I am staring at the wall. I hold in my hand a drill, a screw and a wall plug. My son has brought his own toy tool set with him, too, and has been sawing the bed, the floor and my legs to help. If he were really trying to ape my technique he would have brought a toy phone, for I have prepared for this task by watching YouTube. Specifically, videos designed for people who, like me, have spent their lives avoiding basic DIY as if it were illegal.
These YouTubers are real men. Manly men. Men who, thankfully, speak to me about basic DIY in that affectionate tone you might use if you found an unaccompanied child weeping in a shopping centre. ‘Let’s get this wall drilled, shall we?’ they chuckle, as I dab my face with a rapidly dampening sleeve, ‘Come on now, no tears, we’ll get this all sorted out together!’.
My son produces a plastic spirit level and uses it like a hammer. His toy hammer is in his baby sister’s mouth, causing her to retch slightly, which she seems to find pleasing. I continue watching kind men rattle off commandments about masonry versus wood walls, tapping the surface and judging it by the sound – dunkkk vs diunkkk – as if they’re a master tracker from a jungle survival movie, deducing via smell that some elk came through here, two days past.
Both sound similar to me – especially over the retching – and neither is like the one I’m getting from my own wall, so I decide it’s wood. There are injunctions to stay away from electrical wiring. I make a note to develop x-ray vision to avoid this. Then come the basics re bits and screws and I spot that the settings on their drills are slightly different from my own. They seem certain you need to get this stuff exact, but I can already feel my brain deliberately ignoring this and hoping I can just wing it.
This is, in so many ways, the exact nexus of my problem; I have formed a perfectly poisonous combination of horror and complacency toward my own ignorance. I avoid doing almost any DIY task because I know how clueless I am.
And yet! On those rare, rare occasions I do give it a go, I immediately assume I’m a DIY savant and carry the job out as quickly and carelessly as possible. I fail, and fail, and fail, until some cruel satire of DIY has been achieved – two prints hung nearly straight, surrounded by a constellation of surplus holes, a shelf that is definitely up, but at a 15-degree angle I tell myself I find not just safe, but jaunty and pleasing. I take pride in my wonky labours, and quietly vow to never try anything like this again.
This, however, is a simple job and I am a manly man. A dad. I have prepared. My children are watching. I raise my drill to the task and find it silent. ‘Battery’s dead!’ I shout downstairs to my wife. Two whole weeks ago. I did my best, and who can do more? Besides, once YouTube tells me where to find my charger, I’ll be set.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
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