I will be the first to admit that I am not what you would call a handyman. Quite the opposite, in fact.
My lack of handyman skills was apparent from an early age. The only test that I ever failed at school was in woodwork, when we were given pictures of a variety of tools. We had to name these tools and write down what each one is used for. I couldn’t even tell the difference between a screwdriver and a chisel and any tool more complicated than those two baffled me completely.
Two years into high school every boy in our class had to do a woodwork project. I attempted to make a very basic small folding seat. It was a disaster. I just couldn’t do it. I was saved by the fact that our woodwork classroom had to be relocated near the end of the school year to another part of the school premises, around the time when our projects were due to be completed. Such was my desperation that I smuggled my attempt at the folding seat out in my school bag and dumped it into the bushes on the way home.
After we had moved into the new classroom, the teacher asked to see my project.
“I can’t find it, Sir. It must have been lost when they moved our stuff to the new classroom.”
In my first year at university I struggled to find my feet. I kept changing courses and was unable to find direction. Eventually one of my lecturers arranged for me to have an aptitude test.
A few days after completing the test I had to go and discuss the results with the person who had administered the test.
“Your aptitude test results are very mixed,” he told me. “I would recommend studies that would lead to a career in the diplomatic service.”
I was still digesting this, thinking how I could never become a diplomat in the service of the Apartheid regime, when he elaborated on the test results.
“Now, when it comes to mechanical skills, I have to tell you that you have achieved the lowest score of anyone that I have tested over the years. I suggest that you never try working with your hands. You’re an intelligent kid. Just stick to using your brains, but not your hands.”
Over the years my lack of handyman skills has become the stuff of legend, as becomes someone with as spectacular an aptitude test result as mine.
A few months ago I was standing outside a shop in Diamond Creek, talking to my mate Ken, when Digby from the local Mitre 10 hardware store came by.
“Hi Ken, How’re you going?” Digby said.
“I’m good,” said Ken. “This is my mate Tim.”
“Oh, I know Tim,” said Digby.
Ken was astounded. “Where do you know Tim from? Surely he’s never set foot in Mitre 10?”
“Oh yes, he does, sometimes. He comes in with his wife, that is. She buys the bits and pieces that she needs and if need be she asks me for advice. Tim just comes along for the company and to help her to carry stuff.”
Gill, my wife, contends that my inability to fix or make things is a matter of attitude, whereas I insist that it is a matter of aptitude. I have tried really hard, once or twice, like the time when we bought the wheelbarrow at KMart. It came in a cardboard box and we had to put it together ourselves.
“That’ll be simple,” Gill said. “Can you do it please?”
I asked her to find me the necessary tools and then I laboured for more than an hour, before realising that there were some components missing. “Bloody Kmart!” I raged. “You’d think that they would check that all the pieces are there before they sell the thing.”
Gill cocked her head to one side, inspected my handiwork and picked up the screwdriver and spanner. Within less than five minutes she had disassembled my construction completely and had reassembled it into a working wheelbarrow.
* * *
Sharing a house with someone else is challenging at the best of times, and so it is with us. I cannot stand background noise, but Gill likes to listen to John Pain (Faine) on talkback radio every morning and to that irritating Macka on a Sunday morning. She also likes the noise of the television in the background at times, whereas I love it when the house is dead quiet.
As if this is not challenging enough, Gill is a collector and a hoarder. I am a minimalist, but our house is full of stuff, small and big. Although I detest clutter, I cannot escape it in our house.
“If you cark it before me,” I told her grumpily one morning, raising my voice over John Faine’s, “I’m going to conduct proper interviews and have selection criteria for choosing my next wife. I’ll ask them if they like talkback radio, and whether they have ever collected anything.”
“Good idea!” she replied. Without missing a beat, she added “And while you’re at it, ask them whether they can fix things.”