Kevin, the carpenter working on the conversion of our dovecote, wanted a favour from me last week. ‘Do you think you could pick up a dozen 4in door hinges while you are in town?’ he asked casually. How difficult could it be to choose a few hinges? And, how could I refuse him when I am forever asking him to break off from his carpentry and do small extra tasks fix the mower or put up a curtain pole which he manages in seconds with a wave of his wand?
In fact, I suspect if I told him I fancied a trip to the moon and asked if he could knock up something to get me there, he would say: ‘Right-o. I might have to buy a few extra bits and pieces, but shouldn’t be a problem’. By the end of that afternoon, a gleaming space rocket would be standing on the front lawn. And when it came to my enquiring how to separate the command module from the thrusters on leaving the Earth’s orbit, Kevin would reach for a scrap of waste timber (as he always does when answering my idiot questions) and, with a blunt nub of pencil, sketch out instructions complete with easy-to-follow diagrams.
As soon as I walked into the local architectural ironmongers, I knew I was in big trouble. Racks and racks of different hinges were on show, but driving me on was the knowledge that, by buying the hinges myself, I would be saving the 15% mark-up builders add to each item they supply to their clients. Every pound matters at this stage in our building project.
A gel-haired salesman strode up. ‘It is door hinges you want? Well, sir, what do your doors weigh? So is it ”sos” hinges you need then? Or how about these roller-bearing hinges? We have got some nice ones with phosphor bronze washers.’ I grabbed 12 of the phosphor bronze ones they sounded fantastic only slightly taken aback to find myself paying a hefty £17 each. When I handed the lot to Kevin back at the dovecote, he stared at me as if I had tossed him the keys to a new Bentley. ‘Nice,’ he said, eyes popping. ‘Never seen any like this before.’ A few days later, Bob, the head builder, suggested that I might like to supply iron-mongery for the doors of the dovecote. Here was another tasty little saving of 15%, and how tricky could it be to pick out a few handles, locks and bolts?
So I spent most of the next morning cruising builders merchants’ websites, discovering with horror that Britain is awash with door furniture so kitsch that even Snow White wouldn’t use it to refurbish the seven dwarves’ cottage. Eventually, our architect helped me out, and pointed me to an outfit supplying an unfussy ‘rustic bronze’ range.
Did I need external lock escutcheons as well as internal ones? Matching handles or pairs? The suppliers’ questions were so endless and baffling it took me six phone calls to our project manager before I finally felt confident to place my order. A few days later came this email: ‘Thank you for your recent order. We regret to inform you the items you requested are currently out of stock and will be back with us in November’. From now on, our builders can charge a 30% mark-up, and I’ll pay gladly.