Chris van Schaick on the DIY culture of the modern man

This month, Chris van Schaick ponders the DIY culture of the modern day man and his somewhat obession with the awe-inspiring power tool

We had some big excitement the other day. The next-door-neighbours hired a lawn scarifying machine - and they let me borrow it. It was like a floor sander for the lawn, a big beefy, petrol-driven thing. But instead of scraping off years of varnish, it scraped off years of thatch, as I think the lawn buffs call it.

It made me think about what you can hire these days, and what you can do yourself. Not so long ago, mechanically scarifying your own lawn was probably about as likely as doing your own vasectomy.

The gear you can rent for the weekend now knows no bounds, and I never fail to be impressed by the Zen-like equanimity with which the blokes in the hire shop sign out their increasingly hazardous power tools. It’s equipment that punters like me are - at best - going to break or at worst going to use to do inadvertent damage to property and limbs.

The floor sander is a case in point. Which one of us can honestly say we haven’t dug a deep groove in a venerable pine floor in a moment of Saturday afternoon inattentiveness?

Likewise, a chain saw is an adornment to any home. But I’m pretty sure the world is divided between men who dare to have one and those, like me, who are too scared of cutting off a foot to have one anywhere near the premises.

Of course the internet and clever I.T. has taken do-it-yourself to a totally different realm. With the mountain of information available on Youtube, you can simply follow a video of some professional showing you how to do whatever it is that you’re trying to attempt.

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But why stop there? Once or twice, I’ve had a wart blasted off by the doc with one of their squirts of liquid nitrogen. It looks like it would be fun to have a go at that yourself; it only looks like a big aerosol after all. Or what about doing your own eye test. Wouldn’t it be great to drop the lens into those big specs with your own hand and ask yourself: is that better or worse? And the next time the power or phonelines are down near us wouldn’t it be simpler for the utility companies to just send us our own tool kit so we could shin up a ladder and re-connect the line ourselves - it would certainly be quicker.

My old Dad (born 1925) would have been astonished at the things I can now do myself, and the equipment I can hire to do it. On the other hand, he’d be flabbergasted at the things I don’t do for myself – like change the oil on the car, grow runner beans or darn my own socks.

What we do and don’t do for ourselves is surely a matter of fad and fashion after all. I seem to remember that in the 1970s, most Dads were mad for making their own homebrew. But only the diehards seem to do it now. It reminds me of that famous definition of a gentleman: a man who can play the banjo, but doesn’t.


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