I’m not sure how, so many years after Emily plonked herself in front of a horse, but assembling things, mowing the lawn and packing the car boot still haven’t crossed the gender divide into the “jobs that we all have a go at” category. Cooking, hovering and staying at home looking after the baby have all made their way across the floor. But in the twenty first century there are still man jobs. Unfortunately, they’re my responsibility and they invariably leave me in a grump.
I was flummoxing my way around the highly stacked and crowded aisles of the local DIY shop. I avoid it when possible. Sometimes I’m forced in there. I wilt under the interested stares of the people that run it. They’re called Graham or some such efficient name. After a few minutes of manoeuvring the precious around the thin gaps between the plethora of things, eyeing up the screws, I approach the counter, “found what you’re looking for?” “Err, no.” “Anything that I can help you with?” “Err. I’m not sure if it exists.” The precious one sits patiently in his chair. He’s not trying to contort his body like some sort of frustrated escape artist, he can sense my unease.
You see, we’ve got a tricky staircase. Not a simple straightforward one with one width and a flat wall. It never is. I’m tasked with attaching a stair gate to it, to prevent the precious one from mountaineering. It’s more to prevent him practicing his quick descents. I emptied the box of stair gate paraphernalia onto the landing floor and then attempted to assemble it. I emptied it, “in the way” of daily life, a fine statement of intent. It went well until the point I had to attach it to the wall. The key bit, I guess. I then had to pick up all the pieces, many of which would later be deemed superfluous, and put them out of harm’s way, before sheepishly heading downstairs to declare, “not that simple. Tricky.” I hate DIY. I wonder why this task is unquestioningly a “man job”. I’m sure my wife could be as crap at it as I am.
I’ve got previous in the DIY shop. I had to re-felt the shed roof. I never saw myself as the type of person who put felt on a shed roof. The same man, “Graham” tried to aid me in that noble quest. “How big is your shed?” “Err. It’s, you know, normal shed sized.” “Well is that 5 or 10 metres?” Great, if those are the standard options then mine is definitely more like 5. “Maybe it’s three.” I never knew there were so many garden apparatus storage options. “I’ll come back.” In my nervousness I’d forgotten that I needed light bulbs. I returned later that day. They stared at me inquisitively, “I couldn’t find the tape measure.”
So on this forage into the other world, where men use spirit levels and sharp pencils, I was already on edge. That’s before I was hearing myself ask for a “screw extender thing, as one part of the wall is significantly longer than the other bits, so the screw doesn’t fit.” Considering they make hazardously and oddly shaped stairs, you’d think they make those things too. They don’t. I needed a piece of wood and some nails. “What are you screwing it into. “The door frame thing.” I make the shape of a door frame. “Wood.” That’ll be it. Thirty pence later I had my wood. “Good luck” Graham said as I left with, in theory, the tools to complete the job.
It took me months of having it on my to do list, and two trips to Mothercare, to get the item from the shelf and into my possession (more tape measure related issues), then it sat taunting me from the box for a few weeks. Last Sunday was the sort of day to tackle this thing. Tick it off the list, before I made a Fish pie for the precious one. I went up at nine. By eleven I was sulking. Why don’t they make the instructions look like the thing? “I wouldn’t let the precious one crawl round here.” The whole area was becoming more hazardous, not less. By mid afternoon I’d declared it finished. We don’t go in the attic much anyway, so it should be fine. Just don’t open it too often. I tried to find a reason to blame my wife for my travails but there weren’t even any tenuous ones. Except that she was regressing the cause of feminism, but I was in no position to debate that subject. I can’t be sure how, but it would end badly for me.
On Monday morning I was back in the comfort zone of Hey Diddle Diddle. We ploughed ourselves with coffee after a successful sing along. Me and the mummies and nannies discussing our experiences of food. “Tom will only eat fresh pasta.” He’s four. Jake will only eat freshly made soup. The discussion is basically about control. Meal times with the precious one are like this. He wants to hold the spoon, he wants to hold out for blueberries and strawberries and avoid his Weetabix. We swap experiences and I’m in there. I know what I’m talking about. I know how to get the job done. I understand the dynamics at play. I come home and try and work out what the technique is for opening the newly installed stair gate. Carefully. Rarely.