Saturday, 13 August 2011

Hammering home

Any degree of traditional incompetence can be overcome when you find yourself unexpectedly working on your own house. 

It’s hammer time!  Or could it be hammer horror…

“Do you want a job” asked our builder, handing me a hammer.  I’d so far shied away from helping for two reasons, one of them being that I knew how much Rose loved strapping on her tool-belt, and I’d never dream of taking that opportunity away from her.
The other reason was that I’d never been very good at it.  Perhaps it was a hand-eye coordination thing, or maybe it was the same unfamiliarity with everyday objects which makes Rose wonder if I really might be from another planet – but tools and me just never seemed to mesh.  As a kid, trying to help Dad nearly always resulted in me running for cover from a loud burst of Caledonian expletives, while a banding system at school saw me rarely set foot in a wood or metal-working class.  Actually, I recall that when I did the result was my one and only caning.

However, Rose was away for the following three days, and I had absolutely no reason at all to refuse.  I reluctantly took the hammer and then listened intently while Dean described what he needed me to do, frowning with what I hoped looked like intense concentration.  Living in what is categorised as an extremely high wind zone, all of our timber connections needed to be reinforced by ‘hardware’: variously shaped nail plates, braces, and other metal joiners.  Amazingly, it made sense: I could see how, why and where so set to it, grateful that I was working on the opposite side of the house to Dean and he wouldn’t see the hash I might be making.
The second amazing thing began to happen.  Sure, I would have been painfully slow by his standards but not only was I enjoying myself, but it felt completely natural and relatively effortless.  The nails almost seemed to disappear into the timber of their own accord, even those in areas difficult to access.

Ed wonders why we need all this ‘hardware’

I worked briefly in the film industry on leaving design school as a Production/Art assistant.  During a shoot I remember attaching a filter to some lighting equipment with perfectly even and carefully positioned strips of gaffer tape, before having the roll taken off me and used up to entirely smother what I had done.  “You’ve used an art department solution to an engineering problem”, I was told.  I’m certain the same held true for my ‘hardware attaching’: every plate I nailed into position was as straight as I could possibly make it and precisely positioned, unmarked by stray hammer blows.  But it’s my house after all, and I’m allowed to have it well-reinforced and still looking good.

I happily hammered away for the following three days, often continuing after Dean had left .  I think he enjoyed the company, and the fact that I was saving him from what would be to him a mundane and tedious job.  The fact that with every nail I hammered in, I was making my own home stronger made it a supremely satisfying experience for me.
A couple of days later, I took some time off to help Dean lift the heavy roof beams into position. The day was still (unlike the weekend) and gradually became hot (in early August!) meaning we worked without shirts for some of the time.  The lifting went without a hitch and fitted perfectly, both of us amazed at how quickly it all came together.  It was the complete opposite of our experience concreting the piles into position in a southerly storm and despite working all day I felt as if I’d had a holiday when I headed back to work.
Finally cool with tools at the age of 45, I’m looking forward to many more days like this one.
It’s coming together nicely!  (The roof beams Dean and I put into place are on the upper right)

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