As I have said many times before in this column, DIY is not my forte. I have no idea what my forte is (and whatever it is, it’s nearer fifte anyway) so by choice I am more a GSETDI man myself. (Get somebody else to do it)
Things simply don’t get fixed in our house. The towel rail has been hanging off the wall in the downstairs loo for the best part of a year now and the extra shelves I promised to put in the corner kitchen unit when we moved in eight years ago still haven’t materialised.
Its not that I am lazy. The spirit is strong but the know-how is lacking. My father hadn’t a clue about how to fix things about the house and so I never learnt anything. I blithely blame him for my lack of knowledge of all things practical.
About two years ago, on holidays in Roussillon, my wife put her eye on these enamel house number tiles which were going for a veritable chanson, she claimed. “That’s fair enough,” I said, “but where are you going to put them?”
She gave me a withering stare. “I was maybe going to stick them up on the landing, next to the picture of the men carrying a boat on their heads,” she declared.
So we bought the tiles and even before we flew home I was starting to get palpitations about putting them up. Such a simple thing, lots of people have them. But what do you use to stick them up?
“You’re the man. You should know these things,” my wife said, when I idly pondered the conundrum out loud. Obviously she hadn’t a clue either.
At home, in post-holiday mode, the tiles of course got put away in a drawer for safekeeping. After about three weeks, I was reminded “not to forget the tiles.”
Now for me, DIY is a pastime best practised on your own. Not being terribly sure of anything I’m doing, I prefer making a hames of the job on my own, so I can tidy it up before she gets home and then pretend I hadn’t got around to it in the first place.
One Saturday she decided to go to the Blanchardstown Centre to buy a pair of boots, which I knew from experience could easily take up to eight hours. With a hammer, I delicately removed the old number plaque adorning our front wall.
I then took down my Rovers biscuit tin, which I laughingly call my tool-box, and emptied it out on the kitchen table to see what “things-for-sticking-up-tiles” I had. Well, it was a toss up between a well-worn tube of superglue – how come it doesn’t stick to the inside of the tube? – and something called No More Nails, which I had bought once for some long-forgotten and probably fruitless purpose.
I plumped at first for the superglue which, in my experience is great for gluing up the sole of your slippers when it comes loose. Sadly though, such was the accumulation of dried glue in the nozzle that the remaining glue was trapped inside forever.
I checked the instructions on the tube of No More Nails. Apparently this was brilliant stuff and stuck everything from custard to Uranium 238, apparently rendering the manufacture of nails quite superfluous. The fact that it failed to mention either tile or brick among its lengthy list didn’t deter me and I applied a healthy coat of the white toothpaste-like goo to both tile and wall.
I must have held the four tiles pressed solidly to the wall for around thirty minutes, (though in all probability it was more likely nearer two) before I nervously released some of the pressure. The first one dropped immediately and as I stooped to catch it, the second one dropped. And then the third. And the fourth. Somehow, none of them smashed as they hit the ground but lay there mocking me. From around the world, I could hear a large collective sigh of relief from nail manufacturers.
I had plenty of time to tidy everything away before my wife arrived back from the shops with a handbag and jacket but no boots, though of course she immediately noticed the missing number plaque from the front wall.
Naturally I told her that I’d taken it down only to find that I had no suitable adhesive to stick up the new tiles.
“What about the cement and sand in the shed?” she asked.
I’d forgotten about those– they were the remnants of when I’d laid an unintentionally rustic path up to the garden shed years ago and I’d hung onto them in case they might come in useful.
Of course, time passed. Without a house number, our poor postman was totally confused, being unable to figure out that our number must lie somewhere between the numbers on the houses either side. We got a spate of wrong deliveries and god knows where half our post ended up.
Eventually my wife again went shopping for a pair of boots and I proceeded to the shed. Now it is about 25 years since I’ve worked as a labourer for a couple of plasterers but 4:1 resonates somewhere in the recesses of my brain as being a good ratio of sand to cement. So I grabbed an old paint pot and measured out three trowelfuls of sand, figuring the more cement there was, the stickier it would be, and one trowelful of cement and then slowly added water from my Rice Krispies mug.
To be fair, it looked like concrete. Only problem was, not only would it not stick to the wall, it wouldn’t stick to the tiles either. Another disaster, though it did leave a nice pale rectangle on my brickwork.
After that episode, the tiles again were forgotten about for months, until my wife came across them one day, even though I thought I’d hidden them quite well.
“What are we going to do about these tiles?” she demanded.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know what to stick them up with. Sellotape? Back to back stickers?”
She picked up the phone and speed dialled her brother-in-law. “He says to cover the wall and tiles with PVA glue and then use tile grout to stick them up,” she said. “Think you can do that?”
We bought the PVA glue and a small tub of tile grout, despite the fact that we searched Atlantic high and low and there was no tile grout for outdoor use to be found.
Naturally I had to wait until my wife once again went up to the Centre to buy a pair of boots before I could tackle this mammoth feat of DIY. Sure enough, two weeks ago, off she went and I set to work.
Of course it took me 45 minutes to figure out how to open the PVA glue (pierce the cap with the prong of a fork) and having negotiated that little technicality it was plain sailing except for the PVA glue running down the wall like spiders abseiling down a cliff face.
When she came home, clutching two tops and a pair of trousers, the tiles were up and pretty solid they seemed too, even though I say so myself. Now I was a handyman, a genuine DIYer, though I resisted the temptation to ask if there were any other little jobs she wanted doing around the house, just in case she took me up on the offer.
Strangely, my wife seemed unimpressed by my handiwork.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. “Have I put them too high or too low? They seem solid enough. It’ll take a jack hammer to shift them now.”
“Oh, they’re solid enough,” she said, with one of her famous looks that can kill a man dead at forty paces. “Trouble is, we live at number 89, not number 98.”