Since my father died long before my kids were born they only knew my mother as a single grandparent whom they called “Gee Em”. Her marital status was a matter of some concern to ZoeZoe: (Offering her grandmother a bedraggled weed pulled from her yard). Heres a flower for you, GM.GM: Oh, thank you, darling.Zoe: You can use it to get married.GM: ?!Zoe: You know, GM, you should get a Daddy. Hell fight the robbers, and if anything gets broken, he can fisk it.
Zoe was probably all of four years old at this time, but she had her ideas of marriage and the duties of a husband pretty clear. Her role model for a “Daddy” was, of course, her own father. Not that he had ever been called upon to fight robbers, but judging from his insistence on all doors being securely locked at night and the fact that he owned a shotgun and knew how to use it, she felt pretty certain that he would be able to protect us.
As for the second qualification on his paternal CV – a “fisker” of broken things – that was something that he had demonstrated on innumerable occasions. From toys to car engines, electrical items to furniture , there was nothing her Daddy wouldn’t put his mind and hands to. What might have escaped her notice is that more often than not, Mummy was the slave labour utilized in these projects.
Why do men in general find it so hard to multitask? Put a broken item into a man’s hand and so much of his energy flows into his brain as he contemplates the damage, that his body is too weak to gather together the tools and materials needed to repair it. Thus, if Daddy was the ‘Ustaad’, then Mummy was the ‘Chota’. And it is the duty of the Chota to ‘fetch’.
After years of obeying commands beginning with “Bring me….I need……where are the……why don’t we have any……” I have learned to distinguish between nose-pliers, wire-cutters, adjustable and pipe wrenches. Hell, I even know what an Allen Key is. I pride myself on having every variety and size of screwdriver in my house. Insulation tape and solder wire, nails, screws and rawl plugs, Elphy, Samad Bond and wood glue, all have featured on my shopping lists along with vegetables, bread and eggs.
Being the Gofer for the repair of a portable article is comparatively painless. The case is quite different when the job is ‘on location’ as it were, such as fixing a car engine or an electrical fault in the main box. Then the task takes on the aspect of a surgical operation, with Adi crouched , hunched or bent into a shape suitable for getting at the required part and me standing by to hand him what he needs. Invariably, the area in which the fault lies is not only almost inaccessible but also cloaked in darkness, so that a vital duty assigned to me is holding a torch and aiming the beam where it is needed. How ironic that ‘carrying a torch’ for someone means being passionately in love with them. I have never come so close to murdering my husband than when I have been subjected to a constant stream of instructions on how high, how low, how near and how far to hold it, with the refrain: “ HERE, HERE, NOT THERE – WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”
Anyway, despite our conjugal DIY adventures, we are still together after 34 years, and with age, the Master Repairman has surrendered most of the jobs to others. However, once in a while, we find ourselves in a situation where there is no one else to call upon:
About three weeks ago, we had a new gas boiler installed, and kept having problems with it. The plumber came and adjusted the thermostat, but every now and then the flame would go out, and we would call upon Cyrus, Zoe or our live-in driver, Amjad, to relight it. After a week of uninterrupted hot water supply, we assumed the problem had gone away. What we didn’t realize was that the faithful Amjad was relighting it every morning, unasked. Then he went on leave, and we woke up one morning to no hot water. Zoe was in Australia, Rachel was spending the night at a friend’s place, and Cyrus had already left for an early-morning appointment. I had to leave for school in an hour, and I really really needed a shower. The weather was still cold, so there was no way I was going to brave the chill of water that had sat all night in the overhead tank.
In order to light a gas boiler, you have to be young, supple, and have periscopic vision. There is a little door that opens at floor-level, and right inside, beyond your view, is the orifice from which issues the gas for the pilot. It is at this orifice that you have to hold a flame while pressing down on a knob (outside the boiler) to release the gas. You exert pressure with the thumb of one hand, reach inside with a lit match in the other, and assume a foetal position to be able to see where the hell the pilot is.
Between us, we have a total of 138 years, one good knee, two whole lungs, three working ankles and four usable arms and hands. You will notice that backs are not in the list, so bending was out. Armed with a torch (that bloody torch!), a mirror (to reflect the inside of the boiler) and long spills made out of rolled newspaper (for lighting the unreachable pilot), we set out through the back yard , never taking our eyes off the ground because this is where the dog performs.
Our quarry stood at the end of a narrow covered passage, half of whose width is taken up by a cupboard and a wheelbarrow. This meant that we could only approach it in single file. Since I am the one with the good knee and the better part of the two whole lungs, I had to perform the manual labour while Adi, who has the technical know-how, stood behind giving directions without being able to see the action.
I draw a veil over the scene that ensued. Suffice it to say that the boiler got lit, I had my shower, and we are still together.