Putting off the Inevitable | Pushing the Wave

Putting off the Inevitable

Opinion, 18 February 2024
by L.A. Davenport
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A bag of tools and a drill: DIY is not a simple pleasure for everyone.
They say ‘once bitten, twice shy’. Well, I must have been bitten very badly, and more than once, when it comes to DIY, as I try to avoid it like the plague.

I am not quite sure why, however.

I never had to do any when I was young, and after university, which required nothing more than the pressing of Blu Tack onto unsuitable walls to put up old music posters and the occasional drawing pin or two to hold up a square of tie dyed cloth (don’t judge, students are meant to be hippy), I managed to get away with simply changing the odd lightbulb from time to time, alongside the obligatory assembly of IKEA furniture (about which I could write a book, but won’t).

After all, there have to be some advantages to rented accommodation, and trying to convince reluctant estate agents to spend money on behalf of the equally reluctant property owners for essential renovations is part and parcel of the experience (especially as we all know that delaying a DIY job means it will be that much bigger and more expensive by the time it is undertaken).

Why on earth, the argument goes, should the renter go to the expense of, and spend the time doing, repairs and upgrades for which the proprietors will, in the long run, be the beneficiaries.

This mentality of not wanting to invest in your home if you do not own it also stems from, in the UK at least, renters being in a rather precarious position in terms of their rights. Not only can and do estate agents find any old pretext to get rid of tenants when they are no longer desired for whatever reason, but in London at least you are typically offered only six-month or one-year contracts, with the result that you never feel as if you can put your feet under the table, so to speak, and settle down.

As a consequence, I barely put hammer to nail or saw to wood in nearly 20 years of renting in the capital. And when I moved out to the sunny midlands of Lincolnshire, I again rented, but this time with an organisation that, for the first time since university, treated me as a desirable occupant of their property, rather than a piece with the insects that one might find if one should be so bold as to go rooting around behind the kitchen cupboards.

The result was they carried out all the necessary jobs around the flat almost as soon as I asked.
Suffice to say that, when I finally became a homeowner, I was faced with a whole new world of experiences and challenges, not least because the chosen flat was in desperate need of renovation.

I estimated at the time that no one had sought to update the interior since the 1970s, but once that was stripped back and the parlous state of the electrics and plumbing was revealed, I wondered if I had been too generous.

It was certainly clear that the place had been touched with little more than a feather duster and a mop only once since its construction, along with the rest of the building, in 1935.

There was nothing for it. I, and some extremely kind friends and family, had to roll up their sleeves and get on with it. So, for the first time, I found myself in my local home improvement store confronted by aisle after aisle of tools, materials, paint, wood, flooring, fixtures and fittings, all demanding an instant opinion and decision.

What kind of taps do you want? To go with which sink? But you’ve also got to consider the shower. What style do you like? What sort of base? Which dimensions? And the cabin? Open or closed? If closed, what kind of doors? And clear glass? Or frosted? Or maybe you’d prefer a pattern?

Don’t forget the toilet. You want that to look right with the rest of the bathroom. And you want cupboards for all your toiletries, right? There’s twenty here. Pick one, now.

And there’s the tiles, of course. Hundreds and hundreds of different combinations and sizes, in row after row, neatly stretching off into the distance. Which ones do you want to stand next to for the foreseeable future while you wash your bits every morning? Surely you must already have thought about that.

AAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!! I have no idea!!! I don’t care!!! I just want to run away and hide!!!

And that was just for the bathroom. It was the same story, over and over again, as I made my way around the flat and was confronted will a million different options for things I had never even considered before.

Having started living in London just after the start of the property boom and watched it turn into an all-consuming explosion, the idea of actually owning a place and being able to make such decisions was so remote that I wasn’t going to torture myself by thinking about my ideal kitchen tap or perfect bathroom tiles. I was just grateful to have an acceptable place in which to live and pursue whatever aspect of my personal ambitions my conditions allowed.

Anything else was, frankly, outside of my budget and my concern.
Once you have made all those unwanted decisions, the next stage is of course to renovate the damn place, as you curse yourself for not having enough money to buy somewhere that had already been done up (leaving aside the reality that, no matter how nicely it is finished, you will still want to adapt it to your tastes).

That is the stage I hated the most. And the aspect within the actual DIY that grated on me above all else was that I was forced to confront my own inadequacy. Looking back, it is obvious that I would have been rubbish with a drill and a hammer. How could I have been anything else? I had never carried out any home improvements before.

But that didn’t stop my frustration as I was inevitably returned to the pupil–teacher dynamic by well-meaning expert friends who found my clumsy inability amusing, especially in someone who was no spring chicken.

Once I had swallowed my ego, realised there was no way around it: I had to knuckle down and get on with it, no matter how much home improvements were ‘not my thing’.

In the end, the jobs were done, the flat was renewed and I learned a plethora of skills (not all of them well) that I had previously thought were beyond me. I cannot say I actually enjoyed any of the DIY, but I can say I derived a great deal of satisfaction from my achievements; satisfaction that I still appreciate several years later.
But why am I telling you this now, when my DIY hell took place over five years ago? Well, the one thing I seem not to have learned from my previous experiences is that something I said near the beginning: if you leave a job that needs doing, it only gets worse with time.

Stupidly, I knew there was a problem with the tiles in the bathroom (no, I didn’t put them up, in case you are wondering), with a gap in the joints between a couple steadily widening and taking in not just one but three rows of the damn things. But I repeatedly turned a blind eye, even when it became apparent a few months ago that it was becoming a serious issue.

So this week, I bit the bullet and found myself once again wandering the aisles of my local home improvement store, looking for tools, materials and more. But I wasn’t overwhelmed this time, and I wasn’t dragged there kicking and screaming.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some tool belt-wearing convert to all things DIY, but I have accepted that, like the putting out the bin and cleaning drains, there are some things in life that need doing, and there’s just no getting away from it.
Aside from grappling with my bathroom, I have been plotting, writing and preparing this week, and the result is there is not one but two books that are approaching the point of being ready to be sent out into the world.

Work also continues on a play, and I had an idea for a book in one fell swoop that, depending on how it comes together, may end up jumping the queue and be the next thing I write. We shall see!

Other bits are happening, some musical, but they will take, I suspect, a little more time to cook.
© L.A. Davenport 2017-2024.

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Putting off the Inevitable | Pushing the Wave