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Things fall apart - shadows of echoes of memories of songs
Things fall apart
Sometimes I feel like I'm surrounded by broken things: things I want to fix, but don't quite know how, or don't have the tools. I don't want to throw them away (or even recycle them — repair is better than recycling) but I never quite seem to have the time/energy to fix them, or if I have the time/energy then I don't have the tools to hand, and by the time I get to the point of working out what I need, the shop that sells the tools is closed, or it's too dark to do things outside, and ... basically, "for want of a nail, FAIL".

One strategy would be to plan better: to decide "this Sunday I am going to fix the Broken Doobrie, which means I will need a thingummy and a whatsit, so I have to buy the thingummy from Sprockets 'R' Us before Sunday, and borrow the whatsit from Fred when I see him on Saturday." But that would require knowing in advance that I'm not going to feel too tired and miserable on the Sunday in question to do anything more energetic than stay in bed reading Chalet School books; and at the moment I feel like I can't take awakeness for granted, let alone feeling-up-to-doing-things-ness. (I generally feel guilty about not "feeling up to" doing things, as though it's just a question of willpower; but for once I have an actual excuse, which is that it's hard work making a whole actual human being, and sometimes I will just have to sit down and rest.) The other strategy would be to make sure I have all the thingummies and whatsits in the house to start with so that when I do have the time and the energy I've already got the tools. This is probably less efficient (there are lots of tools I will probably only need very rarely, so the sensible thing to do would be to borrow them rather than spend money on them and then have them taking up space) but on the other hand might result in things actually getting mended, which would create more space (because things could either be used by us rather than stored in a 'things that need fixing' pile, or given away to be used by someone else) and save money.

What I'd really love is some kind of regular 'fixing things' drop-in session where people could get together and bring their broken objects and fix them together, sharing tools and workspace, actively helping each other learn how to fix things, or just being companionable while they fix their own things. I don't know how I'd go about organising such a thing, though (and I don't really have the time or energy at the moment). I fail at Big Society. But, in the meantime, here are some examples of the sort of things on my mental list of things-that-need-fixing:

Two toasters. The first of these is my beloved Sunlight toaster which after over 40 years of faithful service finally stopped toasting -- the elements just don't heat up. It is such a simple thing, with so few parts, that I'm sure it must be fixable; but I don't really know where to start. The other is a toaster kindly donated to us by a friend to fill the gap left by my Sunlight; unfortunately it too needs fixing, as while it heats up, it doesn't pop up as it should (so has to be watched carefully for fear of setting the kitchen on fire burning the toast. It's a much newer model, but the 'pop-up' mechanism surely can't be that complicated... can it?

A suitcase. One of those pull-along ones; the wheels etc still work, but the stand which allows you to stand it up inbetween wheeling it has broken. I know I could screw this back on to the base of the suitcase quite easily (and nobody needs to see if it's a bit of a botch as it'll be inside/under a suitcase), but the holes in the stand where the screws would go are still taken up with the rivets which originally held it on, and I have no tools suitable for cutting the heads off rivets (someone suggested a bolt-cutter, but that definitely falls into the category of "tools that I will probably not need more than once or twice in my life", so I would probably need to borrow it from someone/somewhere). The suitcase is a handy size, I got it from a charity shop for £3 (the handle has clearly already been fixed by a previous owner) and replacing it would probably cost about 8 times that (and I don't use suitcases that often so I'm reluctant to spend much money on one), so I'm keen to eke out its life a bit longer if I can.

Badly hung doors. The wonky wardrobe door is my fault (self-assembly), & I do have the tools to fix it (a screwdriver), I just can't seem to get it to sit straight, so it scrapes slightly against the drawer underneath. The problem is it's a very heavy door (because of the full-length mirror on it) and hard to hold up while adjusting it, & I've had a couple of goes & got tired of trying, but it annoys me most days. The other wonky door is one of the internal doors, & is not my fault, & the problem is that the wood has split badly where the hinges are attached and it's all dropped down a bit (and now scrapes along the floor when you try to open/close it), & I can't really see how best to fix it: as far as I can see the options are a) replace the door (most expensive option, & would require someone with a car to deliver the door, but probably not too hard once you've got to that stage?); b) remove the hinges, wood-cement the gaps back together in some way that it's still strong enough to reattach the hinges, & hope that it all holds together; or c) remove the door & re-hang it the other way round, but that means moving the handle as well and painting the raw edge which all feels like a bit of a faff.

Draught-excluder. One of those brushy-things that go on the bottom of a door. We managed to get as far as cutting this down to size so it would fit the front door, but the front door has screws in (probably from a previous draught-excluder) which are in the way, and they're so tightly wedged in that I can't get them out. I suspect this is going to involve something tricky like drilling into the middle of the screw (I am a complete novice at drilling and it scares me a bit because there seems to be a lot of potential for cocking things up messily and dangerously), but I don't really know how that works either.

An Apple ][ which exploded. OK, here it's the parts/expertise that are lacking rather than the tools; my lovely old Apple ][ went 'pop' and filled the house with nasty-smelling smoke. I suspect that means the PSU is now dead, but I don't know how to check which bits are working and which aren't, and it is hard to find spare parts for 30-year-old computers.

Clothes with broken zips. I am fine with mending buttons & buttonholes, hems, seams and minor tears (by hand -- I don't have a sewing machine, and don't really want one because they cost money/space and I'm not really interested in sewing for fun), I even sort of know how to darn (badly), but zips are totally beyond me. I have tried them but I can't get them straight/flat. I have one pair of trousers and one skirt which need the zips replacing, and I have spent about 6 years dithering about whether to try to give them away to someone who might fix them, or pay someone to fix them for me (at which point I might still give them away, but there'd be less chance that they'd just get thrown out), or just give up and put them in fabric recycling, or what. (If anybody's interested in claiming them, the trousers are just a generic pair of comfy black combats in a size 12 or thereabouts, but the skirt is quite wacky -- full-length black velvet with a silver fake-leather corset-like band at the top; the zip is in the leather bit, which seems to tear at the slightest provocation. It's a lovely goth thing which I will probably never wear again but I don't want to throw it out & I can't really sell it or give it away while it's broken.)

Advice welcome but not demanded/expected!

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k425 From: k425 Date: November 14th, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Badly-hung doors - can they be removed and planed a bit along the bottom?

Draught excluder - do you have an electric screwdriver? I have a feeling they go in reverse, which may pull the old screws out. You have probably tried that, though.

Clothes with broken zips - many dry cleaners will do this. I have avoided knitting a number of items so far because they involve zips and like you zips are beyond me.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2009/may/02/down-with-kids-chris-cleave - it's hard work making a baby, and I love this every time I read it.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 14th, 2010 08:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
Badly-hung doors - can they be removed and planed a bit along the bottom?

Hmm, possibly. I worry that then the door will just continue to fall off as the wood splits worse... but it's probably worth a try (& maybe easier than the other options). So, a plane may be on the list of whatsits to borrow from someone... :)

do you have an electric screwdriver?

Yes, & it does go in reverse (it's saved me many blisters when dis/assembling flatpack furniture!) -- I have tried it on the draught-excluder-impeding screws, but actually for really firmly wedged screws it's often less good than a normal screwdriver, because it's far too easy for it to slip & just go spinning round (stripping the screw head so it's harder to try next time). Which is what happened in this case. So I suspect I have actually made it worse. :-/ Ho hum.

Clothes with broken zips - many dry cleaners will do this.

Oh yes, there's no shortage of people to pay to fix zips -- just dithering about whether to spend money fixing something that I may well not wear afterwards (and in the case of the trousers, the cost of the zip-fixing would be more than I paid for them originally!).

Thanks for the Chris Cleave link - lovely! I do miss his column in the Guardian -- that awful "heroic mother of five" or whatever is nowhere near as funny or interesting...
aldabra From: aldabra Date: November 14th, 2010 08:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
How old is the internal door? There was a door-hanging lesson in the DIY course I went to, from which I remember that door hanging is really heavy and awkward and uncomfortable, and modern doors have a handedness such that you can't put the handle on the other side because the wood isn't strong enough there. I don't remember whether this applies to Victorian doors too. (Also, getting a new door and hanging that involves planing the edges off, because new doors are rectangular but door frames are any old shape, so you can't assume the door will fit in the door frame. Measuring this is harder than it sounds.)

Having been to the class, if I had that problem I would buy a new door and get someone in to fit it for me. Especially if I was pregnant or had a baby.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 14th, 2010 08:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
How old is the internal door?

Oh cripes, dunno. It's a 1930s ex-council house & the internal doors have almost certainly been replaced since it was built, so, um, modern-ish. That's a bugger about the handedness if it's true. :-( How would you tell if the wood wasn't strong enough (er, other than by trying it & having it all fall apart under you, I guess)?

Yeah, getting a new door probably comes under the "get someone in to do it", mostly because without a car we couldn't get it here ourselves anyway & by the time we've paid someone to deliver it we may as well pay them to fit it.

This is where having some kind of friendly affordable odd-job-man would be really useful. I suspect in fact we will still have a slightly sticky door 20 years from now. :-}

A DIY course would be a great idea -- even if I didn't end up doing much more of the stuff myself it would be good to know what's involved & have a better idea of whether things should be big/difficult/expensive jobs. I should probably look for a class round here, but, argh, time...
1ngi From: 1ngi Date: November 14th, 2010 08:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Group fixing things day - this idea is made of WIN
shermarama From: shermarama Date: November 14th, 2010 08:45 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thoughts from a semi-professional bodger

Screws for the draught excluder: how are they blocking it? As in they're sticking out? If so could they be hacksawed / filed back to be flush with the door, so they don't have to come out? Drilling into screws only really works if they're pretty big screws - otherwise if you hear someone talking about 'drilling the screw head off' or something, that only really works with screws that are holding a plate in place or the like - you use a drill wider than the body of the screw but narrower than the head, and then drill through the head to disconnect it from the body, freeing up whatever they're holding in.

That, incidentally, though, could be the way to get the rivets out of the suitcase - you drill the head off the shank so the rest of it can be pulled through from the other side - but I'm a bit confused there about the exact problem. Are the rivets in the stand bit, not the case? And are they not already broken? (Drilling rivets out is cool, though, because you end up with the rim of the head flapping round the drill bit like a washer, making a part that didn't exist before.)

Um, old toaster is possibly fixable but a right pain. There'll likely be a break in the element somewhere but you've have to get the element exposed and go over it all with a multimeter to find where the break is. Triumphant if you could find it, though.

The wood cement option for the internal door could well work. Good wood glue is stronger than wood. Internal doors made of cheap stuff can be very cheap, as little as £15 - £20, but if that one's solid wood it's worth having a crack at fixing.

j4 From: j4 Date: November 14th, 2010 10:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts from a semi-professional bodger

Screws for the draught excluder: how are they blocking it? As in they're sticking out? If so could they be hacksawed / filed back to be flush with the door, so they don't have to come out?

Yeah, they're sticking out of the door by a few mm -- just enough that I can't get the draught excluder on over them. I wouldn't've thought you could get through a metal screw with a hacksaw, but if it's possible, maybe worth a try -- I think it will be really awkward to get in there with a saw though. Hmmm. I guess if it all goes horribly wrong then we have an excuse to get a new front door (which might fit better & could have a proper letterbox). :-}

I'm a bit confused there about the exact problem. Are the rivets in the stand bit, not the case? And are they not already broken?

The rivets are in the stand -- they were riveting the moulded plastic stand into a bit of chipboard inside the case (also going through the canvas exterior); they've ripped out through the chipboard and the canvas, so the rivets have remained intact in the stand. (Hm. Does that make more sense? I can take photos if that would help!) Not entirely sure I see how the drilling works still though.

Good news about the wood-glue -- thanks! I will give this a go when I have the round tuits. And potentially good news about the toaster -- someone else mentioned a multimeter & this makes more sense now, it sounds fiddly-but-by-no-means-impossible.

Lots to try & learn! Thank you :)
atreic From: atreic Date: November 14th, 2010 10:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
I applaud your sentiment. Anyone who can even acknowledge the merit of fighting this is clearly Worthy. The sheer ease of buying new things and near impossibility of fixing broken ones to the same standard, coupled with being time poor and money rich, makes me rather a failure at this sort of thing. It's taken me years to realise that though, and a surprising amount of time living in a house over-full of really depressing broken things.
monkeyhands From: monkeyhands Date: November 15th, 2010 10:17 am (UTC) (Link)

Attempt To Solve Underlying Problem Yields Mixed Results

"This needs fixing with a [insert name of expensive tool that takes up a lot of space here]. But I don't want to buy a brand-new [INOETTTUALOSH] because that would be bad from a money, carbon and storage point of view. I need a second-hand [INOETTTUALOSH], and I bet lots of other people are in the same boat. I know! I'll look into setting up a tool library, where people can borrow each others' [INOETTTUALOSH] as well as other types of tool! Or maybe it should be some kind of barter system? Actually, maybe it would be good if I invented a new type of currency. The first step is to email that guy who said he was inventing a new currency to see how he's getting on. I'll just send a message to his hotmail address, which will bounce because his inbox is over quota because he never checks his email, and by the time it bounces back this doughnut will have worn off and I'll be having a post-sugar crash that makes me feel tired and despairing."
j4 From: j4 Date: November 15th, 2010 02:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Attempt To Solve Underlying Problem Yields Mixed Results

That's so unfair. I would always make sure I had two doughnuts to hand before trying to reinvent society from scratch.
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: November 15th, 2010 10:18 am (UTC) (Link)
Before hacksawing draft excluder screws: if you have a cook's blowtorch, heat the screws and then tap with a hammer to dislodge. Or, if no torch, even a very hot hairdryer, then WD40, let penetrate, and then tap with a hammer. This loosens most screws enough to remove them. Dislodging from their other end is also a possibility to mull.

Electric Aids in Headington fix things like your fave toaster. They fixed my 26 y o Moulinex blender...

Katie up at our corner shop does zips, 4 quid instead of 15-20. So all those pints of Teh B33r you can't drink would pay for a zip replacement or two. I can run stuff to and fro for you easily or you can drop stuff off at The Post Box... She's ace.

The door problem may be a hinge thing, a doorframe thing, or a door thing. Can you get O and a spirit level together with the door, with some props, so you can level the door and adjust the hinges, before planing and all that palaver?

I can loan you a level and our Big Red DIY book...
jinty From: jinty Date: November 15th, 2010 12:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
Smith and Osman*, I think it is, near Hollow Way also fix electrical goods, probably including things like the toaster.

* there's another Smith - Smith & Low - actually on Hollow Way who are a hardware store and don't fix things. I can never remember which is which but it's one of those two!
venta From: venta Date: November 15th, 2010 12:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
This totally misses the entire point of your post, but I was curious as to whether you'd read The Chalet Girls Grow Up. Largely because I'd be interested to hear your opinion (and can lend it if required).
venta From: venta Date: November 15th, 2010 12:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm. Having just (now) had the sense to read the Amazon review comments on that, I may have all the validating of my own opinion which I require :)
From: scat0324 Date: November 15th, 2010 05:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
Should you decide you do want to replace the interior door, we've got a brand new one in the loft that moved with us from the last place, where I replaced 4 internal doors at the time B&Q was doing a 5-for-the-price-of-4 deal - so I'm happy to sell it at a considerable discount (I keep meaning to stick it on dailyinfo, but I'm not very good at getting things like that done). However, it would still need cutting to size, and hinges etc rebated, so it's not a dead-easy job. Also the list of things I've got to do at our place is so long, and I'm such a slow worker that I can't offer to help with actually fitting it, really, although I recall it was quite a satisfying job to complete.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 15th, 2010 11:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hmm... that's kind of you, & thank you for the offer, but to be honest I think the combination of me-not-getting-round-to-things and it actually being a non-trivial job would just mean the door would sit around our house for as long as it's sat around yours. :-} So please don't let me stop you going ahead & selling it on dailyinfo!
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 16th, 2010 05:15 am (UTC) (Link)
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 16th, 2010 05:16 am (UTC) (Link)
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