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Archive for May 6th, 2009

I have observed this phenomenon before, but am unsure whether it is a universally recognized one (that it is universally experienced I doubt not at all). The builders come; they crack on splendidly; the job* is nearly done; then it is nearly, nearly done and then, it gradually but inexorably collapses into the sagging mush of “it’ll be finished tomorrow”. Sometime after this is the stage where they leave, with “snagging” to be returned for. Then, much later than anticipated, they – the good ones, at least – do actually return for snagging (possibly as a direct correlate of a certain amount of nagging: the words may in fact be more than coincidentally similar, but I’m not an etymologist), but there is invariably still some outstanding little thing – some tiny thing – that needs fixing, or redoing, and a special-headed screw, or a new fascia, or something needs ordering, and they go away again… And at some point in this process, you absolutely have to give them the last of their money, because, after all, how much can you hold back for a single hydra-headed screw?

Well, Welcome to Limbo. You have almost certainly just hit the point, actually, where you are stuck in a decay half-life that is longer than your own, or the builder’s actual physical life, although you may not know this immediately. All the work has got slower, and slower, and slower, with every step. You think, foolishly, to begin with that it is something to do with the fact that it is probably easier to knock down a wall than to build one. You think that it makes sense – “intuitively” – that detail takes longer than the broad sweep of laboring; that plastering is a fiddlier, more time-consuming job than bricklaying. You know that the builder is not dragging the job out for fun, however much tea and premium espresso you’ve been plying him with. You know for a fact (possibly because he has told you so a dozen times) that the builder has other jobs waiting, other customers lining up to thrust money into his hands, if only he could get away from your house, and you have probably reached the stage – certainly if you are British – when you apologize to the builder every time he turns up in the morning. So neither you nor he can understand that you have waited as long for a single double-glazed window unit to be delivered as it took to do the whole of the rest of the job (to date, mind – to date: any subsequent element will take twice as long, remember).

But then, neither you nor he are grasping what’s happening here. You are failing to understand the fundamental law that governs building work, which is that of radioactive decay. Now a half-life can be very short: many drugs in the body have a half-life of hours, but you should be aware that the half-life of building work is much closer to that of uranium-238 (which Wikipedia tells me is 4.46 billion years).

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* I wrote “jobe” there briefly, and I think it may have been a phonetic Freudian slip: I can only have been thinking of the Biblical Job, and his epithetical patience. That Comic God of Typos was having his witty way with me (again).

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