Home Improvements

In the U.K., we know this as DIY (Do-it-yourself). I am not a person who has ever naturally taken to this concept. I did my job, and if I needed a plumber, I called someone who had chosen that job as their career. To go to work all day, get home late, and have two precious days off, only to spend all that free time working on my house, did just not compute in my brain. Besides, I had never learned those skills, I had been too busy pursuing my own chosen career.
My Dad had tried to teach me. When I was about 12 years old, he would have me holding car tools; strange spanners, grease guns, and other oily, hard objects. I had to pass him brushes as he hung wallpaper, stir paint, standby with the correct size screw, or hold a torch steady, whilst he was upside-down under the sink. None of this seemed much fun to me. Later, in my late teens, my pocket money (allowance) depended on hours of unskilled labour, assisting his projects. Shovelling cement, moving barrow loads of shingle from the front drive to the rear garden, or rolling yards of turf to help him create the perfect lawn. I was a reluctant helper. None of it held any interest to me whatsoever.

If only I had known then what I know now, I would have been the best student, an acolyte at the feet of the master.
My Dad could knock up some shelving in an afternoon. He could use a soldering iron, a blow-lamp, any tool you could put in his hand, and he could repair almost anything that went wrong with a car, a sink, a toilet, guttering, or window. He was a bit shaky on electrics perhaps but would still give it his best shot before calling someone in. The garden centre and DIY store were his second homes, and his tool collection stretched back through time. Often, if he didn’t have the correct tool for a job, he would make one!

This was hardcore macho. A man never defeated by a project. Occasionally, when times were good, he would pay someone to help. It might be a relative with wallpaper skills, or someone who knew more about electrics. However, Dad would always be around, helping, watching, learning. I saw these occasions as a lucky escape from compulsory assistant duties. I went out with friends, rode my bike (or later drove around in my car), anything to make sure I would not be drafted in as a labourer.

The years passed, and I got married. We bought our own place, and it all ticked along nicely, until my wife uttered the dreaded phrase, “Perhaps we should have some shelves along there, don’t you think?” Like before a visit to the dentist, a hospital appointment, or crucial job interview, that cold, tight feeling began to grow in my stomach. History had caught up with me. I was a male of the species, and I had a job to do. No amount of Feminism, bra-burning, Germaine Greer on TV, or a female Prime Minister in a foreign country was going to convince my wife that this was not a job for a man.
Naturally, I had no tools. I was going to need all sorts of stuff. An electric drill, screwdrivers of assorted types and sizes, screws, wall plugs, hammers, and apparently, a spirit level. What wood should I buy? I didn’t know the difference between Burmese Teak and chipboard. I was a shopkeeper’s dream. A DIY virgin, without a clue, and a full wallet. I will not drag out the story. Two weeks later, with my marriage on a knife edge, we had four neat rows of shelves, stretching 12 feet along one wall of the living room. I had lost my DIY cherry, at the age of 25. I should have been happy about that. I had some shelves, 60 holes in a wall, and somewhere to put my books, Television, photographs, and travel souvenirs.

Don’t you believe it. My only thought was ‘never again’. Life had to be too short to justify a whole day spent drilling, measuring, hammering, not to mention arguing! I still have that drill to this day. It is 35 years old, and still works. A testament to lack of use.
And as for cars, don’t go there. Despite my Dad, and his efforts to turn me into a mechanic worthy of a Formula 1 pit, I had not really remembered much. I knew that there was a distributor cap, a coil, something called points, and a battery. These items seemed to be the most common cause of cars failing to start, or stopping suddenly. I had learned how to change a wheel in the event of a puncture, and that it was good to buy a spray that you sprayed into the air intake, to miraculously make a car start. (Most of the time, anyway). I knew how to connect jump leads to a friend’s battery, to get going again if I had left the lights on, or if it was especially cold. Otherwise, I did what so many motorists do when their cars break down. Lift the bonnet, look intelligently at the mass of metal and wires within for a few minutes, then call the AA or RAC.

Many years later, and I am then living in a new house on the recently built London Docklands Development. They came unfinished, just the basics. I have the prospect of painting all the rooms, installing curtains and blinds, and finishing all the doors. I did get the carpets put down, as I paid someone to do that. But I was also living alone, with no-one to answer to, except my own sense of shame, perhaps. I decided that it would all be fine as it was. To keep out the light, I stuck black rubbish sacks against the windows. Not only did this save on the cost of blinds, it kept the rooms cool in the Summer too! From outside, it didn’t look at all bad. It looked intentional, therefore quirky. I could always open the windows to let in light, if needed. In fact, a neighbour later told me that everyone had presumed that I was a photographer, so saw nothing funny about it at all.

Four years went by, during which time, I did absolutely no DIY of any description. Then I met someone, and decided to get married (again). People would come to the house, her relatives want to visit, and the original plaster is still on the wall, with bin-bags for curtains! I had to get busy rolling paint, at least two coats. Painting doors and radiators, and addressing the problem of what to do with the windows. By chance, I discovered that there are men who love DIY so much, not only do they do their own, they are happy to do other people’s too. Luckily, I had good friends, including one who could install a window blind, or curtain pole, in his sleep. He had a drill that would go through the Earth’s Core, and a toolbox large enough to house a small family. Job done. (By him, not me).

Many years have passed since that episode. I have finally moved to the countryside, I am responsible for my own place, and the list of DIY tasks to be done stretches before me like the film credits on ‘Avatar’. For the previous 12 years, I had lived in a flat in Central London. This was a subsidised property, aimed at supplying affordable housing for workers in ‘essential’ jobs. Because of this, the Housing Association was responsible for all repairs to the property, and the tenant is not even allowed to tinker around with any DIY. What joy. I did have to paint the place before moving in, and a colleague helped with that. The endless tedium of hours spent rolling on coat after coat of white paint, to make the place look fresh and tidy. Tell me that’s fun, go on, tell me.

As I am now retired, I cannot justify paying tradesmen to complete the jobs necessary for the upkeep on our present house. I have bought numerous DIY essentials, and some not so essential. A new power drill, that is also a power screwdriver. A cordless hedge trimmer, for the yards and yards of hedges, and a large hover mower, to deal with the small lawn. I also have an exceptionally large spirit level, as yet unused. There is an assortment of screwdrivers and hammers, pliers of different jaw sizes, screws, nails, and a set of Allen keys. I have put them all neatly into the trays of the new toolbox that I got for Christmas. I have charged up the batteries in the cordless items, and bought the paint and rollers needed to decorate five rooms. It is all neatly stacked in the shed in the garden. Instruction manuals have been read, paint charts perused, and I did a ‘test run’ by hanging two pictures on the wall.

One of these days, I might get around to the rest.

21 thoughts on “Home Improvements

  1. Your dad sounds a bit like my dad. Mr O’s dad too. Mr O can do things like hanging pictures and bits of tinkering about but he’s more of a gardener than a DIY man. I have zero interest in any DIY. One of the upsides of a lifetime of renting has been that DIY generally lands in the landlord’s lap. I cannot imagine doing it as a leisure activity.

    Unrelated your flat set up reminds me rather of the home of a Kiwi “gentleman” I once spent an evening with many years ago. It was similarly rustic. Someone also lived in a tent on the patio…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I admire your perseverance despite your overall lack of enthusiasm. Poverty led me to learn to do many things. Thank God in my 40’s I remarried a man who has learned to fix or make just about anything. He is very “frugal” he says. Let’s avoid the word “cheap” since his stance benefits me greatly.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m with you, Pete. I do have a couple of buddies who love this stuff, and I’d rather call them because they genuinely eat it up. I’m not hopeless around the house, but my wife knows I’m not very patient with home projects. (I’d like to think I have a lot of other excellent qualities to make up for this deficiency.) I’m glad my wife understands that I prefer to pay somebody unless the estimate is outrageous.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My husband loves to do things himself and I am happy for him to do it — I only wish it didn’t take so long. But that is always the woman’s complaint, isn’t it?

    Growing up, my dad always tinkered with cars. He was always working on one of our cars over the weekend. I was always on the phone with some junkyard in search of some car part for him. He always wanted company, too. Bringing him a glass of iced tea generally meant I had to sit and ‘keep him company’ while he worked under the car.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sure it was something to do with that generation, Maggie. Men back then never liked to ask for help, and usually couldn’t afford to pay for it either. They just got on with whatever needed to be done.
      Best wishes, Pete.


    1. Unfortunately, those ‘yards and yards’ are in my own front and back gardens. πŸ™‚
      But I do get the ‘Yard/Garden’ language difference of course.
      Nice one as usual, David.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Reblogged this on beetleypete and commented:

    I am reblogging one of my earliest ever blog posts here. It has hardly been seen by anyone, since 2012. It made me smile, as the jobs mentioned are either still waiting to be done, or have been done by someone else! πŸ™‚


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