The three most scary words my wife ever utters? ‘…I’ve been thinking…’ Three little words that translate as, “You are about to be coerced into something – possibly electrical, certainly difficult, probably dangerous to the uninitiated, and definitely something that you will find right at the very top of your ‘Things I really don’t want to be doing’ list” – a catalogue of all the tasks for which I am uniquely ill-equipped. I am fully aware that it would be considered churlish to respond to “I only want you to paint one wall” in any negative way, whilst being similarly well-acquainted with the fact that one wall will inevitably lead to all walls, all curtains, all carpets, all doors and all electrical fittings. It is, of course, quite illogical that I should kick-back against what I am assured will be “a two-minute job” even though I carry the certain knowledge that it will escalate into something that will consume at least six months of my life and involve God-knows how many trips to A&E, not to mention innumerable three-figure invoices from the qualified tradesmen we are forced to employ in order to ‘put it right again.’
The room that is currently chalked up for the lick of paint is the hall/stairs and landing combo and it fills my heart with dread. It has 9 doors and two windows – so I can, at least, take comfort from the fact that I am not being asked to wallpaper – as well as a virtually inaccessible stair-head which I can only reach from an improvised scaffold made from 3 ladders, part of an old kitchen cabinet door and several rolls of gaffer tape (“So, you might as well do the ceilings whilst you’re up there.”) I will fall – of this you can be certain – the only question is whether I will land on the stairs and stop where I land, or whether I will barrel-roll to the bottom in order to be in exactly the right position to receive the ‘scaffold’ as it follows me in my downward trajectory.
It has been a few hours now since the coat of paint was first mentioned and the discussion has already passed through paint shades, new sockets and switches, new door furniture and new light fittings. It will eventually encompass new carpets and flooring after I hit the deck with a five litre can of emulsion in hand. The total rewire the house will need after I have fused the entire National Grid will, of course, be something we should have thought about anyway – not to mention the complete redecoration that will have to follow. And so it goes…
I have grown used to the exponential growth in the magnitude of disaster that pursues me in any practical task: a kind of incremental plunge into the abyss. There are many contributory factors that have a role to play in the remorseless collapse into pain and chaos; the universal one being me: the tool on the end of the tool. I am a gift to authors who can spare only a single word in describing a character’s (in)competence in all things: inept. From all manner of human interaction through to hammering a nail in without hitting a thumb, pipe or wire: inept. Like a cockle* in a rockpool, I yo-yo wildly between out of my depth and beached, despite the instinctual knowledge that the tide is always coming: closed tight when I should be open, gaping when the seagulls arrive.
Now, I realise that this magnitude of whining does not make me sound like the world’s most enticing man. I’m sure that I must have some redeeming features (Please God, let me have some redeeming features!) but none of them appear to be based anywhere within the scope of ‘practical’ for any mildly proficient person.
I feel as though I should list some of my positive attributes: I am honest, loyal and affectionate (and all of the above without being a dog). I think that I am reasonable company – when I’m not decorating – and I’m a wiz in a pub-quiz. (I sense that I’m beginning to lose you.) I laugh easily and I find joy in the smallest of things. I am always in possession of chocolate and wine. I figure that by constantly fearing the worst I, by and large, preclude the possibility of reality slumping below my expectations – so that, generally, I am relatively satisfied with the way in which things turn out. I think that ‘Could have been worse’ may well be my epitaph.
Anyway, I have already placed myself in the hands of the Gods and assembled my scaffold and minced the length of the plank of wood that I have laid across it. It is just long enough and it bends under my weight only slightly, so it should be ok if I keep to the ends. I have moved the telephone table from the foot of the stairs because it does not look ideally suited to fall-breaking (although, ironically, it does appear to be supremely well assembled in order to facilitate leg breaking) and given full consideration to how I intend to fill the holes I have made in the wall when the scaffolding is down (I am considering the possibility of lengthening two of the four legs on a kitchen chair so that I can balance it on the stairs and, if necessary pile books on top in order to achieve the required altitude). I’m quite proud of that plan – and we all know where pride comes…
A man, he’s like a rusty wheel
On a rusty cart
He sings his song as he rattles along
And then he falls apart…
We’ll sing Hallelujah – Richard Thompson
*I think that this might, to many of you, be ‘clam’ but, be honest, cockle is definitely funnier.