Monday, August 10, 2009

Home improvements

Our garage is not the most practical of spaces.

It's narrow - if you drive the car into it, you'd best be going straight. And it's short - if you fit the car inside and shut the door behind, there's no room to walk around the front. The door to the inside of the house is a rickety sliding thing that is, quite literally, hanging off its track by two barely-attached castors. And the door you drive in through is broken - it takes a good deal of dexterity, strength and, not least, raw courage to open and shut it.

The former owners didn't use it as a garage. The male half of the sketch, whom we'll call Malcolm, claimed it was an office - there was a computer and a phone in there - but I've since discovered that the phone point wasn't actually wired up, so I have my doubts that he did a great deal of productive work. More likely it was just a space to hide from the kids and play Age of Empires.

And he stored his kayak in there.

That's not as noteworthy here as it would be back home. Remember, here in NZ every able-bodied male between 15 and 30 is pretty much required by law to take part in some kind of strenuous physical sport on a regular basis. (Well, there is no actual law, but since most other activities are either illegal, financially impracticable or socially ostracised, it's near enough.)

This particular kayak lived a pampered life, roosting contentedly in an elaborate mostly-wooden frame constructed around the ceiling of the garage. The former owner, who described himself as "a carpenter", built this structure himself. I hadn't given it much thought, until the garage door salesman - a gentleman named Trevor - told me that the huge chipboard platform on which the kayak used to rest, would have to go.

Easy enough, I thought, and budgeted Saturday morning for the job.

Saturday afternoon, then, found me in the garage armed only with a stepladder, a stout steel hammer, and some ill-assorted gardening tools, admiring Malcolm's handiwork.

I have had occasion before to worry about Macolm's finesse as a carpenter. It has seemed to me that he subscribes to the school of workmanship that holds that strength derives not from engineering or design, but from the sheer mass of timber. Hammer enough nails into enough wood, holds this school, and you can make pretty much anything stand up. And indeed, in the kayak's nest, Malcolm had outdone himself. The structure I now found myself contemplating involved at least 12 separate pieces of stout timber and a huge platform of chipboard, the whole nailed firmly together and covered with a coat of glossy white paint. According to Trevor's instructions, about half of this structure had to come down.

With ease and grace, I removed the two and a half metres of cushioned steel pipe that the kayak's prow had rested on, standing my trophy to the back of the garage. Then it was time to attack the frame proper.

Initial skirmishes established that it was possible, with patience and strength, to remove a three-inch nail using nothing but the trusty hammer, plus some leverage that was best applied by abusing the hedging shears. I learned from experience that there is an angle, in prying nails, at which when the hammer inevitably slips, the handle will connect sharply with one's nose. With an unaccustomed burst of fellow-feeling for Oliver Hardy, I resolved to eschew this angle in future.

After about 40 minutes, I had removed all the nails holding the chipboard platform in place, and was ready to take it down. But how, precisely, does one safely move 30 kilos of MDF, in the approximate size and shape of a queen-sized bed, from above-head-height to ground level?

My first plan was to pull it out of its far resting place, and let the far end drop as the gentle dew from heaven upon the floor beneath. That plan was thwarted by the garage's sliding door, which perversely persisted in holding up one corner of the damn' thing. By now it's wedged between other pieces of timber, and it won't be budged sideways. Not by me, anyway.

Then I thought of standing below, and dislodging it using the steel pipe. I trusted I would have enough time to leap nimbly out of the way. But once again, the stubbornly supportive sliding door baffled my every attempt to move it. In some frustration I pounded on the bottom of the platform, to be rewarded with small, pipe-shaped indentations appearing. I left the pipe propping up the far side of the platform, reasoning that anything that changed the equilibrium could only be to the good.

I re-mounted the stepladder. The platform and I glared resentfully at one another.

After a few more minutes of this uffish thought business, it seemed to me that there was, indeed, a direction in which it might be possible to move the damn' thing. With huffing and puffing, seeing and sawing, straining and cursing, I manoeuvred it out of its stuck configuration and slid it back, further towards the far end, until suddenly the near end was loose of its support.

At the far end, the makeshift pole swivelled and tilted alarmingly towards the garage's huge window.

At this moment, it dawned on me that this was a two-person job.

Here was I, standing atop a stepladder and reaching over an eight-inch wooden beam to support half my own body weight in solid MDF. Releasing it now would, I suspected, result in complications to the tune of a two-metre radius of shattered plate glass. Going back was impossible; the only way was down. And that involved climbing down, while holding up the platform...

"Darling!", I bleated plaintively for the helpmeet. She, I realised, was in the back garden, well out of earshot.

"Help!" I yelled at the top of my lungs.

I dug my mobile phone out of its holster, and texted her: "Help!" From near at hand, I heard her phone beep.

I dialled the house's landline number. Surely, I thought, she'd hear that thing ringing even from the garden. That hope buoyed me through another three minutes.

Theoretically I could stand here and wait until she came back for the shears or the pruning saw; but she's grown very keen on the garden, and is quite capable of spending the entire afternoon doing nothing but grubbing out suspected weeds. Waiting doesn't appeal.

I could call our friend Matt, there's a good chance he's at home right now, he could be here in ten minutes. But even if he were available, that would entail a certain amount of good-natured ribbing. Besides, he said he was working this afternoon.

No, I'd started this thing on my own, and that was how I would have to finish it.

With the last reserves of my strength, I hefted the platform back up and shoved it back across the top of the amazingly supportive sliding door. The pipe-pole teetered.

Then I clambered down the stepladder, straining to hold up the unsupported corner as I did so. At any moment I expected the platform to twist and lunge for its revenge. To my gratified surprise, I achieved the ground without that happening.

I secured the pole, then gave the gentlest of tugs on the free corner. The platform, gracious in defeat, crashed harmlessly to the floor.

The rest of the structure, by comparison, came quietly. A determined attack with the pruning saw reduced the proud, stout beam to two easily-twisted cantilevers. It was the work of minutes to demolish the rest of Malcolm's handiwork, and consign the wreckage to the garden shed.

And our garage is one step closer to being used for its designed purpose.


Jantar said...

Cool story. Me, I'm all thumbs - and I don't mean this in a 'Homo sapiens is distinguished from other species by his opposable thumbs' way.

So, I'm glad I have no garage.

(I do have a very cheap and amiable Polish handyman though, who comes and does stuff whenever I call him.)

Anonymous said...

Epic. You should keep the sliding door; it's very supportive.


vet said...

Thank you for your kind comments. I felt the story was a tad over-length, but I needed to get it off my chest.

Deadlyjelly said...


I kept waiting for the bit where the frame came crashing down and you managed to escape certain death by throwing yourself off the ladder, but unfortunately your arms were crushed by the avalanche of MDF, explaining the dearth of posts recently (I wouldn't believe how long it takes to type with your nose).

I have to say, your account was almost as good without it :-D


Cian said...

Very Enjoyable Read... very funny and very well written.

After reading Deadlyjelly's comment, it makes me proud to be Irish (does not happen too often). I admit that I was thinking along similar lines when reading it (apart from the nose typing - that is just too warped). The Irish really love to find extra drama in things. Of course we never exaggerate though...

Cian said...

After seeing the Live Feed knew which website I came from I was rather impressed, so I decided to look further at this wonderful technology.

But I am a bit dumbfounded - One of your Kiwi neighbours found your blog by searching for "what toddlers learn from flipping chairs upside down."

1. That it can be sore if it backfires on you.
2. It is more difficult to do the heavier the chair or the object on the chair is.
3. It is good for a laugh when there is an old person sitting on the chair.
4. Best not to do it when your drunk father is sitting on it.
5. You could record it and send the clip into tv-land and get 1000$ or something for it.

But what I really want to know is why did somebody search for it? Were they expecting to find a scientific paper written by some 4 year old on the topic. My mind does not compute and wants to explode.

vet said...

Thank you, DJ and Cian.

Since installing that widget, I'm unendingly fascinated by the Google searches that bring people here. I've learned people can be interested in almost anything if you add the words "upside down" to it.

I suppose I could click the "monetize" button, then start blogging about hot barely-legal Asian teen action. Surely a guaranteed niche market there. But I don't think I could keep it up. So to speak.