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Why sexist tradesmen who ignore me really take the biscuit

By Jane Graham

Published 11/12/2015

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As a neurotic person, I fret for weeks about what to buy people for Christmas. However, when it comes to most of the tradesmen I've employed in the lead-up to the festive period, I've come up with a brilliant idea - one I feel can only benefit them in their careers, helping them to establish an enhanced relationship with clients from the kick-off.

I'll be bulk-buying sunglasses for the plumber, the fireplace-installers, and the builders who've worked in my home in the last few months.

That way they can continue to look only at my husband while discussing the task at hand without my knowing, thus lowering the risk of assault from me, or the next remotely capable woman they do a job for.

I tweeted about this issue recently and found an overwhelming number of women have been left with throbbing bitten tongues after putting up with similarly myopic workmen.

Because the truth is, once these chaps are in our house, we tend not to pull them up on their magical ability to look right through us and tune out our voices.

I wonder if men have the slightest understanding what this feels like. The only one I imagine can really relate is Bruce Willis. But only in The Sixth Sense, when he was (spoiler alert) playing a ghost.

I wonder why so many tradesmen - and lots of blokes who work in DIY shops - behave like this. Looking on their community chatrooms online, they seem to discuss etiquette frequently, sharing advice about arriving on time, putting down dustsheets, not wearing dirty overalls, ensuring hirsute backsides are not regularly exposed and not shouting, "Bring the f****** ladder" in the clients' hearing.

But I haven't found a single one who suggests "Notice woman talking to you, especially if she's the only person in the room."

It doesn't appear to have occurred. Even the electrician who kept looking at my (silent, nodding) husband while I explained what was to be done - and flinched when I said, "Hello, can you see me?" - failed to maintain eye contact for more than a few seconds before resettling his gaze on to my presumably irresistible spouse.

I heard him refer to me as a "ballbreaker" on the phone later. Every cloud, though - the impasse did save me a tonne of Kit-Kats, my usual biscuit of choice for the hard-working oddjobber on a tea-break.

In a recent survey, nearly a third of UK adults said they'd prefer a female tradesperson. That's quite a proportion, given there are so few in the industry. Reasons given included feeling safer, finer attention to detail, better reliability and improved communication.

I would guess most of this third were women and that by "improved communication" they meant the improved likelihood of being acknowledged as a salient human.

I know many women who, like me, take pride in knowing a decent amount about building materials, nails, screws, power tools and different kinds of wood, metal and paint. I know even more who make the big decisions on interior design in their homes. It doesn't matter a jot.

These men (and not all tradesmen are the same, of course; Robert, champion of wallpaperers, you know who you are) seem to have been programmed to trust only their own species when it comes to stud walls and skirting boards.

I wonder if they're the same guys I sometimes hear in the pub telling their pals they did a job for a woman who was "gagging for it" that day. Probably.

Nothing says "I'd like to sleep with you" like a woman throwing unopened Kit-Kats back in the cupboard.

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A catastrophic/triumphant week for Donald Trump. On one hand, the man who revels in attention must enjoy seeing his face and hair (one tends to regard the two separately) all over the newspapers and websites of the world.

On the other, when the coverage is criticisms and parodies (everyone from Obama to Nicola Sturgeon) and petitions to have you banned from entire countries (the UK) in response to your ignorance and prejudice, maybe that’s not so thrilling.

My favourite Trump-off this week was the creation of a site which alerts you to Facebook friends who “like” Donald, so you can de-friend immediately. Superb.

Writer, wit and a joy to be with

The literary world was in mourning for one of its greats this week, the novelist William McIlvanney.

Due mainly to his celebrated Laidlaw series, he is often described as a crime writer, but just as his brother, the lyrical Hugh, is so much more than a sportswriter, Willie’s best work went far deeper than any plot-based genre novel could dream of.

Full of poetry, wit and profound thoughts about working class life, his best books made him the unofficial Glasgow Laureate.

Even better was his company; few held court, raised laughs and made women swoon like the 79-year-old raconteur.

How we will miss him.

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