Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Destroy It Yourself

Last week, the element in our fan oven stopped working.

I know it’s not the most promising line for the start of a blog, but stick with me.

It’s happened before and its most recent malfunction allowed me to look like I’m handy round the house again. By looking at a couple of Youtube videos and spending 8 or 9 hours on DIY forums, I was able to safely change the element and avoid being massively overcharged by an ‘expert’.

Being utterly shite at all things DIY, this feels like an achievement equivalent to obtaining a Master’s Degree or becoming a pilot and I fully intend to milk it for all it’s worth. I’ll spend the next year, sagely tapping the front of the oven with an index finger with a pen in my mouth, before stating,

“Yep, everything still seems to be ok?”

When I fixed the same problem three years ago, I managed to wring eighteen months of misplaced pride out of it.
My wife indulges the ego-boost that my tri-annual element repair brings, as it marks a brief admission into the club of, ‘blokes-who-know-how-to-fix-things.’

I grew up in a family that had three of these men. Two of my older brothers are excellent at all things mechanical and household. One of them constructed a rudimentary burglar alarm for my mum whilst he was still a teenager and the other has consistently demonstrated an ability to examine non-functioning items whilst holding a pencil behind his ear, then making them work again.

They are chips off the old block and I’m not. My dad, like many men of his generation, has always been able to do all the work that is required to keep a house and garden maintained. The very idea that you might consult the Yellow Pages to hire a tradesman is anathema to him. The list of thing he’s done that I would never attempt is long and shaming. He’s built fences/built walls/took out and put in windows/repointed brickwork/plastered walls/built sheds and completed knockthroughs.

The knockthrough between the kitchen and living room in our old house was his crowning achievement. It started out as a serving hatch, that most popular of 1970s domestic embellishments. It was meant to be a labour saving device, but its principal function was to allow us all to continue arguments when we were in different rooms. My mum quickly grew tired of us re-enacting The Great Escape by clambering through it and instructed my dad - in the manner of Pharoah - to, ‘Make it bigger!’

This he duly did, without any reference to a manual or a qualified builder. The only preparation required in those days was a brew and a short ponder, before the sledgehammers came out. We all mucked in with the manoeuvring of the support beam, after my dad had completed his classic 'risk assessment' consisting of the sweeping statement, “We should be alright.” In no time at all it was done and the work has stood the test of time.

When they sold the house a few years ago, the buyer was interested to see any certification regarding building work or modifications to the house. My dad just chuckled at him.

So I’ve had big shoes to fill, which has left me with a crippling inferiority complex when it comes to having a crack at anything that involves a working knowledge of how things work.

In those carefree days before the kids came along, we got ready to go out for a six hour lunch one Saturday. My wife casually mentioned that there was something wrong with the flushing mechanism on the toilet. I rolled my sleeves up - like my dad used to - and said,

“Right, let’s have a look.”

Three hours later, we’d missed lunch, I was covered in shit and the toilet was no closer to working properly.

My life has been a catalogue of Frank Spencer-esqe disasters, involving wonky shelves, leftover screws and nuts, furniture that nearly fits together and trips to B and Q to buy another fucking screwdriver, even though I know that there are at least a hundred knocking about the house somewhere.

It’s took a long time for me to acknowledge my uselessness in this department. It shouldn’t matter, but it does. Every time I twat my hand with a hammer or get so frustrated that I smash the thing I was meant to be fixing, I feel like my dad is stood over my shoulder, slowly shaking his head, whilst smiling sympathetically.

So anyway, did I tell you that I’ve sorted out that element on the cooker? Yeah, it’s a Baumatic 180. As far as I can see, something’s blown and I’m going to have to take the back off. It’s tricky job like, but if you just follow common-sense principles and use the right tools, it’s a job you can crack. I wouldn’t advise anyone to do it, only professionals or people like myself who’ve got years of experience.

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