Richard Hearn replaces some shelves

There aren’t many places in our house I haven’t stood in since before becoming a dad but we are replacing the shelves in the alcove which were built a month before The Boy was born.

“I felt that I was in some sort of Alcove Pre-Parenthood Time Machine”

The Boy, now almost eight, stood in the alcove while I unscrewed batons of two by one. I felt that I was in some sort of Alcove Pre-Parenthood Time Machine™. (I’m registering this one. It’s gold dust.) My pencil scribbles on each baton and choice of rawlplugs had a sense of history. Even if they merely said ‘this way up’ or were a red/yellow choice respectively, they hinted at an earlier, more innocent, time.

I stared at my own handwriting waiting for a time-shift spark, just as, in museums, I become fascinated by a letter written by Charles I before his execution or a postcard home by a First World War soldier. Yes, my comparisons are facetious and I apologise now.

My dad had helped me construct the shelving then, and he accompanied me to IKEA to bring back its replacement this time. He is the Go-To Man for that particular alcove. Perhaps, if it really is an Alcove Pre-Parenthood Time Machine; when he steps into it, I don’t exist. This column might disappear in a puff of smoke.

Where (and when) was I? Having been to IKEA – the air filled with the smell of anticipation and chipboard – I am later alone with the boxes which depict a man looking sad carrying the item I’ve just bought. I think of it as a warning. Then I notice a picture of two men looking a lot happier. This seems to be about friendship. It’s nice of IKEA to get in on the act of social cohesion. Oh, hang on, it needs two people.

There were slight hiccups in its construction. Midway through the construction, I had to stop because of other emergencies, and Youngest™ and The Boy decided the exposed dowling could serve as pegs in a pretend shop. Bits snapped. Ironically, we therefore had to visit a real shop to get replacement dowling.

Later – and I think this is why two fit, strong people are so happy on the side of the box – there was lifting to be done. My wife and I did manage this, eventually, and I feel we both deserve at least an honorary bronze in weightlifting.

Once in place and fastened to the wall, the technical DIY phrase that kept coming to mind was: “That’s not going anywhere.” In any space or time. Which is good for safety, but I’m not sure it’s going to be my Alcove Time Machine after all.

Illustration: Paul Lewis

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