By Joanna Roughton.
I’ve written a lot about how women are being edited out of the life of the home. But the marginalisation affects men too.
Take repairs around the house. A recent survey found that only a fifth of men can fix a leaky tap, fewer than half can wire a plug, and three fifths would call a plumber to unblock the toilet. Some 71 per cent claim not to own a power tool of any kind.
The impact is being felt by retailers. Homebase has closed a quarter of its DIY stores, and B&Q a sixth. Some men even seem now to rejoice in their domestic ineptitude, posting pictures of their botched repairs online.
How did we get here? My father was handy enough to install a kitchen. The way things are going, my son might struggle to fit a light bulb.
We have moved from a generation taught to make do and mend, to one brought up to believe that most things are disposable and, if it has to be kept, then someone else will fix it.
The absence of fathers in many ‘broken homes’ can’t have helped. Nor the growth of the rented sector, which can stymie emotional and financial investment in a property for peripatetic tenants.
A recent article on the subject even suggested that new-build homes put young men off DIY. They felt discouraged from tackling repairs in a pristine house, in a way which wouldn’t be true in some draughty old pile.
Men still want to work with their hands. But is this more likely to involve a kitchen and an oven, rather than a workbench and a saw? From Jamie Oliver to Paul Hollywood, there is no shortage of celebrity chefs. There is no equivalent in the relatively unflashy world of DIY.
But one source of hope comes in the shape of newly-formed DIY clubs. Typical is the Goodlife Centre in Southwark, central London. Its workshops offer courses with titles like ‘Beginner’s Carpentry’, ‘DIY in a Day’, ‘Basic Plumbing’ and ‘Prepare and Paint’.
Who signs up for these courses? Well, according to the Goodlife Centre’s website, it is the growing army of people frustrated with their own impracticality. The website notes that “….for many who spend their days typing at a keyboard or in a job with abstract goals, the level of satisfaction from learning a practical skill is a wonderful stress buster after an unfulfilled day.”
And there does seem to be a sense that men, in particular, are sufficiently dismayed about their want of DIY nous, that they are willing to play catch-up. Not only through courses like those provided by the Goodlife Centre, but through home-learning too.
Recent book titles offer some clues. My husband, for instance, a couple of years ago bought ‘The Case for Working With Your Hands: Or Why Office Work is Bad For Us And Fixing Things Feels Good’. It was written by an American academic who had given up working for a think-tank to become a motorcycle mechanic.
Another book, ploughing a similar furrow, won some rave notices recently. ‘Why We Make Things And Why It Matters: The Education of a Craftsman’ is based on the experiences of a furniture-maker called Peter Korn. Both books remind us that we do seem to be in the midst of a counter-revolution against the world of virtual work so many of us are compelled to make a living in.
Reviewing Korn’s book in the Sunday Times, Robert Crampton wrote: “I sometimes think that almost everyone I know, young and old, male and female, rich and poor – would rather be making or baking, sewing or shaping, farming, tending, growing or hoeing, than doing whatever they are doing. Which probably involves a desk, a computer and a telephone.
“Having spent centuries trying to escape the drudgery of manual labour, many people are now seeking to rediscover its virtues and finding, that when it is optional and allows creative input, working with your hands can be as rewarding as working with your brains.”