Tim Dowling: My wife has a DIY job for me, but I get to irritate her while I do it

<span>Illustration: Selman Hosgor/The Guardian</span>
Illustration: Selman Hosgor/The Guardian

It is Sunday morning. My wife and I are staying with friends, and she is telling them about the panic attack I had in the night.

“It wasn’t really a panic attack,” I say. “I just thought I was going blind.”

“We had to sleep with the lights on,” my wife says.

“You know when it’s dark and you’re in an unfamiliar room,” I say. “And then suddenly you can’t breathe.”

“Still,” my wife says. “At least I didn’t wake up to him punching me.”

“Punching you?” says our friend. I am conscious of the fact that we are beginning to seem like less than ideal overnight guests.

“Not on purpose,” I say.

“He’s asleep when it happens,” my wife says.

“The people I’m fighting in my dreams deserve it,” I say. “These are bad people.”

“I’ve heard about this,” says our friend. “It’s definitely a thing.”

“It doesn’t happen that often,” my wife says. “Maybe six times a year.”

Just before we leave for home my wife steps on my foot in a playful manner, but it hurts and I decide to take it the wrong way. The car ride home is quiet, and I plan to remain aloof for the rest of the afternoon. I have not, after all, slept well.

“Shall we begin?” my wife says, shortly after I sit down.

“Begin what?” I say.

“The curtains,” she says.

“Oh my God,” I say.

I forgot that my wife has three sets of curtains she wants me to install, using an innovative method of her choosing: the curtain rods are lengths of copper pipe, to be held in place using brass pipe fittings.

“So really, you’re asking me to do plumbing,” I say.

“It won’t take long,” she says.

“It will take all day,” I say.

My wife shows me the copper piping leaning against a wall outside. The pipe has a weathered, antique look.

“The man at the builder’s merchant told me to paint flux on them to dull them down,” she says. “So I did. I don’t even know what flux is.”

“Flux is a corrosive agent used in soldering and other …”

“To be more precise,” she says, “I don’t care what flux is.”

My wife’s veneer of good humour is flaking away, but she’s keen this project won’t take up six of her weekends

I locate a dull hacksaw, offer up the pipe to the window, and saw off an appropriate length. The cut is jagged and uneven, but it doesn’t matter because I have smart little copper pipe caps to fit over the ends.

“That looks great,” my wife says.

“Now to get it on the wall,” I say.

What follows is my least favourite kind of DIY: drilling into walls to discover how insubstantial they are. As usual, I narrate every step of the process out loud. As usual, my wife pretends not to find this irritating in a bid to keep me on task.

“How perverse,” I say. “With the first hole I hit brick straight away.”

“Huh,” my wife says.

“Whereas with the hole below, I struck nothing but thin air,” I say. “I think I may have drilled straight through the house to outside.”

“Best to press on,” she says. “Shall I check the curtains for length?”

We thread the curtains on to the rod and hold them up. I screw in one fitting, then the other.

“The Phillips screw, or cross-head screw, is famous for its self-centring properties,” I say.

“Interesting,” my wife says, through gritted teeth. “Is it maybe a bit low on my side?”

“Too late to worry about that,” I say. “It is what it is.”

My narration continues as we progress. I sense that my wife’s veneer of good humour is flaking away, but she remains determined not to let this project spread itself over half a dozen weekends.

“I’ve hit a joist, and now must switch drill bits mid-hole,” I say.

“You’re doing really well,” she says.

The final screw spins freely and will not tighten, but the curtains appear to be sufficiently held in place by the other three, at least for now. The main plank of my DIY philosophy is that nothing stays stuck on the wall forever: not loo roll holders, nor paintings, nor decorative sconces.

“Eventually everything clatters to the ground,” I say.

“Great,” my wife says. “We can move on to coat hooks now.”

That night, with the new curtains in place, the bedroom is shrouded in darkness so profound you could drown in it. My breath comes short; I have to open the curtains a crack to let in a slice of street light. Only then can I relax enough to fall asleep and dream of punching bad people.