IT seemed such a simple project. We’d had a swing in the garden for 11 years but last year’s tough winter must have taken a toll for two of the metal legs corroded through almost as soon as the kids started playing on them this spring.
When you take your car to the garage you can get that scratch of the head followed by the sharp intake of breath. At that point you know it’s going to be a big job and probably an expensive one at that.
My gut feeling was that it would be a big job. I was hoping it wouldn’t be a dear do too.
It needs a good frame so we went with a company that offers a lifetime guarantee for the metal and £105 later it was all ordered. A giant swing frame with enough room for three swings, just like its rusty predecessor.
But one of the children is a teenager with special needs. I knew it would need concreting in and approached the job with a certain amount of dread.
Sinking some metal stakes in concrete. What could possibly go wrong?
First stop the builders’ merchants for a spot of advice.
The advice came free, the product came expensive.
“You need this Postcrete,’’ he said. “Brilliant stuff. It sets really quickly and you don’t have to mix anything. It’s a bit pricey though so you’d better sit down.’’
I managed to stay standing as he printed out the invoice. When builders’ merchants print out an invoice it’s like they’re printing a book. It goes on and on.
And so £20 lighter, and the car three bags of Postcrete heavier, I set off home not quite yet safe in the knowledge that this was going to be easier than I thought.
Putting the frame together was reasonably easy even for me, but any thoughts of being a DIY superdad soon bit the dust when I got to the bit in the instructions about fixing it into the ground.
The hole had to be 35cms wide by 50cms deep.
My brother-in-law is a kitchen and bathroom designer and recently told me the philosophy that he gets from some workmen: “If all else fails, read the instructions.’’
I began to feel a bit like that. These holes were going to be bigger than I thought – actually quite a lot larger.
They may not sound big, but try digging that deep in stony ground and through the concrete that the last swing stood in and you feel like you’re setting off for Australia the hard way.
Time for an expert, I thought.
That was my next-door neighbour. Colin’s a semi-retired builder and provided me with a power tool that could slice its way through concrete, stone and, if you get it wrong, main gas, electricity and water pipes.
So, after a couple hours experiencing the joys of vibration white hand, the holes were dug.
And they were deep. Fill these in with water and you’d get a happy duck on each one.
I’d realised the Postcrete estimate for the job had been, let’s just say a little on the optimistic side. So I bought five more bags, this time from a well-known DIY chain and got them for just £18. So much for trade prices at builders’ merchants then.
And so the great day dawned to concrete in.
Four bags later the spike was in, but all did not seem right. We’re going to need more bags. Time for Colin again.
He pointed out that the swing was on a slight slope. This meant the front two metal legs needed raising so the swing frame was straight and all four legs would take the strain as opposed to just the back two.
He also offered to help. Brilliant.
But forget the Postcrete. Carry on like this and we’d need to remortgage just to pay for the stuff. So we went back to basics mixing concrete and a mixture of sand and stones called ballast.
A strange name as they’re so heavy you strain your back just looking at them and they’d sink like what they are – stones.
Colin brought six bags and two bags of cement to this ‘swing party’ and I chipped in with two. Pretty soon it became obvious these swing legs were going to need raising even higher than we’d thought.
We’re going to need more bags.
And by the time it was done, we’d used 25 bags of ballast and four of cement with some handy tips from Colin to make sure that swing frame wouldn’t be budging. The cost of buying all the stuff to fix it in wasn’t much less than the swing frame itself.
And, no, the kids still aren’t on it. With all that concrete it’s still drying out.
Why is nothing ever simple in life, even the simple stuff?