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  • Writer's pictureStuart Champion

Who needs instructions?

Updated: Sep 1, 2019

If you look at the dates of my postings, you’ll see there’s been a brief hiatus whilst we put all of our energy into getting the Hanging Gardens of Babylon finished and finally saw Nick come to the end of his list of jobs.

That was a slightly bitter-sweet feeling - because he’s been on site for so long I wasn’t entirely sure he hadn’t actually moved in - but last Thursday he packed his tools, waved us goodbye and disappeared into the sunset.

On Friday he hove into view driving a digger on the plot of land directly behind us – it was just like old times…

…although that isn’t the point of this story.

This story revolves around one final job I added to Nick’s list of “Things To Do.”

On the side gate we have one of those key-code operated handles which comes pre-programmed with a memorable 6 digit alpha numeric code. The code ours arrived with was so immediately memorable that neither Nicola nor I could remember it, but, fortunately it was written on a piece of paper which came with the instructions.

Now, any men reading this will immediately identify with this next statement.

Instructions are an entirely unnecessary thing to include with anything either mechanical or electronic.

As all men know, anything mechanical fits so comfortably with primordial parts of our male brain we can safely consign the instructions to the bin where they can remain right up to the point where the women in our lives retrieve them and point out that the “@*!$ing thing!” isn’t broken/badly made/not the right type* (* delete as appropriate) but actually we’ve assembled it wrongly.

Of course, the same doesn’t apply to electronic items.

It does in-so-far as our primordial brains recognising the electronic item as something which can be used without instruction. The difference here is that instead of the women in our lives stepping in to point out where things have gone wrong, it is any passing teenager who’ll raise their eyes heavenwards and make everything work without the need for the printed instructions.

The problem here is that the electronic whatever-it-is will only work for you for as long as the teenager is in earshot – after that you’re back where you were with the “@*!$ing!” mechanical thing, convinced that your electronic device is broken/wrongly assembled/not the right type.

Having consigned the coded gate handle instructions to the bin, the only thing missing in our lives was the code needed to open it.

Then Nicola made a simple statement which led me to my “Eureka!” moment.

“If only we could have had a code we can remember,” she said.

Can you hear the cogs whirring in my brain?

“Wait!” I said, “I have an idea, why don’t I take it apart and change the code?”

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that Nicola saw the flaw in this simple plan the best part of an hour before I did.

“Are you sure it’s that simple?” she asked.

“Oh yes,” I lied, “and I’ll be really careful taking it apart.”

This is where I need to fast-forward a little.

The lock before changing the code

I was very careful and put the lock on the table, made sure everything was neat and tidy and even had a set of instructions for a very similar but-not-quite-the-same lock to hand to help me.

Any men reading this will be nodding sagely; having any set of instructions beside you at this point is a sign of serious intent - although I fancy Nicola would raise an eyebrow were she to find me repairing the lawnmower using the hedge-cutter manual. I think this is why men prefer to work behind closed doors in the shed – that way when there is a cataclysmic explosion/the piston shoots out of the block/the cam belt snaps* (*delete as appropriate) we can emerge from the confines of the shed, wipe the soot from our face and explain that the thing had reached the end of its useful life.

“Yes, I’m just going to the store to get a new one – the thingamy is broken on the old one.”

A perfectly truthful statement.

The only part of the statement which doesn’t bear scrutiny is the role I’ve just taken in the thingamy breaking.

Sometimes the math doesn’t work out on replacing what I’ve taken apart and I have to face the dreadful prospect of taking what I’ve just broken to someone who knows how to put it back together.

A case in point was my chainsaw a few years back.

“What have you got in the carrier bags?” the man behind the tool repair counter asked.

“Oh,” I replied nervously, “just my chainsaw – it needs a service.”

“Is it just the one chainsaw?” the competent-looking man in a brown coat which was surprisingly free from oil stains and scorch marks asked, “only people don’t normally need two carrier bags to bring them in.”

I took the box of screws out of my pocket.

“Two carriers and a box,” the man corrected himself.

“Yes, I’m sorry,” I explained as the man peered into each of the bags and tutted, “only my son wanted to see how it worked.”

He nodded.

“How old is he?”

“Oh, you know…” I said, hoping Nicola didn’t come in with The Boy in his pushchair.

Anyway, the coded handle was nothing like the chainsaw in complexity, so after a quick scan of the instructions for the very similar but-not-quite-the-same lock I gathered that all I needed to do was take the housing off, remove four screws and simply move the pins inside to create the desired code.

Off I went.

Housing removed.

Four obvious screws removed and just the pins to switch around.

“How is it going?” Nicola called.

“Really well.”

I gently teased the first pin.


I got a pair of tweezers and tugged a little harder.


I fetched my pliers and tugged with all my might.

Still nothing.

So I turned the assembly over and was struck by my foolish mistake.

There were four screws on the back.

Clearly those were the four screws I was supposed to remove – so I whipped them out too.

Now, I’ll admit that nowhere in the wrong set of instructions did it mention taking out eight screws, but I knew I was making my task just that little bit easier by taking the bold approach of removing the screws on the back as well as the front.

I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Did you know there are seventeen springs inside a coded lock handle assembly?

No, me neither, right up to the point where they started pinging round the room and ricocheting off my forehead.

Without the springs holding them in place all the metal push-buttons clattered to the table, closely followed by the pins I was trying to swap around, shortly followed by sundry levers, cogs and thingummies.

Alerted by the sound of metal raining down onto the kitchen table, Nicola appeared to find me collecting springs off the floor.

“Was that supposed to happen?” she asked.

“Of yes,” I lied, “you need to disassemble this model to change the code, and I dropped a couple of springs on the floor in the process.”

“You’ve got one stuck in your hair,” Nicola helpfully pointed out.


Clearly the situation had changed.

I went and printed off the correct set of instructions, read the warning printed in block capitals ‘DO NOT REMOVE THE SCREWS ON THE BACK’, and read with interest that the pins couldn’t be removed unless I had button ‘C’ depressed.

Unfortunately there were no instructions on how to reassemble the lock once you’d broken it down into 53 component parts.

What also became clear is that some of the springs were on the missing list.

I crawled on hands and knees looking for springs before having my next “Eureka!” moment and collecting the hardware catalogue.

I checked the time.

“I’m just nipping out,” I said before heading to the hardware store and buying a replacement.

“Oh, Nick,” I said the following morning, “I’ve had to buy a new lock for the gate – the last one broke. Could you change the code on it to one we can remember and fit it?”

A while later I came across Nick holding down button ‘C’ and swapping the pins carefully around under Nicola’s guidance.

“It’s a good job you didn’t take the four screws out on the back,” I observed jocularly.

Nick gave me one of those looks.

“You’d have to be an idiot to do that,” he said, “all the springs would shoot all over the place and it would fall apart.”

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