“That’ll Do”

“That’ll do”.

This is a fine maxim to live your life by, if the ‘that’ in question is a fine single malt whisky and the ‘do’ is an extra large Islay being poured freehand in the hotel bar after a long day roaming the heather strewn glens and the high misty tops of the rain flecked Munroes of West Scotland. It is a ‘go to’ phrase when it comes to my wallpapering, cleaning out the cupboard under the sink or a delicate neurosurgical operation which is going on longer than expected and the golf course is near to being closed for the evening. As a young air mechanic in the Fleet Air Arm, I remember it being printed on a poster in the hangar, followed by the words “…will never do”. The sophisticated electronics and hydraulic systems of a Sea King helicopter required more than a bit of duct tape and a nail to fix a rotor blade, even if it was getting near to closing time in the Blue Anchor. Just because your ‘oppo’ is on his third pint of Spingo and going for the rum chasers while singing ‘Wild Rover’, it’s no excuse for quickly patching up a cracked fuel hose with a bit of spit and a promise.

Throughout history, it has been a phrase heard often just before some impending disaster. 

“I thought a night at the theatre, Abe, so you can have the night off and get back to that rewrite of that stupid speech you gave at Gettysburg…will that do?”

“Aye, Mrs Lincoln, that’ll do…”


“Shall I send the light brigade sir, its only a couple of cannon, and the heavy cavalry are a bit tired, Colonel Flagging of the Horse Guards not having had his gin?” 

“Aye…that’ll do”.


“…just a couple of degrees to port, we don’t want to scratch the new paint on the hull on her maiden voyage now do we?”

“…just a couple of degrees, sir?”

“Aye…that’ll do”.  

‘That’ll do’ is related to ‘shoddy’ in an unholy alliance of poor quality craftsmanship, inattention to detail and carelessness. It is invoked by the useless, the cowboy and the slapdash. You really don’t want to hear it from a midwife holding a forceps, the pilot of your long haul flight tapping the fuel gauge or the rabbi about to undertake your circumsicion. Beethoven never uttered it, Einstein ignored it when he ran out of chalk at ‘E = M’, and while President Truman after Hiroshima might have thought about it, he pressed on. Although, in his case, perhaps the citizens of Nagasaki rather wished he hadn’t.   

Some members of the construction industry, let’s not call them builders for that would be a calumny upon the good name of many a fine craftsman, must be devotees of the phrase if the quality of their finished projects are anything to go by. We have all seen it: render streaked with who knows what red stained chemical leakage, cracked render, render that has fallen off revealing the concrete block underneath; flaking paint, cracked tiles, kerb edges crumbling, spills of concrete that were never cleaned up and which now provide hazards for pedestrians, cyclists and badgers; telephone and electricity cables swinging in the wind held together with a lone plastic cable tie; displaced gutter and manhole covers, broken bricks, leaking water pipes, puddles and skips left for years after the job was completed; cheap paint that would not outlast the life of the cigarette the painter was smoking; rusty stanchions, rusty reinforced steel cable sticking out of a concrete base; add litter, cats piss and dead pigeons and you have a delightful urban vista. As I look out my hotel window at the neighbouring flat roofed square buildings, I can see all of the above. 

A few decades ago there was a patch of sandy rock strewn desert. It was home to a few ants, an unadventurous dung beetle called Colin, and some forlorn looking cacti waiting for a careless passing mammal to prick.  The desert would be regularly, and by that I mean daily, blasted by a hot wind originating from the innermost bowels of hell; a wind so hot it would shrivel a camel’s unguarded nipple quicker than you can say ‘inshalla, my arse’. All sensible life had long since migrated north to more temperate climes where a cold beer can be purchased. The only sound at night would be the cracking of dried out seed husks, scorpion farts and the wailing of hope drifting away towards the star lit horizon. The moon would cast its rays upon the ground in forlorn hope of illuminating the path to sanctuary. Even the sand couldn’t bear the thought of another day under the midday sun and slowly turned, instead, into little shiny quartz crystals. 

Then came oil.

Or rather, then came the discovery of oil. It had lain underground for…millennia in all probability, doing no one any harm and contributing no carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. This it did for the best part of what some clever clogs, with nothing much better to do than throw around names for geological time spans, called the ‘holocene’. 

The little patch of desert was about to become transformed into a mighty glittering citadel built of marble, gold and frankincense. Diamond encrusted minarets would shine out across the shimmering heat as the sun caught each one in turn and bounced its spectrum of light out into the firmament. Grand palaces, of grandiose design, flaunted colonnades, towers and castellated walls. The beauty of the city’s architecture would draw gasps of wonderment and disbelief from crowds who had sailed the seven seas to marvel at this eighth wonder of the world. Artists, city planners, and designers would kill themselves at the belief that they had now seen perfection against which their own paltry efforts were worth less than a dried out camel turd. Providers of ‘Sewage Solutions’ threw themselves into their own cess pits, turned mad by the majesty of the toilets they had never dreamed of creating. Fountains danced, sang and played with complete abandon in the city squares, showering onlookers with welcome and refreshing relief from the midday heat. Children laughed merrily, cats slept safely and dates festooned the palms along the avenues which led towards the glittering sea.

All because of oil, and the wealth it created to build such a shining beacon of enlightened  progress. Egyptian Pharaohs would have cursed in envy and would have sacrificed even more slaves in their attempt at immortality which now was in danger of being overshadowed. The Golden Palace of Versailles, the marbled Taj Mahal and the Alhambra of Grenada paled into insignificance, put to shame, tarnished in reputation as if their builders had said “that’ll do”. 

Well, of course even with oil none of that actually happened. Oil did indeed create the wealth but it was spent by a posse of cowboy builders who had no more sense of the aesthetic than a baboon with a crayon whose only inspiration was his neighbours red arse. 

What actually happened was that the ants were crushed, Colin was made homeless and the cacti pulled up and thrown onto a fire. A few hundred square miles of sand and rock were poured over by a million tons of bland grey concrete.  The cities actual street pattern was designed not in a pleasing melange of bends, curves and indiscriminate but pleasing blind alleys but in a frankly boring, if efficient, series of block grids. The intricate patterns of Islam decorating old mosques could have provided inspiration, but instead the planners went for straight lines showing a lack of imagination only rivalled by an anteater’s daily choice of dinner. Despite the wealth, planners called in the cowboys, the slapdash and the incompetent to throw up blocks of concrete monstrosities in the 1950s and 1960s. Thus in just a few years was the city built. Since the ‘completion’ and I use that word more to convey the builders’ sense of direction rather than their ability to achieve, nothing much in the way of maintenance has been carried out. And so they squat in their blocks, those horrid little hutches of crumbling shoddiness, as a daily visual offence to sensibility, beauty and human flourishing.  Nothing has been updated since they were built. Now, to the smorgasbord of shit has been added neon signs, cheap faded shop fronts and traffic. 

Why and how billions of people live in cities such as this can only be the result of desperation and the poverty of thought, spirit, and imagination. Those overseeing the rash of global urban development over the past decades do not live here. Instead they live in the leafy suburbs with concierge architects who send their million pound plans for gold leaf and marble approval to be greeted with “That’ll do…nicely”. 

Published by Lance Goodman

Freelance writer, bon vivant and all-round good oeuf.

One thought on ““That’ll Do”

  1. The citizen’s of Redruth will be horrified by your description of their decrepit “town” , the only difference was the wealth came from tin not oil, or was it a tin of oil, matter do’eh?


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