I froze. I tried to find somewhere to hide but it was pointless. I was exposed. My instinct was to run, but fear gripped my whole body and all I could do was whimper silently to myself as I contemplated what was happening. As I sunk to my knees and tried to make myself melt into the shadows of despair that had surrounded me, I heard that terrifying voice speak again…”darling, did you hear me? I’d like to redecorate the bathroom”.
Never have so few words elicited such a bad response from me. After all, I am in my early thirties, in great health and full of confidence, so I fear very little. But somehow I knew that nothing in life could prepare me for what my darling wife casually referred to as “redecorate” the bathroom.
To set my fear in context, I ought to explain that I was raised solely by my mum, and have therefore never been into DIY. While my mum raised me superbly, DIY was never on the curriculum. In fact, for the first 16 years of my life I was merrily using kitchen knives to wire in plugs, and rolling pins to hammer in nails into concrete walls. To this day I still don’t understand why our pictures never stayed up!
I remember once being party to a decorating project of my mother’s, and we were trying to wallpaper the dining room. The hanging was so bad that we had to visit a DIY store to buy self-adhesive bordering to hide the 4 inch gaps where the wall met the ceiling….we didn’t know it was self-adhesive bordering until a week later when it peeled off the wall leaving the gummed backing left behind.
You get the point…decorating to me was like stairs to a darlek.
My wife noticed the pained anguish in my face and wondered if I was having a stroke, particularly as I hadn’t spoken a word for a good few minutes even though my mouth was trying to scream out…”NO”. Thankfully it wasn’t and I regained enough strength to look up and meet her soft innocent eyes and say, “really? Do we have to?”
Of course we all know the answer to that. Benjamin Franklin once stated that “nothing in this world can be certain, except death and taxes”. Well what Mr. Franklin failed to mention was that a woman with an idea in her mind is also pretty unstoppable. Maybe he wasn’t married…
So the motion was passed.
At first it all seemed very civilised. We would investigate what needed to be done before committing to any larger works. The main problem with the bathroom was the fake wall or ‘boxing out’ behind the toilet; it was floor to ceiling and exceedingly wide. Our bathroom is quite small and therefore this boxing seemed totally unnecessary and surely could be reduced. So I gathered my tools, a slightly bent screwdriver that I keep in my man draw, and a flash light that was no more useful than squinting, and we began. We started by unscrewing the panel and taking it down. Two things hit us and set the tone for the whole project…one, the panel we took down looked very much like asbestos and was beginning to crumble. And two, the boxing was hiding the biggest cast-iron soil vent pipe you’ll ever see. At first it could have been mistaken as an extra on the classic movie ‘The Guns of Naverone’, but no, this pipe was apparently necessary to service our apartment and our neighbour’s underneath. Heaven knows what kind of usage was planned when this was installed. I still to this day believe that it could have serviced a sizable settlement of curry loving IBS sufferers.
Testing proved that it was indeed asbestos, and it needed to be removed immediately. Great. Our gentle investigation had already cost us nearly £500 for testing and removal. “This is exactly why I hate DIY” I remonstrated with my wife. Left alone secrets stay hidden and can be blissfully ignored.
During the asbestos removal the toilet cistern had to be rehung gingerly on a temporary surface. The removal man who hung it upon a single nail stated quite clearly that this must be made firm by tomorrow. It was 6 weeks before we were able to take his advice. We used a clever system of green garden string to take the weight of the cistern and left it there until we could replace it. Using the toilet suddenly felt like a game of Russian roulette and we wondered which one of us would be given a full body bidet flush.
Thankfully it never happened.
Now we were committed. There was no turning back and a full scale project was in full flow. So we did everything, the tiles, the sink, the toilet, the radiator. At one point I feared that I was to be upgraded due to my wife’s keen desire to get rid of anything that had been around for too long. I am happy to announce that I survived the cut.
The story should be fairly straight forward from here on. We requested a quote from a local plumber to do the work and we booked him in. Actually we requested a few quotes from a number of tradesmen but two of them ran from the house screaming when they saw the vent pipe and claimed that, during a recession, they actually didn’t need much money to live and therefore didn’t want the work. (One of them was even a retired plumber who liked working on odd jobs. Suddenly he decided that he needed to spend more time with his wife. We saw through it of course).
The plumber that agreed to do the work, Gary,(who else?) came and like a true British plumber bashed, ripped, hammered, and stomped his way around our tiny bathroom like a pro. After much sweating, tea drinking and cigarette breaks, Gary had finished. Beautiful. Our bathroom started to look like page 54 of Ikea’s latest catalogue and we were happy as it had previously resembled page 28 of how to ‘spot a condemned house’ handbook.
While the bathroom had the large heavy work finished, there were a few issues that needed addressing by our great plumber. The toilet wasn’t screwed down and almost flung me off upon the first time of asking, the taps all leaked and needed tightening, and the towel radiator had a leak and therefore couldn’t be used.
Gary was a true gent though and returned to fix his errors.
This just left the small task of rebuilding the boxing out behind the toilet, tiling the entire bathroom, fitting the shower screen, re-plastering the walls and ceiling, getting a new bathroom light installed, and finally decorating and buying liquid soap dispensers that, according to my wife, were in keeping with the room. I always thought soap was selected on how clean it gets your hands…a number of hours perusing home-ware shops soon corrected my erroneous thinking.
The biggest problem we encountered with the work left to do was the tiling around the shower. Once we had completed the tiling and I tried to refit the shower it became evident that the tiles were thicker than the previous and the pipework no longer matched. How frustrating. Only a few millimetres separated us from the glory of finishing the bathroom, but the problem was huge. After visiting nearly every DIY store and plumbing trade outlets to find a suitable way of extending the fittings, it seemed that I was destined to rip off all the tiling on that shower wall, remove the pipework and replace it. Tears do not come naturally to me, but I must have been close as my darling wife even tapped me loving on the back and said “there, there”. However, all was not lost. British engineering came to my rescue and saved the day. I bought an elbow fitting that gave me the length I needed but had the wrong size connection at one end, and I was able to get a metal working company to precision drill it to the exact size I needed. They even pressure tested the connection and it was perfect. The elbow fitted and the shower was installed.
What started off as a quick job turned out to be a long and complicated ordeal. Yes it needed doing, but it dragged on for 6 months and, at times, caused us both considerable anguish. Not being a natural at DIY meant that the job probably took longer than it ought to have, but there are many positives to come out of it.
What this experience has taught me is that life is too short not to give things a go. I wonder how I would feel when I am old and unable to do much else in life, knowing that I had never tried things or given up because it was too difficult. What would I say to me now as a 33 year old man with so much potential? I’m sure that I would entreat myself to try everything and not hold back. Yes it can be painful, yes it can be utterly frustrating, but the rewards are totally worth it. Every time I walk into my beautiful bathroom I feel a sense of achievement and pride. The project also provided a hobby for me and my wife, and we spent many days together working towards a shared goal. And the end result is that I am not so afraid of DIY anymore; I even have a fully kitted out tool bag and can tackle plumbing. At times the project couldn’t have gotten any worse, but we overcame it, so I am more willing to turn my hand to anything else that needs fixing.
That being said, when asked if the front room needed upgrading I found the voice to say “not yet dear, not yet”.