The Guardian- Do It Yourself
17 January 2010
I've just forked out £5,000 on having my bathroom done up.
Thinking back, it really is a whopping amount of money.
If I wasn't so fussed about having new taps, a fancy‑pants loo and tiles so shiny I can see my face in them,
for that amount of cash I could have gone to the Bahamas, or bought 10 pairs of uber-expensive but so-beautiful-it-hurts shoes.It seems I'm not destined to do much travelling or shoe‑shopping any time soon.
The bathroom may be sorted, but I have a house full of other stuff that needs doing: shelves need putting up, wardrobe rails need adjusting, hooks need to be put on the backs of doors and the kitchen taps are leaking.
I could, of course, do it all myself rather than paying a pro, but a quick reminisce about my previous attempts at DIY never fills me with much confidence in my ability to do so.
A set of blinds went up fine, but came down three days later with a bang. A bang in the middle of the night. A bang so loud that I woke up screaming, convinced someone had broken into my house. Even the wind chimes I'd bought on holiday and hung up with a nail came down the same way.
Always one to persevere, I had a crack at putting up some shelves. This was my greatest success story to date: they stayed up for about two weeks.
Regrettably, throughout this time they moved further and further towards a 90-degree angle until a collection of books ended up in my laundry basket.
I thought life was giving me a big hint as my Jilly Coopers and Viz annuals slowly slid in among my dirty knickers, but blushed when I realised Alan Bennett was using my bra as a bookmark.
Past failures aside, it's fear that has really stifled my attempts to save cash by turning my hand to DIY.
It's the tools that get me the most: the dreadful noise they make and the names they have (I'm sure I once saw a Black and Decker Ezee Maimer).
I'm scared that my attempts to spruce the place up a bit might instead end in a front room decorated with my own blood.But I need to get over it - that much I know. We're in a recession and so some compromises need to be made. I could avoid DIY and call in a pro - and accept having to walk around in Primarni's finest for the foreseeable future - or I could get a backbone and a set of screwdrivers, allowing me the luxury of being able to splurge my cash on a pretty pair of shoes. And I do so much want a new pair of Louboutins.
So I made some inquiries and discovered that just to get someone in to fix the leaky kitchen taps would cost me £100 - £50 for the callout charge and £50 to actually do it. Wow. That's one third of the way to a pair of patent black stilettos with the telltale red soles.
If I could do that myself, plus two other jobs, I could head to Selfridges' shoe department without feeling guilty at all.
So I found a set of instructions on how to fix a leaky tap. It all sounded so simple. First, I worked out that I had a cartridge-type tap (I looked at the big pictures in the book to do this), and then bought the required part - a ceramic disc valve.
I just needed a screwdriver, slip-joint pliers, an adjustable spanner and a cloth.
But what about the drill? DIY stuff always requires some kind of drill, doesn't it? Apparently not.
My brother lent me most of the kit, and the ceramic disc valve was just a fiver and easily sourced from the local hardware shop. So far, so good.The next job was to turn off the isolation valve.
The hunt for this started on the pavement outside my house, but came to a rather abrupt halt when a neighbour informed me that my valve was under my own sink. I'd be in big trouble if I tried to turn off the supply for the whole street, she helpfully added. A hiccup, yes, but just a minor setback: I wasn't reaching for the Yellow Pages to call in a plumber just yet.
I thought step three, removing the tap handle, would prove to be my downfall: after all, so far I'd done
little but visit a shop (something I do pretty much every weekend) and turn something off (again, I've mastered this - I can turn off a lamp with the flick of a switch).
But, much to my surprise, it wasn't. I undid the little screw on the tap head and, well, it came off rather easily. I even remembered to use a little cloth when using the screwdriver near the taps to avoid scratching the surface, as recommended in the tutorial (imagine having scratched taps! What would the neighbours say?). I replaced the valve with a new one, then reassembled everything. No drama, no tears.
Everything seemed to have been a bit too uneventful and go a bit too smoothly for me.
Where was the flood? Why wasn't there water running over my sink?
Why hadn't I had to phone Dad to come and sort out my DIY disaster?
I left the tap running for 10 minutes. No sign of a leak. I couldn't quite believe it was working.
I got up in the middle of the night and checked again. Still no leak - hurrah!With a newfound confidence in my DIY abilities, maybe I can finish the rest of the house without having to fork out another small fortune. But that's for another day: right now I have some serious shoe‑shopping to do ...