Bob’s wife has been urging him to do more work around the house.
I don’t mean things like the washing up or vacuuming the carpets – God knows, she tried that before, and it ended with her drinking an entire bottle of gin in one sitting – no, I mean the ‘little’ tasks such as putting up shelves or fitting new internal doors or hanging pictures.
Just why anyone would encourage someone like Bob to engage in activities that involve sharp edges, high speed motors, cutting blades, heavy blunt instruments or pointy pieces of metal is totally beyond my comprehension, but who am I to judge these things?
I had occasion to go round to their house recently, and was startled when Bob proudly showed me the shelves he had recently put up in the alcove in the living room. Now, I am certainly not someone who regards himself as a handyman in that respect, and my opinion of DIY is that it is something to be avoided at all costs, but even I could have made a far better fist of it than Bob did.
The shelves contained a few books and two or three very large ornaments which, I suppose, had been chosen due to their shape and mass being such that they were unlikely to slide off of the shelves, despite the unusual slope of those shelves.
‘What do you think?’ he asked, proudly. ‘Gina is very pleased with them.’ He indicated his wife who was standing in the doorway. As I glanced at her, she gave me a look that was nothing if not inscrutable.
‘I’m quite impressed, Bob,’ I said, which was true, since I was unaware of him even changing a fuse before. ‘Is this the first time you’ve put up a shelf?’
‘Oh, no,’ he said, looking slightly hurt. ‘I put a shelf up in the garage, last week.’ I raised my eyebrows.
‘You’ve found a new hobby, then.’
‘I can’t think why I haven’t done this before.’ His enthusiasm was obviously sincere. ‘There is so much to do around here. We’re getting a new kitchen cabinet next week, which will need putting up, and it would cost a fortune to pay some bloke to come and do it, so if I do it we’ll save that money.’ I stared at him, quite unsure what to reply. ‘And Gina wants me to cut the hedge this afternoon,’ he continued. ‘I’ve never really been into gardening, but I’m rather looking forward to it.’
From the living room there came a crash! and the sound of heavy objects hitting a carpeted floor fairly hard. ‘What was that?’
‘Nothing,’ said Gina, mildly. I looked at her sharply, aware that she was usually Bob’s fiercest critic, but she merely smiled at me and sipped her tea. A little later I went out to the garage with Bob.
‘This is the shelf I put up,’ he said, proudly, indicating a plank of wood somehow clinging to the wall just below the ceiling. To get anything down, Bob would clearly have to use a step-ladder.
‘Why so high up?’
‘Gina suggested that it would be a good place to put some of the bigger tools, so they weren’t in the way. I stared up at the shelf from the opposite side of the garage. I could make out a heavy hammer, an electric drill, and…
‘Is that a chainsaw, Bob?’
‘Yes. Gina wants me to take down that old tree at the bottom of the garden. It was a real bargain.’ I stood silently for a moment, as a thought struck me.
‘A bargain? Where did you get it?’
‘At the Saturday market in Umbridge.’ The market was notorious for selling cheap imported electrical goods from the far east, most of which had faulty wiring with no earth, and dubious import licenses, and other, heavier, tools that had been chucked out because they were no longer reliable.
‘Right. Your idea?’
‘No, Gina’s. A friend told her about them.
‘Right. Um. And the hedge this afternoon?’ He indicated a hedge-trimmer that lay on the workbench. It was big. Very big. I don’t really know about such things, but it looked as though it was designed for seriously heavy work. ‘Is that electrical?’
‘No, petrol driven. Same as the chainsaw.’ I scratched my chin thoughtfully, and as I did so I gradually became aware of a muffled sound that was not unlike that of an electric drill, coming through the wall from the house. Bob seemed not to notice it, and I decided not to mention it.
‘Bob, were there any instructions with that?’
‘No, but it’ll be easy enough to operate. These things are all quite similar to each other,’ he said, confidently.
‘Do me a favour,’ I pleaded. ‘At least get a book out of the library on this, and learn how to use it before you start.’ He shrugged.
‘If you think it important.’
‘I do, yes.’
We strolled around the garden, and Bob pointed out the jobs and ‘improvements’ that he had been asked to do. Eventually, and much against my better judgement, I have to say, I offered to come and help him, or to at least keep an eye on him. He smiled broadly at this.
‘Great! I’ll get a few beers!’
‘We can have them afterwards,’ I said, hastily.
We went back indoors. In the living room, the shelves were still up, and still filled with books and ornaments. In fact, Gina was in the process of adding more books as we came in. I stared at the shelves, and I stared at Gina, who returned my stare coolly.
The shelves were now perfectly level.