Scrape Your Way to Mental Health

My melancholic state might consume me unless I do something about it.  I can’t talk about it because I’m British, and a problem shared is a frightfully unwelcome imposition upon the good nature of others that also runs the risk of spreading a contemporary bubonic plague of despair.  I’ve tried a variety of ill-advised notional self-help strategies, and I can say with certainty that for those with a fingernail-grip of optimism about this world’s ability to pull itself out of its chronically unjust status quo, reading Private Eye will only make you feel worse.

In the spirit of experimental mistreatment, I shall take out my frustrations on parts of my home.  My hypothesis is that by actively degenerating one’s surroundings, one can truly engage with the reality that no matter how bad you think it is, it could always be worse.  And through that realisation, a meaningful Kum-By-Yah internal dialogue will rise to the surface and merriment shall be enjoyed.

Shall we begin?

This is part of my bannister, which impairs the aesthetic of the landing outside the bedroom. Like so many elements of this abode, at some point in its past it was decorated by a blind idiot with questionable motor skills.  You’re looking at one coat of cheap gloss over some ancient chocolate brown paint.

Yesterday while peering through the neighbour’s window, I noted that they have the same bannister yet the whole top piece of theirs is stripped down and stained dark.  It looks much better than ours.  We could do that, I thought.  Where home improvements are concerned, that usually means I’ll leave it to K-man.  But with my new apparent need to constantly prove my self-worth around these parts, I thought I can do that.  Tomorrow, when K-man is at work.

DIY is something at which I wish I were better.  If I could Sarah Beeny my way through project after project, I would love myself for it.  Sadly, I am beset with astonishing impatience and high level of ask someone else to do it ability.  I should  have known that I was biting off more than I can chew, but I steamed ahead with ambition and aspiration as my only guides.

Clearly, it’s important that I look as though I know what I’m doing in case any neighbours peer through my window.  All tradesmen drink copious quantities of hot beverage in cheap cups and I’m not going to let my already-tarnished neighbourhood reputation stop me.

The plan was to remove as much of the paint as possible using the heat gun, and then revert to hideous chemical for the remainder.  The heat gun is a hairdryer that’s been abusing steroids for a decade, and it comes with its own collection of fear-inducing accoutrements.

There are no instructions.  No matter.  I plugged it in and pressed the On button, pointing it at the area I intended to strip.  It proved immediately difficult to restrict the heat to a particular area, even with the nozzle designed specifically for restricting the heat to a particular area.

The line of detail I intended to strip is indicated by the portion to the right, and the vast swathe of collateral damage can be seen to the left.  I began to feel queasy, but pressed down feelings of incompetence and carried on.

Thirty seconds later, I vigorously disconnected the smoke alarm battery and sought instructions from the all-knowing Google.

Once you get the hang of it, it’s not hard.  Well, it’s not hard on flat pieces of wood: there, stripping paint with a heat-gun and a scraper is the home decoration equivalent of picking off an enormous itchy scab.  I didn’t intend to strip anything below the top two inches of intricate wood, but if you ever do this watch out because it is the thin end of the slippery downward slope to full-scale 600 Centigrade scraping addiction.

On intricate little bits of edging, however, it is fucking impossible.   I may have gouged a little bit of wood your honour, and then decided it was time for the chemical.  The chemical is accompanied by literature treading a fine red line between engendering belief that the product is easy to use and will save time and sanity, and warnings of imminent doom should you fail to follow precisely the worryingly vague instructions.

Armed with safety goggles rendering me half-blind, rubber gloves, a metric ton of newspaper, and a sudden ability to hold my breath for a long time, I glooped some on and decided that for good measure I would also strip the varnish from the very top piece of wood.

It all looks quite innocuous so far, doesn’t it?  I left it on for a minute, but it started to dry out.  DO NOT ALLOW TO DRY OUT scream the instructions, but also LEAVE UNTIL THE PAINT BLISTERS.  My paint was not blistering, and I considered giving up and reading a book instead.  However, if there is something more likely to incur husbandly wrath than incompetently dried-on noxious chemical he has to remove to uncover full scale bannister destruction, I don’t know what that thing might be.  Remedial action was necessary, and quickly.  Shit.

The instructions say to remove stubborn crevice-paint with a toothbrush, and to wash off excess chemical with detergent in cold water.  I deployed both strategies simultaneously with a growing sense of emergency.  Steel wool, a toothbrush, and a cloth entered the fray, each simply serving to spread brown gelatinous mess ever further afield.  I stopped taking photos at this point because who takes photos at the scene of a chemical crime?

After scrubbing and rinsing and a period of advanced panic, this is what I’m left with:

The corner parts are the casualties of war, and there remains hideous brown paint residue running in horizontal lines along the crevices, but that’s a project for sandpaper K-man.  And another day.  Through the fog of safety-googles, I couldn’t see that any varnish was coming off the top piece, but these photos prove otherwise.

From certain angles, it doesn’t seem too bad after all.  Sort of like my mental state.

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9 Responses to “Scrape Your Way to Mental Health”


  1. 1 Mrs. G. November 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    Bravo! I have missed reading you, Nic. I believe this is one of my favorite posts you have ever written. The fusion of mental health and home improvement is briliant. Seriously, I’ve missed your presence!

  2. 2 Mrs. G. November 14, 2011 at 7:07 pm

    And the wood is quite pretty.

  3. 3 Jen November 14, 2011 at 9:53 pm

    You stuck with it far long than I would have. In fact, I would have just slapped more paint on the problem and then convinced myself it looked better.

  4. 4 Jenn @ Juggling Life November 15, 2011 at 2:25 am

    You are a brave, brave woman to even attempt this. I’ve never even HEARD of a heat gun, let alone wielded one.

  5. 5 unmitigated me November 15, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    I have ever only done this with the awful chemical gloop, and I must say you have done a much better job of it.

    p.s. forgive my disappearance at Words with Friends. I have a new android OS, and it won’t let me play! I currently have a ticket in with the not-very-helpful people at Zynga.

  6. 6 unmitigated me November 15, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    I’m back in! I can’t believe it, it’s been a week!

  7. 7 more resources February 18, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems
    as though you relied on the video to make your point.
    You obviously know what youre talking about, why throw
    away your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something
    enlightening to read?

  8. 8 simply click the up coming website April 12, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Hello. excellent job. I did not anticipate this.
    This is a impressive story. Thanks!


  1. 1 The Show Must Go On « lifesmudged Trackback on February 14, 2012 at 5:41 pm

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