Monday 27 January 2020

21st Century Man: Make sure you read the instructions

Flat-packing — a rare opportunity to grunt, curse and scratch my arse in the way all men were originally designed...

The Nornas range from Ikea
The Nornas range from Ikea

Colm Tobin

Human beings alive today are lucky enough to be the next in a long genetic line that stretches back to the very great masters of architecture and construction.

Fearless visionaries who pushed against the boundaries of engineering; shaping metal, stone and glass to make tunnels that cut through vast mountains, skyscrapers that touch the heavens, and bridges that span mighty rivers.

In 3200 BC, it is estimated that a team of over 300 workers would have toiled for 30 years to amass the 200,000 tonnes of earth, mud and stone that make up Newgrange. In New York in the late 1800s, the Brooklyn Bridge took more than a decade to build, with its imposing towers of limestone, granite and Rosendale cement. Around 30  men were killed during its construction, including its designer, as they drilled deeper and deeper into the East River bedrock.

Last Tuesday, I constructed an IKEA BRIMNES chest of three drawers, using 12 x plastic screws, 24 x smaller metal screws, 24 x wooden sticky things, 4 x iron bendy yokes and 1 x Allen key. It took me one hour and 37 minutes to complete, and during construction, I really hurt my finger.

To get to the point, before this lumbering introduction collapses under the overbearing weight of its own assembly, I’m not a DIY expert.

My knowledge of fundamental engineering concepts is scant. Tolerance coning, weight distribution, metal fatigue — all I really know about these terms is that they come up when you Google “fundamental engineering concepts”. Likewise, I’m not really on top of all the boring health and safety stuff. Will this thing really electrocute me if I poke at it with the fork? Super glue and eyelids — what’s the latest research? Hey, I wonder what happens if I eat these? That whole world is about as alien and bewildering to me as Kourtney Kardashian. However, in my defence, there are some signs of progress. I’ve learnt to skilfully dip a brush into a can of paint and artfully apply it to a wall, shelf or ceiling. I can effortlessly stick those cheap plastic hooks onto the backs of toilet doors. Hey, I wire plugs like McGyver. 

So when those IKEA flat-packing “events” comes around, I tackle them with all the seriousness and self-importance of someone embarking on the Hoover Dam project. It’s basically a rare opportunity for me — a 21st Century Man, according to this title of this column — to grunt, curse and scratch my arse in the way all men were originally designed.

Firstly, I always read the instructions carefully. I realise that this isn’t a very Irish thing to do. The natural inclination would be to tear into it like a Celtic Tiger cowboy builder firing up an apartment. But I go “full Swedish” — I count out and carefully display all the fixtures and fittings. I line up all my tools (screwdriver, hammer) like a surgeon preparing to transplant a kidney. And I make sure to carefully study all those diagrams with the little IKEA man — you know, the guy who looks like Fido’s let himself go a bit.

 

DO — lay out all the components on cardboard so as not to mark the wood.

DON’T — shove the screwdriver up your nostrils.

DO — get an adult to help you with the scissors.

DON’T — lay on the floor in tears for three hours, mourning the death of your youth.

 

Thankfully, the great IKEA trick is that even a drunk idiot couldn’t really get these flat-packs wrong. They are generally designed so well, without any chance of any pesky “creativity” creeping into the mix, that you end up with a spanking new piece of furniture that looks exactly like the photo on the website.

And it’s only then that the disproportionate pride kicks in. That pathetic “look what I did, dear” half-hour of macho smugness that occurs as you survey your wondrous creation. The feeling men used to only get, I presume, after starting a war or killing a squirrel with their bare hands.

But I never look back for too long, me. The next project? HEMNES double-bed frame with matching lockers — bring it on.

Human beings alive today are lucky enough to be the next in a long genetic line that stretches back to the very great masters of architecture and construction. Fearless visionaries who pushed against the boundaries of engineering; shaping metal, stone and glass to make tunnels that cut through vast mountains, skyscrapers that touch the heavens, and bridges that span mighty rivers.

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