Look At Life: DIY

12th December 2014

Beware: Self-Assembly Santa on the loose

Jo Plumridge

Ah… Christmas Eve. An exciting time for any small child – presents under the tree, stocking at the end of the bed, mince pies and sherry out for Santa, the constant tapping of the hammer punctuated by some light swearing keeping you awake late into the night. It was only much later in life that I found out that the last part of this scenario wasn’t a normal part of most family Christmases.

My Dad is a very talented man. He’s got a cracking sense of humour, had a fantastic career as a golf writer and advertising creative and is a wonderful father and grandfather. But, for all his many talents, one thing has always utterly confounded him and that’s DIY. Some of my earliest memories involve his disastrous attempts to do some simple task around the house. But nothing caused my poor Dad more distress than trying to build our childhood Christmas presents. Having two girls growing up in the 80s meant that he was surrounded by Sindy dolls and My Little Ponies – both of which came with a variety of houses, castles and the like. And, of course, these were all ubiquitously flat-packed for added enjoyment.

Why he thought that leaving the construction of these items until late on Christmas Eve was a good idea, I’ll never know, but the colourful language and incessant hammering that followed suggests that things didn’t normally go to plan. It was thanks to Dad’s last minute DIY that my sister and I spent many years trying to prevent our dolls from plunging to their deaths out of a lift that hung precariously from the Sindy house at something akin to right angles.

To be fair to him, his delicate DIY skills weren’t aided by our childhood moggie, Toffee, who thought that dollhouses were great places to try and take a nap – but had the initial construction been sturdier, feline attentions would not have been quite such a danger zone.

As we grew older, he may well have breathed a sigh of relief at the demise of self-assembly toys… but he’d forgotten that we’d have homework. And homework meant that we needed desks to work on and bookcases for our schoolbooks. Sensibly, Dad didn’t spend much on these items. Less sensibly, he hadn’t considered that the cheap MDF material wouldn’t stand up to his ‘creative’ techniques. Within a week of building me a desk, half the handles on the drawers had fallen off, followed shortly by the collapse of several shelves. The finished article would have been a shoe-in for the Turner prize.

For many years, I thought all this was normal. I presumed everyone swore whilst doing DIY and that flat-pack furniture should always have a few mystery screws left over. Pictures weren’t meant to be hung straight, surely, and all furniture fell apart within a few years, didn’t it? Sadly for my father, though, I couldn’t stay a child forever and, as I grew older, I gradually began to notice that not all dads were quite so challenged when it came to handling a screwdriver. The final nail in the coffin came when I was 18, made a new friend and met his father. This dad had an entire garage filled with tools and, shortly after I first met them, restored a 1940s MG from scratch whilst re-doing the kitchen.

The residual effects of a childhood with my father still rear their head from time to time. When my now husband and I first moved in together, he couldn’t understand why I kept congratulating him every time he put a picture up straight. And the praise he received for building me a flat pack shoe cabinet, complete with hinges, left him equally bemused. The fact that it’s still working perfectly some years later is a new experience for me! And, to be honest, I’m not completely incapable of doing DIY myself, despite my somewhat dodgy genes in that department. Needs must, etc.

But despite the fact I now live in a house where things aren’t likely to fall apart if I so much as look at them, I look back on my childhood with great fondness. Our house was a wonderful home and its lopsided look only added to its charm. And besides which, if my Dad hadn’t been so awful at DIY, we’d have far fewer funny stories to tell to future generations.

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