Meeting the builders

When you just communicate by email you can form an impression of someone that does not necessarily square-up with the reality. So it was with our prospective builders Abraham Pope and James Stafford. Mr Pope’s written English was very much the better in a way that was formal and respectful (always starting emails with Good day Mr Grogan) but both builders seemed more than capable for our needs each with a proven track-record of successful projects and happy customers. So we scheduled appointments to meet both of them.

Abraham Pope met us at a site where he was installing a small cistern to collect rainwater for a sea front property in Hillsborough. From the formality of our emailed communications I expected someone who might be slightly ‘stuffy’ with a briefcase. However, Pope spoke very quickly and extremely enthusiastically with such a strong Caribbean accent that it was very hard to follow what he was saying most of the time. His small team were working hard and his elderly clients spoke very highly of Mr Pope when we chatted to them. Pope himself was very proud of his work and told us all about designing and building the tourist information office in Hillsborough and about several other prestige projects which he had finished to a high standard. He suggested we drove behind him on a short island tour during which he pointed wildly at several houses we passed to suggest this was yet another he’d built. Each house looked very well-built and while they may not have appealed to us we were not judging them for their design or the taste of the occupants.

Just before we left Mr Pope we mentioned about how long our alien landholder licence was taking to be approved by the government. Proudly, he said he might be able to help in this matter and marched us off along a back street to a vivid-green wooden office that looked slightly official. It was indeed official, because it was the office for Elvin Nimrod who was the Member of Parliament for Carriacou & Petite Martinique and he was also the Deputy Prime Minister of Grenada.

Elvin himself was not there but Mr Pope spoke for some minutes in his strong accent to a man behind a desk and finally turned to us. He smiled broadly suggesting that either he was on very good terms with, or related to, Elvin Nimrod (we couldn’t tell which he’d said) who would check on our application and progress it if possible. He then asked for Liz’s mobile phone number so he could advise us of the outcome of this high-level intervention on our behalf. We left Mr Pope feeling that this must just be the way things get done on small islands and we headed off for our meeting with James Stafford — the other prospective builder.

We only heard about James Stafford who was the managing director of Sky Construction because of some dealings we’d previously had with Carolyn Alexander of Carriacou Real Estate. While we looking for land to buy, she had mentioned that there was only one builder on the island they trusted and this was Sky. Initially, we were sceptical, thinking perhaps there was some commercial liaison between the two companies but we asked Carolyn for Sky’s contact details and we were duly impressed with the sound of Sky in our email exchanges.

Again the impression formed from written communications did not match up with the person we met. James Stafford had been much more casual in his emails, quickly getting onto first name terms and often being quite careless about writing and spelling — although auto-correct in combination with using dictation occasionally intervened with comical results. Hence we expected a bit of a black version of Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses but nothing was further from the reality.

James was very professional and exuded a calm confidence, doubtless acquired from many years of dealing with building and customers. He looked over our latest design for the house which I had modified from site visits days earlier. He made some suggestions and generally just sounded completely like he knew his trade but he also respected my overlapping experience from being a handyman in the UK for many years. This experience was going to be deployed in many areas to make the house feel more like something I’d contributed to while keeping the cost down.

After meeting both builders both Liz and I felt that Sky would be a better communicator, he would do more likely what we wanted rather than what he wanted to do and generally we could build not only the house together but a good working rapport.

James Stafford —aka ‘Sky’ and shortened from Skylark due, we later learned, to his having once been a ‘somewhat famous’ singer at carnivals all over the world.