Saturday, 19 July 2008

Scary Tools

When the nurse asked me to give her a hand to take some shelves and a cupboard down, I didn't foresee any problems.

The nurses' room at work was due for redecoration. I'm not DIY fiend but a screwdriver isn't beyond me. I even run to Allen keys.

But when she produced a huge box and took out a contraption that needed two hands to hold it, I suddenly had my doubts.

“That's a hammer drill,” I told her.

She's very good at dressings and loves nothing better than a nice deep wound but is undoubtedly woeful in the workshop.

“Yes, it is a hammer drill as well, I think.”

She sounded vague.

“It's a screwdriver too. It does lots of thing, apparently.”

It looked like a nuclear weapon masquerading as a screwdriver. It was heavy, you had to use both hands to lift it and the only part which looked remotely screwy was the phillips crosshead thingy at the front.

It didn't even have a power cable. Uranium-fuelled, almost certainly.

“It's battery-operated.”

Exactly the kind of thing Saddam Hussein used to tell the weapons inspectors.

There were several sets of dials bearing numbers and any amount of coloured tabs and switches which might or might not be “on” buttons. I wasn't touching it. It might go off in my hand.

She knew how to switch it on. It uttered a struggling throaty gurgle and undid three screws out of 16. We only removed one shelf and failed completely on the others and the cupboard. We left a note to the decorators “Please remove. Sorry, not very good at unscrewing. Thanks. The Nurse.”

I may be on the mailing list of our local specialist powertools shop - only because of buying a Dremel to file down my dog's nails - but power tools scare me witless. Walking into the shop made me feel like I was inhaling pure testosterone and everyone stared as though my skirt was tucked into my knickers by accident but it definitely was not (you always have to surreptitiously check though, don't you?)

Asking me to wield a hammer drill is like asking me to stand still while a moth crawls up my bare arm - only possible about five minutes after hell freezes over.

They are scary in every respect, the ear-piercing, teeth-tingling screaming noise, the weight, the potential for causing unwitting damage. They are undoubtedly a force for evil.

I wasn't scared of them when I was young. My father was the most capable and organised of handymen. The garage and shed were breath-takingly orderly. He even had little bureaux of different sized screws and nuts with the draws all labelled. Anything with a blade was oiled and sharp ready for use. He knew where everything was and he knew how to use it.

The little red hand drill felt nice and just purred when you turned the handle. The fretsaw was noisier but great fun for making my own crazy jigsaws.

It was later that the trauma set in. When DT man had to make his first forays into DIY, completely untrained and abandoned to his fate by his, in my view, frankly negligent, dad. They were the sort of forays where the instinct among bystanders was to take cover - not in the next room but preferably in a house two doors away.

Not that I was ever allowed to take cover because I was always required to hold something, measure something, mark something or clear the debris.

So I had to witness terrible things; the earsplitting noise and terrifying sight of a drill skittering clear across the surface of a newly painted wall at full belt; being covered with plaster and bits of ceiling when a foot exploded through the landing ceiling above me (the result of a small stumble on a joist in the attic) and a wall of recently hung wallpaper with so many trapped air bubbles that it looked like it had been pasted with giant-sized tapioca.

Then there was the way a humble plane - a benign, quiet well-behaved kind of tool with its sharp blade well hidden - wreaked havoc with a bedroom door which was a bit “sticky” over new carpet. In this case the door was transformed into a Western saloon-style door, having been planed with enthusiasm at BOTH ends ending up with ample ventilation and light at both the top and bottom of the door.

Left to my own devices, at least I'm methodical. I'm really careful when assembling flatpack furniture not to place spigot D into female member F3 and count out all my screws, flanges and cordwanglers with deft precision.

Polyfilling is easy, although Dad really wouldn't approve of my polyfilling method because I've had to use my finger since I mislaid his ancient putty knife. It's like cake icing only more boring and you must remember not to lick your fingers.

You are rarely required to pipe rosettes around the dado rail or write Happy Birthday in squirty letters on the ceiling, although it might be fun to have a go one day. The flattening bit is the same anyway.

You can even use royal icing if you are out of polyfiller, as I once did but you do run the risk of ants coming and eating your wall.

Increasingly, women are becoming more independent where DIY is concerned. A friend of mine and her daughter were delighted to have achieved a toilet seat fixing for the first time ever this week.

The new seat was comfortable, stable, straight - all the things it's reasonable to expect of a toilet seat.

The daughter's boyfriend visited and needed to use the bathroom.

“Who fitted that toilet seat for you?” he enquired afterwards.

“Us!” they chorused proudly.

“It's hopeless," he said.

"It needs to be fitted further forward. The lid won't stay up.”

Men eh? So quick to criticise. So hopeless at multi-tasking.

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