Andrew Clark
Andrew Clark

The ‘not so handy’ man

Sometimes I feel I’ve been sold short by my dogged pursuit to become that elusive and sought-after creature — the modern man. I’ve come a long way in recent years.

I’ve personally supported my wife through three home births, can change a nappy in my sleep and even listen to Dolly Parton (when my mates aren’t around), but while these attributes have made me a talked-about object of desire at many a kitchen tea, the time spent honing these skills and getting in touch with my feminine side has been at the expense of other essential expertise required to function as a man in the more traditional sense of the word.

One such area of neglect is that of general handyman.

Admittedly I displayed as much enthusiasm for woodwork and basic household maintenance as a cat in a bath, but the fact that it fell under the banner of “no-longer-desirable Neanderthal machismo” provided me with a good excuse to forget its existence altogether, although I am fast realising that my decision to do so may have been premature. I can change a light bulb and have been known to squirt the odd drop of oil into a squeaky door hinge, but don’t even think of asking me to change a washer on the tap or fix a puncture on my son’s bike. I’ve attempted some of these tasks in the past, with often dire consequences.

Electricity and I are a particularly dangerous combination, although I can say I’ve learned from my mistakes. The hole in the blade of my Swiss army knife serves as a constant reminder not to cut through any electrical cable that may still be plugged into the wall. I also discovered that my inability to put on a plug does not give me the right to take the wires of a household appliance and shove them directly into the wall socket.

Even the more genteel pursuit of woodwork has left me confounded. Nails are either too big or too small and never go in straight. I’m also constantly accused of using nails where screws should have been the item of choice, but since I don’t have a drill and all my mates refuse point blank to lend me theirs, I tend to favour defiance and the as-yet-unproven theory that if you hit something hard enough with anything big enough, it has to go into the intended surface. As I say, this is yet unproven, but I remain undeterred in my efforts.

On the odd occasion I have conned a mate into lending me a drill, my efforts have been cruelly thwarted by faulty equipment. Someone mentioned something about different drill bits for wood and concrete, but how the hell is anybody supposed to know that? Is there some great “Handyman’s Bible” to which I have not been privy?

My father’s attempts to show me the ropes were all in vain as I scurried about constantly fetching him the wrong tools while he screamed instructions and shook his head in frustration from the top of a ladder. Perhaps this was part of the problem. Why does the expert always get to do the fun stuff, like drilling holes, cut things to bits with chainsaws and smashing thing to smithereens, while the lackey has to run about fetching stuff and spending hours holding things in position? If I ever get this whole handyman thing right, I’m going to let my sons loose with a power drill and a chainsaw so they can express themselves like an artist with a clean pallet and discover their passion for something I clearly missed out on.

Anyone who may be in doubt of the pulling power of these skills need only watch the media to confirm my point. Take, for instance, that bastion of nouvelle riche culture, Top Billing. They have not one but two male supermodels parading around with dubious tans, supercilious grins and bulging biceps wielding power tools while the voluptuous Jeannie D with her million-dollar smile and priceless cleavage oohs and aahs over their magnificent creations.

Sex sells, and while Aidan and Janez are selling a variety of impressive do-it-yourself (if you have doctorate in carpentry) masterpieces to the women in the audience, Jeannie D is selling the notion that I have to be the next Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor to the likes of yours truly.

Determined not to be outdone, I’m currently engaged in talks with a guy who knows stuff — you know, the rugged, unshaven, slightly eccentric type who has a vague rock-star appeal and looks like he’s never done a day’s work in his life, but actually has a PhD from Harvard and once played guitar with Lenny Kravitz. The type who was clearly privy to that elusive “Handyman’s Bible”.

I explained my dilemma to him one afternoon at a braai and he offered to teach me, providing I supplied the beers. I thought that this sounded like a good deal and have extended the offer to a couple of mates who are also, shall we say, domestically challenged. It feels really good to have a genuine excuse to hang out with the boys; my other thinly veiled plans for an afternoon off have not been very successful in terms of masking my ulterior motives. Women get to do it under the guise of things like book clubs. Since when do book clubs end at 2am and since when do books need to be carried in a wine cooler?

Anyway, I shall soon be starting my handyman workshops and just hope to hell that my wife’s lack on interest in rugby prevents her from noticing that the workshop times just happen to coincide with the Bok games at the World Cup.