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Value Your Independents...

Here is a tale of woe; a tale of frustration and ineptitude.  My wife really ought to know better than to present me with a DIY job on a Sunday but, despite past experiences, she occasionally still tries to disrupt the usual Sunday routine by expecting me to turn into a jobbing builder for a couple of hours.  It never ends well. 
One of the bath taps had been dripping.  Not much (I hadn’t actually noticed) but it was enough to annoy the wife.  Odd really, because 99% of the time these taps are not used as each of us tends to use the shower rather than the bath.  Oh well.
Our Sundays usually follow a predictable pattern.  We are both church bellringers so the first thing on the list is ringing for Sunday service.  Coffee follows with our fellow bellringers, then we have to walk the dog who will by this stage have had his legs crossed for half an hour.  He gets a trip to the park on a Sunday rather than his usual walk and that takes a bit longer... Then I swing into “chef mode” with Sunday lunch preparation; joint in, veg prep, where’s the Sherry?  All very civilised.
On this particular Sunday I was also asked to tackle the dripping tap.  Water off, tap dismantled, problem identified (cracked washer – but of a variety I did not feel confident about being able to easily replace). Joint in, veg prep postponed, God knows where the Sherry is... Off we go to the nearest DIY store. 
I should at this point take time to explain a deeper problem.  I have many friends who have fathers who did lots of DIY.  One of my closest friends will tackle any plumbing job because he learnt how to do so from his Dad.  Another will decorate and lay floor tiles, carpets and lino in his sleep, again because his father showed him how.  My Dad was a schoolmaster; he taught Geography and subsequently Mathematics.  Give me a simultaneous equation or a grid reference and I’m away!  Sure, I can replace a fuse or change a lightbulb, maybe even put up a shelf (the bastards bought me a drill for my 50th) but much beyond that and I’m stumped.  So, when the tap was mentioned I knew that even if I found the bits, even if I had the tools (both long shots) there was still my DIY ineptitude standing in the way.
I can cook though, so I put the oven on timer so the joint wouldn’t be overdone.  I’d worry about the veg prep later.  Forget the Sherry, at least for now.  The first DIY store didn’t even come close to what I required.  Plenty of taps, plenty of washers but none resembled the bits I had removed.  The second DIY store was on the other side of town.  I checked my watch, the joint would be done in 20 minutes.  They had washers saying they’d fit all types of taps.  This was a lie, but for £1.78 a pack we thought it was worth a punt.  We also bought replacement tap tops and workings (or whatever they’re called).  Once I had deciphered the hieroglyphics that passed for instructions and brought forth my selection of spanners and screwdrivers I set about the task.  First, I replaced the dripping tap.  This went well, but the other tap (this is the one that was working fine) also needed to be changed so that they matched.  It should have been as simple as repeating the process of replacing the first one, but it wasn’t.  Part of it refused to budge but I saw the way round this. Then a tiny washer on the new fitting broke so I couldn’t fit the second new tap. 
In days gone by I would have waited until Monday and toddled off to an independent local hardware store in Ipswich called Martin & Newby.  An Aladdin’s cave of everything any home DIY-er could ever need.  I was a regular (though admittedly infrequent) customer, I don’t really do DIY you see... These chaps knew their stuff though and their advice would always go some way to mitigating my ineptitude.  On one occasion I needed a small metal washer for the carrier on my pushbike.  I took in a similar one from another part of the carrier and the chap behind the counter – sporting a comforting brown hardware shop coat – rummaged in a box of two and produced precisely the same washer.  “How much?” I asked.  “Tuppence each Sir” came the reply.  “Great, I’ll have five please” I responded, thinking it rude to expect change from a 10p piece.  I only needed one, but that wasn’t the point, they had precisely what I needed.  Martin & Newby closed several years ago now because people would go in there to try out the latest drills to buy for their DIY inept friends 50th birthdays and then buy the one they had selected from Amazon because it was cheaper.  Bastards. Nowadays you can’t buy one washer, you have to go to “Bodge It All” for a packet of 50.  I still have four for that pushbike carrier fitting though if ever you need one...
And so, this coming week, I will be driving to the other side of town, back to the DIY superstore, to buy another pair of replacement taps for £13.98, just because I need one bloody washer from that packet to replace the one that broke.  A washer I cannot even find, let alone try to buy, as a solitary item.  I expect to be throwing away two perfectly decent replacement taps (along with the perfectly decent one that is currently not in use that doesn’t drip but, crucially, doesn’t match the new one) minus one small washer.  It is, of course, perfectly possible that I will screw up another part of this job and need another part of the fitting that I’ve re-bought, but my money is on the washer breaking again if anything does.
We ate lunch at 4pm.  The meat was OK if a little dry by then.  The bells got rung, the dog got walked, the bath taps work but no longer match and we never did find the Sherry.  Life would have been so much easier if only we still had that small independent hardware store – people to ask who know stuff and who have what we need instead of doing half a job half as well.  It shut though, because everyone went to Amazon.  Sunday lunch was late, dry, a little cold (unlike the long lost Sherry) and the wife still isn’t happy because the taps we never use don’t match...  Support your local independent shops, trust me, you need them as much as they need you.


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