There’s no punchline to that question, which was put to me by a builder last weekend, but the answer in my instance is certainly more than one, and in this era of militant political correctness perhaps we should be asking how does the bulb itself feel about being changed?
The man had turned up on Saturday morning tasked with replacing a burst water pipe but the speed and ease with which he completed the repairs encouraged me to point out several other odd jobs which I claimed were straightforward enough if only I had the time to do them myself.
“It’s so difficult,” I lamented, “when you commute and work such long hours in a stressful, fast-paced, environment, dealing with huge sums of money, to come home and find the energy to carry out miscellaneous chores.”
The builder asked what I did for living. How to answer? Images of me, hunched over my desk in a double-handed head-clutcher, engrossed in sexual reverie and sub-tabular self-interference while I waited for the phone to ring, spooled across the mind’s eye.
“I’m an emerging markets stockbroker.”
The builder was sympathetic. “Look, mate, you work in the City, you’ve got better things to do with your time. I wish I were qualified for a job like that.”
If only he knew. If only he knew how much less merit should be attached to the services of a white collar phone jockey, broking the overvalued to the unsuspecting, than to the man who can bring running water to a household.
It’s like when I meet my surgeon friend who tells me about his day spent saving lives, replacing vital organs and reattaching limbs, while I stand in a cloacal wind tunnel and just hope some of what flies past actually sticks.
The builder was planted firmly in the camp of those who believe the City is all The Wolf of Wall Street, $1m bonuses and snorting coke between hands of liar’s poker, and, while he moved around my house fixing things like a doctor attending to patients on his ward rounds, I was anxious not to disabuse him of this notion.
He didn’t want to know I get up so early I haven’t yet gone to bed and that I either come home at six, depressed, or at eight, drunk and depressed, or midnight, really drunk and suicidal.
An odd job
So I plied him with tea, averted my gaze from the bum crack which he seemed to expose even when he was fully upright, and regaled him with tales of financial derring-do. They weren’t my stories because they are all parables of misjudgement and I don’t have any that run to affirmation but I recounted the degringolades of every rogue trader there has ever been as if they were my closest friends. He listened intently as he screwed, drilled and hammered. My wife was elsewhere.
We — well, he anyway — rattled through the list and ticked off the irritating little things like the cupboard which didn’t close properly because it was left open and I banged my head on it so punched it, and the plinth below the dishwasher through which the squirrel intruders had chewed after being trapped in the kitchen last Christmas.
I drew analogies between freelance stockbroking and self-employed builders but we found little common ground except for the fact we both partook of a sausage roll lunch from a popular chain of high street bakers most days. I felt that was enough to forge an alliance.
I was just talking the builder through my part in causing the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 as I led him into my wine cellar. It was impossible to see my vertical collection of Jacob’s Creek (in magnum!) and assorted Domaines de Belle-y-Ouache and Chateaux de Coques-Rotes because they were imprisoned in Stygian darkness.
All the spotlights had blown, one after another, and, Gentle Reader, I don’t know to admit this, but I can’t change all lightbulbs, just some of them. You know, the screw-in or bayonet type, not the hard ones.
By now, the builder had cottoned on to the fact I wasn’t a hectic executive at all. I was simply a DIY tetraplegic or really taking the mick. It was a lightbulb moment. He looked at the bulbs and then at me with disdain and asked that unanswerable question — “How many stockbrokers does it take to change a lightbulb?” — which turned out not to be a joke but a serious enquiry. It was something of a lightbulb moment for me too: never mind a woman, I can’t turn the lights on.
My wife entered stage left as he was executing a complex leger-de-main in the ceiling and I think to spare me embarrassment, the builder pointed out “these things can be a bit tricky sometimes”. She was laconic in her dismissal: “He’s just useless.” I went outside.
Our gardener went AWOL about a month ago at the most crucial juncture of the year.
The expression “like watching the grass grow” is synonymous with boredom, but owing to heavy rain, warm sunshine and the mysterious disappearance of the gardener, it had become something of a spectator sport in our conservatory.
Last bank holiday weekend, unable to see the foot of the garden owing to the vigour of the vegetation sprouting in between, I was left with no alternative but to set off with a machete in the general direction of where I thought I had last seen the shed housing the lawnmower several weeks ago.
Having humiliated myself in front of the builder, I could not allow the same thing to happen with the postage stamp-sized patch of grass adjoining The House The Locals Know As The Pain Trader’s Folly. Can’t fix, can’t mow, what do you do?
After my wife had shown me how to turn on the electric mower, I butchered the lawn and left it looking like a mental patient’s haircut.
The fiddly bits around the edge took an inordinate amount of time, the cord insisted on trying to wriggle under the blades to electrocute me, and I found myself eliminating gardening from the list of vocations for life after the City which, the way things are going, cannot be far off now.
I know, indubitably, that I am not cut out for anything practical in this world. When I retire — or, more likely, am retired — I won’t have the full-time job as an alibi for being the opposite of a handyman.
What if stockbroking truly were my destiny? Who knows? The answer to the question of how many stockbrokers are required to change a lightbulb is that real men wouldn’t know; they’re not afraid of the dark. But I am.