, mixing grout, scrubbing tools clean at the end of the day, making sure no adhesive had hardened the flat of the gauger or grout had solidified into the rubber of the grouter.

The working day was punctured with the various voices of Radio 1, Gay Byrne, Mike Murphy, news, Marian Finucane, more news and more news; a selection of tit-for-tats, Anglo-Irish agreement chatter, Garrett, Thatcher, green cards and a phone call home to my mother that he was two boxes short and could she, eye roll, get them in Shears?

And the best part, always, was lunch. We would stop for a dust-free hour, stretch our backs and, if we were not near home, I would cajole him to find a chipper. A fat burger, thick chipper chips, and lots of red sauce, with vinegar drizzle. A feast fit for a 10-year-old tiler.

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