Today, as I promised myself, I have been building bookcases from kits.
How I hate building bookcases from kits.
I bought the same kit again, thinking as I’d made two already this year I would remember how to do it. Easy. Oh, easy for Leonardo! Who would have thought anything could need that many long, silver screws? And when you get older you need to be ambidextrous. No use saying ‘I’ll just get up from here and move myself and my wrong-size Phillips screwdriver round to the other side of this construction project’ because it was bad enough getting down to here in the first place. The best thing is to screw half the screws in with the wrong (which in my case is the right) hand. The thing is, when you are getting older you still think you can sit on the floor, and you can. You just can’t get up again unless you lean on the coffee table. I compromise with a low stool and a cushion.
And in the middle of all this the post-lady arrived with two 30 litre bags of cat litter and some light bulbs. A tiny, blonde lady, she swings the bags up onto her shoulder like a stevedore. Are you going to be all right with this, dearie? she asked. How does she think the 30 litre bags find their way about the house normally – elves? With the help of a rusty wheelbarrow I can still move six of those at a go.
The only way I can make myself do things I don’t want to do is via strategic rewards. Reward number one, after completing the first bookcase – a tomato sandwich, a cup of coffee and half an hour watching people with dislocated knees being rescued by brave air ambulance personnel from beaches in Cornwall whilst the tide is coming in.
Reward number two will come when I have finished the second bookcase. That will be re-sorting the end of my alphabet, shelving the books and discovering that they all fit, precisely, into the space I calculated and could afford.
Reward number three will come later tonight, watching Star Trek Enterprise. In any spare moment when the Vulcans are not being entertainingly supercilious, the Klingons are not snarling over the com-link in that pointy-headed kind of way and one of those invisible creatures with the yellow, pebbledash complexions is not melting through the roof of the Enterprise to surprise the good Captain Archer yet again (you’d think he’d have got into the habit of looking up by now) I shall turn and gaze at my two new bookcases, full of my newly-sorted books, and gloat.
Mum used to be good at kits. It only occurred to me recently that being a carpenter’s daughter she would have grown up with the sight of rough, bare, heavy lumps of wood and glinting screws. They wouldn’t fill her with anxiety. Now, when I am changing the batteries in her torch because ‘the light has run out of it’ I remind myself that not so long ago she built a monstrously complicated kitchen stool from a kit, also took away all my bank statements, disentangled my chaotic budget and designed a new system for me with neatly-ruled columns and pencil headings in her small, round script.
And then I see the implications of that. Now, with however much cursing and swearing, I am building two bookcases. How long before the light runs out of my torch? How long before I start to wonder how light bulbs stay in the ceiling or where to switch on my TV? And who will be around to help me?
And Easy Hobbi-Games for Little Engineers, complete with instructions. Oh, easy for Leonardo!
(A Child’s Christmas in Wales: Dylan Thomas)