Yes, he can build me a shelf

The arrival of a new Frankie mag in the mailbox is always fun. My only quibble with Frankie is COULD THE COVERS BE ANY MORE BORING?!!!!! They’re always of a pale po-faced model, and I can never remember if I’ve read them yet or not when I see them lying around my bedroom or sitting on the piano. Thankfully inside is always much more fun, and the poster is a rather delightful bird-girl by Marjorie Liucci, which I immediately went to hang on my office wall but then thought it would weird everyone at work out, so I decided to photocopy the girl and the cat from page 102 (not wanting to rip my mag up) and put that on the wall. There’s also a nice feature on “Homebodies” (yes to giant rabbit sitting on your sofa!) and more kitty cuddling.

Anyway, the article that this post title refers to is on page 54. Josh Phillips tells us about his grandfathers and how they are products of (as he terms it) “the era of doing shit”. Right on. My grandads, and my father, and my father-in-law and now my husband, could pretty much turn their hand to any wooden, mechanical or electrical thing that they needed to. (All grandads gone now, alas.) Dad designed and built our childhood home, as did HP’s dad build their Terrigal house. I spent lots of childhood hours following Dad around Mitre 10, the nursery, and around the yard as he built and did stuff. HP’s grandad was a brickie, mine was a carpenter. Pre-HP boyfriends COULD NOT DO SHIT. They had a great mastery of modern pop culture, computer games, could even cook dinner, but couldn’t even hang a picture without trashing the wall. So you could imagine my delight when I met my husband and indeed found a man at least as capable as my father (yes Freud fans, think about it), our first “get together” being for him to bleed the brakes on my car.  Ah romance!

A few weeks ago, a work friend lent me a book published by the Herald-Sun called “New Australian Home Carpentry.”  (Title page and frontispiece above.)  It is undated, so I’m not sure when it was published, but it’s definitely post-WW2, pre-Metric, asbestos shed era.  Here’s a pic of one page of its contents:


This little book covers everything from making joints (no – not the smokable ones), tiling floors, painting, building doors, ladders, windows and roofs, as well as fences, sheds, aviarys, sleep-outs, adding rooms to your house,  and also contains the plans for a small cottage that you can extend as your family grows.


From my modern perspective, what I find remarkable about this book is that it presents all this tasks as not extraordinary feats of home handyman-ness but all things that a competent home craftsman should be able to do.    When did things shift (Council legislation notwithstanding)?  Compare the men that “did shit”, to the men whose biggest building task is indeed to assemble Ikea shelves (with allen key provided).   What were the men in your life taught to do, and how are your sons going with their life skills?


So I’m with you Josh Phillips, sorry to sound harsh Generation X (and now Y) fellas, but less time with the hair gel and more with the hammer. And if I hear the young guys at work try and out-do each other by debating the X-Box versus the Wii and boasting about what games they’ve got, I’m gonna go slap ’em. I’m all for equality and modern gender roles, but if I’m still required to produce a baby or two, clean the house, and cook edible food, then all boys should be learning to change a tyre, change the washers on the taps, and re-square the door frames. Because I already know girls that can do all those things, while cooking cakes at the same time. And I don’t care what your highest X-Box score is.

[ps. sorry about the crappy photos, the camera is not co-operating today.  Nor is WordPress’ new media uploader and the save function which keeps leaving out pics and text when I save. Now where is that hammer?]


9 Responses to “Yes, he can build me a shelf”

  1. 1 joyflea Wednesday, April 23, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Rockin’ post Steph. I agree with your sentiments exactly. I’m glad I bagged me a jack-of -all-trades!

  2. 2 ampersand duck Wednesday, April 23, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    I so adore that book — I just restored my grandfather’s copy of it for my dad (with an eye to eventually inheriting it), and when I mentioned that the copy was missing the title page, about three men in my bookbinding class offered to photocopy theirs for me! It’s obviously still a favorite in certain circles…

  3. 3 ampersand duck Wednesday, April 23, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    Oh, and the workshop scenario brings back warm memories of my grandfather’s shed workshop, because he built it himself — straight from the book!

  4. 4 CurlyPops Wednesday, April 23, 2008 at 6:05 pm

    What a great post! I love that book, I’m going to start hunting for it. My dad built our first owned house. I remember sitting on the concrete slab while he was building walls around us. He’s now in his 60’s and he’s building a house by himself again! When I first met Mr CurlyPops, he could cook, clean and do washing but not build anything. He has learnt how to build things out of necessity…he extended our garage, he helped to build the deck, install the kitchen, do a bit of plumbing, electrical, plastering, painting etc. He now restores cars as a hobby as well. Thank goodness he likes a bit of hard work after his real job!

  5. 5 floresita Thursday, April 24, 2008 at 12:43 am

    Hooray for men who can do shit! I am alas, the manliest member of my household (because I can change lightbulbs, know where the fuse box is, hang pictures, and don’t throw a huge girly fit when I have to put a desk together or wire a stereo). And I can rock the Xbox AND wii. However, my boyfriend is a really good cook and loves to do the grocery shopping. And his hair gel smells nice. :)

  6. 6 Jenna Z Thursday, April 24, 2008 at 1:48 am

    Wow, I don’t know about you but I know I’m not required to produce a baby or two. And I’d much rather be sure of my OWN ability to do shit then rely on someone else, man or woman. My husband and I are pretty equal, we both do laundry, cook, clean, we share chores, we can both put things together, I might be a bit better at making things from scratch (guinea pig cage, wall art, etc.) but he’s better at the math that makes things accurate. I like the outdoors more so while I bundle twigs and trim bushes, he fold laundry and loads the dishwasher. But I’m scared of the lawnmower so he does the mowing. I get what you’re saying, but I feel like because we share duties, our relationship and family is stronger than my parent’s or couples where the partners aren’t really working together, they are more like two co-dependents, man feels he can’t cook (even though we all know they can if they have to!) so relies on woman for food, woman feels she can’t do heavy lifting/building things/fix the car so she relies on man to do those things. They are like business partners, exchanging services. I’d much rather be a team, working together on everything, sharing and having a say in all aspects of life. Maybe I’m a control freak. Maybe I’m rebelling against that old ideal. But I’m happy with the way my husband and I have it now.

  7. 7 drewzel Thursday, April 24, 2008 at 9:20 am

    Jenna, thanks for the comment. I agree, teamwork is the way to go. I’m not for co-dependency, and I’m a capable person, but my point was that while a lot of us girls have rebelled against the old stereotypical gender roles, I have had a few boyfriends who think that because girls can do lots of the “man stuff” now they (the boys) don’t have to do anything. At all. And not even try. That’s what gets up my nose really, boys today who can’t fend for themselves. I suppose what I’m also getting at is the notion of “having a go” at doing something, even if the results aren’t perfect, rather than just putting it in the too hard basket or leaving it for me (or worse, my Dad) to do. I’ve had that happen as well in the past.

    Since I’ve been married I’ve been getting the baby making pressure. Oh yeah.

    HP and I do share a lot of the household work, we’ve both got strengths and different skills, so the particular household stuff we each do uses them. We’ve worked that out through years of trial and error rather than settle into conventional husband and wife roles without questioning it.
    As you point out, you’re happy and you’ve gotta do what works for you. :)

    Flor, maybe I should have written “hammers AND hair gel” hee hee. But there should be some hammers in there too, everyone should be able to wield a hammer :P

    Carin, that book is the best! I actually found myself a copy off teh interwebs but all the pages are out of whack.

  8. 8 Cate Thursday, April 24, 2008 at 1:33 pm

    I love that my boy can do handwork like fix cupboards and stuff. I have loads of tools but I aren’t always confident knows how to actually use them…he’s asked me to teach him how to make cakes as he’s never tried :-)

  9. 9 Jenaveve Monday, April 28, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    You got it in one drewzel! This is hilarious! I was in the sewing room on the weekend (first time in weeks… another story) and M followed me in.
    I said: I need a shelf in here
    He said: Well go and pick one out and I’ll put it up
    So there’s a 50/50 for you – he can definitely put one up, but I’m still required to go ‘pick one out’. I guess it’s the shopping bit that puts him off, but he is most definitely handy with a hammer (and I love him for it).

    Ironically, I work in IT and I can hear the IT boys conversation AS WE SPEAK about their weekend wii exploits. One thing a hammer will do that a wii remote will not – separate the boys from the men. I’ll take the bloke in the overalls thanks.

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