We bear our battle scars with pride. We men who have seen action on the front line and, against the odds, survived. We don’t talk about it much, we would rather silently bequeath our legacy to posterity and let our achievements speak for themselves. And there they are, all around us, in our own homes.
That dimmer-switch in the living room, for example, the one that suffuses all who touch it in a lustrous aureole, highlighting their risen hair and lending sparkle to their terrified eyes. Upstairs, there is the power shower that surprisingly doubles as a sauna, delivering freezing sheets of water that alternate at random with a scalding torrent. Then there are the poltergeist-like surprises: who knows when a shelf will suddenly tilt, tipping ornaments into the goldfish bowl beneath, or a cupboard door throw itself open. What mysterious force causes plaster to fall from the ceiling like Hollywood snow, wallpaper to unfurl like hair released from curling tongs?
Others may be shocked, surprised or dismayed but we hardened DIY veterans have seen it all. We know what it is like to step down from a ladder into a bucket of wallpaper paste, to sandwich a thumb between wood and hammer, to drill into an electric cable and duck the answering whizz-bangs.
And now they tell us it is all over. DIY is finished. The cause to which we have sacrificed so much, which has sustained us through the bad times and the even worse, is to be no more.
Standard Life Bank has done a survey and delivered the obsequies. A spokesman solemnly declared: “The famous breed of DIY male is hanging up his hammer and downing tools as he admits he just doesn’t measure up. Whether it’s a simple decoration job or more serious structural work, men across the UK are in agreement that DIY is no longer the thing to do.”
What rot! What does this unnamed spokesman take us for? If he thinks we are the sort to give up at the first whiff of Evo-Stick or turn tail and run at the ominous rumble of a partition wall collapsing, he’s got another thing coming. We shall never surrender.
Of course he’s talking nonsense, and I’ll tell you why. For a start, a whole unit at the Department for Trade and Industry depends on us for its livelihood. Every year, scores of civil servants monitor the casualties caused by DIY. The findings are passed to the minister, who then has the opportunity to issue a warning. Two years ago, it was the turn of the then consumer minister Melanie Johnson who said 20,000 injuries are sustained over the Easter bank holiday alone.
“Doing jobs around the house can be fun and saves money,” she said, in that listen-with-mother tone that makes you want to reach for the nearest claw hammer, “but before you start you need to weigh it up and decide whether it is something you can manage yourself or whether you need to call in the experts.”
The experts? Don’t make me laugh. Miss Johnson talked out of her hat. Did she not realise that “experts” are not the answer to DIY? They are its cause.
What we’re dealing with is not a matter of MDF shelves or mock-Edwardian polystyrene coving, it is class war, cold and brutal. The reason why we bourgeoisie take up our Black & Decker hammer drills and pummel hell out of our homes is because it gives us the small pleasure of depriving the “experts” of their ill- gotten gains.
Consider: you have a leaking tap or a rotten skirting board, and you summon help from the Yellow Pages. What happens? Days later, if you’re lucky, the expert fetches up. Chances are he is below average height and chronically obese. He has a shaven head, a ring in his ear, and tattoos. He has a weak bladder (the first thing he wants to do is use the lavatory) and fewer brain cells than advertised. Once his portable radio is turned up to maximum, he starts work. At length he departs, leaving behind a mess of plaster, nails, crisp wrappers and Coke cans that will take you a day to clear up.
For this he will expect to be paid a daily rate of at least &£300 in cash. And when you’re finally rid of the wretch, you discover that, sure enough, he has botched the job. The tap still leaks, the replacement skirting falls away.
If you’re very unlucky, worse is to come. To recover from the ordeal of having had men in, you raid what little is left of your savings and jet off for some winter sunshine. And, as you stretch out on that Caribbean beach and squint into the sun glinting on an azure sea, you sit up with a start. You know that voice! You recognise those glottal stops, that incessant sniff. Yes, stretched out next to you, his distended belly dappled in the shade of a palm frond, is the expert. Truly there is no escape.
The cowboys, botchers and blackguards of Essex are luxuriating in a golden age. With no known skills, they flourish and prosper, living the life that the middle class once thought was theirs alone and by right. Is it any wonder that we would rather do it ourselves than be done by someone else?