In days of yore, returning Norsemen would recount the many adventures that befell them during the long months they had being away at sea. These tales would go on so long that they became known as sagas. However, after experiencing day one of trying to erect a 90 foot long polytunnel, I have no doubt this story will join those sagas and will be oft told to the sound of giggles and smirks around winter campfires well into the future.
The day started off badly. I had interrupted the job of tieing my bootlaces to cut the heads off some rhubarb that was lying on the bench next to me. When I returned to the job, I realised with horror that amoung the rhubarb leaves was a section of brightly coloured bootlace. It was going to be one of those days I thought. I should have gone back to bed then and there.
Now I had circulated full instructions to Jan and Jim together with helpful videos so I figured all would be well. Unfortunately, Jim was tied up pointing the walls of his house and Jan, of course, admittedly having read the instructions had determined several ways in which things could be done better whilst for my part I had failed to read any of it.
Once Jan realised I hadn’t read the instructions, his confidence grew and he assserted we should put up some sort of string line. Jim had left plenty of string so I figured he had intended to use it in some way so I went along with the suggestion. Soon Jan was encircling the 90ft x 20ft site with string. It looked good and we congratulated ourselves on a job well done though we weren’t quite sure why it was necessary.
Originally we had intended to hire a mini digger and bury the polythene sides in a trench. However, we decided that we wouldn’t need to do that because we had a base rail and we could easily tuck in the polythene down the sides without all that heavy digging. I figured all that was needed was to hammer poles into the ground and the job was a good ‘un. However, Jan quickly explained to me that the destructions he had read required holes to be dug out around 2 foot square and 2 foot deep at each post. Obviously we had to remove the posts holding the string in order to dig the first two holes and it continued to puzzle me as to why we needed them in the first place. Pushing such negative thoughts to the back of my mind, I grabbed a spade. A lot of sweat and an hour later we had two holes in the ground 20 feet apart. We counted the poles we still had to dig – only 30 to go! Arggh. Should have got the mini digger.
With two anchor posts in the ground we decided we should try putting together a hoop to see if it would fit. Now Jim had assembled a hoop the last time he came over but Jan dismantled it and had obviously decided an extra section was necessary and was desparately trying to source male/female sections to get them all together. After a bit of a contratemps, I reassembled the four sections the way Jim had showed me and we tried to lift it onto the poles. Unfortunately, the assembled hoop wasn’t rigid and it contorted as we attempted to lift it. Perhaps it needed a ridge bar before it could be put up I conjectured? However, with a sudden stroke of genius we simply laid the hoop flat on the ground and could see that it would fit on the posts if squeezed together a bit so our 20 ft measurement was correct.
Satisfied we were on the right track we carefully considered our next move. At this point John turned up to lend a hand at digging. Ok so he had missed out on the first two holes but there would be plenty more to go at. The question was where do we go from here? After great deliberation we decided tea was in order and we would play the instruction video to make sure we knew what we were doing. The lady in the video suggested we needed to measure out and tap all of the base poles into position six feet apart. Jan took charge and I decided to let him and John get on with it. The instructions had also suggested the reason the hoop had contorted was because we should have drilled self tapping screws into the joints of the hoop so I went off to track down the screws and the drill.
Ignoring the expletives issued by John to Jan’s confusing directions, I focussed on drilling these magic screws into the solid metal poles. The girl on the video had made light work of the job so I figured I was on a winner. Well the first one made no headway at all and after running the drill for some minutes it had barely scratched the surface. A rogue screw I figured but the second was no better. A rogue batch I mused. With a lot more pressure applied I started to make headway but the drill slipped and managed to take a slice out of my finger. Should have worn gloves! I trudged back to my nursy wife for emergency repairs.
Then some bright spark suggested I could drill a pilot hole and that would help. ‘Brilliant’ I thought, but without admitting as much to Jan whose ego would only swell to an unthinkable degree, I grudgingly replied “I suppose its worth a go”. I returned with a tiny drill bit that I thought might do the job nicely. So I drilled and drilled and after a few minutes trails of smoke could be seen rising from the drilling site. I wondered optimistically if this was normal and a sign of progress. “Is that a metal drill bit?” John asked knowledgably. I mean who knows? It looked metal to me? You may not believe this but apparently there are different drill bits for metal, masonry and wood. You learn something new every day.
Returning from the shed with another drill bit we still had the same problem. “Its the drill” said John. Well it was a brand new DeWalt drill and the head was spinning quite fast so I couldn’t see how the drill could be to blame but I did accept that maybe it needed charging. I elected to go back to the shed for more drill bits just in case one of them was a metal one. On the way back I encountered Jim who had torn himself away from his pointing no doubt burning with curiosity as to what the two muppets had been up to. “Have you assembled all the anchor plates like I told you?” he said (having cleverly worked out that that job was all we were fit for). “No” I admitted naturally laying the blame at Jan’s door, “but we have dug two holes” I said proudly. He growled and continued down to site and I retrieved more drill bits.
Returning to site I found Jim hovering over my precious hoop screwing the last self tapping screw into place. I was dumbfounded. Was it just brute strength? Had he brought his own drill bits? “You hadn’t set the drill properly” he said. Now to my mind a drill is a drill. You stick a drill bit in the end, press the button and it spins around. What is there to set? “The drill has a clutch” he said and muttered something about “torque”. Well it was either “torque” or “dork”. He showed me that my drill had hidden on it a number of symbols which could be set by spinning the head around. I should have been on the setting marked “drill” apparently though what other bloody setting a drill should have beats me. I mean what else could it have? A hair drier setting? I gave him a knowing nod of acceptance which I think disguised my utter bewilderment. I resolved to read the drill manual when I got in.
Jim then turned his attention to our sad string line that was snaking along the grass. He picked up a large rock and started walking towards Jan at the far end of the tunnel. For a moment I thought “he has finally had enough of him”. He placed the rock some 3 feet back from the end of the tunnel and used it to tension the string with what he called a “dolly knot”. I was a bit miffed by this because he on a previous occasion he had told me that you only need to learn three knots and a dolly knot wasn’t one of them. But why so much farther back from the corner. It then suddenly dawned on me how stupid we had been pegging out the exact site only to have to remove the corner pegs to dig the holes.
Leaving behind detailed instructions on how we were to proceed, Jim disappeared back to his pointing. John, who had bravely volunteered purely to help us with the digging also announced he had to go leaving Jan and myself staring at the 30 pegs marking the remaining holes to be dug. The saga continues…