The Demise of the Handyman by Kathryn Lamb

Remember when a blocked drain, a flickering light fixture, or a warped tabletop was a “Saturday Project” for the “Man of the House”?

Remember when a malfunctioning appliance was occasion to call the name on the well-worn business card taped to the fridge door?

Remember when an oil leak from your car, an over revving carburetor, or an inefficient radiator could be repaired by a kid brother, a boyfriend, or the next-door neighbour?

If you can, then you remember that long-ago time when most men – and some women- were handy.

 There have always been electricians and plumbers that you could call upon for BIG jobs and emergencies, the situations where the Gravity of the repair would reflect the corresponding Gravity of the bill that you would receive. I don’t begrudge these guys the money- they are hard and dirty jobs and require years of expertise. But these a days you can wait 2 or 3 weeks to see a repairman, and sometimes it is just a “little job”, an adjustment, a twist of the right wrench or a loose connection.

I confess to being somewhat of a do-it-yourselfer. I live in a flat that is approaching 70 years old, owned by a landlady who is closing in on 85. Petitioning her for a repair or an update is a lengthy procedure. I took me 2 ½ years to persuade her that my kitchen sink was well and truly blocked, and at that at least 20 feet down the pipe. She kept on buying me gadgets that she saw advertised on TV or in the newspapers, guaranteed, so they claimed, to do the trick. Nothing worked. By the time the work was finally accomplished by a necessary and patient expert, I had become so used to throwing the dishwater down the toilet, that I had to unlearn the habit.

I do manage several tasks on my own…. painting, laying tiles, building shelves and assembling bookcases. I am not a perfectionist and I protect myself by telling myself in advance that I will be happy with the outcome, no matter what it looks like. And I am usually right. . I have a few good friends who are handy as well . One is currently rewiring the outside porch light, and as soon as the  temperature rises above 10 below at night, she (yes, SHE ) will install it.  In addition, the internet can be useful and will dig up diagrams and manuals for all sorts of household objects. But my computer is a rather taciturn consultant. I would much rather consult with a real person

 When I was young, my Dad was the person who could fix anything. He built our first stereo from a kit. He constructed a garage and a screen porch, and knew all about cars.

When I had my own car, he taught me how to check the oil, check the tire pressure, and carry the proper tools. Guys like that are a rarity these days. The younger generation are often brilliant with computers and small electronic gadgets, but hopeless when it comes to anything mechanical.

 I miss the handyman (woman) – not just for practical reasons, but because I miss that kind of curiosity that loves to figure out how things actually work, that thinks it makes more sense to repair something than to chuck it into a landfill. I love the kind of repairman who will explain what and why they are doing as they are doing it. I know they don’t have to, but in fact, I AM curious, and understanding how things work makes me feel more at home on the planet. 

 So cheers to a vanishing breed, and maybe, hopefully, in the future, your numbers will increase. The world needs more of you.

Kathryn lamb is a Contributing Editor at  sunday @ 6.

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