As soon as the weather warms up, my thoughts always turn to eating outdoors. I forget that I have a fair skin which hates the sun and I ignore the fact that I am allergic to insect bites.Instead I visualise long, romantic summer evenings spent watching the sun set over the sea from my garden, with a barbecue and a bottle of chilled wine. In these visions, I have always seen myself sitting at at table - the sort with the bench on either side that you see in picnic areas throughout the country. However, since both Devon and Cornwall County Councils have taken the precautionary measure of concreting theirs into the ground, and since this type of garden furniture has always proved prohibitively expensive, it has so far been a case of "Dream On!" Until a couple of weekends ago, that is. I happened to see a television advert for B&Q which said that they were selling them at a special offer price of £19.95. I decided there and then to buy two - one for what we laughingly call our 'orchard' and one for the paved area around my fishpond. Since my husband was taking a trip to the Midlands, I sent him off with strict instructions to buy them. He came back without them. The particular store that he visited was a large B&Q which actually had one assembled and on display. Next to it, they had a similar picnic bench/table, costing £50 which was, according to my husband, of far superior quality. (The words "cheap rubbish" were mentioned in reference to the £19.95 table!) Not one to have my dreams thwarted, I went to a smaller B&Q myself two days later and looked at both tables. Although I didn't actually see them assembled, I decided to go with my original plan and buy two of the 'cheapies'. Having parted with my £39.98, I then found that the benches were made from natural wood, so I was forced to spend a further £6.95 on weather proofing. As it turned out, one can was insufficient to give both benches the recco
mmended two coats, so I ended up buying a second tin. The A frame picnic table and benches come in a flat pack, which, as I soon discovered, was about three inches too long to comfortably fit into my fathers small saloon car. We managed to jam them in eventually and soon had the flatpacks open on the floor of the garage at home. The first step in assembling them is to coat all surfaces with a "suitable exterior wood preservative" and allow them to dry before applying a second coat. This proved to be a messy job and we now have a very fetching bright blue garage floor, but once the second coat was dry, I grabbed the electrical screwdriver and prepared for action. The packaging contains two instruction leaflets. The first explains how to care for your furniture,suggesting that it is protected from severe weather and stored inside during the winter months. The second is a component list with pictoral and written instructions on how to assemble the units. All the necessary components (screws,bolts,nuts, washers, table and seat slats, braces, supports and uprights) proved present and correct and the instructions were very clear, so it was with some confidence that I embarked on my project. Sadly, this confidence proved to be misplaced. My first problem came when I realised that the paint had totally covered the handy stamps which B&Q had so thoughtfully provided to help me differentiate between 'seat' and 'table'.(To my surprise, on closer examination of the packaging, I realised that I had unwittingly chosen the very same wood preservative that B&Q showed on their illustration of the completed table, so they must have foreseen this problem occurring.) Not to be beaten, I applied (feminine) logic to the problem, figuring that something that had to support the weight of a person was likely to be sturdier than something which only had to bear the odd wine bottle or plateful of carbonised sausages.
Hence I reasoned that the thickest slats were likely to be the seats. Problem two arose when using the electric screwdriver. The units are made from pine which is a soft wood and I found that the powerdriver was causing the screws to split the wood. Accordingly, I left the last few screw turns to be done by hand and made sure I didn't over tighten them. Another problem solved. The first table was soon ready for use. In total, it took about 20 minutes to assemble from scratch, excluding painting and drying time of course. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy! Problem three became evident when I started to assemble the second table. Two of the uprights had been cut too long by about 2", which meant that the table simply didn't fit together. Had I been closer than 45 miles away from B&Q, I might have been tempted to take it back. As it was, I called in my own personal DIY expert (Mr nikkisly) who soon rectified the problem with a couple of swift saw cuts - still muttering about "cheap rubbish". This left us with a couple of untreated edges to paint, and also meant that some of the pre-drilled screw holes no longer lined up. The tables are now in use and, so far, haven't collapsed. Once constructed they don't appear as flimsy as they do when the components are first removed from the box and, whilst I'm not stupid enough to believe that they're going to last forever, they appear more than adeqaute for now. Cheap and cheerful would be the best description. They seat two adults on either side - possibly three VERY close friends - and are very comfortable. They also seem perfectly proportioned - the seats and table are the right heights and the table is sufficiently far from the seats to allow you to sit down without too many contortions. As an added bonus, they are made from FSC wood, meaning that the wood has been harvested from ecologically managed commercial woodlands. The moral of the sto
ry seems to be the familiar "you get what you pay for". For £19.95 (plus wood treatment) I have a serviceable picnic bench which even my husband concedes looks nice. It was simple to construct (given the problems with the dimensions of table two), the instructions were clear, concise and, dare I say, practically foolproof. It gets 3*'s from me - and would have got 4*'s had table two not been cut out by a drunken apprentice on a Friday afternoon. Now all I need is a spectacular sunset, a healthy dose of insect repellant, a bottle of chilled white wine and six friends to share them with me. Any volunteers?