I know for a fact that DIY is one of those activities that retired people often enjoy. Indeed it may be an engaging, fulfilling and possibly even relaxing, activity that they look forward to be able to do more of, or even start out on, if they haven’t when in work mode. I make no distinction between genders here. My mother was often seen (to the consternation of her neighbours) on top of her rickety greenhouse replacing a broken pane of glass well into her seventies. I expected on our weekly visits to arrive and find her prone amongst her tomato plants inside the greenhouse.
Maybe I had some of her genes as I think it’s fair to say that, in my younger days, I was the sort of person who would have a go at more or less any DIY task – plumbing, electrics, plastering, woodworking, decorating (although not wallpapering, I left that to Mrs Summerhouse), most things. I have to admit that this was mostly a money-saving venture rather than a love of the task or skill itself that set me off. I was never blighted by a worry about the perfection level of the task. Admittedly plumbing or electrics needed to be of a certain level of correctness but more or less everything else was finished when it looked alright from a distance or, most often, could be disguised by the careful placement of a picture or piece of furniture. I was, I told myself, an ideas guy, not a finisher.
I should just say, by way of confession, this lack of love for the task itself didn’t stop me spending money on some new bit of machinery – drills, electric screwdrivers, circular saws, routers, electric planes etc. etc. Machine Mart is my favourite shop, I can spend hours there or similar shop. I loved them all (the items) and it didn’t bother me if I never actually used them, they were there if I needed them. My biggest regret was never owning a nail gun. I had a friend who had one and I was deeply envious. Anyway, the point is my lack of affection for DIY tasks probably explains why, when I retired, and, being better placed financially, I have showed precious little motivation to spend my retirement time on DIY type tasks.
But… just recently as a part of our rationalisation of houses project (no, we still haven’t sold the Pateley cottage) we decided to gift our family piano, it’s been in our family for at least 80 years (it belonged to my grandmother, she of the strange ‘sayings’, e.g. one of her favourites, if I said, I don’t know, in response to something she’d asked me, would reply, ‘you don’t know, I don’t know and neither does the cow’, what the hell did that mean? I never questioned it. Anyway I digress. She used to be a piano teacher and this was her piano so I didn’t want it to leave the family. My daughter, God bless her, and her possibly less keen husband, decided they would take it.
Have you ever tried to move an old-fashioned piano? Well, if you haven’t don’t start now, they’re unbelievably heavy even if you have your own van (that’s the one from the defunct gardening business which I’ve been keeping for just this kind of removal job). Son-in-law and his father and myself wrestled it into the van and took it over to their house where it would not fit into the room my daughter had selected. She was at the gym so the men decided where it would go. It’s currently in the kitchen and it’s bloody well not coming back. What’s this got to do with DIY you’re asking at this point? Patience, I hadn’t expected the introduction to take so long.
Two things, first if the piano won’t fit in their front room then neither will the sofa bed we were also donating to them from the Pateley cottage and which also won’t fit, as Plan B, in our study. It was only when we measured it, some people would have done this as a first step, we realised just how big it was. So forget the concept of two sofas in the study which means we go to plan C which is to fill the space left by the piano’s departure not with a sofa bed but with more bookcases (see above photo). This makes sense because in clearing out the Pateley cottage we have, in one sense, suddenly acquired an additional few hundred books. Yes, I know, again, some people would give them to the local charity shop (but not OXFAM, glad our donations go to the Red Cross who are probably equally as bad), but not me, I love my books and will never willing give them away even though books are a curse it you’re moving house.
The first part of the new bookcases project was relatively simple thanks to IKEA and the ubiquitous (I like that word) Billy bookcases. True, there’s a little DIY involved but nothing a grown person willing to shed just the odd tear, can’t manage. It’s the little ones that kill you (that’s the grey shelves in the picture above). Creating and fitting these small items between the existing shelves, and no I couldn’t just bring the sets of shelves together because there was an electrical socket in the way. Just don’t ask, OK? took several hours of blood, sweat, tears and more tears.
I’ll do my best to explain why it took so long. A brief version. First up I’d got my measurements wrong and didn’t have enough for the three shelves planned although you could argue that made the task shorter. Two shelves, how difficult could that be? So having marked out the width of the shelf and decided to cut the larger shelf I’d bought from B&Q into sections, by hand, I couldn’t see the line because it was covered by the sawdust the sawing had generated (and no I couldn’t just blow it away because I was cutting the shelf in the dining room), when I’d finished I’d cut the edge in a curve rather than the more traditional straight line and no amount of hiding this with books would have obscured this error. So I spend time getting out my electric mitre saw, the one I’d loaned to the dear boy when he was here and working on somebody’s decking and which now was, as he’d left it, jammed. Takes me twenty minutes or so to unjam it.
Cut the shelves. Now to attach brackets to either side of existing bookcases. Have to mark positioning of small shelves so new shelves match with old ones. Right angle of brackets curved making it difficult to see when level. Hot tip, melamine looks nice but things, like brackets slip while you’re trying to hold them steady to mark. Hope for the best (which I don’t get). Mark with pencil which works fine on white shelving but can’t be seen on black shelving on right hand side. Can’t find my braddle (is that how you spell it?) to make holes to start screws. Try making hole with a nail, hit fingers in the traditional manner and swear in similar traditional manner. I would have used my electric drill with small bit but this drill had been used by our ex-gardeners and there was a drill bit stuck in it and no amount of DW40 or ‘tapping’ with a big hammer, enabled me to loosen it. Before fitting second shelf I share with Mrs SH the difficulties of this apparently simple task. I’ve got a braddle (is that still how you spell it?) upstairs, she says. Oh, I didn’t know that.
Try to push screw into hole enough so that it holds (as it’s going into the shelf, which is only about half an inch wide / deep in old money, it’s only a small screw and so cannot be held between one’s fingers while screwing*) and I can use my electric screwdriver to screw them in. This is tricky on left hand side nigh on impossible on right side because of awkward angle for screwdriver. Screws do not cooperate and regularly fall on floor. As I bend down to pick them up I bang my head on existing shelves. Consider throwing electric screwdriver through the window. Decide against it. I’m going to have to stop but you get the idea. One last challenge. I put down my spirit level, T square, pencil, screwdriver etc. etc. and then cannot remember where I’ve put them. Second hot DIY tip – factor in an additional 20% time above your original estimate for finding ‘lost’ items or get one of those manly tool belts which I do have but, you’ve guessed. I couldn’t find it now I needed it.
I’m really going to have to stop now, I’m exhausted all over again. I’m also up to 1500 words and I haven’t captured the half of it. I shouldn’t have spent so long on the introduction. Anyway, you’ll gather, for me, DIY and retirement do not go hand in glove, they are not happy bedfellows. The title is a blatant lie. So avoid DIY if you want a happy retirement.
*Did I mention my essential tremors?