I awoke with renewed clarity, owing to a rare Saturday-night free from binge-drinking. Eight hours of undisturbed sleep had ordained me with new abilities and confidence. I was ready to tackle a task which had previously seemed impossible.
I padded out of the bedroom, being careful not to wake Nicola, and opened the cupboard under the stairs. Inside, the route to my target was blocked by a thicket of mop handles, hoover shafts and ironing boards. On another day, this would have sent me retreating back to my warm bed. But not today. I parted the Forrest of Domesticity and launched an arm towards the shadowy whereabouts of the neglected object. I had it. I pulled sharply, bringing the surrounding brooms and buckets careering out of the cupboard. My bare feet took some blows, but I was not deterred. The tool-box was out.
My ‘tool-box’ was actually just a plastic storage container that had been reassigned to house ad-hoc instruments I had collected over the years. Rather than being stored in neat compartments, as with a traditional tool-box, the items formed organic layers, like a sedimentary cross-section in a geography textbook. At the top were larger, bulkier items, such as a power drill which had been passed on to me by a friend who had mistaken me for a ‘real man’, and an electric screwdriver whose maiden voyage could yet prove to be its last. Underneath this solid outer crust you will find a hammer, wrench, miniature saw and Stanley knife, untidily arranged like torturer’s bedside table. At the bottom of these layers, the smaller items rattled around — nails, screws, nuts and bolts of all varieties, never to be touched again by human hands. It was too dangerous to try and save them. If I ever required the use of these items in the future, I would need to buy new ones and then empty the surplus into the tool-box, letting them slip through the porous cracks to find their resting place amongst their long-lost brothers.
Like a surgeon intent on not slicing his own hands and livelihood, I removed the instruments I needed with great care. In this case: some miniaturised screwdrivers which specialised in ‘precision’, for this was a job which required a deft touch. I rustled into a plastic Wilko’s bag for the subject of this delicate procedure: a ‘dimmer switch’.
The recently updated lighting in the kitchen was powerful enough to illuminate the pitch at Wembley Stadium on a dark January night. Filth and muck stood out like acne under the unforgiving LED spotlights and should a guest enter the room and switch on the beams unsuspectingly, we could well be liable for irreversible retina damage. Worst of all, the fearsome light made everyone look revolting and our friendships would likely suffer as a consequence. Something had to be done.
I glanced over the dimmer’s instructions as a courtesy — someone had gone to the trouble of putting the thing together — and began unscrewing the current switch (merely capable of ‘on’ and ‘off’ functions). I decided to turn off the power at the mains. This seemed a sensible reaction to the revelation of the nest of wires behind the switch’s casing, one of which was red and looked angry at being exposed to the world without warning.
I had assumed this would be an operation akin to removing and inserting a Game Boy cartridge, but with the discovery of the wires, a more challenging puzzle had presented itself. However, my confidence had not waned and I felt reassured by a faint memory of an episode of The Crystal Maze, where the contestant had to connect an over-sized battery to an oversized-door bell. I could not recall if they were successful in obtaining the crystal.
I ploughed on, reassured by the safety precautions I had now put in place.
It was time to perform the keyhole surgery required to remove the minuscule screws from the back of the dimmer switch. I shed the packaging from the precision screwdrivers and using nothing but my naked eye, selected the tool for the job. On realising it was too large for the job, I picked another tool with a slightly smaller head.
‘What’s all that swearing about?’ Something had stirred Nicola from her Sunday lie-in. Some of us had things to do around here, you know?
I used all the force I could muster, but there was no give. I went to the fridge for a hit of orange juice to lift my spirit so I could tackle it again.
I hardened my grip around the narrow neck of the screwdirver, digging the grooved grip deep into the pad of my thumb. I pushed the instrument into the screw head and turned with all the power that Florida oranges instilled in me.
This was simply a hurdle I could not overcome. The tip of my thumb had blistered into a plasma dome the size of an M&M (normal variety, not peanut).
I gathered the tools, packaging and light-switch confectionary and dumped it all back into the tool-box, letting nature organise them into the correct layers.
Dejected, I climbed back into bed and inspected my throbbing thumb. I poked and pinched it. The thick skin showed no signs of rupture, so I continued to prod and twist. It was a satisfying distraction from my reaffirmed failings as a handyman.
An epiphany: Had I been turning the screw the wrong way?
The blister broke, spotting the duvet in an impressive amount serum. I turned over and went to back sleep.