The missing gene

Every family has a member who seems to have a vital family gene missing. It may be the child in a family of tall people, who grows up surprising short, or it may be the boy born into a rugby-mad family who wants to be a ballet dancer. I’m the one in my family who is missing the vital DIY gene. My father was a woodwork teacher, my older brother can do all sorts of carpentry and other hands-on work – but I’m generally hopeless at anything practical.

It is not for either the want of trying or the lack of equipment. I have a garage full of impressive woodworking tools and I know the theory about how most of them are supposed to be used. My family still talk about the guinea pig hutch I once built for the short-lived pets. It was so strongly built it could have withstood a nuclear attack, and I strongly refute any suggestion that the early demise of the guinea pigs was due to the standard of their living quarters. My concrete block compost boxes have been in use for about thirty years. I think I showed some possible talent as a blocklayer. However, when it comes to nicely made things you would use inside your home my failings quickly became apparent. My style of workmanship is decidedly rustic.

It was not so bad when my dear old father was alive. When things went wrong I could ring him up to discuss the problems I was having. Father was a kindly man and instead of exclaiming, ‘What, not another DIY disaster,’ would instead say ‘Hang on a moment, I’ll have a word with Mum.’ He would then come back on the line and say something like, “Mum would like to see the grandkids so we’ll come over.’ As a result most of my DIY disasters were fixed by father, under the guise of mother visiting to see the grandchildren. It was a face-saving win-win situation for all.

As a result, in recent years I have largely stopped even trying to be a DIYer. My dear wife (MDW) happily accepts the situation that her husband is no DIYer, and even gives me some credit for having tried in the past. However, perhaps due to short-term memory loss, I occasionally get moved to do something DIY. I have forgotten the pain of failure and think that with the passing of years I have somehow miraculously acquired skills I have never had.  The other day I had a problem with bicycle storage in the garage. The system we had been using worked very well as long as MDW didn’t mind the side of her car being scratched and gouged on a regular basis when my bike fell over. However, she made it quite clear to me that this approach was not to continue with the newer car she had just purchased.

I saw a bike suspension/pulley system advertised on Trade Me where you could hang your bike from the ceiling. I bought one and decided it would work nicely along the walls of the garage with the hanging wheels held to the side by a bungee cord. All it required was a few screws into the ceiling to hold up the metal plates that held the pulleys. Of course,millimetres making sure the pulleys were in the right position and the screws were firmly into wood required quite a bit of measuring and calculating. It also required spending ages on a stool working above your head. One of my problems when doing such work is that I have a tendency to work simultaneously in both millimeters. My calculations are often so many inches one way and so many millimeters the other. It can lead to confusion. However, after hours of toil and almost reaching a state of exhaustion, I finally got the bike hoist in place and it works well.  I feel very pleased with myself.  Best of all, in the event of equipment/workmanship failure, it will never fall on MDWs car, only mine.

However, in the back of my mind for some months has been the troubling awareness of a proposed DIY project that might finally destroy in my children’s eyes any remaining credibility about their father’s abilities. I refer to operation rocking duck. My father as a woodworker had made many classic wooden toys for the grandchildren when they were young. The firm favourite was a large rocking duck that the child sat in and happily rocked. It took up a large space and many years ago after my children had left home we gave it away to a community garage sale, and our children have never forgiven us. As soon as our first grandchild appeared my daughter demanded a rocking duck for him – ‘exactly like the one Grandad made for us.’ Oh, the pressure!

I asked my brother if he had any ideas where Dad had got the pattern from? ‘I know exactly’, he told me, ‘I have the original pattern stored in the rafters of my garage.’ He promised to bring it up to Auckland the next time he came. I thought deep and hard about how to make the dreaded rocking duck. I even looked at buying equipment for cutting the necessary curves out of sheets of plywood, knowing that any tool would only ever be used once. But deep down I knew it was beyond me and I would probably mess it up. Then my brother arrived in Auckland with a completed wooden rocking duck in his car. ‘I thought it would be easier to make it myself,’ he said. I suspect that both MDW and my sister in law may have conspired to get him to make it, probably telling him that if it was left to his brother it would never happen. My brother made it in the Men’s Shed at his retirement village using a band-saw he had donated, which had originally belonged to our father. It is nice to think that Great Grandad has made an indirect contribution to the rocking duck for the next generation.

My daughter was delighted to see the rocking duck and I have promised to paint it. ‘How do you want it painted,’ I asked. ‘As close as possible to Grandad’s one,’ she replied. ‘With the eyes and feathers painted on the side.’

Oh dear, did I mention that I am missing the artistic gene too?


By Terry Carson.

This is another of Terry’s posts on GrownUps. If you like Terry’s work, you can read more from him here.