The Geranos / by Adrian Joyner

Once the structure reached the first floor, it became obvious that we were in need of some kind of hoist to get material up from ground level. On the building sites in the district, of which there were many a few years ago, I saw different kinds of elevators and lifts in use, but the most common type of lifting gear was the geranaki, a small crane powered by a petrol engine, chiefly used for lifting wheelbarrow loads of mixed concrete or wheelbarrow loads of bricks or concrete blocks.

Kostas Papadeas, now retired, used to work around the district as a builder. He had big yellow machines too. We sometimes paid him to grade our earth road with his bobcat, usually after the winter rains. On one occasion he cleared the road after a prolonged thunderstorm had brought down terraces and blocked the road entirely. He was a virtuoso with his bobcat.

Kostas knows everybody. When I told him what I was looking for, he found some crony who had a second hand geranos for sale and he arrived one evening in his truck, which was loaded with an assortment of scrap metal, rusting cable, nameless nuts and bolts and an ancient Italian petrol engine. My friend says it hasn’t been used for a couple of years, he said, sheepishly. Twenty years would have been closer. His barefaced chum was asking five hundred euros. Even I, endlessly gullible though I am, could see that this was unreasonable. I finally agreed to pay three hundred and fifty. Kostas conferred with his crony briefly on his mobile phone, and the deal was done. I had agreed to pay a lot of money for an unfathomable pile of scrap metal. At the time I was fairly sure I had been rooked.

This episode is a good example of how the parea works. In Greece, a parea is a group of (male) friends with strong claims on each other’s loyalties. In this case Kostas was bound by his duty to his chum to ask a high price even though he knew it was foolishly inflated, and even though he wasn’t happy with his go-between role.

 So, since I had no idea how to assemble the component parts of my new purchase, I bicycled about the town, until I found a building site where Albanian labourers were using a crane which seemed not unlike what I had bought. I watched them raising and lowering wheelbarrow loads to and from the fourth floor of a half completed apartment block. I made some drawings. Not an easy thing to use, they said, the Albanians, and they were right. 

Most of the separate parts of the crane were bent or damaged and all were rusty, despite which, we were able to assemble it at first floor level without too much vexation, though we did have help from Herbert. Operating it was another matter. The raise/lower/stop functions rely on a single lever and a basic clutch mechanism. You have to be quick and it’s important to concentrate. I unintentionally dumped several wheelbarrow loads of wet concrete and cement blocks from a considerable height before I got the hang of the thing. I was never able to persuade Linda to try. 

When the first floor was done, a couple of years later, we disassembled the crane and moved it up another floor. Despite my misgivings at the start, the crane worked well throughout. Over several years it lifted some hundreds of tons of material. Finally, when most of the heavy work on the main structure was done, we took the geranos apart, loaded it on to the truck and delivered it to four Albanian brothers who live in the village and work as builders; probably the only people we knew who would be pleased to have it. Aleko, the eldest of the four, told me that the previous year they had built a two story house and all the materials were taken up to the first floor by hand, using ladders. I was a little taken aback, and yet, when I was a boy, labouring during the school holidays on building sites where my father was working as a bricklayer, that was the way it was done. Carrying a hod was a harsh trade. As I remember, a standard sized hod would take twelve bricks, a considerable load to manage rung by rung up a ladder. I wasn’t really the right build for hod carrying but I did it, though only for a few weeks at a time during the school holidays.

Hod carriers were generally thought of as bullet headed, and as a trade it didn’t attract intellectuals.

If I am not mistaken, hods have been illegal now for some years in the European Union.