Published On: Sun, Mar 4th, 2018

The perils of doing it yourself

Chris MorvanBy Chris Morvan,

With all the rebuilding and repairing that has been going on here since Irma, there has no doubt been a collective surge in blood pressure, a lot of bad language and a mixed bag of results as people honed their DIY skills.

Having recently moved into a rented apartment that is as tired as I am, I’ve been at it too, starting a toolkit from scratch, because your old heavy, rattling toolbox full of potential weapons is exactly the sort of thing you want to avoid taking as hand luggage when you move to a different country.

As regards DIY I inherited my optimism and lack of aptitude from my father, a man who believed that the way to get a job done was to swear at it, and then, when it turned out somewhere between imperfect and a total mess, swear some more.

The main stimuli for doing DIY are twofold: the idea that it looks quite simple and an unwillingness – or inability – to pay an expert to do it. Thus we will have a go at most things, knowing deep down that it’s not going to work, but buoyed by the notion that you can’t keep putting things up crooked your whole life: at some point the penny must drop and you’ll be able to do this one stupid little thing.

When taking up the screwdriver and pliers after a long layoff, maybe it’s best to ease yourself in slowly – into the project, that is. A hook on the bathroom door, to hang your clothes on, for instance.

Put the first screw in – and it does go in. The screw is through the hole in the hook and you’ve sensibly left it not too tight, so you can make sure the thing is straight while you prepare for the second one. There it is, perpendicular as a lamp post. Apply a bit of force to get the second screw going. And as if by magic, you’re got yourself a hook on the bathroom door. On the correct side of the bathroom door, it should be noted.

To adapt a line from the film Body Heat, where a habitual criminal is trying to talk his lawyer out of committing murder, “In any crime there are maybe 100 ways you can screw up. If you think of 50, you’re a genius… and you ain’t no genius”. It’s the same with DIY.

This hook: it’s on the door, it’s firmly attached, but it’s ever so slightly slanting to one side. Well, who’s going to notice? Only a perfectionist – and life’s too short to consider them. Onwards and upwards; we have bigger battles to fight. Curtain poles, for instance. The curtains have holes near the top and you just slide the pole through them. Award yourself 10 points for buying things that match up. And the curtains are roughly the right length, so they will finish an inch above the floor. Depending on how high you fix the pole, that is, and that in turn depends on where you fix the brackets.

Enter the cowboy.

Normally such a rational, clear-thinking person, the calculations involved here force you to choose between not doing the job after all or going for the “approximate” option. The latter involves erring on the side of caution. Better to have them higher than perfect rather than lower and brushing the floor.

So, out comes the step ladder – a good quality, stable one (award yourself another five points). Take a pencil and mark with crosses the points where the screws have to go, except this is a plaster-on-brick wall, so you’re going to use rawl plugs (ten beautiful points – you’re so sophisticated). Choose the right size drill bit, which you think must mean big enough for the rawl plugs, which in turn have to be big enough to accommodate the screws. Have 15 bonus points for thinking this through. After all these years you’ve mastered the art of planning. Now it’s just the execution.

Keep the drill straight.

Damn, it skids slightly on the paint, but you’re still within the area of the pencil cross. Just need to compensate a bit on the other one. How much? A bit. This isn’t brain surgery, it’s soft furnishings.

Ten minutes later the holes have been drilled. Not deep enough. The rawl plugs stick out. Whack one with a hammer and it bends, flops to one side. Extract it with the pliers, then drill all the holes a bit more. How much? A bit. This isn’t dentistry, it’s soft furnishings.

Insert a rawl plug. Perfect.

After less than two hours the curtains are up. The air has been blue, you’ve cricked your neck and your wrist aches, but several square yards of manmade fibre are between you and the glass.

Job done. Or, as you say in the Mensa fraternity, QED. Quod erat demonstrandum – Latin for ‘which was requiring to be demonstrated’.

The curtains are a mere six inches higher than you would have liked. But come on – who looks down there? An immaculate job. Virtually.