There’s a terrific scene in The Hurt Locker where Staff Sergeant James (Jeremy Renner) has returned from Iraq and is confronted by the cereal aisle in his local supermarket.
We’ve previously seen him take split-second decisions, risking his own and others’ lives. Faced with a wall of boxes and logos, he’s lost. There’s nothing to guide him, this fixture is so far from his experience he can’t begin to fathom the distinctions between sugar-coated-cinnamon-shapes and all-natural-wheat-and-rice-clusters (let’s face it, who can?).
I have felt similarly bewildered in recent weeks. We’ve been planning to extend our existing patio – not by much, only a couple of feet, but enough to create more space for a table, and taking out a small wall that separated the paved area from flower beds. I’ve been fine with the manual labour, wielding sledgehammers and pickaxes to remove the concrete and stone blocks, and digging out the trench for the new foundations.
But that’s where the trouble has started. I’m a novice to most actual skilled DIY. I can sand and paint, dig out foundations, even put up wallpaper, shelves and curtain rails. But laying a patio seems like another level. Still, we have a few gardening and DIY books, and there are loads of websites…
…but while all of these told me I will need 50-100mm of aggregate (depending on soil type), as well as 50mm of a dry cement/sand mix, none of these places felt a need to tell me how much that meant I might need to order. How many kgs do I need to cover 7m² to a depth of 100mm? Am I really the only person who doesn’t know this? I went to our local Jewson builders’ merchant and the guy behind the counter looked at me like blankly, as though I was insulting him to actually ask for advice.
It felt like a place where if you don’t know what you want, you shouldn’t be there; a place for insiders, who actually don’t want individuals like me to learn how to lay a patio (or even to want to learn), because then I might start shopping around wisely for keener prices, going direct to manufacturers.
So what is the difference between aggregate, ballast and scalpings, anyway? And when we then asked someone to confirm how much I need to cover seven square metres, he sniffed, breathed deeply, muttered “that’s a big area” and a few minutes later announced we should order 5 tonnes! I think he confused seven square metres with seven metres squared. Sheesh.
I thought that we might have progressed beyond the sort of customer service meted out by Rowan Atkinson to Mel Smith in the fantastic Not The Nine o’Clock News sketch from nearly 20 years ago. Apparently not.