Leave it to the pros and ex-cons

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 October, 1996, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 October, 1996, 12:00am

For two weeks I have been waking up to the sound of hammering and drilling, with a man with a tattooed chest tearing down my bedroom. In other words, a renovation nightmare.

The smell of paint thinner sends my asthmatic father gasping for fresh air the second he steps into the room and leaves the rest of us feeling dizzy. The dirt has turned my pooch into a filthy, dusty walking rug.

That is not all. My family has been camping out in the living room while our bedrooms are being renovated, leaving us sleeping in full view of people living in the block across the street.

We cannot move around the place without bumping into the furniture, stepping on the dog, knocking electrical appliances over, or stumbling over someone's dinner.

We even missed Governor Chris Patten's historic last Policy Address because our television was wrapped in newspapers (fortunately, we did not miss much).

I am grumbling. My mother points out I should be grateful. After all, she will be footing the renovation bills while the troop of decorators are doing all the hard work.

All I have to do is to sit back and endure.

She has a point. Our flat is falling apart and someone has to replace those cracked windows and stop the ceiling from descending on our heads - and that person is not going to be me.

When it comes to home improvements, I am as useful as the Internet is to my grandmother - which is a surprise considering I was brought up in a country where the nation is into 'DIY' - Do It Yourself.

For those of you who have not come across this term before, 'it' includes anything from putting a stool together to building an extension in your back garden.

In Britain - as in Australia and the United States - some see DIY as a weekend hobby.

They would rather build a bicycle shed in the rain than go shopping or to the movies.

That is why DIY shops are thriving. They sell self-assembly cupboards, tables, stools and even beds.

All you have to do is to spend the next few hours putting everything together.

That is the theory. In my case, this process could take weeks.

I once had to decorate my flat and gave the term DIY a brand new meaning - Destroy It Yourself.

It appeared no matter what I did - from drilling holes on the walls to hooking curtains on the rail - I was doing it the wrong way: a four-legged stool that wobbled, a video cupboard that slanted to one side and a mirror that sat on, rather than above, the washing basin.

I guess the problem stemmed from my inability to follow the instructions and apply glue at the right place at the right time.

But what was I supposed to do when I was asked to do the following: 'Once you have completed step A, proceed to step B but only after reading Step D and E carefully as steps B and C may apply to models P and Q only.' Luckily, we leave these highly complicated tasks to the decorators in the territory.

They may look like triad thugs who go around chain-sawing each other, but they do deliver their goods on time - if you treat them nicely.

Just make sure you leave plenty of carton drinks in the refrigerator and give them long lunch breaks.

At this point, I would like to stress that a person cannot be judged by the number of dragons tattooed on his (or her) chest.

Some of the decorators who worked in our house are really kind people (except for the grumpy Mr Tattooed-Arm).

In fact, you cannot really judge anyone by their appearance alone. A friend recently told me that someone she knew was burgled by a gang who went about their business wearing tuxedos.

Apparently, they were so polite no one would have suspected them as criminals.

Back in my chaotic flat (burglars are advised to stay away for their own good) we confront yet another crisis because even professional decorators have their occasional hiccups.

I like the wallpaper on the hallway, its three-dimensional patterns have made an impression on me.

Then I stand back and discover the entire wall is like the surface of the moon with lumps and bumps all over.

'It will flatten out, eventually, when the weather becomes dry,' Mr Tattooed-Arm said. How? The question is left hanging in the air as he further assures us with a look that raises the hair at the back of my neck.

Hey, who am I to argue with these professionals?