Wednesday 24 October 2012

Let's Talk About...

... that dying breed: the handyman (and woman, too, as we're all about equal opportunities on this blog).
Recently I was gearing myself up to undertake one of my favourite weekend chores: ironing. Yes, I do love ironing, especially because I get to catch up with the all the television programmes I've missed during the week. On this occasion, though, my initial enthusiasm was somewhat dampened by the fact that the iron was not working at all. There I was, standing in the middle of the lounge, a pair of my son’s uniform trousers on the ironing board but no steam was coming from the device. Cue disappointment and frustration. Because, as I mentioned before, I love ironing. Especially, in front of the telly, watching Later with Jools Holland or 20 Years of the English Premier League.

If truth be told I’d already had plenty of warning. A few months ago the iron started malfunctioning: sometimes it would go cold all of a sudden and I had to unplug it from the socket, wait for a while and switch it on again; on other occasions, it failed to heat up despite the fact that it was connected.

Had I been a handyman, I would have sorted the situation out immediately. But DIY doesn’t run in my DNA. When it comes to fixing things around the house, I’m more of a SOMF (Son Of My Father) type of person. Unlike my mum, my dad couldn’t even change a light bulb. I’m happy to report that I’m not that useless. But still, I’m no handyman.

The problem with the iron made me realise that nowadays that breed is in danger of extinction. The times when you had relatives or neighbours who did odd jobs around the house are sadly gone.

That’s why I want to talk about those unsung heroes who pop in on a cold Saturday morning and look at the back of your faulty washing machine, play around a little bit with the wires here and there and voilà… half an hour later, your dirty clothes are happily getting the usual weekend treatment. Whilst sat around the kitchen table are Peter (whom everyone calls “Pete”) and you having a cuppa and catching up on the latest local gossip.

Chances are that the scenario described above is going the same way as the Sumatran tiger: into extinction. Instead of getting on the blower and calling Mr Handyman (or Handywoman, since there are lots of women nowadays involved in the trade) we head for the nearest shop or supermarket and do what I did after finding out that my iron had died on me: get a replacement. Easy, isn’t it?

And yet, it wasn’t always thus. I belong to that group people you might think eccentric, who squeeze the tube of toothpaste evenly so as to make it last longer. Every time I cook spaghetti Bolognese I add a little bit of water to whatever leftover sauce there is still inside the jar and pour it all in the pan where I’m cooking the spaghetti. I’ve had a pair of tough, resistant and beautiful Mexican boots for more than fifteen years. Recently when the sole came off on one of them, I took it to a locksmith (who also repairs shoes on the side; he’s not so much a rare breed as a dinosaur in human disguise) who glued it back on straight away. It cost me about a fiver or less. Had I bought a new pair of the same quality, it’d have set me back ten times as much, if not more.

But these actions are the exception, rather than the norm. After I relocated to the UK I became more reluctant to fix things, I opted to replace them instead. When I still lived in Cuba my attitude was the opposite. I had an old stereo that used to go wrong every now and then. Every time this happened, without any second thoughts, I took it straight away to a good friend of mine who worked in a repair shop. He didn’t always have the tools or spare parts to fix it, but, boy, did he try! I once asked him why he was so good at his craft (he was, believe me) and he answered that every piece of equipment brought to him posed a puzzle he had to work out. It didn’t matter what it was: old transistors, hand-me-down VCRs or state-of-the-art stereos. He cracked them all.

Let’s talk, then, about the handymen and women. The species that’s been decimated by the advent of the big supermarkets, low prices and consumerism. Although, it’s true that some of the damage has been self-inflicted. If I were to take my CD player to a local repair shop to have it fixed, it would cost me more than to buy a new one. However, there’s no need to trade your dish-washer for a new one, when all it needs is a fuse to be changed. This is what I’m talking about. And if I were to extend my paean to this dying breed of jack of all trades (and masters/mistresses of all) I would say that we need our children to learn a few of these basic trades: plumbing, electrics and carpentry. That way, they won’t be puzzled when faced with a malfunctioning iron.

© 2012

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 28th October at 10am (GMT


  1. I loved all the fixed-up cars in Cuba, you certainly don't see much of that in the UK. I realise it's born of necessity, but I like to fix stuff if I can (though I'm not sure I'd be much good with an iron!)

  2. One thing about British and American civilisation is that we've all become so used to a wasteful culture. India, like Cuba, is a place where people fix something rather than rush right out and buy a new one.

    I've was never much of a handyman but I'm like you in a lot of ways. I add water to the empty can of diced tomatoes and pour it into my sauce, I revamp old clothing to make it in style for the time, I reuse every bit of paper I can until it's time for the recycling bin.

    I did notice that in this recession people have been a little more frugal. Shoe repairing shoes have popped up here and there. It's not much but it's something.


  3. Great post, Cuban. I think you'll love this:

  4. I fix. I had not bought anything new in ages except of course :) for computers and handphones. Even my car was 16 years old before I bought a new one!

  5. i still have my dad...he is def a handyman...and he has taught me more that i am grown in that regard than ever as a kid....i was not into that then...if only i would have known i might have been...he though can fix most anything...and it amazes me...and my think my youngest is going to pick that up as well...

    these days we waste a whole lot because we have lost that...

  6. Many thanks for your kind comments. I have, too, noticed frugality and thriftiness in some quarters. But then, the message from the government is that they want people to spend more money because it's the only way to bail ourselves out of this recession. Really? Methinks no. I still love my Mexican boots. I keep checking the soles every now and then and think to myself: fifteen more years! :-)

    Greetings from London.

  7. I squeeze the toothpaste tube and water down the jar to get it all as well! I am lucky as my hubby is a Jack of all Trades. He can just about repair anything. But these days things are not as wise to repair when the part cost as much as a replacement item. With all the Cheaply made items coming into our country, it is more practical to purchase a new one. I do remember the days of the TV repairman but with technology moving along so quickly, some things such as telephones and computers are fossils within a few years. My hubby is our Plumber, Auto guy, Electric guy, computer wizard, etc. Thank goodness for his knowledge as he has saved us tons of money over the years.

  8. husband is a handyman...believe me..he can fix just everything...made me smile

  9. I was never a D.I.Y. fan. My dad and my father-in-law, both being craftsmen with a hint of the perfectionist in each, I found the competition too off-putting. Have always thrown away or got a man in! Also, seeing the disasters perpetrated by some handymen did nothing to dissaude me.

  10. Love it! Yes, I think there should be a basic handyman class in high school for kids! My kids are in 4H so that helps a lot...both of my boys took electricity, small engine & welding projects and have a basic knowledge to of those "crafts"

    Laughing about your iron story...if it was me, I'd be jumping up and down for joy (I can't say I hate ironing....but my husbands shirts pile up to 15 before I turn it on...of course to sit in front of the television to iron!) Enjoy your weekend :)



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...