All hands on deck

· life ·

This past week has been a very busy one for me, and a week filled with a rather unaccustomed amount of manual labour. We had an urgent building project on at work, which needed everyone to muck in and help to get the final stages done on time. I quite enjoy doing practical things every now and again (I might have mentioned before that academic life can equip you with a rather quirky set of skills — such as basic carpentry), but it always amazes me how seemingly quick jobs can take huge amounts of time to do.

As one example, we had to re-thread some cables back through a 2m length of flexible conduit (actually, it was one of those spiral metal shower hoses). OK, we thought, a quick job. We're smart people — some of us even have a PhD — how hard can it be to thread two cables through a pipe? For those of you already bored to tears with this sorry saga, the short answer is: very.

First, we tried tying a piece of string to the end of the cable, and feeding the string into the pipe. This worked OK until we got to about the half way point, then it refused to budge any further. So, on to Plan B; the string needed a weight on the end so that it would drop down the tube, so we tied on a large screw. Two rather short people balanced on chairs to try to get the pipe straight and vertical. That didn't work, because the screw got caught up on the ridges inside the tube. Now for Plan C; we tried tying a long straight cable tie on to the string instead, but the same thing happened. The string got to the 1m point, then got stuck. By now, we were starting to get really irritated, and tried flicking the pipe like a whip to see if the cable tie might be propelled out of the end. Well, that was never going to work. Finally, we stumbled on Plan D; a thin piece of wire could be pushed through from the far end, then, when it had emerged at the other end, we could tape it on to the cables and pull them through too — success! And it had only taken us about twenty minutes...