Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

No, Prime minister! David Cameron didn't prove a bright spark when his TV went off ...

... but is Northern Ireland Man any better when it comes to DIY?

All dressed up: but can David Cameron make things go again?

It was, by all accounts, a moment of high drama for the Prime Minister. Followed no doubt by comically raised eyebrows and barely stifled guffaws of laughter by all those around him.

Picture the scene: it is New Year's Day in David Cameron's household and he is chillaxing by watching The Sound of Music on TV. Suddenly, calamity strikes. The screen goes blank, taking with it Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and that all-round holiday vibe.

Did the PM, urged on by wife Samantha, attempt to repair the problem himself? Perhaps in time-honoured fashion he thumped the TV several times, then pulled out the plug and put it back in? Who knows? What is beyond dispute is that engineers were diverted from helping flood-hit families and scrambled to his house in Chipping Norton to repair the problem ... which turned out to be a very simple one indeed.

In a moment that will have many men wincing in quiet sympathy, it apparently turned out that the trip switch in the fuse box simply needed to be flicked. In an instant The Sound of Music was back!

"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

"Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens

"Brown paper packages tied up with strings ..."

And men who can fix all sorts of things.

Yes, these are no doubt a few of the PM's favourite things.

It was, by all accounts, a moment of high drama for the Prime Minister. Followed no doubt by comically raised eyebrows and barely stifled guffaws of laughter by all those around him.

Picture the scene: it is New Year's Day in David Cameron's household and he is chillaxing by watching The Sound of Music on TV. Suddenly, calamity strikes. The screen goes blank, taking with it Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer and that all-round holiday vibe.

Did the PM, urged on by wife Samantha, attempt to repair the problem himself? Perhaps in time-honoured fashion he thumped the TV several times, then pulled out the plug and put it back in? Who knows? What is beyond dispute is that engineers were diverted from helping flood-hit families and scrambled to his house in Chipping Norton to repair the problem ... which turned out to be a very simple one indeed.

In a moment that will have many men wincing in quiet sympathy, it apparently turned out that the trip switch in the fuse box simply needed to be flicked. In an instant The Sound of Music was back!

"Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens

"Bright copper kettles and warm woollen mittens

"Brown paper packages tied up with strings ..."

And men who can fix all sorts of things.

Yes, these are no doubt a few of the PM's favourite things.

MALACHI O'DOHERTY

I don't think I would have made quite the ass of myself that David Cameron did when emergency repair men were pulled away from restoring power to storm-struck homes to flick a switch on his fuse box and give him back the use of his television.

I should be reasonably adept as a handy man since I did metalwork and woodwork at school. For Christmas, one year, I got a Magnetricity set and learned how to wire a few circuits; I even built a doorbell.

'Though why you'd think anyone would use one that sounds like a rattle in a tin when they can buy decent chimes in a shop', was logic that impressed me.

So I can change plugs and repair fuses. I recently had to dismantle a DVD player that died while playing Borgen, and retrieve the disc, and I managed that all right, scratching only one episode.

And just this week I assembled an Ikea filing cabinet, though I couldn't get the castors on. I resorted to my Facebook following for advice and found that the world is divided between people who will never get the castors on -- and doubt that Ikea always provide the right screws -- and those who manage just fine.

There are men who just seem complete with a screwdriver in their hands and there are others who never quite carry a hand tool with conviction. I'm the second type.

The gravest evidence against me is the story of my efforts to nail down a floorboard which resulted in my puncturing a water pipe. It was hard to deal at the same time with three competing problems: my wife Maureen shrieking in the kitchen at the sight of water coming through the light fittings; the need to keep a finger on the little hole to contain the fountain of hot water and calling a plumber, dialling with the thumb of the hand that held the phone.

I have retained the little section of copper piping with the hole in it as a reminder not to nail floorboards again.

Plumbers, electricians, I find, are like doctors, accountants and clergy; they reassure you that problems are manageable even before they start to manage them.

So I know how David Cameron felt when he was shown how easy it was to get his TV on again, somewhere between being a fool and, at the same time, awestruck.

I am reasonably good at sorting out computer problems. I have come home to panic and remorse, to be told that a notice came up on the computer saying that she had to click on a link right now or the ceiling would come in, and she had indeed done so and now the whole thing was frozen.

And I am as good as the next man at Googling for solutions and then implementing System Restore. Whew!

I know little of how cars work. Well, actually I know everything about how cars work, in theory. The internal combustion engine? Simple and magnificent. But I wouldn't go near the innards of a car; I have seen too much of the grief this has brought other men.

Bicycles are easier to deal with. I can change a tube, raise and lower my saddle, take a few links out of a chain, adjust the derailleur. I have enough sense to keep my hands off the bottom bracket and the stem.

That's the secret, basically, knowing your limitations and the phone number of someone who can carry a screwdriver with aplomb.

Most of us, however, can never get one right now, when we need him. They never turn up precisely when they say they will, unless you are the Prime Minister.

TIM McGARRY

Tim McGarry (49) is a writer, actor and comedian best-known for his role as Da in Give My Head Peace. He lives in Belfast with wife Caroline and their children Joseph (16) and Michael (11). He says:

"I would be worse than David Cameron. I don't know how to do anything around the house. I once flooded my kitchen because I didn't know that when you disconnect a washing machine you need to turn the water off. I had to phone a friend who's a plumber, who came round and laughed at the two inches of water on my kitchen floor.

I'm absolutely useless at that kind of thing. I don't understand electricity, I don't know about trip switches and I don't know how to turn the water off. I can change a light bulb, that's about it. You could teach me how to do a few basic things like change a fuse but I would still call a man in anyway because I have no idea what I'm doing. I even moved to a new-build house because less things go wrong with it than an old house.

If my electricity went I would certainly be calling out the experts like Cameron. I wouldn't have a notion what to do."

ALEX KANE

There is an episode of Peppa Pig in which Daddy Pig almost demolishes a wall as he tries to hang a painting. I am Daddy Pig. I am Mr DIY: but only in the sense that it stands for Damage It Yourself.

I assembled a bedroom cupboard five years ago which still lurches like a piece of furniture shifting on the Titanic. I haven't yet found time to attach the handles. I "repaired" a window shelf, which collapses when the cat jumps on it.

I went to a B&Q evening class and lost a spanner down a toilet. I "fixed" the sealant on our washing machine with BluTac and we now need a bowl on the floor when we use it.

Our bathroom toilet seat shifts from side to side because I couldn't reach under it to put the fittings on. I repair my reading glasses with Sellotape because the screws are too fiddly.

Christmas trees have had to go back because I miscalculated the height of our ceiling: and my "perfect position" for a new television turned out to be about 18ins too narrow.

I keep all the manuals for all of our appliances, along with all of the spare parts. I have containers of nails and screws in various cupboards. I have a toolbox and tools -- although I never remember to put the tools back in the box. The problem is that I never know where anything is when I need it: in the same way that I can never find any of the torches, candles, matches, batteries and lighters I have stored away for emergency use.

I have five basic approaches when it comes to DIY.

If it stops working, kick it or shake in a dramatic and meaningful way.

If it leans or wobbles, stick a book under it.

If it leaks, find BluTac, chewing gum or Play-Doh. If necessary, shout at it for 10 minutes and threaten it with the bin.

When all else fails, blame the girls and then whinge about having to pay for a "so-called expert who will cost an arm and a leg".

OK, I'm not as bad as the Prime Minister.

I do know where the electric box is and I would check the trip switches before I started kicking, shaking and cursing the television. But I have no idea where the stopcock is for the water.

Mind you, I'm not as bad as Kerri, my partner: I returned from the shop once to discover that she had started to redecorate by pulling random pieces of paper off the wall: and then stopped. I don't paint, because it gives me a headache. Honestly, the very idea of painting has always given me a headache.

I've no idea why the myth continues that men should know how to fix things.

I know we like to pretend we have fixed them, but that's an entirely different matter.

My saving grace is that I never blame the tools -- albeit because I can never find them. I'm just terrible at DIY. I wish Kerri would accept that fact and leave me in peace with my Pimms and Sherlock Holmes?

HOW DO THESE MEN FARE?

PETE Snodden (34) is a Cool FM DJ and lives in Bangor with wife Julia and their daughter Ivanna (3). He says:

“To be honest, I can put a lightbulb in and I can change a fuse in the electricity box or find out what's wrong. When it comes to putting up tiles or shelves I'll give it a go. However, my philosophy is that as I know I'm not going to do a good enough job I might as well get someone else in to do it in the first place.

I do know to flick the trip switch if the electricity goes off and I know where the stopcock is. I haven't had to change a plug in years but I could do that.

I do, however, hate putting flat-pack furniture together with a passion. Luckily, I have a couple of friends who are very handy and have all the tools. I tend to invite them round to give me a hand.

Of course, they might say I invite them round so I can watch them put things together but I'm sure I help out.”

DUP MLA Jim Wells (56) lives in Moira with wife Grace and their three grown-up children. He says:

“I haven't a clue about DIY matters. The good news is that my wife is extremely handy and I leave everything to her.

If a trip or fuse went, Grace would have it fixed in seconds. I marvel at her ability because if I got involved I'm sure it would be a disaster.

Everything, even flat-pack furniture, gets left to Grace or my son Stuart. He can put a computer together from scratch and Grace is a domestic science teacher so she has those sort of skills in abundance. They come in very handy. Consequently, I never learnt how to do anything.

In this household I do the paperwork, I do the dishes and I do the driving. I have my jobs and my wife has hers and it seems to be a good combination. I do know where the trip switch is and what it does but if the electricity went I would certainly leave it to Grace to fix it in case I did something wrong.

At the very least if something like that happens there will be someone in our house who could sort it out — we wouldn't be calling any kind of emergency service in.”

JASON Shankey (43) is a male grooming expert with salons in Belfast and London. He lives in Belfast with wife Brenda and they have two children, Lauren (12) and Will (10). He says:

“I can do almost anything. I can fix bikes, wire things, do plumbing ... I just picked it all up along the way. At school I was very interested in electricals and physics. I had little electronic kits so I could build radios.

I would take apart things around the house like clocks so I could figure out how they worked and rebuild them.

I do most of the maintenance in our salons too — I've just installed free Wi-Fi in one of them.

Still, I have had a couple of disasters. Years ago I was fitting a carpet in our first house and trimming the edges with a knife.

Whoever had done the wiring had left an exposed cable and my knife went straight through live wires — I found myself on the other side of the room. It was literally a shock — fortunately, I was fine, though, just a bit jolted.

I don't think anyone, not even the Prime Minister, should get priority treatment for non-essential work. In these modern days the trip is the very first thing you check if your power has gone out — that's how properties are wired.

Everyone should have a basic knowledge of things like that. Everyone should be able to change a fuse and know where the stopcock is in case of a flood. They're basic things you use to protect yourself. They're the things you need to know when things go wrong, as they’re likely to do.”

SDLP MLA Alex Attwood (54) lives in Belfast with wife Orla and daughters, Lora (7) Anna (4). He says:

“I know how to do handy things — I'm self-taught.

If you came to our house you would see a wooden fence between us and our neighbours and a gate at the side of the house. They're painted a nice pale blue and I built and painted the whole thing.

My crowning achievement is that I built our deck out the back eight years ago and it's still standing.

Inside, I've plumbed washing machines and put up curtain rails — I can do all the basic DIY, but the joinery is my biggest achievement. I love manual work and being in the garden. At the end of it, you see an immediate result — in political life it can sometimes take a long time to get results.

I think it's a bit much if David  Cameron really didn't know how to deal with the electricity trip switch. Everyone should have a basic knowledge — changing plugs and that kind of thing. It's not something to be scared of but it does need to be done right.

When I built the deck and the fence I used books to help me but these days you can just use the internet for research on what to do.

I’d to replace some of the sub-structure of the decking last summer and I found YouTube videos that showed me how to do it without having to take the whole thing down. Mind you, there have been times when I made it up as I went along ...”

ALLIANCE Party MLA Trevor Lunn (65) lives near Lisburn with his wife Laureen. They have two grown-up daughters. He says:

“The last thing I would want to do is to call someone out to deal with something as simple as the electricity trip switch that I could have done myself.

I wouldn't call myself an active DIY-er but if something goes wrong then quite often I can deal with it myself.

I would know how to change a fuse or flick the trip switch if the electricity went off.

Even the Prime Minister should be able to do that.

If it was decorating or working with electricity then — within reason — I would do it myself.

I would be a little worried about plumbing. I think if you make one mistake with that then you're liable to flood the place.

I haven't had any disasters — I know my limitations so I haven't burnt anything down or flooded the house.

But I do hate flat-packed furniture. I happily get my grandson to do that — he's only nine but he can build furniture like other people build Lego.”

* Interviews: Kerry McKittrick

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