53. DIY

When I was quite small, my parents gave me a stamp collecting kit. There was a book to put your stamps in, a magnifying glass, a special little gauge to measure those holes along the sides, and a bag full of used stamps from around the world, as well as a guide book explaining that my bag of stamps was worth nothing. I still remember the excitement with which they handed it over, having collected stamps themselves when they were younger. “This”, I remember thinking, “blows!”

Can you smell the adrenalin?

Can you smell the adrenalin?

I’m just not a hobby person. My mind isn’t wired that way. At least I’m not a “hobby” hobby person. Miniature train sets were for recreating tragic natural disasters. Matchbox cars were for playing with, not collecting. I couldn’t make one of those little model Spitfires other boys hung from their ceilings without sticking myself to the table and the propeller to my hair.

Why would anyone collect anything, ever? How does the internal dialogue work?

“Ooh! Look at that! It’s an old porcelain doll with empty, staring eyes and detachable hair. I must have it! I must have it right now!”

“But why? You’ve already got seven, and all they do is sit there and stare at you from the top of your cupboard while you sleep. You don’t do anything with them. You never even touch them.”

I'm being unfair. They really are quite beautiful.

I’m being unfair. They really are quite beautiful.

“I do do something with them, silly. I collect them!”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, first I buy them. And then I have them.”

“And then..?”

“That’s it. It’s a hobby.”

“Right.”

Mrs 23thorns is much better than me at hobbies. She does tapestry. A wonderfully “Good Housekeeping” type of endeavour. She doesn’t do lots of them. Just the one. She’s been doing it since I met her, in 1997. Every two or three years or so, she hauls it out, does nine or ten stitches, and then puts it away again.

But this is not to say that I don’t have any hobbies at all. I like gardening. After a fashion. Not nipping around with a watering can and dead-heading annuals, though. I like to dig holes. Through the seven layers of industrial grade concrete our home’s previous owner saw fit to lay over half of the garden. I like building big piles of rocks and huge logs. The hernia was fun, too.

And I did have somewhere to sit while I recovered.

And I did have somewhere to sit while I recovered.

Burying old baths in the garden also has its merits, and beats the hell out of the veggie garden it replaced in terms of maintenance. There’s a greengrocer round the corner, and we need to support the struggling economy.

That was our only bath. Now we just take care not to get dirty.

That was our only bath. Now we just take care not to get dirty.

And why am I telling you this? I started a new project today. I arrived home with five used industrial pallets strapped to the top of my car. Mrs 23thorns looked sad. Maybe she’s jealous because her tapestry is nearly halfway done while my fun is all ahead of me.

Maybe she was worried that I'd scratched the car.

Maybe she was worried that I’d scratched the car.

It can’t have anything to do with the fact that I’ve done this before. A few years ago, I brought home about twenty pallets and used them to make a deck. Or at least that was the plan. I broke them up into pieces and nailed them together again in huge wooden tiles. These were then carefully stored at the bottom of the garden until they began to rot. Then we burned them.

It was an incredibly rewarding experience. They kept us warm for at least two weeks in the middle of a brutal Jo’burg winter, and if they made the house smell a bit funny, so what? It added a certain “home-made” vibe to the whole affair.

I kept a small one. You never know when it might come in handy.

I kept a small one. You never know when it might come in handy.

This time, I’m making a coffee table. It’s gonna be cool. I’ve already had a chance to haul out my toolkit. Since this consists of a crowbar and a sledgehammer, I have been experiencing mixed results. While I envisioned them coming apart like well-made blocks of Lego, they actually behaved a little more like the Hindenburg.

Every man should have a comprehensive toolkit.

Every man should have a comprehensive toolkit.

On the plus side, I do already have a very credible looking pile of firewood, and tomorrow I get to spend a bit of “me time” getting a tetanus injection.

Toasted marshmallows here we come!

Toasted marshmallows here we come!

But fear not! The coffee table is coming along nicely. After a backbreaking day out in the hot sun with my crowbar and sledgehammer, I no longer have five used industrial pallets. I have two. I’m going to stick them together with wood-glue and present it to Mrs 23thorns as a gift.

And if we ever need to deliver raw materials in bulk, we're sorted.

And if we ever need to deliver raw materials in bulk, we’re sorted.

She’ll be pleased. At last she’ll have another place to put her coffee cup! I’m sure she was getting bored with the two coffee tables we already have, and this one, with its specially-designed uneven surface will add a certain frisson of excitement to her morning cuppa.

It’s not quite done yet. I have to haul out my electric sander so that I can inhale some of the hazardous chemicals that were stored on the pallets in their previous lives, to dull the pain of the tetanus injection. Then I have to varnish it so that admiring visitors think it’s made of teak instead of cheap pine. But as soon as it’s done, I’ll put up a picture of it for you to wonder at. Mrs 23thorns will be in it, happily drinking her coffee and adding ten stiches to her tapestry.

And by the time she's done, it's already going to be an antique!

And by the time she’s done, it’s already going to be an antique!

*****

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68 thoughts on “53. DIY

  1. Hmmm, been there done that with the pallet table thing and decorated it too. 😉 It’s sitting pride of place in front of the fire now, usually being used for storing unfolded washing, my backside when I want to sit front and centre of the fire, for small children to launch onto couches from or from couches onto said table. Best of all it hasn’t yet fallen apart, despite the rickety legs and my husband loves what was his birthday gift last year. 🙂

    Good luck finishing yours and hope the chemical inhalation soothed tetanus jab doesn’t hurt too much.

  2. albertine says:

    Reblogged this on Jill's Blog and commented:
    (In response to a blog by 23thorns – reblogged here) My brother collected so many valuable stamps (over about 50 years since the childhood Stamp Packet era, and still going strong) that his wife made him put them in a safe deposit box, where he couldn’t go and look at them. This hasn’t daunted him – his new collection is doing very nicely and they are both happy. My mother still holds it against D____e, though.

    In one of her Moomin books Tove Jansson talks about a collection that is completed, and thus has become the saddest thing in the world. (It ends well – don’t panic.)

    We grew up very isolated, in Australia – much of the Stamps of the World thrill involved vicarious travelling, and a lot of map work, as well as admiring the beauty of the stamps. The most beautiful were also the cheapest: why was that?
    Aah – Stanley Gibbons! But you are right about different kinds of mind. After an imitative few childish years I didn’t pursue the stamp-collecting thing. Nowadays I just have drawers full of wool and partly-completed wool-based projects. I see these as failings. Oh yes – and the books! the books!

  3. albertine says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed this post. My brother collected so many valuable stamps (over about 50 years since the childhood Stamp Packet era, and still going strong) that his wife made him put them in a safe deposit box, where he couldn’t go and look at them. This hasn’t daunted him – his new collection is doing very nicely and they are both happy. My mother still holds it against D____e, though.

    In one of her Moomin books Tove Jansson talks about a collection that is completed, and thus has become the saddest thing in the world. (It ends well – don’t panic.)

    We grew up very isolated, in Australia – much of the Stamps of the World thrill involved vicarious travelling, and a lot of map work, as well as admiring the beauty of the stamps. The most beautiful were also the cheapest: why was that?
    Aah – Stanley Gibbons! But you are right about different kinds of mind. After an imitative few childish years I didn’t pursue the stamp-collecting thing. Nowadays I just have drawers full of wool and partly-completed wool-based projects. I see these as failings. Oh yes – and the books! the books!

    • 23thorns says:

      I think stamp collecting was very different before TV and computers took over the world. It was a way of connecting with the world. Now we can connect with the push of a button, and we use this magical gift to send each other pictures of cats!

  4. reocochran says:

    Hi, I wrote a post recently about “Crafting a Life” and you should mention on my blog about this page! It really connects and would help build a list a few of my commenters have made! I enjoyed everything from your stamp collection to your building a coffee table out of free wood. The fact that your wife stitches images into tapestry would also be of interest!

  5. Thank you for such a joyous post 23thorns 🙂

    As I sat reading, I was laughing so hard I could barely breath, as you had just described my hubby’s DIY skills – and tools to match!

    I think he must have destroyed more pallets in the attempt to make ‘something useful’, than most people have had hot dinners but, like you, he does try, so you have to give him marks for that 🙂

    As for hobbies, does book, and yarn, collecting count? If so, I’m a brilliant hobbyist, believe me 🙂

    I do hope Mrs 23thorns enjoys her new coffee table as much as I’ve – briefly – enjoyed hubby’s garden bench, bookcase, and – you guessed it – coffee table! Lol

    • 23thorns says:

      You’re not the only yarn collector out there. I’m intrigued. If it’s collected with the eternally unfulfilled intention of making something, I understand completely.

      • Well, to be honest, it was bought with the fine intentions of myself crocheting up a few of the thousands of patterns I’ve also collected, but I just can’t seem to bear actually using any of my pretties 🙂
        But then, I’m a bit like that with my books, too – nobody who really knows me ever dares ask to borrow one of them! Lol

      • 23thorns says:

        I know how you feel. I can’t bear to use the beautiful tools I’ve collected in my shed.

  6. Spy Garden says:

    BEST POST EVER. Gardening AND building things out of free wood. Basically the two ingredients to a lifetime of happiness. AND I remember studying that tapestry in AP Art History in high school (something to do with Beowulf?!). AND my grandma had a huge and extremely disturbing antique doll collection which was largely inherited by her neighbor who died. By hanging herself in her garage. So by default I have some of these ye olde dolls lurking around my house. Ahghhh!! AND “I like to dig holes” AHHGGH Agree, wholeheartedly! When I ordered our deer fence posts they came on a pallet and my husband loaded the pallet wood next to our backyard firepit and I said, “wait, can’t you build something from that wood?” lol All of our fire pit “furniture” was built from scrap wood! Here’s our “couch” and the spy’s chair: http://spygarden.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/fjbh/ i might have to comment again on this post after more reflection. Hahahhaha hahha

  7. Lyn says:

    May I suggest dear Mr23Thorns, that you don’t sand the top of the new coffee table. Leave it rough – there’s less chance of the coffee mug sliding off it. Rough-top coffee tables can serve a very useful purpose. They’re also handy when cousin Ralph comes over and plonks his ample behind on it when he knows you hate him sitting on any piece of furniture except the chairs. Hopefully he’ll end up with a few well placed splinters 😉

  8. Jet Eliot says:

    You always make me laugh, thx

  9. pfstare says:

    I’m just mostly interested in what Mrs 23thorns will be wearing for her inauguration of the new coffee table 🙂

  10. narf77 says:

    I wonder if Mrs 23Thorns will be able to get out of the foetal position by this afternoon. I recognise that manic man behaviour…it heralds torture and pain for any woman foolish enough to be located in the immediate vicinity. Not only will the man in question make an horrendous mess with whatever it is that he is currently disassembling (because let’s be honest folks…most of the fun is in pulling it apart) he will then lose interest in the hobby/project about halfway through when the wrecking bit is done and will then have to take a rest that will last approximately as long as the pile of decomposing fungal ridden “project” takes to reach its half-life and then…and ONLY then he will decide it is time to recommence the project knowing FULL well that it is highly unlikely to be able to salvage any part of said project. What happens next is a wife’s nightmare and we have all been here before…the attempt to reassemble a festering pile of rust or fungi or mould or termites and the accompanying elevation of vocal range, temper and an interesting ability to suddenly recall every single oath known to man and replicate them with alarming accuracy en masse will usually require a trip to the shops for “something” whilst holding your hands over the children’s ears while they strain to hear every single word that daddy is saying so that they can then recant them proudly to nana on the phone when they next talk to her. In saying that, I love pallets. There is something mystical about the ability to take a humble pallet (with the added allure of them being free) and turn it into something functional and even beautiful. There are sites everywhere touting how clean and green it is to rescue pallets and recycle, repurpose and reassign them into anything from a humble raised garden bed to an entire house. The problem comes when people like you and I, Mr 23Thorns, decide to get “stuck in” and create something with pallets. I can only vouch for myself here in saying that the will is strong but the talent is missing. I have only been allowed to keep one of my pallets. Steve threw the rest out. I got to keep a hardwood pallet because he can store things on it. I miss my pallets…but not NEARLY as much as I miss the fungi that were starting to grow on them 🙂

    • 23thorns says:

      I was going to say that Steve sounded like a top man. A careful planner. A wordsmith. Not the sort of fool who rushes in where angels fear to tread.
      But he threw away your pallets? WHAT IS WRONG WITH HIM!?! IS HE ENGLISH OR SOMETHING!?!

      • narf77 says:

        More than English I am afraid…he has even dabbled in the dark art of rusty screw in old jars collecting so he KNOWS how much they mean to me…I can only ascertain that he is hiding my pallets somewhere on the property in a vain effort to ladle me out of my computer chair and get me out into the light…”NEVER SIR!” (I will just wait till I get up at 3am and then I will take Earl and we will go pallet hunting…)

    • About a year ago, Mr 23 uplifted my work-of-art mosaic in the garden. It was a 1.5 X 1m thing of exceptional beauty. I spent literally months hunched over in the garden cracking tiles and gluing them in place. He desecrated my mosaic (which was proper beautiful) to ostensibly build a “fire pit” and a “seating area” with ugly breeze blocks and reclaimed bricks from his sister’s renovation rubble pile. He put masking tape all over the mosaic, took photos of the resultant grid and promised that he would reassemble it on the “wall” of this new “garden room”. The garden room is currently a scar of mosaic glue concrete with bricks and breeze blocks and randomly sanded planks of wood piled unartfully around it in a hazard to all those who might believe them to be cemented together, and a haven for garden snakes and leguaans. I know what will happen with the pallet project. I know what happened to the perspex project, the chain-link project, the nitro car project. I’ve been in the foetal position for years!

      • narf77 says:

        I commiserate Mrs 23Thorns…”there there”… You have to take the good with the bad…he can write, he obviously reads, he seems to be able to keep the children alive and functioning while you are away and despite his abject and utter lack of talent when it comes to pallet art and being able to admit that his wife has more artistic talent than he does, he obviously means well. I am sure he is just waiting for a special moment to place your wonderful artwork reverently in the “Garden Room”, perhaps your aniversary? He has OBVIOUSLY planned something special… lots of champagne, flowers, chocolates a small group of your best friends, tickets to something “Mahhhvellous Darling” and a wonderful homecooked meal…you are one lucky woman Mrs 23Thorns…she IS one lucky woman isn’t she Mr 23Thorns?

      • 23thorns says:

        The chain-link project? I don’t remember that one at all, but I’m intrigued. Let’s do it again, whatever it was.

      • I don’t remember the details either. You made a Viking hat out of a Bob the Builder helmet and a pair of impala horns. I don’t remember what the chain was actually for but there was enough of it leftover from the non-project for the Viking hat one. Surely the chain cannot have been bought for the hat alone??

      • sisteranan says:

        i love the way you two discuss things together.

      • 23thorns says:

        Nope. I bought the chains when we decided to have children. I thought they might come in handy.

  11. sisteranan says:

    I hope that after you present Mrs. 23Thorns with her adorable new coffeetable you will consider getting five more pallets to build yourself a doghouse to live in.

  12. smallpebbles says:

    Oh that was a great read! I started to read it because my father (long since passed) collected stamps. Sometimes I would pull his stamp books out and take a look….but….huh?!? Actually, some stamps really are art works – saw some in Thailand, just lovely. Hope Mrs. 23thorns enjoys your crafts-person-ship!

  13. My second favorite post ever! You are quite talented!

  14. Jocelyn Hers says:

    Er, does collecting books count as a hobby? Or just a necessary part of life?

  15. Ashana M says:

    Most definitely your funniest post thus far.

  16. I once had an old couch in my living room that was going to cost me $100 to haul away. Instead of paying the $100, I took it apart with a hammer and saw and carried the pieces down to the dumpster. Not only did I save money, I got to see how a couch is made and felt terrific from the physical exertion.

    • 23thorns says:

      If it was the couch in my home, you would have come away with a profit. Over $100 in loose change, three TV remotes, and the hamster you lost track of two years ago.

  17. silyoj says:

    I like Mrs 23Thorns. I think we’d get on well. I started a tapestry in 1989. I finished it in 2010. By that time I’d changed name so couldn’t put my initials in the corner and had to use my first name.
    If I ever met your wife we could get together, do a couple of stitches and then get stuck into the wine (which is how my tapestry sessions tend to go…).

  18. I think you have been trawling through too many pallet projects on Pinterest….

  19. Bridge Builder says:

    Haha. 🙂 Collecting stamps is for those who can not afford to travel I guess… and collecting stuff is about NOT using it as you pointed out so correctly. I’d rather go out there and DO stuff than staying in a place crammed full of creepy stuff.

  20. johnjroberts says:

    Tools are highly overrated. When I served in submarines an instructor showed me a 12 inch crescent wrench, a 14 inch pipe wrench and a 10 pound hammer. He then told me they were all interchangeable.

    • 23thorns says:

      There are guys down in the Lowveld who can keep a thirty-year-old Land Rover going with a hammer, a pair of pliers, and some wire. I suspect they are kindred spirits.

  21. Mary Southon says:

    I was married to a collector of Sherlockiana, or “Sherlock Shit” as I called it behind his back. Although it was handy at gift giving time, it was a sad thing to see a grown man getting excited about and paying hundreds of dollars for a lamp (with a European plug so it couldn’t be used in the states) of Snoopy dressed like Sherlock Holmes. But one wasn’t enough; he bought a second. Then he bought one of Snoopy dressed as Dr. Watson. And those wee just three items in his vast collection. Yes, it did become an issue in our divorce.

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