Off The Rails

The 1970s were all about DIY. This was before snappy magazine style shows, cut to fit adverts every seven minutes that made no job seem so difficult that it could not be done in about five. I fell victim to this fraud early on when I saw a segment about how to fix a sliding fly screen door. They used the word ‘just’ a lot, as in

‘You just grab either side of the door and lift up..’

‘You just flip the door over and find the wheel.’

‘You just prize the wheel out with a screwdriver.’ Then, ‘just pop down to your local hardware store (the show sponsor) and just match the model of wheel that you need with the one in your pocket.’

Let me tell you, people, there is no such word as ‘just’ when it comes to DIY, unless you have a large bag of varied tools, endless patience, and a lot of luck. It took me about half an hour to wrestle the door from the frame, half a second to register the sickening snap that the wheel made coming away which indicated something internal had been permanently destroyed, half a day of my life trying to find a wheel that matched the one I needed and half the weekend getting the sodding door back in to find what I had suspected would happen: that it still did not work.

I eventually fixed it by replacing it with a secure door. Or rather by paying a man who did nothing else all day to come over and measure the hole, build a new door that would keep both flies and criminals out and feeling safer and smarter and quite justified in the money I had paid him to make me feel that way.

For some time now, a war has been raging in my parents’ home. My mother had gone out with my father and bought some new blackout curtains, which keep the sun out but are heavy and a new curtain rod to hang them from. My father, already suffering from the early stages of confusion, had gone on this trip apparently unaware that he was supposed to put this rod up. Ten years ago, this would not have been a problem, but ten years is a long time when you are older and he seemed very unsure of what to do. Plus, going up the ladder made him very dizzy.

I said that we would give it a try, and taking instruction from my father, I made some pencil marks on the wall and started to drill holes. Immediately I knew I was in over my head, that I was not just drilling into plaster but some kind of concrete beam. I was worried that the drill was going to break. Plus I had the wrong size holes for the brackets so could not get both screws in. I ended up coming down the ladder and saying that I was sorry, this was not going to work and they were going to have to get a handyman in or I was going to break everything.

My mother absolutely refused to get the handyman in.

She seemed to think paying someone to do what no one in our family was qualified or able to do anymore was a heinous idea and that somehow, perhaps through sheer force of her will alone, she could bring about the raising of the curtain rail.

She sent one of my brothers up the ladder while they were over on holiday. He managed to get the rail onto the screws I had got into the wall, and the curtains were hung.

Forty eight hours later, the rail peeled itself away from the wall, the weight of the curtains having worked with gravity to defy her.

‘Get a handyman in.’ I said.

But still she refused. It was a simple job, she insisted. She could lie on her bed and see what needed to be done. It was just a matter of ….

There was that word again.

I refused to get involved. I was really not trying to be awful, but I could no more help with the situation than fix her car and if she refused to get someone in to fix it, then we were effectively at stalemate.

We have remained at stalemate for three years.

Then, last week something shifted. I was at home and suddenly decided that this had gone on long enough. It happened because my mother had decided she was going to cut the strings and bring down the blinds that currently cover the window. This would leave her without anything covering the window. In Australia. In Summer.

I told her that I was going to phone the handyman and just get him to give her a quote, that way she could decide for herself if she thought it was acceptable. By now there were also a couple of other jobs that needed doing and I suggested that he might be able to do them too.

She agreed. After only three years of walking around the curtain rod, which has been on the floor since it came away from the wall, she has agreed to give the handyman a call and get him to come around and take a look.

‘That is a good idea,’ I said. ‘It is about time that the curtain rail was sorted out.’

‘Yes,’ she said, ‘and he can fix the bookcase and the door handle too while he is here.’

So it seems that the Mexican stand off is finally at an end. Just like that.


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