Bygone Days of Failed DIY


Wednesday 17 July, 2013 by Uncle Spike

This episode also takes place in that old heap of a house already the subject of a couple of other posts, namely “Oh, Do Drop In”, and “Brain Reversal”, but for newer readers, I shall just set the scene….

The place was a 1902 Edwardian semi-detached 2 bedroom house that I owned and renovated back in the mid 1990’s. Whilst the best we could afford, it was a tired, quite dilapidated shell of a place, having lacked any form of care since the mid 70’s. The former owners had been shipped out a year or so before I got the keys, probably encouraged to do so by relatives before they completely burned the place down or drank themselves to death in the room at the back of the house they called the kitchen; with it’s disgusting mouldy purple carpet.

With this house seeing plenty of indoors action… err, that doesn’t quite sound right, so let me start that again. Not only did the interior of the house require the attention of my toolbox, power-tools and paintbrush, the yard or garden was also in much need of my time. Now the back garden consisted of two parts, a garage and parking area, and a garden of sorts. All that sounds quite impressive, but the reality was like this.

Ford_Anglia_106_E,_1965,_at_Car_Show,_place_du_Civoire,_Brive_la_Gaillarde,_FranceThe garage was one of those old concrete pre-fabricated affairs, with a hard corrugated pent roof. It was posh, only in the fact that it had a door; and that door had a lock too, but that was where the facade of the narrative ‘garage’ ended. Yes it was technically a garage, but it was so narrow, that only a car built in the UK in around the 1960’s had any hope of ever seeking refuge inside. Remember the old Ford Anglia, well that was just 143.5cm wide (111”), some 36cm (14”) narrower than most modern cars are nowadays. So yes, I had a garage, but pretty well useless for a car, forget it.

When we eventually managed to get inside the garage after moving in, we discovered box, upon box, upon box of empty wine, cider and gin bottles. It was at that point that we started to understand how the house had come into its’ current state of disrepair. Not quite sure if the neighbours believed our excuse when we dumped all the boxes into the huge builders skip we had outside the house for all the renovation work. Anyway, it caused a bit of gossip I’m sure 🙂

imagesThere was however, a concrete parking area next to the garage. It too was pretty narrow, providing just enough room for an averagely sized adult to squeeze by once our old Volvo 245 estate (station wagon) was tightly parked there. And that was fun too. For a couple of years, we had to reverse 60 metres (195’) down a narrow unmade road and then perform a tight 3 point reverse onto this parking area, often in the dark. It was a challenge, but I ended up being so practiced at reverse driving and parking, that even today, I will happily reverse into the tightest of spots using just mirrors – or as my son would say, “Hey daddy, you can drive like Mater!”.

The rest of the garden was full to the brim of 30 year old fir trees, and I mean full. There were I think, 6 trees in a garden measuring just 16 square metres!! It was all a bit of a jungle to start with, but over time, it was transformed into a cute suburban garden, complete with a small lawn, barbeque area, soft lighting and a secluded sitting area.

On the subject of lighting, there was nothing at the start. The garage had no electricity back then, and there was not one single outside light either. On one trip to the electrical section of the local DIY store, I made what I deemed to be a sensible and appropriate purchase, a lantern/light which could be affixed to the corner of the brick-built house, providing adequate illumination of the garden from which to walk from the car to the house, without affecting aircraft passing overhead or causing distress to any of the surrounding neighbours.

cartoon_light_bulb_by_mabelpines13-d5aytv1The design of the lamp was simple, with a vertical 90 degree bracket so that it could be affixed on the actual corner of the building. The lamp structure was a simple affair, with a black coated aluminium metal base, and a tall opaque white glass shade. Marvellous my wife and I thought, no need for a light at the back of the house AND one at the side. In those days, I guess you could say I was passable as a decorator, handy with a paintbrush and even not bad at wallpaper hanging … but my builder-type skills left a lot to be desired; which looking back, was perhaps painfully obvious. Never one very comfortable up a ladder, I must have struggled for an hour and a half, trying to fix up this damned light. In my defence, there was also a lean-to outhouse or small pseudo conservatory affixed to the back of the house, so access to that corner of the building was actually quite restricted, so much of those 90 minutes were spent precariously leaning between where the ladder rested against the side wall, and stepping ever so gingerly on the plastic roof of the add-on.

Having finally fixed the lamp in position, completed the wiring connection to the PIR detector, and then connected all of that to a fused junction box in the kitchen, I was able to relax, and congratulate myself on a job well done. Indeed, when my wife returned home, the official “Yep” was uttered, thereby concluding the job, and its ceremonious removal from the long list of jobs we had taped on the bare kitchen wall. All week, we went in the house, and we went out. The lamp went on, the lamp went off. Everything was fine.

indirEverything was fine, that is, until a few friends came over to wish us well in our new abode, to pat us on the back and say encouraging remarks to us, even though it was plain to see that it would be many months, if not years, before the place could be accurately called a home in anyone’s language. After a tour of the house, they went out the back door to the garden area, and my friend’s wife just stopped dead in her tracks, slowly pointing up with one hand, and covering her smirking face with the other as she struggled to stop herself from burstıng out laughing. Unbeknown to us, my 90 minutes of balancing efforts in fixing the lamp had gone ever so slightly awry. The lamp went UP, not DOWN. Basically, it was like a large white phallic thing stuck on the corner wall of the house, pointing rather proudly up towards the heavens. Only once it was pointed out to us did we finally see it too. What made it worse, was our neighbours on one side were out in their garden too at that time, and you could hear them chuckling away behind the 2 metre wood panelled fence. Later, they told us how they had laughed about it from day one, but hadn’t quite worked out how they were going to tell us, as up until that point, we hadn’t met our neighbours. Well, it was, how you say, an ice-breaker, and became the talking point of the street for a few weeks, until such time that is, that I plucked up courage to go back up that ladder and turn the stupid lamp the right way up, or down I suppose would be more accurate. I guess we all live and learn.

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