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The stench in the back room had become quite unbearable. Opinion was divided as to which cat was peeing and pooing in the room. Was it one of ours, or was it next door’s cat? Undeniably next door’s cat has been sneaking in and stealing the food we put out for our cats; we’ve caught it in the act of eating several times. But we’ve never actually caught any of the cats in flagrante delicto in the back room. All we’ve ever found is the damp, brown very smelly evidence that they have indeed been in there.

We sprayed the carpet with perfumed oriental elixirs; we plugged in an electronic gadget that was guaranteed to fill the room with the scent of roses; all to no avail. The stench of cat urine triumphed over every weapon we could bring to bear against it. The carpet would have to go.

"Hmmm," said Robin once the carpet had been removed. "I wonder what that is?"

One of the floorboards looked decidedly odd. Sort of lumpy in spots and sunken in others. Robin poked it with a dubious finger. "It feels squishy."


She scratched at it. Great clods of sawdust accumulated beneath her fingernails. Hmmm…

I thumped it with a hammer that I happened to have handy. The board disintegrated. I looked through the hole down into the foundations of the house. Bits of builders rubble covered with a light coating of sawdust and small lumps of floorboard stared back at me.

"I don’t think that is normal behaviour for a healthy plank of wood," I remarked.

"No," said Robin. "I don’t think it is."

We examined the remnants of the suspicious floorboard closely. It showed distinct traces of having been chewed up by some ferociously large insect. Giant sawdust-clogged tunnels vanished deep into the interior. Small amounts of tunnelling were also visible in adjacent boards, though to nothing like the same extent. Perhaps this insect was a homebody and did not like moving out of the safety and comfort of its baseboard.

"I think," I said, "that I’d better ring a carpenter. This might be a rather large job."

Fortunately, just the day before, a junk mail leaflet had appeared in our mailbox. Speedy Sam the Handy Man was apparently only a phone call away. No job too small, said the leaflet. Twenty four hour, seven day a week service. Call this number.

I called the number, but Speedy Sam wasn’t at home. Doubtless he was racing to an appointment at 186,000 miles per second. His answering service responded to my phone call.

I explained my predicament. "I’ll get someone to call you," said the helpful answering service lady.

While I waited for Speedy Sam to ring me back, I examined the floor again. It was obvious that the badly chewed board would have to be removed completely. There was almost no wood left in it at all. It was mostly sawdust held together by inertia, will power, and insect spit. So I hacked and hammered for a while and got rid of it. Then I examined the adjacent boards. These were much more sturdy – the burrowing insect had barely begun its depredations here. However to make assurance doubly sure, I decided to remove these boards as well. I brought out my trusty saw and demolished them. During the course of this destruction I came across the grey corpse of a single beetle-like creature about a quarter of an inch long. Obviously this was the fanatical tunneller that had chewed its way through my floorboards. I consigned it to perdition. I was rather pleased to find only one – I had been dreading finding a whole colony of them, but there was no trace whatsoever of any other insect, alive or dead.

All this demolition took several days. During this time, the phone remained ominously silent. Speedy Sam was obviously moving at considerably less than the speed of light. Perhaps he could only manage the speed of sound. Or maybe he had failed to gain a dispensation from the Traffic Gods and was therefore restricted to 50kph in urban areas, on pain of having his picture taken and massive fines imposed. I found this quite disappointing. I was rather fond of my mental picture of a cartoon-like whirl of activity inside a tornado of dust as Speedy Sam raced between appointments, fixing things in an instant. Eventually, at long, long last, the phone rang.


"Ah, hello," said a slow, droning, incredibly laid back voice. "This is Speedy Sam. I understand you have a job you want doing?"

The last of my illusions was shattered. Speedy Sam was really Lazy Larry in a skin. I was bitterly disappointed; my view of the universe permanently soured. I sighed for the loss of such sweet innocence. Never again will I take a junk mail flyer at its word.

"Sorry," I said, "but I’ve made other arrangements."

By now I had a hole five planks wide in my floor. It was obviously time to purchase five planks of wood. I measured the planks and took a sample with me for matching purposes. The first place I visited failed to fill me with confidence.

"I wonder what kind of wood that is," said the man. "I haven’t got any of it here."

He took my sample and held it up against various pieces of pine. It didn’t match any of them. "Definitely not pine," he said.

I went to another purveyor of wood. This time things were a little better. "Rimu," said the man decisively. "It’s rimu."

"What about the tunnelling?" I asked. "What’s been chewing it up?"

"Looks like bush borer," he said with gloomy delight. "Nasty buggers. Much bigger than the usual house borer. Chew their way through an entire tree quick as a wink, those things can. Nothing left but a tube of bark filled with sawdust. Sneeze too hard and the whole forest falls down!"

He paused, entranced by his apocalyptic vision of devastation. "Little buggers," he said in heartfelt tones. "The milling process usually kills them, but sometimes an occasional one survives. There probably isn’t much of an infestation in your house though. I doubt it will have spread very far. You’ll be OK as long as you don’t sneeze."

"Have you got any rimu?" I asked.

"Oooh no, squire. No rimu. Not allowed to sell rimu any more. It’s a protected species you know. They don’t cut down rimu trees now – big trouble if you cut down a rimu tree. It’s been years since anyone used rimu. Years."

"What can I do?"

"Well there’s the demolition yards. They get a fair bit of rimu in when they pull down old houses. And there’s City Timber – they specialise in native wood. But whatever you do, it’s going to be very expensive. Hard to get hold of rimu these days."

He shook his head sadly in grim satisfaction at my plight and at the vast amounts of money he was sure that it would cost me.

"I know," said Robin. "Let’s tear up the whole floor, sell all the rimu for a fortune and replace it with pine."

There was a certain attractiveness in this idea – but the thought of the work involved made me shudder. "Let’s not," I said.

We drove to City Timber, but it was Sunday and they were shut. I would be unable to visit them now until the following Saturday (they are too far from my office for me to be able to get to them during my lunch hour). So the project screeched to a dead halt and I went home to stare at the hole in the floor.

Over the course of the next few days I related this sad tale to several friends. "Oh aren’t you lucky!" exclaimed one. "You’ve got rimu floors. Gosh I’m so jealous. My floors are all made out of weetbix board."

I spent the week waging chemical warfare. I equipped myself with every evil borer control chemical known to man. I sprayed the area under the floor with three extremely copious sprays just in case there were any eggs in the sawdust and I painted the boards around the gaping hole with three coats of nastiness to discourage anything that might still be lurking in the wood.

Eventually Saturday morning arrived and it was time to visit City Timber. An extremely helpful man examined my sample board and listened to my tale of woe.

"It’s sap rimu," he said authoritatively. "I haven’t got any of that in stock but I have got some heart rimu which should be a pretty good match. Let’s have a look."

We went into the workshop and compared the sample to the stock. Heart rimu looked a good bet, but one more problem remained.

"Hmmm," said the man, "it looks like your floorboards have been cut to imperial measurements, and I only have metric boards."

I looked closely – all the boards he had in stock were fractionally wider than my sample board. This was obviously going to cause fitting problems.

"I can put them through the machine," he said, "and beat them a bit closer to size. That might help."

He took some of his planks down to the far end of the warehouse and fed them into an extraordinarily noisy machine. It clashed and clattered and clanged and the boards emerged from the far end marginally thinner than they had been when they went in. I bought five planks. It cost me $89 – which was far less than I’d been expecting to have to pay. Feeling pleased, I took them home and commenced repair work on my floor.

It was very easy to fit the first four planks. I just cut them to size and nailed them into place. But number five proved to be a problem. Despite all the planks having travelled through the noisy beating machine, they were still just that little smidgeon too wide. And by the time I came to fit the last one into place, the accumulation of errors meant that the plank was about 2mm wider than the gap it had to fit into.

The first rule of carpentry is "if it doesn’t fit, use a bigger hammer". I used my very biggest hammer, but to no avail. No matter how hard I thumped it, it wasn’t going to go. More subtle strategies were obviously required…

Working extremely slowly and carefully, I chiselled 2mm of wood from the edge of a floorboard on one side of the gap. This was extremely painstaking work for I had to be very careful not to chisel too much, and not to split the board. Fortunately I possess a very sharp chisel and I have not yet completely forgotten the chiselling skills that were hammered into me during month after tedious month of practice in long ago woodworking classes at school.

After several hours of closely concentrated chiselling I tried the last plank again. It slid neatly into its gap, fitting snugly up against its neighbours on both sides. A triumph of the chiseller’s art!

Now all that remained was to punch the nails so that they sunk slightly into the wood, fill all the nail holes with plastic rimu paste, sand it all down and then polyurethane the floor. Tedious but simple.

And now that I’ve finished writing this article, I’m going to go and put the third coat of polyurethane on to my newly solid floor…

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