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