Plumbing the depths of my DIY inadequacy

I got a call from the plumber at 8.30pm the other night night. He could repair my bathroom taps the following morning. I was impressed, having only put in the request earlier that day. When suited me, he asked. I work in the afternoons and evenings, so I replied that before midday should be fine. Could he do it first thing? What do you mean ‘first thing’, I replied, apprehensively. ‘7.30,’ he responded.

I grimaced a little, knowing that saying yes would sentence me to an extremely abbreviated sleep, but I needed to get it done. For weeks, my bathroom taps had been like the cartoon ones that Bugs Bunny often finds in the desert. Bugs would turn them on frantically, dying of thirst, and then one single solitary drip would make its way into his gaping mouth. Later in the cartoon a huge gush comes out of them – that was what I was hoping to achieve.

A gentleman cannot keep himself looking debonair and handsome without running water for personal grooming, you’ll understand, and the lack of adequate bathroom facilities has been seriously impeding the awesome-bachelor-pad vibe I’m trying to cultivate chez moi. So I said yes, first thing tomorrow was fine.

At around 2.30am that night, I finally started to drift off to sleep, after watching several episodes of the 1990s British teen comedy-drama Press Gang. Yes, teen. Yes, I’m 35. But honestly, it’s very witty – the writer, Stephen Moffatt, went on to createSherlock and Coupling and is currently in charge of Doctor Who. Apart from the hilariously cheesy titles, it’s aged far better than I have, in fact.

At 7.15am, a mere four and a three quarter hours later, my alarm went off. I was just about to throw my bleeping phone against the wall when I remembered the plumber’s looming visit. Cursing, I dragged myself out of bed, and gave my apartment a perfunctory tidy. Why didn’t I do this last night, I wondered. And why does it matter whether a tradie I’ll probably never see again thinks my place is messy, anyway?

Still, I fear the judgement of others even in such inconsequential circumstances, and so I carefully tidied, finishing by 7.28am. Just in the nick of time, I thought. It was a moment of maturity, at least by my standards. The younger me would have set the alarm for 7.30 and still been tidying when the plumber arrived. Congratulating myself, I settled down to wait for the plumber.

By 8.30, I was feeling a touch irritated. It was a very rainy day, which seemed ironic, since there was an abundance of water everywhere except out of my taps. I had been promised that I’d be the first call in the morning, and the booking had been made only made a few hours ago. How could they possibly have lined up other jobs in the interim?

I texted, not trusting myself, in my sleep deprived state, to remain calm over the phone. The reply, at least, was rapid. “Sorry he has been stuck on an emergency, will be there 9.30ish.”

An emergency. Can’t argue with that, can you? It would be churlish of me to feel slightly resentful if someone’s tap had broken and was flooding their bathroom. Or worse, something involving sewage. My tap problem was merely an inconvenience. Of course, I have no way of knowing whether it actually was an emergency or one of the plumbers doing what I’d been unable to do, and sleeping in. But you have to take these things on trust. So I tried unsuccessfully to doze for the next hour.

9.30ish, turned out to mean 10.30, a mere three hours after “first thing”, as they’d promised. I could have slept for the requisite eight hours despite my foolhardy Press Gangbinge. You can imagine that by this point, I was now rather regretting the decision to spend quite so many hours enjoying the quickfire banter between the Junior Gazette’s hard-nosed editor Lynda Day and her cheeky investigative reporter Spike Thompson.

As the plumber unscrewed the various components of the tap, I attempted to make conversation. “Is it a washer thing?” I asked. I know very little about plumbing, but I do know from prior experience that when something goes wrong, it’s generally the washerthat’s to blame. “Yep,” he replied, giving me a look that somehow managed to convey both pity and contempt.

Fixing the taps took him, oh, about a minute. I’d put up with these taps being unable to adequately dispense water for weeks, cursing them daily, and it took him all of sixty seconds to fix. And it’s then that a familiar refrain returned to my mind: why can’t I do any of this handyman stuff? What kind of man am I, anyway?

My dad could have fixed the taps himself. He wouldn’t have stuffed around waiting for three hours until the plumber finally showed up. He’s the kind of dad who built my brother and I a treehouse when we were kids, something I hope he can also do for his grandchildren someday, because I wouldn’t allow any child of mine to get onto a wooden platform constructed by me. I failed woodwork every year at school, and the teacher had to help me finish even the simple pencilbox we made at the start of Year 7. (Thanks for that, Mr Hamilton.)

My grandfather is, if anything, even more hardcore. He’s in his nineties now, but even ten years ago he was doing most of his own renovations. In his prime, he thought nothing of laying his own concrete slab and building a shed on top of it and I understand he also did quite a lot of his own electrical wiring, which is impressive, if perhaps illegal. He was a self-reliant Real Man who rolled up his sleeves and got Stuck In, whereas I just get stuck.

Somehow I, the firstborn son of a firstborn son, have entirely failed to inherit a single one of these impressive Do It Yourself genes. I can’t handle any domestic task more complex than changing a light globe, and one of those even managed to confound me the other day when the bulb party had broken off. When I go to Bunnings, I feel intimidated by everything besides the sausage sizzle.

As the day went on, I wondered what kind of father I’d make if I couldn’t fix anything around the house, let alone successfully assemble Ikea furniture without having mysterious, suspiciously structural-looking parts left over.

But then, in the depths of my emasculation, I remembered economics. When we hire someone else to do something we can’t do – like, in my case, everything – it helps the economy. My complete lack of self-reliance creates employment for others. Rather a lot of it, in fact. But hey, I’m a patriot. I’m willing to feel this inadequate if it helps tradies to feed their families.

And then I remembered that we all have different abilities. Sure, the plumber is good at fixing taps. But I bet he isn’t as good at staying up until 2.30am and watching Press Gang as I am. And that’s how we all make our own distinct contribution to the complex machine that is our economy. To use the analogy of a car, the plumber is like the windscreen wiper – he gets rid of the excess water. I’m another, far less essential part – let’s say the cup-holder. There’s no point me wishing I could wipe the windscreen too – I can’t. But what I can do is hold the driver’s beverage. And while in this analogy, my grandfather could probably do much of what a car can do all by himself; well, cars are more complicated these days. FJ Holdens probably didn’t even have cupholders.

So I’ll keep calling tradies when I need a new washer for my tap. And any tradies out there should feel free to call me if they need someone to watch archaic children’s television programmes in the wee hours of the morning. And that, folks, is economics.

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