Saturday, January 22

Tim Dowling: I fall asleep thinking about the impossibility of each of the repairs I face | diy

IIt’s the season when things fall off your hands: drawer knobs, door latches, cabinet handles. Everywhere there is disintegration and fatigue, even the metal itself. Stretch it, twist it, pull it towards you and it’s yours.

On Monday night, the youngest breaks the brass handle on the latch while trying to open the front door. He shows me the piece, severed by the force of his grip.

“It’s not even like I pulled that hard,” he says.

“How we go out?” I say. We put a screwdriver in the hole and discover that with practice we can free ourselves.

On Wednesday, the cylindrical chrome rod that changes the kitchen faucet from hot to cold comes loose from its socket while I’m washing up, the screw threads have somehow stripped. Nothing I do will make it stick, so I put it on a saucer on a nearby shelf.

The next day, the youngest tugs on the back door handle, just in case.

“I guess I don’t know my own strength,” he says, presenting me with the remains.

“Did you get bitten by a spider or something?” I say. I raise my glasses to examine in detail the fracture’s grainy peaks and valleys, a microscopic landscape contoured along unpredictable lines of stress.

“I was just trying to let the cat out,” he says.

“The thing is, the back door was our emergency exit in case we lost the screwdriver from the front door,” I say, holding the handle up to the light. “What is this, zinc?”

I fall asleep thinking about the impossibility of each of the repairs I face. Some things, once separated, cannot be put back together. There is no such glue. Later I am woken up by a loud tearing crack. I ran down to the kitchen and found the dog in anguish, with the cat flap as a skirt.

The front door lock mechanism is apparently under warranty. A repairman arrives after the weekend and fixes it in a matter of minutes. When I get there to watch him work, he’s gone.

Everything else is my problem. These are questions, I realize, not practical ability but very precise online ordering. Measure twice and cut once, DIY experts say. I say: order the exact same handle and use all the old screw holes.

Unfortunately, there is a lot more to know about door handles than you might have imagined. They come with springs and without springs, for regular or multi-point locking systems, and there is no such thing as a standard size. Manufacturers are also curiously resistant to marks: nowhere on my handle can I find a mark that says who made it, even after taking it apart.

I spend two days educating myself, plus another afternoon taking precise measurements, before I’m sure I’ve found a suitable replacement. With a huge surge of satisfaction, I hit Confirm Order.

That night I find my wife looking at new cat flaps online.

“Don’t do that without me,” I say.

“Why not?” she says. “Did you want to choose the color?”

“We need one that’s big enough for the dog, but small enough for the existing hole,” I say. “We need, in short, exactly the same.”

“This one looks the same,” she says.

“We are not guided by appearances,” I say. I’m going to get a tape measure.

On Friday afternoon my bracelets arrive. It feels like my birthday. I shred the packaging with excitement, pull out a handle and examine it closely: anodized silver, dual suspension, multi-point compatible. So I look down at the box.

The next time my wife walks through the room, I have my head in my hands.

“Bad, all bad,” I say.

“Looks good to me,” she says, pushing the handle.

You have no idea I say.

“Please don’t tell me,” she says.

I call the number on the invoice. After many minutes, a voice answers.

Shelly speaking. How can I help?” he says. I tell Shelley my name and reference number.

“The ProLinea, right?” she says.

“Yes, I do. “But I ordered the model with the 240mm back plate. This is the 220. There is a long silence at the other end.

“Oh no,” Shelley says. “That’s not good.” Shelley, I realize, is the only person in the world who understands what I’m going through. She knows exactly how misaligned my screw holes are.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“It’s not your fault,” she says. “I’ll send you the correct one, but it won’t be processed until Monday.”

“Okay, Shelley,” I say. But I know that she knows that I’m broken.

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