Working with professionals (but is this how my clients think of me)?

I love working with professionals.  There is some stuff which you just can’t pull off on your own, even as a dedicated DIYer.   You have to get in someone who knows what they are doing, and if you are lucky, that person will be a genuine professional.

I just had two of them at my place, where the consequences of two different screw-ups came together.

(One of the things I have realised about this blogging life is that to give the right context to the messages I want to pass on, I have to tell stories against myself.  Oh well, here’s another one.)

A few years ago, I had this great idea to bring my early 20th century oak roll-top desk into the computer age.  To keep the various power cords and USB connectors for my laptop and peripherals out of sight, I would cut a really unobtrusive hole in the back of the desk, and the cords could all pass through and plug in without them having to drape over the front or the side of the desk.

I got out the 1 inch hole saw I inherited from dad, rolled back the roll-top, and started drilling away.  I hadn’t pushed the roll-top back quite far enough for the best access, so I stopped, pushed it back a bit more, and went at it again.

When I was done, there was a discrete hole in an unobservable part of the desk.   Pleased with myself, I closed up the desk, and discovered that I had also put not one, but two, neat one inch holes in the roll-top.  What I hadn’t realised was that that the unobtrusive place I had chosen was where the top rolled out of sight.

I kinda solved that cock-up by just leaving the desk open for the next few years.  I had to suffer the occasional ribbing from Brigitte about my gaffe, and the ignominy when she would tell the tale to other people with morbid glee.

Just recently, though, Jim the Bulgarian piano restorer came into my life.  He had just worked a miracle repairing the leg of Brigitte’s baby grand piano.  The leg had been snapped off in a glaring display of incompetence by some removalists who claimed to be, but were definitely not, professionals.  (Check out Jim’s website)

Brigitte, with her usual dash of schadenfreude about the whole roll-top incident, had told Jim about the desk, and asked him if he might work a similar miracle there.

So Jim proposed that he come up to Leura, and bring with him his friend Chieko the piano tuning wizard.  Chieko would tune the piano, which was suffering from discordance after having been dropped by the non-professional removalists, and he would fix my desk.

It sounded like a great plan, until I showed Jim the desk.  He inspected my handiwork, and my heart dropped about a foot when he said: “This will be one of the greatest challenges of my professional career.”

Meanwhile, Chieko diagnosed and solved some thorny technical issues consequent on the dropping and repair of the piano.  I guess that’s why she is a “piano technician”.  (Check out her website)

Notwithstanding the challenge, Jim came up with a plan which involved rooting around in my box of assorted fasteners for 8 small brass screws; mixing up some plasti-bond; drilling some fine holes on the sides of the damaged areas; and then painstaking filling the gaps with the plasti-bond.

“Oh, like a dentist putting a pin in your tooth to do a really big filling,” I said.  “I guess so,” said Jim.

Fill, sand, fill, sand.  What did Edison say about genius – the relative components of inspiration and application?  Eventually the one inch holes disappeared, replaced by two pale pink disks of smooth plasti-bond.

I thought that was pretty good, even though the filler was a bit obvious.  But Jim wasn’t finished.

Her pulled out a few little jars and an artist’s fitch brush out of his tool box.  (“If it can’t be fixed with what’s in this toolbox we are in real trouble, ” he had said when he arrived.)

He mixed up some bits of this and that on a folded-up sheet of paper, which ended up looking like an oil-painter’s palette.  He found the right shade somewhere on the palette and brushed it onto the filler.

It was a perfect match for the oak.

The roll-top desk is back together again now, an attractive piece of furniture with just the right amount (for me) of patina.  I’ve decided not to update it for computers.  The odd cord or two can hang out over the side, and I’ll put them away when they are not actually in use.

As we were finishing the job, Chieko had just completed doing whatever piano tuners do, which is a black art to me.  As is the custom with piano tuners, she then gave it a test run, and launched into a high-speed rendition of the Rondo alla Turca.

“Why is she playing it so fast?” said Jim.  “Because she can,” I said.

Yep, I love working with professionals.

So, am I sure that my clients think the same about me?  It’s definitely got me thinking.

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1 Response to “Working with professionals (but is this how my clients think of me)?”


  1. 1 Jim Gogov August 9, 2011 at 10:18 pm

    Wow, what a pleasant article you have written about Chieko and I.

    I haven’t seen an article about myself for decades now. When I was restaurateur in the mid 80’s food critics used to spy around and scribble about, most of it very favorably I have to admit. I guess, any food critic confronting an Eastern European with a strange accent would be contemplating Vlad the Impaler and the possibility of, regardless of how remote, being the first in the process of turning King Street, Newtown, into downtown Transylvania. There are a brave lot, surely!

    The first time when it happened was with Sydney Morning Herald and their Saturday’s Good Food reviews. My restaurant was overwhelmed with customers so much so that for the next six months I could hardly scratch myself. This was the first time I learned about the real power of unsolicited word of mouth in general and the power of the media in particular. For this, I thank you David.

    Many people have somewhat convoluted concept of expertise, be that of culinary, musical or of any other shape or form. With the advent of computer information at our finger tips many have become overnight experts on everything. However, applying knowledge about something in practice is very different because, as we all know, mistakes can happen to any one. Achieving excellent results while reducing mistakes is, hopefully, the aim of any human activity.

    In my view, expertise is having the ability to repeat excellent results every time, over and over again. Expertise is not an an accidental level of our human development we have arrived at all of a sudden. Instead, it is and it has always been the fruit of working and thinking for many years.

    Jim Gogov


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