Adventures in home plumbing (part 2)

After part one of this blog went up, I had a conversation with #4.

“I’ve just put a blog up. It’s about DIY disasters. I used to have loads of them, but you probably haven’t seen many, have you?”

He looked at me a bit like Clint Eastwood, in ‘A Fistful Of Dollars’, staring into the sun and with a cheroot burning smoke into his eyes.

“Have you forgotten that time in France when you had to change the light bulb?”, he said, eyes narrowing to tiny slits.

Well I had, and he obviously hadn’t, and it didn’t escape me that it was an experience that he’d rather wished he hadn’t had. And even thinking about it, never mind writing it down now, makes me wish I hadn’t either.

You don’t need to know the full background, but imagine, if you will, a family holiday in France. It’s raining, and my wife is out for a run, leaving me to entertain the four children. Imagine a room with a 30 foot ceiling, lit by a solitary and broken bulb, and therefore rendered a bit useless outside daylight hours. Then, for the sake of argument, imagine a ladder that would extend to about 20 feet, and with nothing in the room to lean it against. However, help is at hand, as there is a wooden balcony overlooking the room, at about the same height as the light. Opposite the balcony, on the other side of the light fitting, there’s a large beam. Naturally, anyone with a sense of DIY adventure would wedge the ladder between the balcony and beam, in order to gain access to the light.

“Isn’t that dangerous?” said one of the boys, watching their responsible parent struggling to get the ladder into position.

“Don’t you think we ought to wait for Mum to get back?” said another.

“Yes, ‘cos she’s a nurse”, said the youngest, putting logic where logic should go.

I was keen to complete the operation before my loved one returned. I reckon it was because there’s something about this DIY lark that’s like an alpha-male version of ‘Show & Tell’. In the evolution of the sexes, our male ancestors would return to the cave showing off their hunting trophies. Only two generations ago in my family, my Grandfather would come home with a joint of meat that he’d cut off an animal that he’d slaughtered himself. To be fair, he was a butcher, and that sort of behaviour might have been frowned upon if he hadn’t been, but there was something pretty impressive about someone who ate his meals without them ever really getting cold. So, as a non-meat eating, woolly liberal bloke, DIY fills the ‘impress your partner’ need quite nicely. My wife can do almost everything I can to a slightly better standard, but thus far, the domain of ‘hammer vs screw setting’ on the electric drill, or the correct way to remove an inner tube has not interested her in the slightest. So I can strut about the place having successfully fixed yet another bicycle puncture, and she’ll thank me by looking in some awe at my expertise with a tyre lever. Then, she’ll crush me like a small insect by saying something like ‘does it normally take two new inner tubes and two hours to fix a puncture’, and the moment has gone. But fleetingly, I am Fred Dibnah, Handy Andy and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, all rolled into one lovable 5’ 10”package:

How I would imagine my wife sees me

Fleetingly is about right:

The likely reality of how my wife sees me

Anyway, back to the light bulb, and my enthusiasm for completing the job in hand before the return of my doting spouse.

“Don’t worry, boys”, I confidently said, “I’m going to rig up a safety harness”

And so it was, that, suspended 20 ft above a concrete floor, I crawled across a horizontal ladder, with #1 son gently playing out a length of rope, which was secured to me by two bungee hooks. You know, the sort of hooks that you use to secure a roofbox to a car. Incidentally, they were needed on our roofbox because on a previous holiday, after a 10 hour journey with three kids and a 4 week old baby, we’d arrived at our destination finding that all the coats, baby food and nappies were locked safely away in the roofbox, and the keys had been left at home. Fortunately, there was a DIY enthusiast on hand.

“What’s that noise?”, said one of the boys to his mother, as they huddled together inside a freezing cold house, with the baby breaking new sonic records.

“Oh, that’s Daddy with the power drill, trying to open the roof box”

“And what’s that noise?”

“Oh that’s daddy, he seems to have given up on the drill and moved on to the screwdriver and hammer technique”

“And what are those noises?”

“Well, darling, I think Daddy might have missed the screwdriver, hit his thumb, and fallen off the chair shortly afterwards”

So after that, bungee hooks were a must-have when packing for holidays. In fact, the only time we forgot them, we ended up strewing the entire family winter wardrobe across the A11. But that’s another story.

Anyway, those bungee hooks really are very adaptable, and, you’d hope, would take a reasonable weight, although, given that we were in a hurry, we didn’t feel the need to test. I got across to the light fitting, and removed the new bulb from my pocket. At that point I had whatever the opposite of a Eureka! moment is. You see, I’m not terribly keen on heights at the best of times, and I realised that in order to fit the bulb, I’d have to hold the fitting with my left hand, and take out the old one and replace it with my right hand. This, of course, necessitated kneeling on a shaky ladder, 20ft above a very hard surface, and being supported by the only one of the children who was still roughly interested in the rope in his hands. By now, I was sweating and shaking like, perhaps, a Bullingdon piglet.

Naturally, this was also the point at which my wife entered the room. Years later, we were to watch a TV detective series together, where an eager young cop was advised to ‘always look up at a crime scene’, and she instinctively did just that. Keenly, she asked what the f*** I might be doing. I suggested that now was not the time to engage in any sort of lengthy discussion, and that she might like to take herself and remaining children, who were now daring each other to stand under the ladder, away for the moment.

Somehow, and I can’t remember exactly how, I changed the bulb, put the old one back in my pocket, and crawled backwards along the ladder. Again, I’ve no idea how I managed to do this, and I must have also managed a 180 turn at the end to grab onto the balcony. I asked my young assistant to switch the light on, and to both of our surprise, it worked.

We quickly dismantled the ladder, ropes, bungees and wiped down the floor, which was lightly shining in the lamplight, where pools of my sweat had dripped down from the ladder. I called out to my wife and the rest of the kids, and switched the light with the same sort of panache that I imagine Dale Winton might put into switching on the Blackpool illuminations. I might even have said “Tadaah”. My wife didn’t really join in with the celebrations. I think she muttered two words under her breath, in the clever way that she has, so that the kids can’t hear her but I can. The first was two syllables and started with F. The second one began with the letter T and rhymed with ‘flat’. But really deep down, I still reckon she was quite proud of my DIY ways.

Until next time, when I’ll tell you about an evening of non-stick paint, stoned plumbers, and why you should never trust an electrician in a hurry.


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