Tim Dowling: I fall asleep thinking about the impossibility of each of the repairs I am facing

The Guardian - Sat Jan 15 06:00

It is the season of things coming off in your hands: drawer knobs, door latches, cupboard handles. Everywhere is disintegration and fatigue, down to the very metal. Reach out, turn it, pull it towards you, and it’s yours.

On Monday evening the youngest one snaps off the brass latch handle while trying to open the front door. He shows me the piece, shorn away by the force of his grip.

“It’s not like I even pulled that hard,” he says.

“How do we get out?” I say. We jam a screwdriver into the gap and find that with practice we can lever ourselves free.

On Wednesday the cylindrical chrome wand that turns the kitchen tap from hot to cold comes loose from its socket while I’m washing up, screw threads somehow stripped. Nothing I do will make it stay, so I leave it in a saucer on a nearby shelf.

The next day the youngest one pulls the handle off the back door, for good measure.

“I guess I don’t know my own strength,” he says, presenting me with the remains.

“Did you get bitten by a spider or something?” I say. I lift my glasses to examine in detail the grainy peaks and valleys of the fracture, a microscopic landscape contoured along unpredictable lines of tensile stress.

“I was just trying to let the cat out,” he says.

“The thing is, the back door was our emergency exit in the event we lost the front door screwdriver,” I say, holding the handle to the light. “What is this, zinc?”

I fall asleep thinking about the impossibility of each of the repairs I am facing. Some things, once sundered, cannot be rejoined. There is no such glue. Later I am woken by a loud, tearing crack. I run downstairs to the kitchen to find the dog in a state of distress, wearing the cat flap like a skirt.

The front door lock mechanism is, it transpires, under warranty. A repairman arrives after the weekend and fixes it in a matter of minutes. By the time I get there to watch him work, he is gone.

Everything else is my problem. These are questions, I realise, not of practical skill but of very precise online ordering. Measure twice and cut once, say DIY experts. I say: order the exact same handle and use all the old screw holes.

Unfortunately there is rather more to know about door handles than I imagined. They come sprung and unsprung, for regular or multipoint locking systems, and there is no such thing as a standard size. The manufacturers are also curiously resistant to branding: nowhere on my handle can I find a mark to say who made it, even after taking it to bits.

I spend two days educating myself, plus a further afternoon taking precise measurements, before I’m confident I’ve tracked down a suitable replacement. With a tremendous rush of satisfaction, I press Confirm Order.

That evening I find my wife looking at new cat flaps online.

“Don’t do that without me,” I say.

“Why not?” she says. “Did you want to choose the colour?”

“We need one that’s big enough for the dog, but small enough for the existing hole,” I say. “We need, in short, the exact same one.”

“This one looks the same,” she says.

“We do not go by looks,” I say. “I’ll get a tape measure.”

On Friday afternoon my handles arrive. It feels like my birthday. I shred the packaging in excitement, pull out a handle and examine it closely: anodised silver, double sprung, multipoint compatible. Then I look down into the box.

When my wife next passes through the room I have my head in my hands.

“Wrong, all wrong,” I say.

“Looks OK to me,” she says, poking the handle.

“You have no idea,” I say.

“Please don’t tell me,” she says.

I call the number on the invoice. After many minutes, a voice answers.

“Shelley speaking. How may I help?” it says. I tell Shelley my name and reference number.

“The ProLinea, was it?” she says.

“Yes,” I say. “But I ordered the model with the 240mm backing plate. This is the 220.” There is a long silence at the other end.

“Oh no,” says Shelley. “That’s not good.” Shelley, I realise, is the only person in the world who understands what I’m going through. She knows exactly how misaligned my screw holes are.

“I’m sorry,” I say.

“It’s not your fault,” she says. “I’ll get the right one out to you, but it won’t get processed now til Monday.”

“That’s fine, Shelley,” I say. But I know that she knows I am crushed.