I MET AN OLD WWI digger who accidentally chopped his finger off. He stitched it back on using fishing line. True. The ultimate DIY! Did it work? Of course not. When I met him he could only count up to nine. Still, a century ago in the back blocks of the Waitakeres, his options were limited, so good on him for giving it a go.
Options were not thick on the ground on the orchard I grew up on, either: the choices were Do-It-Yourself or Do-Without. My smart-but-unorthodox dad built and fixed a thousand things. I was proud he could knock up a coolstore using a weedeater with a buzz-saw blade on the end to cut the timber. I was less proud – in fact, down-right embarrassed – that he covered rusted-out panels in his car with tile-patterned linoleum. He replaced the exhaust on our Ferguson tractor with a straight length of water-pipe. At least you could always hear when Dad was coming.
With no YouTube videos to show him what to do, his DIY improvisations were often more creative than practical. He refrained from DIY surgery on us kids, though he did use his pruning skills to de-sex some tom-cat kittens. (The story – involving chloroform, secateurs and a gumboot – was relayed to me by an older brother, so it is possibly dubious).
Granddad DIY-ed our house. The mismatched second-hand doors differed in height and had weirdly low door knobs. Old fashioned doors normally had very high knobs, but my grandfather didn’t want children to be trapped in a house-fire so he mounted the doors upside-down. (Given that he also did the electrical wiring, fear of fire was not unreasonable). I also remember that adjacent doors leaned towards each other: the house had been extended repeatedly over the twentieth century and, as the house settled, tilted and sagged in the peaty soil, each DIY renovation would be built using a new version of ‘level’. The floor was not quite a roller-coaster, but it was interesting.
I inherited the DIY urge but none of the talent. “Did you repair the computer?” asked the hospital electronics tech. I had expected more admiration and wonder in his tone; instead, there was a little edge to his voice. The computer was a massive 1970s-vintage thing, the size of two large refrigerators. I used it, but I was not really meant to tinker with its innards. “Why, yes I did.” I said, with possibly the same glow of pride my father had after he repaired our piano with fruit-case wood. The tech’s eyes narrowed, “With … BluTak?!?”
Something inside of me always yells, “I can fix that!” Whatever that ‘something’ doing the yelling is, it isn’t ability. A pattern developed. I pulled the engine out of my car and dismantled it. Some time and many tears later, I handed a pile of parts and pile of money over to a mechanic to reassemble it. I painted our caravan. The painter I got to spray on a top coat said he had to hire extra staff to sand back what I had done.
So I’ve changed the pattern.
Nowadays, I save time and just hire someone who knows what they are doing straight off. It’s not what Dad would have done, but Dad had no options. I have them, and need them. For me, it’s more practical and economical. “But is it manly?” says something in my Y-chromosome … “But is it Kiwi?” adds another accusing voice. Maybe not, by some definitions. But I think those definitions are getting a bit stale.
There’s another thing Dad and his generation had to do because they had no options: DIY mental health. His generation suffered in silence. Dad numbed PTSD from WWII with beer and smokes, his only therapists were his mates at the RSA. It got him through, just, but it wasn’t enough for a lot of his cohort: one in six New Zealanders used to spend time in the huge mental hospitals that dotted the countryside. Yes, there is a lot we can do on our own to maintain, upgrade and even fix the stuff between our ears. DIY. But we have options now – counsellors and clued-up medics – and consulting professionals can be the wisest thing we can do.
Scary … but they are unlikely to use secateurs and a gumboot.