A DIYer’s ode to autumn…

I know that spring cleaning is supposed to be very popular here in the UK, but I have observed that the British are equally keen, if not more so, to prepare for autumn. Hedges are trimmed of their summer growth, patio furniture is cleaned and packed away, gardens are tidied and the outside of houses undergo some serious sprucing. Last weekend I seemed to be surrounded by people readying their homes for the coming ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness‘. My neighbour at the back had someone in to trim the twelve-foot high conifer hedge that separates our gardens while my neighbour to the left had someone in to pressure-clean the back patio and garden pathways.

And so, besieged as I was on all sides by diligent and hardworking people, I decided that if I couldn’t beat ‘em, I might as well join ‘em – or as Mr. S sardonically observed, I caved to peer-pressure – and decided that now was the perfect opportunity to use the pressure hose I purchased on a whim a few months back to clean the driveway and front patio.

Famous last words – or actions in this case. You see, there is a reason why my neighbours all hired someone to do their autumnal chores rather than opting to get all hot and bothered themselves. But rookie Brit that I am, I enthusiastically start preparing for a morning spent outside enjoying the last sunny day of summer, working up a teensy bit of a sweat and feeling superior to my lazy fellow men who shelled out a few hundred pounds for someone else to do an itty-bitty chore they could easily do themselves.

The first step is to sweep the driveway and front patio to remove the drifts of leaves that have accumulated against the walls over the summer (apparently the trees in front of my house didn’t receive the memo about autumn being the season of leaf-loss). The way various muscles are aching by the time I deposit the last leaf on the compost heap should raise all sorts of alarm bells regarding the inadvisability of tackling this job on my own, but I’m still feeling ridiculously superior to my fellow-men and so I proceed to step two – assembling the pressure cleaner.

Surprisingly this is relatively simple and for once, does not require a degree in mechanical engineering. I attach it to the hosepipe (after actually remembering to first check online to make sure that the hosepipe ban has indeed been lifted) and encounter my first problem. We don’t have an outside tap in the front garden so our hosepipe is attached to a tap in the back garden and barely reaches the front of the house. Not a problem though as the previous owner very kindly left a second hosepipe hanging in the garage – she obviously encountered similar problems – so if I join the two together I’ll be able to reach the whole area to be cleaned.

Of course I don’t have one of the necessary hosepipe-connector-thingamajigs so I down tools and it’s off to the local hardware store to buy one. While I’m there I get slightly distracted in the paint section (I’m currently trying to track down just the right colour for my hallway) followed by the outdoor plant section (the fact that it is the beginning of autumn has never stopped me from browsing and mentally redesigning my garden) and I suddenly realise that I’ve been there for almost an hour. I pay for my connector-thingamajig and rush back home.

Get the second hosepipe out of the garage and find that it has one of those ancient metal clip connectors rusted on which resists all my attempts to remove it so have to search Mr. S’s work bench for a suitable knife to cut off that section of pipe. I can’t find a utility knife so end up using one of my kitchen knives which works surprisingly well but also slices open my finger. Upstairs I go in search of a plaster before I bleed to death. Of course there are none as Miss S used them all on her dolls last week when she was playing hospitals. So I wind a thick wad of tissue paper around my gushing finger, get back in the car and drive to the local corner cafe to buy a box of plasters.

Back home, bind up my finger, retrieve the second hosepipe from the garage and join it to the other one without further incident – apart from dislodging a few spiders which necessitates some minor screaming and violent shooing with a broom, and knocking over that box of electronic bits and pieces that Mr. S insists we keep just in case he should need a certain type of obsolete cable someday. Me knocking everything over and having to return it all to the box was the first time any of these things had been touched in two years, but still we keep them – ‘just in case’!

I’m finally ready to clean the driveway and it’s only been a mere three hours since I started this itty-bitty autumnal chore.

Connect hosepipe to pressure hose and turn on tap. Big puddle of water rapidly forms on the driveway from the multiple holes in the second hosepipe….

By now I’m seriously considering just packing everything back into the garage and phoning the garden service to make an appointment for them to come and clean the driveway but for some inexplicable reason I’m determined to see this through. So it’s back to the hardware store for the second time to buy a new hosepipe. This time I avoid the paint and garden sections and storm in and out with my new hosepipe, barely resisting the urge to snarl at the spritely teenager at the checkout when she tells me to have a nice day. Yeah right!

Back home, connect up the new hosepipe, turn on the tap and …. success!

Well, success as in there is no longer a puddle forming on the driveway but when I press the trigger handle of the pressure sprayer I just get a dribble of water splashing onto my toes. Cursing the fact that the water pressure for our garden tap is obviously so low that it renders the pressure cleaner ineffective, I decide to check the instruction manual one last time to see whether there is anything I have missed and lo and behold, there is a Diagram for Dummies with a big arrow pointing to the ON switch.

So I hand the spray gun to Miss S to hold while I trot over to switch on the machine. The roar of the machine is accompanied by a shriek and a thump and I turn to see that the recoil from the now-working pressure hose has knocked Miss S onto her ass. Fortunately when one is seven years old such mishaps are hysterically funny and the only tears are as a result of me callously refusing to allow her to do it again.

Four hours after I decide to join the neighbours in The Big Autumn Clean-up I’m finally ready to actually get down and dirty. By now it’s lunch time but I’m blowed if I’m going to let that get in my way of Cleaning The Driveway so when Miss S starts to whine about feeling hungry I simply point her in the direction of a tin of Pringles and leave her to it (it’s the sour cream and onion flavour so they contain three of the five food groups, and one of her five-a-day so I’m not overly concerned).

I finally point the pressure hose at the driveway and gaze transfixed while a black brick magically turns salmon pink before my eyes as decades of dirt is removed under the force of the water spray. This is so cool!!

Nine hundred and ninety-nine bricks to be cleaned,

Nine hundred and ninety-nine bricks,

You clean one off and move to the next,

Nine hundred and ninety-eight bricks left to clean…

Twenty-or-so bricks later and my childish delight in watching the bricks revealed in all their natural glory is starting to wane; OK, so I have a short attention span. At least I now have time to notice other things such as the fact that it is a windy day and the spray from the hose is being blown everywhere and I’m getting a little wet. Soaked in fact. Miss S, ever the opportunist, has already changed into her swimming costume and wellingtons and is capering gleefully in the fine mist, while the water drips pathetically off my nose. But onwards and upwards, right?

Bored with bricks – did I mention the short attention span? – I decide to move on to cleaning the garage door. I’m happily blasting away at cobwebs and years of dirt, watching the door change from dirty white to brilliant white under my onslaught when I realise that the fine mist in which I’m cloaked is now speckled with flecks of white paint. Apparently a pressure hose is a very effective paint stripper when used on a forty-year old metal door. Go figure! But at least it’s clean, right? A beautiful, brilliant white interspersed with large patches of silver metal…

And so it’s back to the driveway.

Nine hundred and eighty-six bricks left to clean…

Four hours of preparation and unforeseen mishaps, six hours of back-breaking cleaning and many, many verses of ‘Nine hundred and ninety-nine bricks to be cleaned‘ later and I’m finally finished. In every sense of the word.

Every muscle in my body aches and I am wet and muddy but the driveway and front patio are sparkling clean and weed free. On the down side, the garage door is missing half its paint and I no longer feel at all superior to my fellow men who wisely hired someone else to do their autumnal chores for them. But I have every intention of learning from my mistake.

Next year when the leaves start to turn yellow and the air crisp, and my thoughts wander to the chores that need to be completed before we settle in for the cold winter months, I fully intend to follow the excellent example set by my neighbours and hire someone else to labour away while I sit in the garden enjoying the last of the golden summer days with a mug of coffee and a cinnamon sugar muffin. But that is next year. Right now there is a garage door and a tin of white paint with my name on it…

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