Poets do not belong in hardware stores. At least, this one doesn’t. I approach every visit with the sort of apprehension a normal person might reserve for a shark-infested pool. There are few places in which I would feel less comfortable – an aerobics class perhaps, the front bar of the Coober Pedy hotel probably, the changing room at a football venue most definitely.
There is a hardware retailer near my house that calls itself a ‘mega store’. Everything about it is ‘mega’. Not large, not big, but ‘mega’. It even has a ‘mega café’ (although, oddly enough, I couldn’t find it). I might be exaggerating a little, but the store is so big you could comfortably fit a Jumbo 747 in there, with room for a few double-decker buses and an elephant or two. Why do these places need to be so big! As if they aren’t already intimidating enough with their drills, nail guns and chainsaws.
Anyway, I was in the middle of a much-avoided home improvement scheme. I drew up a shopping list and, expecting a long arduous visit, packed a flask of water, some food and a compass. What I didn’t have, and desperately needed, was a map to the store. The shelves were so high it was impossible to get my bearings, as though I were trapped in a jungle or rocky canyon. The folks that run these places might like to think about installing a few lookouts, or at least employ guides (and even a couple of donkeys).
After ten minutes of aimless wandering, I found myself in a ‘secret wing’ of the building that smelled like horse manure and contained rows and rows of giant pots and enormous bags of fertiliser. I found a troll-like woman under a concrete mushroom who kindly gave me directions to the paint department. After mopping the sweat from my brow, and taking a sip of water, I was off again.
An average supermarket could have fit into the paint department – it was huge. My head was soon dizzy with choice – low sheen, textured, semi gloss, oil-based semi-gloss, low sheen textured semi-gloss, hi sheen super-gloss super-textured. I was still staring at one of these walls of paint when a shop assistant approached me. She had the same nuggetty-build as the troll woman I’d found earlier and spoke with a similar gruff, earthy rumble. After admitting my ignorance, she fired off a series of baffling questions, to which I gave equally baffling replies. Somehow, she was able to determine what I needed, and after referring to various charts and codes, presented me with a tin of paint.
Before leaving the paint section I grabbed a stack of those intriguing colour charts. I’ve always found them fascinating. Somewhere on the planet a poet or two are being held hostage by paint companies and ordered to come up with interesting names for paint colours. Who else but a poet could come up with colour names such as ‘Pomp’, ‘Sourdough’, ‘Speedboat’ and ‘Donkey’?
I found my next stop – the plumbing section – by mistake. One minute I was looking at brushes, the next I was in a section labelled ‘screwed brassware’. Amazingly, I found what I was looking for – a roll of plumber’s tape – without having to ask anyone. Although it did involve browsing though several aisles of solvents, pipes, saddles, brackets and copper capillary fittings.
The nail and screw section featured helpful signage obviously aimed at hardware-dodos like me. By answering a series of simple questions I could determine the sort of fastener I needed. Was I nailing or screwing into plasterboard, chipboard, timber, treated pine? Was I erecting a bookshelf or a pergola? These and other questions helped narrow the choice down to just a hundred or so fasteners!
Before heading to the checkout, I spent a few minutes wandering around the tool section. It really is a torturer’s paradise! There are tools to cut, smash, bend, penetrate and destroy every possible type of material. I was tempted to buy something called a ‘wrecking bar’. It would certainly it would come in handy when fighting for a parking spot at the local shopping mall.
While much of my hardware experience explored unknown territory, the visit to the checkout was very, very familiar to me. It doesn’t really matter what you buy – sausages, sandals or screwdrivers – the pain as the checkout operator runs your credit card through the card reader is the same.
‘See ya next time,’ guffawed the checkout chap with a goofy grin.
Next time? I didn’t count on coming back until the next home improvement scheme, which should be about halfway through the next decade.