My wife is descended from The First Fleet - her ancestors were amongst the first convicts from the England sent to Australia. They arrived in Australia, served their time, fell in love and went about making babies. Being a First Fleeter grants you kudos over here so one day my kids will have to dress as starving convicts and sing Advance Australia Fair just as my wife did. The interesting part of her heritage is that one of her ancestors was arrested and deported for the crime of breaking and entering at the residence of [a man with the same name as me]. He stole a toolkit.
My first Christmas in Australia my mother in law gave me a toolkit. It’s full of screwdrivers, spanners, sticky things and scrapping things. I heft it down from the top of the cupboard about once a week to unscrew the battery compartments of kids’ toys or to look for the pen knife so I can use the scissors to cut my toe nails. Invariably when I put my hand in the toolkit I cut myself on some random sharp thing. Then I forget to put it away and Toes empties it and runs off with screws I don’t want or items I didn’t know I owned.
When I was 19 I got my first car. I could hardly afford to fill it up and new tyres were an impossible expense but owning it was wonderful, I could go places, I could drive into the distance playing music and gaze moodily toward the horizon in my leather jacket (from the front seat of a white mini that I bought from a middle aged lady who used it for shopping). Just after I bought it a friend and I attached a car stereo to it using duct tape, nails, string and glue. It fell off one week later whilst playing Nirvana and landed on my foot and I nearly crashed into a wall.
The only tool in the car was a jack for changing the tyres and a tyre iron. I thought I should learn how to use the jack so I practiced. I gave myself a blister and several cuts on the finger working out which was the jack was meant to go and how the handle attached but eventually I raised the car and feeling proud and prepared I lowered the car and put the jack back in the boot. As I did so, unknown to me, I knocked the cover of the car battery aside.
I drove around that afternoon feeling quite car-capable to the point that I conjured images of myself driving international rallies in my mini and winning at impossible odds whilst also defeating terrorists and saving women’s volleyball teams from distress. As I turned into my home street I could hear a bubbling sound that wasn’t related to volleyball. As I parked and the noise grew louder and I opened the boot and saw the metal handle of my jack stuck fast to the positive terminal of my battery. The other end of the handle was against my petrol tank and the side of the tank was glowing red. The bubbling sound was the petrol in the tank boiling. My battery was mostly melted. I stood wondering how long petrol can boil for before it explodes. The red glow faded and thick smoke wafted around me from the battery. As an adult I understand that my petrol tank would have been full of extremely combustible vapour but as a teenager I simply said Meep and ran away.
Shortly afterwards I needed to change a spark plug. I had a socket set that my dad had bought me and it was shiny and silver and manly. New spark plugs lay before me, and old ones in the car. The new ones would rocket charge my car. I attached the socket set, wiped oil on myself for the rugged look, wished I had a matchstick in my mouth and a southern American accent, and turned the spark plug….the wrong way. It sheared off and I had to get my dad to fix it.
I get blisters using screwdrivers. Building Ikea furniture hurts my hands. My hands are soft from a life time of keyboards and remote controls. When we bring Ikea items home Bear asks me how long it will be before I start shouting.
New Years Eve we needed a new toilet seat. For months the old one had been falling off and I’d been reattaching it. Given we were having visitors round it seemed wise to provide them somewhere to sit. We bought the seat and I had 3 hours before they arrived. The seat promised it was easily installed and I believed it.
The old seat sat askew and I hunkered down to start undoing the plastic nuts on the back of the seat. The bolt was rusted, undoubtedly due to my sons’ creative aim in the bathroom. I used pliers and a spanner and managed, over half an hour, to turn the nut roughly 6 times. The length of the screw thread was a ridiculous 2 inches. I tried the other nut and found it similarly rusted and unwilling to turn. Each time I put the pliers down they vanished and I’d spend 5 minutes looking for them only to then loose the spanner.
I had 2 hours and fifteen minutes before my guests would arrive and immediately need to defecate. I looked in my toolkit and decided it would spray the bolts with WD40 if for no other reason than it smelt nice. First spray I had the tin round the wrong way and sprayed myself in the face. The nuts still would not turn. By now I was topless and perspiring heavily so I put on gardening gloves to help me with my grip. Bright green ones with yellow flowery patterns.
I managed to turn the nut once more and then slipped and bent the bolt. At this point I contemplated asking our neighbour of our visitors could use their toilet.
Toes came in and informed me she needed the toilet. I returned to find she hadn’t bothered flushing. I got back to work and managed two more turns on one nut and then my son needed the toilet. He flushed but left a fog in the bathroom that was thick and frightening yet made me oddly proud.
I realised, in a moment of genius, that the nuts were plastic and so maybe I could melt them. I hunched around the toilet I started burning one whilst making Beavis & Butthead giggling sounds. The nut glowed green and dripped plastic and I started tearing up from the fumes. It burnt, but seemed to only shrink and tighten. I had made things worse rather than better but using fire made me feel pleased so I did it again. And again until the lighter was out of gas and I was slightly high on fumes. The nuts were now balls of black kryptonite melted to the bolt.
Thus far, aside from fire, I had used pliers, a spanner, I’d tried to chisel them off with a hammer and flat head screw driver, I’d shouted at them, and I’d used a small craft knife to try whittle through them and cut my thumb twice. I had an hour before my visitors were due and could sense their bowels expanding. I knew they would arrive experiencing gastric distress and immediately need to sit. They’d discover a bathroom full of tools and toxic smoke and me finger painting with my own blood. I was spending a disturbing amount of time considering their bowels.
I had not tried secateurs yet so I grabbed them and tried to cut the nut. Parts started breaking away from the left side bolt and I hacked and snipped and it shattered. I slid the bolt free and whooped with delight and did a little dance that I call the Lava Lamp.
The right hand nut was harder to reach. I snipped and small pieces fell away. I clipped but could not get purchase to cut the nut. I held the bolt in my hand and wondered if I could break it. How far would I be able to bend it before the porcelain seat shattered? I bent the nut a little and relied on 2 years of my sons creatively aimed wee having weakened the bolt. I bent it a little more, then a little more. I bent it back again and it immediately snapped in my hand. 2 hours and 15 minutes of pain, toxic fumes and emotional toolkit distress and the bolt snapped in under a minute.
I attached the new seat and washed for a long time. Both kids ran in and shouted that the new seat was Cool and I did my lava dance again. I wanted my wife to come, view the seat and smile. I was topless, sweaty, dancing with green gardening gloves covered in WD40, sweat, grime, and what seemed to be engine oil. I apologised to my wife for the time it had taken to do the toilet seat. She patted me and said It’s ok, after all you did manage to change the seat in the end. I took the comment as praise.
The toolkit is back on top of the cupboard now. I am hoping an English person breaks in a steals it and gets deported to Skegness.