Just up the path from our London home is a short, narrow, sleepy street with history. At one end is a fine, ten-house, Georgian terrace. At its centre are two houses dating from the late 1690s. At the other end there is less grandeur but nevertheless this has not stopped the street being listed as an area of special merit to be respected and conserved. This story concerns four shiny, aluminium screws used to fix a door handle in a house at the street’s less stylish end. 

Odd as it may seem, spotting details like this is part of my makeup! On our walks, my wife, Rohan, and I are continually looking around. For her, it is nature that is important. So, she will bring to my attention cloud formations, flowers, birds, butterflies and all matters natural. For me it is more matters physical, so I might point out a wall with unusual brickwork, a window with intricate leading between the panes or, as in this case, four, out-of-place screws. 

Instead of the older black, round-headed screws, the type used by the builder were the more modern, silvery, aluminium countersunk screws with Phillips heads. To my eye, the silvery screws clashed with the rest of a door’s furniture and, more importantly, were an affront to the area more generally. Something had to be done – but what?

The door was in a house which had needed renovating for years. Under its clapper-board cladding the building was home to two, small shops, one of which was, until recently, the unoccupied office of an insurance company, the other a boarded-up storage space.

Several years ago work started on the office and two music techies converted it into a guitar repair workshop. With its large front windows in their original ornate frames, it is in keeping with the road. And, behind the window, the friendly duo – I have often popped in to speak with them – can be seen doing their repairs all day. Having artisans at work close by has been a delight. Simply by  being there, they have brought a new energy to the street. 

Later, work started on the second, altogether bigger, derelict unit. Conversion, which was more ambitious, took time and over the weeks I would look in to nosey around. Initially, the changes, both inside and out, looked good. With its front painted black it was just right. Then I spotted the silvery screws used for the lock.

Sally, the new occupant, remembers the occasion when I met her for the first time. She recalls how a rather large, eccentrically-dressed man, knocked on her door, came slowly in, introduced himself, welcomed her and her company – she designs leather handbags – to the street, and then said there was something about her front door that he found worrying. She recalls how I politely invited her to look at the shiny screws and then commented that “Having silvery screws on a front door in a street like ours would be wrong”. She immediately understood the issue, was sympathetic to what I had said and told me that she was pleased that I had bothered to come by. Several other neighbours had also introduced themselves and getting to know, and being adopted by, those living nearby was important to her and her colleagues. 

I soon realised that my criticism of Sally’s front door could have been taken personally, and to make amends offered to replace the screws myself and in my own time, although doing that was not straightforward. It would have been easiest for me to change the screws over a weekend but I realised that this could give rise to complications. I had a vision that as I removed the screws from the handle I would trigger the shop’s burglar alarm and, being caught with a screwdriver and handle in my hands, it might prove difficult for me to persuade a court of my innocence.  

The new screws were finally put in place during a working day and, as well as thanking me, Sally repeated how pleased she was to have been adopted by the community. 

With its two new working ‘shops’, the road has been rejuvenated. It must have felt a bit like this in the 1740s when, as far as I can discover, the shops were first registered. And in all this the screws have played their part. Not only is the door that much more presentable, but through the various negotiations, Sally has been helped to become part of an established ‘road’ community. Not bad for a set of four tiny inanimate objects!

By the way, Rohan also felt that the original silver screws were an eyesore and finds the black replacements a most acceptable improvement. 

The illustration shows the handle with its newly-introduced, round-headed black screws.

For helping me with this blog I would like to thank Sally, Rohan and Vivien

10 thoughts on “A Small Matter of Detail

  1. Dear Joe,

    I loved your story and the thought that derelict buildings are being repaired as it is so sad to see old buildings with character demolished. But are you sure that is the right picture? The screws looked silver!



  2. Dear Robin, Yes, it is indeed heartening to see buildings restored. And, yes, it is the right picture. It was a difficult one to take but you can just make our that these screws are rounded, have a linea indent for the screwdriver rather than a Phillips’ cross, and are the same colour as the door. The shiny original screws stood out like light bulbs.love, Joe


  3. Dear Joe,

    You are cordially invited to walk down my road (in the conservation area), with a knapsack of tools, bits and bobs making minor adjustments and repairs as you see fit. There are a number of tiny eyesores that could easily be moved or removed, including garden ornaments in the shape of Homer Simpson.

    As an aside, I ideally would love to see a revival of the garden gate again!


    1. Dear Carolyn, What à kind invitation. I wonder if your neighbours would take kindly to tinkering by a complete stranger. Love, Joe.
      PS I too like garden gates too and there is one between our path and the sleepy street!


  4. Hi Joe
    As a one of the sleepy heads on the sleepy street, thank you for the screws and more importantly your loving labour. I hadn’t thought of you as a practical man, nor of where you live as lively in comparison to our sleepy street – but that just goes to show I am seldom right in my judgements. ian


  5. Dear Joe, I’m not sure what has been more entertaining , reading your blog post or the comments that followed . I and my team here at The Stables have adored both , thank you for having us in the Road , making us so welcome and looking after the unsightly screws . Much love Sally .


  6. Thank you for your kind comments Joe. Us two chaps at Richmond Guitar Workshop think we have put the previously very dark corner of the road to a much more inviting use . Lovely to have Sally and associates next door too with a good tidy frontage. An improvement all round. And a beautiful corner of town.
    Kind Regards Andrew.


    1. Dear Andrew, Just to repeat, your being in the corner shop is a constant delight. Many thanks for setting up shop here. Thanks too for your comment.
      Yours, Joe
      PS Having an Andie and an Andrew in the shop is confusing – which one of you is which?


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