After a day putting together cabinets, erecting signs and generally being handy around the house, it suddenly struck me – when did I gain the ability to do this sort of thing? I was absolutely terrible at anything to do with handiwork in the home when I was younger. Indeed, the only “do it yourself” I showed any enthusiasm for before I was married involved an erotic magazine and a box of tissues. Even after I first got married (at the tender age of 21 – wonder why that didn’t work out?), I couldn’t do anything practical without major consequences. Bad ones, usually. I once tried to put up a curtain pole and it ended up with it being successfully attached to the wall on one side, but a huge hole in the plasterboard on the other side and me using a six-and-a-half-foot plank of wood to prop up the edge of the wooden pole as a makeshift. For two years. Yes, for about two years, a large plank of untreated pinewood stood on its end in our living room, holding up that pole. I wish I was joking, but that actually happened. Still, it was a talking point – usually about how awful I was at DIY, naturally. Of course, I blamed the state of the walls in the flat for my inability to affix the other end of the pole, but the professional who came in to do the job managed to fix the pole to the wall in a matter of minutes. Bastard.
Still, that was a great piece of work compared to my attempt to wire an electric cooker to the mains. Simply put, I soldered in the wires when they should have been screwed in. Impressively, it lasted for a few years before it exploded with a massive bang, producing a big cloud of black smoke, but it was pure luck that it had lasted that long. The electrician who inspected (and condemned) the cooker afterwards was noisily cursing the bloody idiot who wired it up, telling me that the bloody idiot could have killed me, my wife and my child… so I sagely nodded along in agreement, tutting and shaking my head in all of the right places. Of course, I wasn’t going to admit that the bloody idiot was me.
Not too long ago, I’d convinced myself that DIY just wasn’t my thing, but I’m proving myself wrong these days. However, I’m wondering if it’s just an age thing. There are lots of things I’m reasonably good at these days that I didn’t have a clue about when I was younger. I was hopeless in the Craft, Design & Technology class at school. All of the other pupils took their masterpieces home with them – mine generally went in the bin while the tutor smiled sympathetically at me. When I was 11, I actually managed to make a plastic photograph holder which involved strategically bending a piece of perspex. Even then, it had a serious kink in the top of it which meant that the photo it held was taken underwater. My Mum still had it on display in the dining room, but it was bloody awful and I always felt sorry for my Nan and my two cousins who were trapped inside that abomination. Another disaster was the sports car I attempted to make out of clay in Art class. It turned out so terrible that I claimed that I’d honestly set out to make a model Skoda. It was supposed to be a Porsche.
I truly believe that my school knocked a huge amount of confidence out of me. It was an all-boys school, naturally a very competitive environment, and there was a lot of bullying, teasing and physical violence. The pupils were pretty bad too. I quite enjoy some sport these days, but I used to dread P.E. days back in my senior school. I honestly don’t recall having any encouragement in the first few years I was there. My P.E. teacher generally explained things once at the start of term, lost patience when I didn’t grasp the concept immediately and then spent the rest of the year telling me exactly how fat, slow and useless I was. On cross-country runs, my sadistic Scottish teacher used to run behind us kids struggling at the back and literally kick us up the arse hard, shouting such positive words of encouragement like, “run faster you fat knacker” and “move those legs, Sween-ball”. Needless to say, he wasn’t exactly my favourite person in the world. Being forced to do sports I didn’t like, like Rugby in the freezing cold Winter and Hockey in the summer, where a rock hard wooden ball could leave a bruise in your shins for a number of months meant that I lost all interest in doing any kind of competitive physical activity.
In fact, I think I gave up on a lot of things in my teens, simply branding them a lost cause. Art, craft, sport… all lessons I would bunk off from and not even bother about the consequences. I just didn’t see the point. I mean, I wasn’t a bad kid, just strong-willed, with a low tolerance for things that I didn’t see the point in doing. When I skipped lessons, I didn’t sneak off smoking or drinking with the rebels – no, I went to the huge library in Birmingham. Mainly to look at the photos in the sex education books, sure, but at least I was learning. I’d also take the train down to London for the day instead of going to school too. Sometimes I even paid. No, the only subjects I actively enjoyed and attended were English, Music and… actually, that’s it. I really disliked my school and I think it disliked me.
Of course, the reality of the situation is that I probably wasn’t terrible at these things back then. I just didn’t like being forced to take part in things I didn’t completely understand and didn’t have any confidence doing – so I didn’t really try. When I do things now, I’m sensible enough to make sure I know what I need to do before I start, so that I can do a reasonable job of whatever it is. Also, I know that I’m doing it for myself – or for the family, not because it’s something I am being forced to do. Plus, and this may be the most important thing, when I’m taking part in sporting activity these days, I don’t generally have a sadistic, spitting, screaming Scotsman repeatedly kicking me up the arse calling me a “fat knacker”. Thankfully.