From Brick Trimming to Brunei

In November last year my husband and I moved abroad with his work for two years, so this first blog comes to you from sunny Brunei! I’m sitting in our beautifully cool, air-conditioned living room whilst outside its 32°C and around 80% humidity. For those who have never been to the tropics, as I hadn’t before we came here, it feels rather like sitting in a very sunny steam room all the time, once you’ve acclimatized it’s the most gloriously relaxing temperature! I do find it hard to remember that it’s February and that cold still exists elsewhere in the world.

It is in fact so relaxing that it has been a bit of a trial to get motivated to work. Always the problem for us self-employed types, no one else is setting your schedule or forcing you out of bed in the morning. I love my work, so now I have a workshop up and functioning after a slightly laid back start to the day there’s nowhere else I would rather be. It does however make me think back to a very different time.

 8 years ago, as an apprentice stonemason the situation could not have been more different. That winter we were working on a site in Staffordshire. The mornings would start with us all meeting in the dark and piling into the van before driving for an hour to the site. It was difficult. Not only had I had the mental battle of persuading my body to get out of my lovely warm bed at 5.45am, but I would then inevitably go back to sleep in the van which, was then even more difficult to peel myself out of!

 Although we were all stonemasons we quite often turned our hands to other things as well, I think being adaptable was often what won my boss the jobs. I recall one week I had been tasked with trimming 2mm off the side of bricks so they could fit into an archway. I had a whole pallet of bricks to do. There was nothing challenging or fun about that job, I was not gaining skills or furthering my career, the brick dust got everywhere, my mask was uncomfortable, and my hands froze using the small angle grinder. The only thing that sort of work does provide you with is the resolve that you can pull yourself through it. My will to never let any job beat me, and my competitive spirit to trim more today than the day before got me through each day.

 Being part of a small team with a fair boss also meant that everyone else knew that I had the shit job that week, and the following week it would be someone else’s turn. I wasn’t being punished; it just needed to be done.

 Doing the shit jobs on site oddly also made me more part of the team. It wasn’t totally plain sailing being the only girl on site, but I had been brought up to walk into a situation expecting to be regarded as an equal and for me that works both ways. If I wanted to be treated as an equal with my work colleagues I had to muck in just the same as them. Ok so I couldn’t lift as much as they could, but I could still carry stuff and try to get stronger; I could get dirty trimming bricks just the same and I could still work in the cold with everyone else. I think as much as men can sometimes be sexist, women can also shy away from pulling their weight or sometimes expect to be given preferential treatment.

Sitting here looking out at the palm trees and blue skies couldn’t be further away from that cold Staffordshire winter 8 years ago, but I have certainly worked hard to get here.

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