The Skirting Board Ladder – Summer 2002

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Compliments of

One of my best friends, Barbara, has moved to Athenry with her family of four boys. We had moved here a year ago. I was delighted to see her again and overjoyed to have her living so close. She had moved into a new house and was anxious to get some floor covering in her sitting room, which was bare concrete. She bought a floating floor.

To lay a floating floor you need several bits of additional hardware, and my husband sent us on a shopping trip:

I. Steel trowel

2. Floor levelling compound

3. Plumb line

4. Spacers

5. Jiffy foam

6. Hammering block

7. Wood glue

We headed for Buckley’s Builders Providers with light hearts. Like most builders’ providers, Buckley’s is a strangely male environment. There were no other female customers and we actually received a couple of strange looks. Thick-skinned as I am, I simply smiled and tried to look completely au-fait with the selection of tools, equipment and wood products set out before us. No one offered to help. Then a woman appeared on the scene: “Are you being looked after?” she asked.

“No,” I replied. “We’re looking for some stuff for a floating floor.” “Right, I’ll get John for you, won’t be a minute.” I foolishly expected John to be someone who would know what we wanted and where to find it. I also expected him, for some unknown reason, to be in his late fifties and to smile condescendingly at two women sent to do a man’s job. John turned out to be younger than me and neither condescending or unattractive.

“Can I help you?” he asked. Barbara says I’m a shameless flirt in these situations, but I just believe in making eye contact, a smile costs nothing but goes a long way. I looked him straight in the eye, smiled and said “Yes, two bags of floor levelling compound please.” “You get them out the back. “OK, have you got a steel trowel?” Yep, they’re somewhere over here, I think I saw them yesterday”. The first doubt crept into my mind and grew as he moved towards a display area carrying small D.l.Y. tools — like steel trowels. “Oh! Here they are!” he sounded relieved.

My dad and four brothers have all been involved in the building trade, in fact two of my brothers still are. So, I thought I’d make my next request a relatively easy one. “We’re also looking for a plumb line.” “A plumb line – em – right – they’re for” he broke off. “They’re for making sure you’re working levelly,” I said helpfully, “They’re usually steel, quite heavy, conical in shape, with thin twine tied to the top.” “Oh! Right, of course, yes, here they are, but they don’t have any twine, is that ok?”

“No problem,” I smiled again. “Next on the list is a hammering block”. “A what?” A hammering block! “What exactly are you doing?” he looked totally confused. “Putting down a floating floor. The hammering block is to protect the wood when you’re putting it together, so that you don’t damage it,” even I was starting to doubt myself. “Hold on a minute and l’ll check.” John went to find a more senior member of staff. I overheard their conversation: “Do we do hammering blocks? There’s a woman here looking for a hammering block. They’re putting down a floating floor,” John explained. “You can’t buy hammering blocks. There’s no such thing. You just use a spare chunk of ordinary wood between the floor piece and the hammer.”

John related this to me as “We don’t do them, any wood will do”. Bless his heart. But I had heard the conversation and looked him straight in the eye. The smile was gone. “Have I been sent for a skirting board ladder’?” I asked. He didn’t get it at first, but after a moment’s thought said: “Oh! No, I don’t think so.”

“OK. We need two rolls of jiffy foam and some wood glue.” He looked relieved as he told me that we could get jiffy foam out the back (with the floor levelling compound) and then he handed me a bottle of Evostick Wood Glue.

“Now the last item on the list is spacers”, I said and then I stopped – “Spacers?”

A touch of strain appeared on John’s face: “Spacers,” he said, “for what?” “For keeping the floor away from the wall, to give it room to move.” “I’ll just check.” He left again, but this time I didn’t listen to him asking for advice. When he came back, I knew by the look on his face that we were out of luck.

“Ken has really done it now.” I whispered to Barbara. Sorry,” he said “we don’t …”

“I know,” I said —“that was the bucket of steam. I’m going to kill him when I get home”.

We paid for our goods and left. I tackled Ken as soon as we got back: “Hammering block and spacers indeed ” I said, “l must have looked like a right spacer to yer man”.

Ken maintained his innocence but I wasn’t so sure. The following morning, Ken had to go to Dun Laoghaire in Co Dublin and he went into Woodies DIY in Sandyford. That evening when he returned home, he gave the children some sweets. As I am on a strict diet, he had nothing for me — or so I thought. Out of the Woodies bag he pulled — yep — a hammering block and a packet of spacers! I couldn’t believe it. After swallowing a large chunk of humble pie, l congratulated him on his find. I was half tempted to borrow them and show them to John in Buckley’s, but I decided I couldn’t face him again.

Within 48 hours Barbara had a beautiful new floor, much admired by everyone. Only when it was finished did Ken make his admission: “Not bad for my first try – never did one of them before”.

Fiona Kelly lives in Athenry with her husband Ken and their two children. She is secretary to the Athenry Writers’ Group and is active in community affairs.

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About this record

Written by Fiona Kelly

Published here 20 Jul 2023 and originally published Summer 2002

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