The job seemed simple enough. The wall in the front garden had fallen down and needed to be rebuilt. Being a modern man, this felt like an opportunity to put a personal mantra to the test: that in the age of the internet there is nothing a chap or chapess cannot accomplish if he puts in a spot of effective googling and a little bit of effort. I had resolved numerous office troubles this way, and now, I thought, I had the opportunity to apply my tactic to some home maintenance. I’m working from home these days anyways, so I have the time. Away with the cost of getting a professional, I would do it myself.
My googling revealed intel that chimed with what I already knew and made much intuitive sense. I could reuse the bricks, I found, but I needed to remove the old mortar first. I set about this task with a hammer and chisel. Sometimes the mortar came off very readily and it seemed no small wonder that the wall had collapsed under the weight of my leaning on it. Sometimes the mortar clung on like a limpet, and in trying to remove it I ended up smashing the brick, which I found to be surprisingly fragile.
In the midst of this merry work, I came upon some metal wires that for some reason had been buried in the mortar. This discovery should, of course, have sent me back to the Internet to find out why. Who knows, the wire might have been serving a useful purpose, but I decided I had done enough research and it was now the time for action. I was going to be an amateur craftsman, balancing out the day’s labour in the office with a spot of handiwork. I thought of Winston Churchill’s enthusiasm for brick laying, his routine, at one point, of 200 bricks and 2000 words per day, and I was keen to launch in.
I headed off to the local hardware store and invested in a proper builder’s trowel, a few bricks to replace those that had been broken, and two bags of sand-cement mortar, which I calculated would be sufficient with some left over. I considered, momentarily, getting a proper spirit level, as I had seen that it was quite an important piece of equipment for a bricklayer but decided against it. Why spend money, I thought, when I can just download an app on my phone.
Next came the interesting part, laying the bricks. I re-watched a couple of YouTube tutorials and, just to be on the safe side, I read the instructions on the back of the bag of mortar. It looked a simple enough thing: you mix the mortar with water until you get a good sticky texture, lay it on to the bricks below, ensuring that it is level using your phone, place the brick on to the mortar, and scrape away the excess with the trowel.
I soon found that bricks and mortar are not quite as obedient as I had expected. to this sort of guidance. No matter how precise I tried to be when spreading out a fresh layer of mortar, somehow the bricks I put on top of it never turned out to be quite level. This I decided must be the fault of the bricks – clearly they were not all the same size – and I found myself pushing and prodding at the bricks, adding and removing mortar to try to get them in place. Then, when inevitably gaps appeared, I resorted to slapping on fresh mortar, more often by hand than by trowel, and vast quantities of it ended up showering the flower bed below. I was soon back at the hardware store for fresh supplies.
The result is quite a thing to behold; bricklaying is unlikely to be a career change option. The edge of the wall curves in at the bottom as I only thought to attend to the proper spacing between bricks in later rows, which are consequently longer. It also curves up at the top for reasons which elude me and overall the wall looks like it has been in the midst of a sandstorm for the copious quantities of mortar slapped all over it. Nonetheless it is now two days old and appears, though in want of a good clean, to be standing firm and strong. For the moment at least.
As for my mantra – that any problem can be resolved through the power of internet search engines – well I consider it intact, just about, like my wall. It would appear, however, that there is one thing that cannot be gleaned from the web: – the craftsman’s professional knack, borne from years of experience and the skilled use of non-phone-based equipment. And if you want a job done well, this is something for which it might just be worth digging deep into your pockets.