Here's to Canny Greeks and Tragedies with Happy Endings

Article excerpt

`DON'T forget," wafted the voice from upstairs, "we're going to 'Electra' tonight!"

For the fourth (or was it fifth?) time, I held the long triangular piece of wood horizontally against the pencil mark across the bottom of the porch door and then wondered how to screw it in place without spontaneously growing a third arm. Slick with a fresh undercoat of paint, the wood slid decorously groundward.

"Electra? Oh yes. I forgot," I yelled back. Or even a fourth arm. At almost every point in the do-it-yourself game comes up this precise perplexity: Two hands are definitely not enough.

Electra, that's all I need, I thought. I groaned to myself. Sufficient unto the Saturday is the drama thereof. (Despair makes you liable to misquotation.) No, not just drama - tragedy.

Renovating our house has all the ingredients of tragedy. For a start, it's gone on for an incredibly long time (like Hamlet): We thought it would take three months when we started. It's now been over 11 years, and Act V is still not in sight. Secondly, it involves at almost every turn the Aristotelian tragic emotions of "pity" (self-pity mostly) and "terror." Hammers that slip and break glass; tiles that crack while being cut; cement that sets before used, and, on this special Saturday, slippery lengths of triangular wood.

Such things are as red rags to the bullishness of my feelings, and many is the time I would have sat on the bottom step of the new stairs (if I had built them yet), buried my head in my hands, and groaned, raged, screamed, and called on the upper reaches of the ozone layer to bear witness that I am, indeed, more sinned against than sinning, weary of the sun. That I am, in toto, an unfortunate wretch with only two arms, that my tools were made by idiots who have never tried to use them, and that the job is completely beyond me, both ken and capacity, because, after all, I am only an amateur! Macbeth has nothing on the dire sublimity of these outbursts, Othello's invectives tame by comparison, Bertie Wooster's worst diatribes mere after-dinner speeches of thanks.

That Saturday, actually, my state had come perilously close to the madness of Lear - not because I had given away my kingdom to the wrong pair of daughters, but because of the obviously personal vendetta being waged against me by the appalling Glasgow weather - my own version of Lear's storm. It was in fact just this weather, arriving in sporadic outbursts of unstinting drench, against which I was endeavoring to fix the piece of wood to the porch door. For weeks I had tried every combination of wood, glue, putty, and sealant known to the do-it-yourself market, and still the water seeped in. Canute was more of a success. "D.I.Y" indeed! More like D.I.M!! (Translated - Do It Myself, though "dim" seems right as a description of people like me who foolishly once upon a time admitted that putting a shelf up was within their range of ability. All praise to those who early established reputations for utter hamfistedness. …