Tuesday 09 July, 2013 by Uncle Spike
Over the past 30 years, I have had a go at quite a diverse pile of handyman jobs. Now whether you prefer to call it ‘DIY’, ‘home modification’, ‘have a go Harry’, or just plain old ‘too tight to pay someone’; I have, to be fair, achieved a notable portfolio of successful building and decorating endeavours. Mostly working on places I have lived in and owned myself, although a number of my friends and family have also been on the receiving end of my hammer, paintbrush and assortment of noisy power-tools. Well, that’s the positive take on it. In reality, like everyone else, I’ve had my fair share of disasters, calamities and misfortunes too. This story regards a simple, but fine example of the latter, that I refer to as one of my many moments of brain reversal.
The period was around the spring of ’92. The building was my first house as owner-occupier in fact, a two bed semi-detached Victorian town house built in 1902. It was a bit small, had a tiny garden and a garage that no car produced in Europe after 1952 could fit into; but, it was home.
Now, if you’re a regular follower of Uncle Spike’s Adventures, and happened to read the episode called “Oh, Do Drop In”, then you’ll be somewhat familiar with the place; if not, let me give you a very brief summary. When we took on this beloved pile of bricks, doors and windows, it was the best we could afford, but that statement doesn’t quite help to describe it. It was a tired, quite dilapidated shell, having lacked any form of care since the mid 70’s. The former owners had moved out a couple of years previously, probably in the form of one-way boxed transport, if you get my drift. The place had suffered a fair degree of smoke damage over the years, with handfuls of soot falling out of door frames when we came to change door handles, mouldy carpets, some hideous 1970′s décor, and a wooden floor that was as much use as a paper diving board. It took some 5 years to get it all in ship-shape, working evenings till late, every weekend and holidays. No complaints though, it was good honest graft; exercising the body, mind and credit cards in equal share.
The kitchen was the one room that certainly required some work. With a very limited budget, much head-scratching took place as we stared at the room that was, according to the agents brochure, fit for human habitation, and more significantly, for the preparation of our daily fodder. But seriously, when we looked at the place more closely, it was disheartening to say the least; how we ever saw a glimmer of light at the end of that particular tunnel, I’ll never know. The counter top was rotten; literally, the gas fittings were circa. 1960, the cabinets were dodgy but intact, although the mould and garish colouring would have done nothing for anyone with a nervous disposition, and there were some leaking, calcified taps attached to twisted old iron pipes. But the best feature, ha-ha, was the shiny dark brown carpet; which in fact, turned out to be a hideous tone of bright purple; but that only became apparent upon removal of a wooden storage crate, yep it was that greasy.
Needless to say, the kitchen attracted much of our efforts in the first few weeks. A new kitchen wasn’t on the cards; we had mortgaged ourselves to the hilt to get the place, so it was a matter of just doing the best we could, even in that pig-sty formally known as the kitchen. The cupboards were scrubbed with bleach over and over again, and then painted with 3 coats of dusty light grey paint, with a dusty pink trim, new handles added, and the hinges were repaired/replaced; ok so it sounds pretty dodgy, but it was clean and serviceable. We added a new breakfast counter, some high bar stools and updated the electrics and replaced the plumbing for the sink and washing machine. With a fresh white ceiling, and a row of spots, the transformation was almost complete. Finally it felt habitable, a room where we were at last comfortable to sit, eat and cook; without the benefit of a biological hazard suit.
And so, to the final task that would complete the transformation from being akin to a stables, to a bone fide kitchen… some nice flooring. With the wooden floor we had; the most practical and cost efficient option was linoleum cushion flooring. Sold on a 2 metre wide roll, it was a simple matter of taking measurements, nipping down to the store, and then laying the stuff.
Easy. What could go wrong?
With all the confidence of d’Artagnan from the Three musketeers, off I toddled to the builders store. I returned an hour later with my lino. Selecting to make a join under the workbench area, the main kitchen floor area could therefore be achieved with a single piece; great. An hour or so, and perhaps 2 mugs of tea later, the final task was to cut into the doorway, which extended some 15cm (6”) from the main area of the floor. I measured it carefully, making sure not to cut too much off the sides, knowing that I could trim it after. I folder it back, resting it on top of a plank of wood, so as to not inadvertently cut through the flapped over section AND the main floor. Yeah right, easy stuff… I cut it out carefully, then turned the flap back down, only to discover my level of ineptitude had surpassed my usual limits; by working on the upturned flap, I had managed to cut the door area INTO the main part of the room, not AWAY from it. What a Muppet. The moment of inevitable shock passed; which led into a 3 minute slow torrent of silent and less than silent words that may/may not be found in the Oxford English dictionary!
Keeping relatively calm, and of course not wanting my mishap, cock-up, or whatever term you want to apply here, to be discovered, I hurried back to the store and kindly asked Mr MasterCard to buy me another piece of lino. Another hour later, I was back in situ, calmer, and ready to do business. How can I explain this to you? Well,… I did exactly the same thing again! The profanities were a little less subtle this time around I’ll admit, the embarrassment factor having kicked in at 9.0 on the Richter Scale. With less than 2 hours until the boss was due to return, I took my keys and credit card, and ran off down the street, again. Not daring to face the same smug salesman at the last place, I opted for a different store and a slightly different pattern, similar, but would require some form of explanation. But that hurdle was to be faced later, AFTER fixing my mess for the second time.
Thankfully, on the third attempt, the now very expensive flooring was completed to my satisfaction. What a prat; how could I get it wrong like that, twice? Whatever, I just put it down to a moment of brain reversal; how else could I explain it? Talking of explaining it… I never did, never did own up 😀