Granny C was angry. She wanted to see more of us. She had come to stay and we weren’t paying her enough attention. She knew we had planned to clear the thistles from the meadow to allow the poppies to re-grow like last year [Field of Glory, 15th August, 2011] but spending hours digging each thistle up individually was time-consuming madness. Why not use a weed killer and be done with it?
We made it clear that we were keen to avoid environmentally unfriendly sprays but we got nowhere. These herbicides are dangerous and difficult to handle. No reply. More resistant than usual she took herself off to the garden centre and with dogged determination and more than passable French (how could she have known that a spray pump was a pulvérisateur?), she came home with the very device. The box said the spray had a metre-long spout with a cone-shaped hood at its tip to restrict each herbicide spurt to the target thistle. Fortunately, or so the packaging declared, the apparatus was ‘easy to assemble’ (a claim made next to a tiny Union Jack)
Granny C took the box into the entrance hall, and for fifteen minutes nothing was heard. Then, the sound of the most un-granny-like language broke the silence. “Oh fuck. These instructions are useless… They are impossible to follow… I hate instructions anyway… They say it might explode if the pump part is wrongly assembled… The spout doesn’t fit.. I have had enough… I am going to use the little hand spray I saw in your garden shed…” “Fuck!”
The back door slammed and she stormed off down the garden path, muttering expletives to herself.
“Granny, please calm down,” I said, “I am sure it can be assembled.” Slowly I pieced it together. I did not read the instructions because I never do. I am instruction illiterate, instruction averse. But working slowly using a mixture of savoir-faire and some luck, construction is almost always achieved, as it was here.
Granny C steadied herself and, after practicing the spraying arrangements with water, went on the rampage for real. For a day and a half she tirelessly criss-crossed the meadow doing what would have taken us weeks.
We live in a culture where instructions are everywhere and following them is what intelligent people do. Conversely, to ignore instruction is frowned upon. Being of the ignoring type, like Granny C, when it came to assembling a piece of IKEA furniture some years ago, my wife read out the instructions while I did the business. Presumably to help people with my sort of problem, the IKEA instructions are not written in words, but in pictograms.
The bits of our new glass-fronted cupboard were laid out on the sitting room floor. Rohan interpreted the pictures and gave instructions telling me which widget went where and what order, and things went well. At least until the last step. The latch on one of the doors just would not work – turning the key clockwise locked the door when it should have opened it. We must have taken the wrong turn around pictogram 50. We reassembled the lock three times, paying increasing attention to detail. Then it clicked – we had been sold a pack that had a lock for a left hand door and on this particular kit the cut of the wood demanded that it be fitted to the door on the right. By fitting the lock upside down the problem was quickly solved. What had been needed was a bit of lateral thinking, The solution was to ignore what we were being told.
Maybe we could have assembled the whole thing blind, as IKEA addicts do, boasting, as one did recently on the internet, “I only look at the instructions when the job is done to see where the left-over bits might have gone.” And whatever the rights and wrongs, my position on instructions remains unchanged – keep clear of them if at all possible. In this spirit I have ignored the pages of instructions that came with my birthday iPad and we are getting on handsomely. And how I use it is special to me. [Though, strictly speaking, it is not dishwasher proof. Ed]