Brave New World

I was once married to a very practical Man. He is an engineer, and he can do anything from tiling a bathroom, building a cubby house, putting in a staircase, to doing the wiring for a whole house. He can solve all the computer problems, fix the plumbing and change a tire. Due to his ridiculously over-the-top excellence at All Things Manly I tended not to even think about how the house worked. That was all The Man’s province. When things broke, I put them on The List, and waited for them magically to become fixed.

This is not to say that I don’t have my own areas of expertise. I concentrated on those things I am good at, or had to become good at due to necessity, such as baby whispering, cooking dinner every night, grocery shopping on a budget, reading aloud and growing tomatoes and daffodils.

Now, of course, our carefully maintained system is not going to work anymore. The Man is a good soul, and perfectly ready to help out, but is not often here. The list of things that I am going to need to become good at due to necessity has grown enormously. Since The Boy left home, the girls and I have had to put the bins out ourselves. I know, shock, horror. Also, we had to work out how to make the lawn mower mow (since this debacle The Man kindly bought us an electric mower with a push button start. Mowing the lawn has now become one of my favourite jobs).

When I first contemplated life as a solo home owner (which will soon be my new status), I was rather overwhelmed. There are so many bits that can break, fall off and cease to function in a house. I am not a practical person. I am not someone who does things, so much as someone who thinks about doing things, and how lovely it will all be when it is done. Start explaining to me how something actually works, and my mind starts going, ‘La, la, la..’ Start drawing diagrams and I begin to feel a desperate urge to have a little nap.

Slowly though, I have begun to tentatively feel a little excited about the idea of my house. This is now my little kingdom. There are bits that need painting (again), there are flourishing ecosystems growing in the gutters, there are bushes that grew into trees and need to be removed. I suddenly feel a keen sense of responsibility to not let it fall into a sad state of disrepair. Once, that was The Man’s job, something I didn’t really even think about, and now, it is my baby and I must look after it.

But of course, that is easier said than done for someone whose greatest technological achievement to date is recording movies on the Tivo (even then I need help when the guide tells me it is going to clip my other program. What to do? What to do? How on earth will I ever get to watch a whole movie when all the children leave home?). My first big test came last week when the pool cleaner stopped working. The pool vacuum cleaner, affectionately known as Creepy, stopped creeping and just sat there sullenly, refusing to clean away a winter’s worth of leaves and detritus. Well, who could blame him? It is not the varied and fulfilling career he had dreamed of. How to inspire him to get back to work? First I panicked, then I coaxed, and offered Creepy a pay rise. Nothing. Then I sighed and set about trying to be logical. There was nothing blocking Creepy’s prodigious mouth, all his bits were appropriately joined together, the filter wasn’t full of leaves. At this point I had to brave the pool shed and look at the pump. This is a big step. There are machines in there that go ‘ping’, with digital readouts for technical things that require a manual to decipher. But mercy be, the pump thingy was blocked. I managed to undo the lid without much swearing, and take out several days’ worth of munched up leaves. Creepy quit his strike action, and I learned to check the pump regularly for detritus during the end of winter clean up.

I am feeling quite pleased with myself at this evidence that I am not completely incapable of solving a problem that is not homework- or housework-related. Sure, it is tiny on the scale of Things That Can Go Wrong, but optimism is another of my hidden powers. Deep down, I am always convinced that Everything Will Be Fine.

Although yesterday when the water heater broke (probably from exhaustion), and we were left with the option of lukewarm showers or staying dirty, I decided that even optimism has its limits, and called the Lovely Plumber.


Anonymous said…
In the immortal words of Kenny Rogers, " you got to know when to hold em, know when to fold em, know when to clean away detritus and when to call the plumber". Ok, so maybe not the last bit but you get what I mean. :) Knowing what to do, waht to attempt and what to outsource is much of the battle. Ask my husband about when I got the car bogged in suburban Melbourne sometime. I should have known when to fold em and call a tow truck!

And well done you!
Anonymous said…
I'm living in sin with a Useful Chap, and prior to living with said Useful Chap, I had a Useful Dad. Now, there were a few years between said Useful Dad dying and the Useful Chap happening along, so I did learn how to wield a mean cordless drill (I had two!) and accumulated a pretty cool selection of tools - all of which I learned how to use. I also worked out pretty quickly when I should call an expert!

Tip for young players is get friendly with the blokes at the local hardware store - because they'll tell you when you're out of your league, probably know which tradies are cheap and reliable... also, then you can rock up with a broken thingy in a bag and say "oi, I needs a new one of these things" and they'll get it for you! (you may or may not cop a lecture for mowing the grass in bare feet, but you gets that).

Over time, I collected an electrician, a decent mechanic, a lawn mower guy (who did gardening as well as prune trees for me) and a plumber, and just about everything else I could manage myself.
Heather said…
My handy husband has gotten extremely busy over the last year. Things to be fixed/done in his realm of expertise got a bit backed up and I dreaded nagging him to get to work when he finally had a spare moment to relax. That was when I decided that whatever he could do, I could learn to do myself. I learned how to mow the lawn and clean the pool filter. Armed with a thick household do-it-yourself book I fixed a toilet and a shower nozzle. I am about to tackle some bathroon tiles that need new grout. It is quite empowering to be able to do these things myself and not have to rely on someone else. Another thing, this stuff really isn't so hard. I like to think that men just pretend it is so they can look like heroes. On the other hand, I haven't had my hot water heater go out on me yet...
Anonymous said…
Bravo you!

I'm not married to a Useful Bloke who can fix anything but my chap still fixes more than me. I won't go near the pool pump. The strange noises and dials! I always think it is about to explode, especially if I touch anything I think I will vary the pressure and block some outlet. No. Too scary.

So extra clever and brave you!

As to creepy crawlies. We had one that was a malingerer. Yes, a malingerer, I say. OK, maybe he was just scared. He remained in the shallow end. Mr S would drop him in the deep end, turn our backs and creepy crawlie would be back in the shallow end. I think it was too much like hard work in the deep end.

Anonymous said…
A brave new world for a brave new woman KUDOS Ms Jo you did it! :). If something technological doesn't work for me I tend to "give it a little tap" for it's own good...then it is STRAIGHT over the deck in a fit of pique...lucky I have Stevie-boy I guess...should he ever decided to go AWOL (always a possibility) I think I would cope but I am not entirely sure I could do it out here...I think you just have to revise your parameters a bit, you have to say "OK I can do that" but also admit "er...nope..." when you have tried and failed. Life is full of "try and fail" moments but you are where I was back when I split up with my ex and was on my own for 2 years...learning that being your own sidekick has HUGE get the remote control all to yourself! You get to put whatever you want in the fridge, wherever you want to, you get to hit the pool pump with a stick if you so please (or not...) up to YOU and that is the interesting bit. It IS all up to might overwhelm you for a bit at first but underneath that terror at this new state of affairs is "Jo" who wants to give it a go...who wants to see if she can do it...who will be endlessly rewarded by her efforts and who will be a better person for having learned some seriously excellent things about herself that she never knew she could do or even thought would be possible. Here's to your sorted sucky (or whatever his name was...can't check from this box!) and you can sort everything else sucky... you just have to wade in and be willing to give it the old college try :). Hugs to you Ms Jo, you really did it!
Jo said…
My goodness, you are all fabulous women, and all my role models as per usual.
Jessie, i am imagining you trying to dig yourself out of that situation with whatever you found in the back of the car. A hairbrush? A sippy cup?
Miss Maudy, electrician, plumber, builder, tick, hopefully I can have a go at everything else. Will bear in mind your advice about the hardware guys, but the last friendly hardware shop is about to close down in our town due to the presence of TWO giant Bunnings stores. It is a disgrace.
Heather, I am SO impressed by your determination and persistence. I know I can grout tiles, it's just glorified mud puddling, but shower nozzles and toilet fixing - wow. I'm sure that most of these things are just patience and logic, but it seems so scary..
Lucinda, I know how your Creepy feels. I am much more comfortable at the shallow end myself..
And Fran, thanks so much for that confidence-building speech. Look out world, I am about to FIX things...:)
Unknown said…
Jo, have you heard of Hire a Hubby or The Grey Army. I'd call the Grey Army first and ask if there is a retired gentleman in your vicinity that could help out. They charge much lower fees and i'm sure that you could coax and cajole with biscuits and a cuppa. I hate to tell you this but those awful big hardware shops have ladies diy lectures for exactly this reason and they are free. You might want to get a timetable. Also, they are full time staff in most sections, look for the older guys as they are usually real tradesmen who were passed over for jobs in their own field.

On another note, you go girl. I don't think i could fix much either as i have one of those Useful Chaps but if i had to i think i could learn.

Enjoy your independence. It is now YOUR kingdom to rule.

Anonymous said…
I agree with everyone else that it's all about doing what you can do now - doing what you can learn - and getting help. As a single parent for many years, I had to discipline myself to get annual home maintenance done, and to scrimp and save to pay for the professional help I needed (roofing, furnace repair, etc.) As a bonus, your kids will get to see that we can learn at any age and that these tasks don't have to be divided up by gender. Now that I am remarried, I've carried on much the same - my spouse had never owned a home before, and we both prefer cooking and laundry to repair work! So now we both scrimp and save for the professional help :)
Jo said…
Lynda, the Grey Army sound wonderful - I have never heard of them, will have to see if they hang out in Tas.
Is it nutty of me to boycott Bunnings because their giant sheds are bug ugly and blots on the landscape? Even our once locally owned little hardware stores are now owned by Woolworths. It just seems wrong.
Dar, I know I can work all of this out somehow, I shall push on until I can get to the limits of what I can do. Who knows? I may be at the start of a new career as Home Handywoman. Or not:) As you say, it is great that the kids can see us trying, anyway:)
Alas, I'm an engineer, so therefore... am like your husband? Except with technology - like TV and downloading illegally - just don't know or care to learn even though I know it's possible and all.

Last Sat night the BF went to get wine (for my friends coming over) whilst i noticed a kitchen light was out. Before he returned, I'd replaced it, knew where the spares where, got the step ladder. I love these things. And I don't even think to ask him to do them either - weird huh? He's onto a good wicket!

Good on you though - you can learn anything, and sometimes, it's easiest to learn with the help of an expert, so don't be shy to ask for tips from plumbers etc!
Jo said…
Great work Sarah; without engineers the whole world would no doubt be broken. Now my area of expertise is Anglo Saxon poetry - not so much demand for that. What was I thinking?
Treaders said…
Hi Jo, when my ex left me for another woman in 2010 I had to (start) learning this stuff too. I'm not stupid but I just wasn't interested to be honest. I mean, do you have ANY idea how many instruction manuals there are in the world! He loved that stuff. I don't. In fact, I will probably NEVER watch a recorded tv show because I still don't know how to record stuff. BUT slowly, since I bought him out of the house, I am making progress. I have gone from putting nails in walls using my shoe as a hammer, to putting up light fittings using the "flick and dive method" - "when I flick the switch for God's sake dive", to having my own (small) toolbox with tools I actually know how to use. I did take a local "ladies" DIY course - not particularly helpful but better than nothing. When my lovely neighbour offered to put curtain rods up for me I asked him to show me, so he did one and I did the other. Oh, and he was just in the throws of showing me what the long, extendable wand-type thing was with the magnet on the end when he dropped a screw on the floor (we were up ladders). Well the extendable-magnetic-wand-thingy is for picking screws up off the floor when you are up ladders BUT he was dead impressed when I picked up my screw quicker than him using my toes! Ha, who needs tools. Of course I also have the added joy of having to ask for this stuff in French since I live in France. I mean, I don't even know what this stuff is called in English. But I have latched on to a sweet older chappie at the hardware store who now refers to me as Mrs. "I need a thingy". While I will never be particularly interested in doing this stuff at least I am learning. I will be 56 this month so I guess you CAN indeed teach an old dog new tricks. Oh, and as for my ex, his girlfriend dumped him and he is now living on his own - and I speak fluent French and he doesn't (add smiley face here). So I guess there is such a thing as karma!!! Keep your chin up. Anna
Bek said…
Well done! There is nothing like learning a new skill, or at least not admitting defeat unless absolutely necessary.

I confess to being entirely Too Independent, and try to fix things on my own. Mostly I can work things out, but occasionally I have not been able to make things work (saying "why don't you just work, dammit" doesn't seem to fix things, unfortunately) at least I am no worse off.

The only thing I got assistance with is chopping down a 8m tree in my front yard. My dad and two brothers took charge of the chainsaw and didn't let me have a go. Damn patriarchy.

That said, anything electrical or beyond basic plumbing I leave to professionals. That is what they are there for. At least you can say you are supporting the economy.
Jo said…
Oh, Anna, it is so lovely to meet you:) What a brilliant story. I am so impressed at your multilingual hardware adventures, and so relieved your early attempts didn't kill you (this is one of my fears..) Welcome, and please come back and tell us more of your adventures in single life!!
Bek, I have inherited a shedful of lovely, lovely tools which terrify and tempt me in equal measure. In the shed there is a chainsaw. In the garden are four giant overgrown useless pittosporums that need to go to the great compost heap in the sky... (mum, if you are reading this, it's OK, I won't be trying this...yet..)
i get very frustrated when i cannot do things around the house (i have no man, i am single, but i have a dad whome i rely on too much). there are things i just right now cannot do, do not now how to do. or do noth have the physical strength to do! it's very frustrating.
Unknown said…
You're a very strong and capable woman, Jo. I can tell just by reading your post. You obviously don't need a man to do the housework for you. I know that if you put your finger on an issue long enough, you'll be able to do it as well as a professional can. It will take a lot of time, but if the furnace or the heater ever breaks to a limit you can't handle, then there's always the plumber. All the best to you! :)

Tommy Hopkins @ AccuTemp
Jo said…
e, it's great that you have your dad to call on for help. My frustration, like yours, is that having a capable man around means that I have never been forced to step up. Now my education begins!
Tommy, thanks for your vote of confidence:) I think a lot what I need to do is learn the language of DIY so I can at least talk to the nice people at the hardware store. And as you say, sit and work things out. Patience. Not my forte!

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