There are certain moments in life best dealt with by embracing old-fashioned gender-specific failings. I have seen the toughest women crumble when presented with a spider in the bath, and watched as characteristically soft men stride forth, all puffy-chested pride, armed with a newspaper and a pint glass to capture the beast. When lost, there is nothing a male companion could do to endear himself more than take charge, pick a direction, and get us swiftly un-lost. As long as he does find us, eventually, I’ll never mention the glimmer of terror in his eyes, nor the white-knuckled grip with which he held his iPhone, which told us our exact co-ordinates on an expanse of blank grey grid. Pretend so long as it’s doable.
Other times, when it can be so quickly and conclusively proven that the manly task at hand is just too manly for a regular joe, said regular joe should shake his head, put his cards on the table and fold. In the long run it’s bound to be less embarrassing for everyone involved, and I’m only going to have to get another man in to fix the resultant hole in the wall – but I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me backtrack. In the space between this line and the next you can imagine a wibbly wobbly Wayne’s World flashback effect if it helps.
My flatmate and I had been living in our new place for some months before we made the necessary journey to Ikea. Having managed to negotiate the maze and emerge with only the items I needed and nothing more (no silver lemon tablecloth weights for me, thank you very much!) (I already have those) (I do not own a tablecloth, no) I was feeling buoyant. The ubiquitous Billy bookcase, a lamp, a box full of the kind of lightbulbs needed for said lamp which for some reason are only available at Ikea, a mirror, a black-out blind, a pocket of stolen miniature pencils and a belly full of Swedish meatballs. Not a bag of tealights to be found among my stash. I was a sickening picture of self-congratulatory smug. We didn’t even have a fight. I bought us jellybeans for the ride home.
At the flat, a visiting lesbian with a hard-on for flat-pack furniture begged me to let her assemble my bookcase. I left her and the Allen key to it and went to the pub, where I wondered how I manage to get so lucky. In my career as an adult, I have successfully assembled exactly no flat-pack furniture. In my Brixton houseshare I took the pieces of a potential chest of drawers out of the cardboard box, spread them out on the floor in my tiny bedroom, then cried for a full ten minutes. The lesbian who lived in the basement told me to go to the pub, and when I returned an hour later I found a gleaming chest of drawers installed in the corner of my room. On my most recent return from the pub I found the Billy bookcase assembled but for the actual shelves. A note explained that she wasn’t sure if I would be shelving Penguin paperbacks or hardcover art books, so she left it to my better judgement. I was astounded then as I am astounded now at the thought that went into it, and the distinct lack of tears and leftover pieces. I felt like the father in the delivery room being sent out for the hot water they never actually use.
The other purchases needed no assembling but that still left the problem of the blind, the urgent catalyst for our visit to Ikea. It was the middle of Summer, and when the sun hit that window at the seemingly impossible time of all the times, it was like the Day the Earth Caught Fire. I have sat in my room wearing the blackest sunglasses on more than one hungover occasion. I was routinely getting up at 5am with the birds, like an old man in his eighties reliving the war. Something had to be done. Unfortunately, I suspected tools would need to be employed.
I put the call out on Twitter. Did I know people who thumbtacked bedsheets over their windows or did I know real men who could install a blind? Mostly, predictably, it was the former, but there was a reply from one guy I knew. Sort of. He was Australian and therefore, by some sort of racist stereotype ingrained from birth, good with manly stuff. He even had a drill, he said.
DISCLOSURE: I knew the guy had something of a crush of me, and the window in question is right next to my bed. But the threat of awkward one-sided sexual tension somewhat outweighed my selfish need to have a shadowy lie-in.
And so, I told him to come round.
There is no way on Earth he owned a drill before that afternoon. Unwrapping the cellophane on his Black & Decker, his cheery face had all the hopes and fears of someone who had seen it done before and it didn’t look so hard. My flatmate even asked him if he’d be up for assembling a utility shelf in the laundry, you know, given he had the tools already. He said of course he would, no problem at all, and perhaps it’s my memory playing tricks on me but I could swear he spread his legs apart an extra few inches to make room for what he believed were his massive swinging balls.
In my bedroom he gave the pitch-perfect performance of someone who’d seen a few home improvement shows. He measured the wall, then measured the blind, he used that wonderfully named tool the “spirit level”. He made marks on the wall in miniature Ikea pencil and asked me to do the same on the other side as he held the piece of doweling at his end. Probably in his mind this duet in DIY was some sort of ex-pat foreplay, and maybe he thought it was going well until one of the slats of my bed snapped under the weight of him. Unperturbed, he asked me to hold the screw while he drilled it into the wall, and I did, still blissfully under the impression that this dude knew what he was doing.
I learned a thing about drills that day and I feel it is in humanity’s best interests if I pass this higher knowledge on. Allow me to get technical: apparently there is a setting whereby you can set a drill to do a drill in the opposite direction of a drill, for undoing screws and such. As the business end of the power tool bounced off the head of the screw and wobbled a dangerous inch from my left eyeball, it became abundantly clear that our Australian handyman was about as familiar with the machine as I was. He resolved to hammer the screw into the wall. Above the terrifying sound of the plaster beginning to crack I shouted “Stop!” fearing an entire chunk of wall plopping weightily onto my pillow. “Nah, she’ll be right,” he insisted, before hammering away once more, pausing briefly as he fell, once again, through a previously unbroken slat on my bedframe.
It was at his moment I called Time on our home improvement project. I thanked him for his efforts and offered to buy him dinner in the hopes that he would go away. “You’ve got a whacking great hole in your wall,” he observed astutely. “Do you want me to get some filler?” I shook my head. No, I just wanted him out of my room. We went for a pint, a pub dinner, and on the pavement outside I once again thanked him for coming by, no hard feelings about the massive hole in my wall. “I left my drill in your flat. I’ll walk you home and grab it,” he said.
As soon as we got in the door, he said he needed to use the toilet. I wondered why he didn’t go in the pub given we were there only thirty seconds ago, but whatever. The bathroom in my tiny flat is situated in the middle of the floorplan and it doubles as a hallway – there is not a shred of audio privacy to be had, and an extended stay in the toilet cuts off access to my bedroom thanks to the clothes line I have strung across the second door to my room, as is the custom of the spatially challenged Londoner. It is fine for one, awkward for two. So I had nowhere to go. For half an hour I loitered by the sink in the kitchen, five feet away from where I could hear ungodly explosions in the bathroom. I checked and replied to my emails. I texted people endless nothings. I put the dishes away. I heard the flush, and the enthusiastic spray of deodorant in an effort to mask the crime. It wasn’t even toilet spray, which I have a lifelong aversion to since it somehow has the ability to mutate smells into things far worse than their original stench: a bad cover version – it was Sure for Women: Crystal, a 24-hour anti-perspirant with excellent white mark protection.
Finally he emerged and walked towards me. The last two minutes had obviously been spent psyching himself up Dirk Diggler-style for the confrontation about to be had by the kitchen sink. As he reached me he said the words that probably sounded brilliant in his head, “I don’t know what’s happening between us, but –” and leaned in for a doomed kiss.
Two seconds later I was hit by the cloud of stench, of shit and armpit spray, which followed behind him. As I reeled away, on both counts, his bottom lip wobbled. “Um. Perhaps you should go,” I said. Dejected, he picked up his drill and I marched him to the door, past my flatmate’s room. “Hey! Did you put the blind up?” she asked excitedly, envisioning an end to my endless whining about the blinding sun.
“WHAT? Well, did you at least put the shelf up in the laundry?”
“Um. No, no I didn’t get round to it, I –”
“So you FAILED?”
Behind him I gesticulated wildly in horror, mouthing at her Please, please stop, this is a terrible thing you are doing, the man has literally shat himself, SHAT HIMSELF. Her eyes widened, she’d already gone too far to discretely back down, she didn’t know what to do but panic and so I interjected with a — “WELL, UM. Bye then. Thank you, again.”
I opened the door and he stepped out sheepishly. In the hallway he raised a hand and quietly asked, “High five?”
Reader, I high fived him. “Go team,” I even said.