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Richard Clegg

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DIY laughing -- the new adventures of Captain Hook [Mar. 12th, 2010|08:17 pm]
Richard Clegg

When it comes to slightly inept highly anthropomorphised bears, I prefer Paddington to Pooh. I know this is unfashionable and in a lot of ways Paddington is a capitalist apologist and a shill for the man (all that time spent bargain hunting on the market and shopping for antiques with Mr Gruber, not to mention the controversial Marmite adverts). Nonetheless, I prefer Paddington... he's so much more proactive. Things happen to and because of Paddington whereas they merely happen around and in spite of Pooh. In the end, drop them both in a bear pit and you know it would be Paddington emerging triumphant soaked in the guts and entrails of his enemy.

I mention this because while Pooh never undertook any DIY project more significant than being ordered to fetch sticks to help out with the construction of a crude donkey shelter, Paddington very often tried his paw at home improvements... usually with less than optimal results. I guess an inept ursine with a marmalade habit is no model to keep in mind, but there's a particular sequence where he is trying to even up table legs (or possibly chair legs -- definitely not human or animal legs) and keeps sawing a bit off each until eventually the furniture in question is ankle high. This image came vividly to mind this afternoon as I was making increasingly large holes in my wall in my underpants -- that is to say I was wearing underpants while making holes in a wall not that I had a wall in my underpants -- my overpants were drying on the radiator after an accident while cleaning the shower so I had to DIY in my underpants.

A couple of weeks ago I installed a coat rack at the bottom of my stairs. Now, those of you who have studied floorplans of my flat (and I was close to making that compulsory a few weeks ago so I imagine that is a few of you) will know that my stairs only have a top and not really a bottom. Or, to put it more clearly, there's nothing at the bottom of my stairs apart from the rest of the universe. All of my flat is at the top of the stairs and the stairs are only included so that my flat isn't occupying the same part of space as another flat which is below mine. However, the stairs themselves are mine and I thought it would be reasonable to have a coat rack at the bottom of them so I installed one.

This turned out to be a mistake. The problem is that coming through the door I am often all flustered and tired from railing against the universe or contemplating the deep problems of existence or just the long slog up Caledonian road after a few beers. So quite often I just go through the door and up the stairs to lie on the sofa, fall on the bed or nip hastily to the loo. Having done that, I then immediately suffer a pang of regret because I get to the top of the stairs with my coat on. To turn around and redescend would look weak and indecisive as if I'd somehow made a mistake. Therefore the obvious thing is to hang the coat over the banister and forget about it. A gradual repetition of this process was slowly transporting all my coats upstairs and rendering the coat rack's existence qua coat rack as invalid and it was becoming merely a rack.

No two ways about it, it was time to move the coat rack. The removal of the coat rack from the wall was a pleasantly simple task because the fool who put it up had obviously made a bit of a bodged job with the rawl plugs. Honestly, they're so simple to operate... I don't know how they could go wrong. Then I remembered that the fool was me.

There's a cussedness about screws. It's no coincidence I think that screw is the first part of the phrase "screwed up". Honestly, given a nice bit of plastic to screw into they prefer to angle themselves diagonally and visciously bore into the concrete wall or just rotate wildly to mash the plastic and then insolently hang out of the wall at a limp angle like a dog end drooping from someone's mouth.

The thing about it is that the principle of the thing is so simple. Measure the place to put the screws in, mark with a pencil. Check with a spirit level and a ruler to be sure that the holes are going in the right place. If you are paranoid about such things, use your special beepy instrument to tell if there are pipes or electrical wires running through the wall at that point. The rawlplug has a marked size, it fits a particular type of screw and a particular drill bit. All of them are labelled sensibly in metric not in rods, poles or perches but in easy to work with millimetres. What on earth could go wrong.

Of course the first thing to go wrong is the drill. It's all very well having an exact to the sub millimeter perfect pencil mark while the drill is still. Once you start it turning and press it to the wall the drill skips about like a landed mackerel and the probability of the hole ending up in the same postcode area as the sub millimeter perfect pencil mark is approximately zero. It's actually lucky if I end up with the hole in the same wall I intended.

The second thing to go wrong with the drill/wall interface is the wall. Let's face it, there's no right type of wall to drill into. We always try to blame the wall but if it's a tough wall which grinds out sparks and melts the drill bit before getting a hole then it's a bad wall and if it explodes into shards the moment a drill comes near it then it's a bad wall... my wall is "plasterboard" I think. That's the technical term for a thin tissue paper like film of wall stretched over a yawning gap similar to something you'd get walled up in if you were in an Edgar Allen Poe short story. I don't know how this effect is achieved but it seems like my actual wall starts a good few centimeters further back than the painted flat plane I thought was my wall. The fake wall-like shell crumbles away like dust if it's in the same room as a drill.

It's at this point that the Paddington bear effect starts. When I put the rawlplug into this hole-like opening, it already dangles slackly like the gaze of a weary bloodhound. With a waning sense of optimism, I begin to screw the coat hooks onto the wall. This is tricky as the screw initially pushes straight through. Screwing more carefully allows the screw to somewhat engage with the rawlplug but it's clear the whole project is somewhat hopeless. I need a bigger rawlplug for this mighty hole. I remove the old (and now mashed) rawlplug which decides from sheer spite to cling onto the edge of the hole and move to my larger size of rawlplug. Frustratingly the larger size rawl plug is too large and I have to slightly widen the hole.

A more cautious worker would do this by moving to a larger sized drill bit but that way madness lies so I keep the same size drill bit and use it in the manner of a file to create an approximately larger hole, approximately round which has its centre approximately where the old one did. Success, the new rawlplug fits snugly. Unfortunately, the old screw is now rather too small for the larger rawlplug and I'm forced to move to a larger screw. The larger screw is a little too large and promptly mashes the rawlplug which falls out of the hole in a pile of mangled plastic. I briefly consider moving to an even larger rawlplug to fit the larger screw, drilling a larger hole and iterating the process in the manner of Paddington evening up furniture. Eventually there will be a hole large enough that I can crawl through to the next flat and hang my coats up there. Mission achieved.

At this point, inspiration struck and I decided on a system of nesting rawlplugs with the smaller one inside the larger, and, you know what... it's up and it's strong. OK, it's a horrible bodge and my dad would probably despair if he knew (being competent and wise in the ways of DIY as he is) but my coats are hanging on the wall. The whole thing is so cock-eyed that I am hanging the coats over the rack to hide it. Also, you know, I really don't like the way the coat rack is over the radiator but I think this time I'll try to live with it.

Lest you think I'm totally incompetent I managed to install some hooks for towels and oven gloves above my oven and they're so strong that I swear a tribe of gorilla could brachiate from them [*] with no harm to my walls (although the oven below might suffer). It you consider that there were three towel hooks done perfectly and if you count the two coat hooks as one then I am 75 percent excellent. Overall then, and despite appearances I totally rock at DIY.

[* If gorillas can brachiate which some people question accusing them of merely lazing semi-brachiating or even not braciating at all.]

[User Picture]From: rich_r
2010-03-12 09:12 pm (UTC)
I started to consider posting useful hints to help you out, but by the end of your posting, I decided that you'd probably be better off working things out for yourself.

Just one hint though: if your walls are plasterboard with a cavity behind, then rawlplugs are not the correct type of fixing. They'll just pull out as you found. You should be using the larger screw in type of wall fixing (eg http://www.mptools.co.uk/images//Tbnk1/16661.jpg). These also don't need a drill, so you can negate the inability to hold a drill still whilst making a hole...
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[User Picture]From: cookwitch
2010-03-12 09:31 pm (UTC)
What he said. About the plasterboard fixings I mean. Aren't there special plasterboard fixings that open out behind the board?
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[User Picture]From: puritypersimmon
2010-03-12 09:25 pm (UTC)
That's more like it - far more entertaining than pics of perfect sofas and storage units!
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-03-12 09:39 pm (UTC)
Bah and humbug. You should *want* me to be successful at DIY.
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[User Picture]From: sushidog
2010-03-12 09:44 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure gorilla do brachiate, do they? You want orang utans for that, really. Or gibbons.
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-03-12 10:05 pm (UTC)
Don't they? For some reason I thought they did. I mean obviously gibbons do it with more style.

Gary Larson thought they did I think -- in a cartoon set in a gorilla locker room he drew a "no brachiating" sign which would be redundant unless they were capable. However, I accept this is not peer reviewed and also perhaps that other primates (not pictured) used the locker room.

Google will know:

This cite says a particular naturalist never saw this in the wild

However, from the same article Avis apparently agreed with Larson that gorillas brachiate (that is to say he agreed that gorillas brachiate he did not mention Gary Larson).

Who'd have thought that gorilla brachiation was such a controversial topic?
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[User Picture]From: moral_vacuum
2010-03-12 11:53 pm (UTC)
I mean this in a manly, non-sexual way - after that post, I think I love you.
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-03-13 01:15 am (UTC)
*laugh* And I love you too sir.
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[User Picture]From: valkyriekaren
2010-03-13 08:58 am (UTC)
When it comes to slightly inept highly anthropomorphised bears, I prefer Paddington to Pooh.

And both are preferable to Rupert. Smug rhyming fucker.
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[User Picture]From: andyguest
2010-03-13 09:51 am (UTC)
I don't know how you manage it but it seems like each time I have a day of incompetence then check LJ and discover things could be worse :-)

I am so glad you took up the life of a scientist and not, say, a surgeon :-D
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[User Picture]From: zoo_music_girl
2010-03-13 10:05 am (UTC)
At least your coats will be lovely and warm for you when you put them on to go outside!

I've still got some butterfly fixings kicking around which I have no use for now (the last flat had plasterboard, this house has break-the-drillbit style walls) so I'll give them to you for your next project.
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-03-13 03:36 pm (UTC)
Hmm... snuggly warm coats.

It seems like everyone has a firm opinion on which plasterboard fixing is best but I'll happily give the butterfly fixings a go if you no longer need them!
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-03-13 04:16 pm (UTC)
That moving coat rack plan is a great one. I could have a stair lift next to it for those evenings where climbing the stairs seems like a great deal of effort. That is a brilliant plan.
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[User Picture]From: nmg
2010-03-13 03:26 pm (UTC)
Right. You want to go to the Screwfix website, specifically this bit.

Forget any plastic fixings; they're only useful for very light jobs.

When I was fixing these shelves (all to plasterboard walls) I used a mixture of hollow wall anchors and Redidrivas. You need something similar.
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-03-13 03:30 pm (UTC)
Surely putting up a coat rack is a light job -- well, if done right.

Still, I may get some of those in for next time something needs fixing to the wall properly.

I like the quote "stronger than the plasterboard itself".
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[User Picture]From: steer
2010-03-13 06:01 pm (UTC)
Exactly... when I was little we had a book of paddington plays you could put on. I loved it. I always got to play Mr Curry which is a terrific role because you just got to bellow "BEAR! BEAR!" in an outraged voice.
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