Home front takes heavy casualties

By the time you read this the full toll will be known. At present it is too early to assess the impact of humankind’s Eastertide wrestling with flex and voltage, ballcock and spanner, aluminium ladder and gravity, Elastoplast and scissors.

When the annual spring battle to put up laminated chipboard shelves is over, and the attempt to lay carpet tiles around the bathroom pedestal and paper the spare room ceiling is abandoned, the cost, for the lucky few, is measured in contusions, lesions and abrasions, while the poor bloody infantry in the front line, where Black & Decker meets impenetrable lintel, suffer concussion, broken bones and post-traumatic stress syndrome.

But though the pacifists may scoff and shake their superior heads at the futility of it all, the needless loss of blood, the sheer human sacrifice, there are those of us who cannot help but admire the glorious valour, the devil-may-care bravery of the DIY battalions as they march unflinchingly into the teeth of impossible odds armed with nothing more than a Phillips screwdriver and one of those things that strips flex.

For what is a pastel-shaded vanity unit in the Regency style if its cost is not measured in blood, toil, tears and sweat? What does it profit a man to watch the sun sink slowly over the garden shed as he sips a cooling G&T if the patio on which his rustic plastic seat rests unevenly was not wrought, slab by slab, by his own hand and paid for in the hard currency of a slipped disc?

It comes as no surprise that this New Labour Government, which is so averse to risk that it banned beef on the bone to avoid a hazard almost too small to measure, despises the heroic and wishes to stamp it out altogether. Last week, in a carefully timed attempt to remove the thrill and daring from the start of the home improvement season, consumer affairs minister Nigel Griffiths launched a campaign urging combatants to take more care.

For a photocall, he slowly climbed part way up a ladder at a Sainsbury’s Homebase store in Kensington. He looked nervous. He wore a hard hat. And the ladder was held steady by a grinning Homebase operative. The whole stunt was laughable. As if anyone planning to remove the bird nests from the guttering over Easter would be affected one way or the other by a telerecorded view of a trembling ministerial buttock half way up a ladder.

This Government seems especially prone to looking foolish by example. Do you remember Health Minister Tessa Jowell demonstrating the technique of hand washing? You immerse your hands in water, rub soap around them in a kind of wrist-rotating action, rinse them clean, and complete the exercise by drying thoroughly on a clean towel. It was only a seemly reticence quite foreign to this administration that dissuaded her from going on to show us how to wipe our bottoms in an eco-friendly way.

Are the nation’s hands any cleaner as a result of that ten-second slot on the Six O’clock News? Are we better up ladders having seen Mr Griffiths show us that the feet are placed alternately on the rungs while the sides are held in a vice-like grip and the forehead breaks out in beads of sweat? Is the Earth flat?

They don’t make consumer affairs ministers like Roy Hattersley any more. Way back in the Seventies, when Nigel Griffiths was knee-high to a paste bucket, Hattersley bestrode the consumer world. He, too, led by example, for there was no consumer to match him. Claret, foie gras, Dover sole, port and Stilton were, to Roy, a mere hors d’oeuvre.

His consumerism was a legend among admiring restaurateurs the length and breadth of the kingdom. This was Old Labour with an old appetite. Not for him the nonsense of fads and scares, the shibboleths of polyunsaturated fat and too much salt. Had he been a DIY enthusiast, which I doubt, he would have been in the fray with best of them, knocking down walls, wielding wrenches, swinging hammers, living for the day, for tomorrow we are in intensive care.

You would not, however, have got Roy up a ladder on a photocall. He had too much dignity for that. In any case, his frame was not cast by Nature with ladder climbing in mind. If you wanted a health warning from him, it would have concerned the unwisdom of swallowing oysters out of season.

But in the namby-pamby world of today, where danger of any kind, however slight, is an affront to the sacred goal of immortality, we shall not look upon his like again. Which is why it is so important that we should continue to look upon the like of Carol Henton, of Needham Market, Suffolk, who was holding a fencepost steady while her husband, Michael, who was on a stepladder, tried to knock it in. He fell, hitting her on the head with his sledgehammer, putting her in hospital for a week.

Carol and Michael and thousands of others like them are proof that Britons can still snap their fingers at perilous fate. The Englishman’s home is still his (or her) castle, the pebble-dashed, mildewed and clematis-encrusted walls of which the arrows of meddlesome government fail to pierce.

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