How to do it yourself

So You Want To Do It Yourself?

"It's so simple, a child can do it!"

How many times have you come across this pervasive statement, a key element of false advertisements that extol the economic advantages and gratification afforded by "assemble it yourself" goods.

Well, I'm not a child, being on the twilight side of half a century. What's more, how do they know it can be done by a child? My memory is waning, but I am sure that as a child I certainly wouldn't have been capable of it!

Instructions have evolved from a simple message such as, "Snap the four legs into place on the table top, turn upright and enjoy," to a 300 plus page tome where the time required for navigating its contents exceeds the expected life of the goods.

So you make your first mistake by resolving to buy a Princess Doll House that comes with the misleading proviso, "some assembly is required." I call this insidious entrapment by the manufacturer that ought to incur the full wrath of our Supreme Court.

Next, you make your second error of judgement by foolishly banishing the Princess to indefinite exile and opting instead for the Queen version because, as the seductive description states, it "promises endless hours of pleasure, with more than twice the options the Princess provides."

Needless to say, in your haste to grant your granddaughter, Jenny, an audience with the Queen, you fail to appreciate subtle anomalies. Whereas the Princess merely informs you that "some assembly is required", the Queen is more demanding with her subjects by imposing that "substantial assembly will be required."

The box is delivered poste-haste to your doorstep and appears alarmingly larger than you remember. You're not a short man, but you can't see over the top of the box. No, the delivery man can't take it inside because, "Sorry, sir, it won't fit through the door."

Jenny is holding your hand and excitedly cries, "Can we open it, Grandpa?" With deft use of a pair of scissors the flaps of the box confining the Queen to secluded darkness are flung open, but the height of her majesty's enclosure prevents a bird's eye view of the contents.

Misguided faith in your resourcefulness directs you to tilt the box a full ninety degrees sideways so that its opening will be accessible from a lower altitude. However, the weight of the contents and the change in the centre of mass are factors that have not been included in your contingency plan. When the box is aligned about sixty degrees from the vertical, a sudden shift in its contents instantly increases the weight in your hands, the angular momentum increases and control is wrested from your grip. Moments later the box falls flat on the concrete with a thud and a myriad of plastic and metal parts are strewn everywhere, with Styrofoam balls that were used as padding acting as icing on the cake.

It is at this stage that you can cut your losses by admitting defeat and seeking assistance from your neighbour, Bob the Builder, or you can stoically maintain the hero-worship in Jenny's eyes by pretending what happened thus far was what was supposed to happen.

It takes an hour or two, but you finally manage to move the Queen and all her accoutrements to the middle of the lounge room.

Whilst Jenny amuses herself by playing with the Queen's cardboard container, your next step is to prioritise tasks. Of course, you can conspire to take the easy way out by leaving the Complete Guide unopened in its shrink wrapped plastic and instead grab its companion, The Quick Reference Guide. But be advised that this is a misnomer because The Quick Reference Guide consists of almost the same number of pages as its parent and contains virtually the same instructions. In fact, it is a euphemism for purgatory and should be properly titled, A Quick Reference Guide For The Beginner Sufferer. Both Guides, however, are in agreement by stating that you hold your fate in your own hands and that if you choose to proceed it will be at your own peril. This is presented by a seemingly innocuous footnote somewhere, "No responsibility taken for damaged goods caused by incorrect assembly."

But you are a General and you soldier on. Like a General assessing the strength of the enemy, you critically view each piece, noting which tactics will yield optimal returns with minimal losses.

The instruction manual appears daunting. You are sure the Queen's manufacturer employs the people responsible for their manuals according to the following criteria:

(a) That they have not tried -and never will- follow the instructions they themselves write,

(b) That the instructions form part of their doctoral dissertation,

(c) That they collude with the medical profession to promote accidents arising from misunderstood safety precautions involving screwdrivers, sharp edges and bouts of laryngitis produced from the tirade of expletives released when part A will not fit into slot B,

(d) all of the above.

And may the gods be merciful if you somehow commit the unpardonable sin of having unused parts remaining! This is tantamount to a slap in the face to the artists and technical personnel who meticulously assign a purpose for even the humble screw and nut.

Several hours later and the Queen's residence is taking shape. Never mind that several of the windows are not quite vertical (a slant of 25 degrees is really not all that bad), that the heavy plastic doors do not close properly and that the spiral staircase is missing several rungs and balustrades. The pitched roof seems sound enough, the fencing is almost upright and the furniture is glued in position. Even the unexpected blotches of dried excess glue suggest a lived in look.

Jenny asks why there is a microwave oven in the bathroom, but you dismiss her query with the reply that it is very natural for people to want to eat while they take a shower.

"What about the sink in the dining room, next to the fireplace?" she asks with a child's innocence.

"When Father Christmas comes down the chimney, his hands are dirty and he needs somewhere to wash them," you might say.

Your final act is to move your construction against the wall, away from the middle of the room. This can be done easily enough by carefully sliding the Queen along the carpet.

"But Grandpa," Jenny explains, "I don't want it here. I want the doll house in my bedroom upstairs!"

Next morning, the garbage truck will have an unusual load to collect! I wander how the Queen will look straddled upon a pile of refuse. But I will not witness the pickup because I will be busy purchasing a Princess.

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