Is fixing things in the blood? My wife, a dogged problem-solver, has regular “daughter of an engineer” moments. This is more than an observation of family history, rather a state of mind. If the washing machine breaks, her first recourse is not to reach for the warranty, but for a spanner. She will search YouTube for a diagnosis and “how to” advice on repairs.
Crucially, and in stark contrast to her husband, she does not despair at the first setback. She is methodical, logical and patient. Looking on, I feel no sense of emasculation, only gratitude that we have swerved a call-out fee.
Brilliantly, too, she is determined to hand on this mindset – sensibility, more like – to our children. I recently heard her laud our eldest, flushed with success at having unblocked a loo, with the highest praise dispensable in the Brazier household: “Granddaughter of an engineer!”
I am not utterly hapless with a wrench, so long as the problem can be remedied quickly. But this slapdash attitude must change. The reason for this sits, at the time of writing, immobile in our pony paddock. My 30-year-old John Deere tractor is a source of wonder and the setting for a sharp learning curve. When I bought it to harrow our fields and pull a poo-trailer, I didn’t know one end of a grease gun from another. Bit by bit, I am getting there.
But it’s important to walk before running. I am calling in help to get the fuel filter changed and pump bled. Next year, I might have a go myself.
Is it possible for effete TV-types like me to make out like a mechanic? A few years ago I read a book by someone who asked themselves the same question.
Matthew Crawford worked as a “wonk” in a big American think tank. But he had, as I sometimes do, a nagging sense that the office-bound problems he grappled with were essentially meretricious. He wrote a book with one of those “tell all” titles: The Case for Working with Your Hands: Or Why Office Work is Bad For Us and Fixing Things Feels Good.
My wife is practical, up to a point. When it comes to animals, heart rules head. Last week we took in a homeless cockerel. Last month a brace of cats. Last year a Shetland pony.
This is a case of one step forward, two back. The cats may provide some utility, should they prove to be capable ‘‘ratters’’ in and around the stable block. The arrival of poultry, by way of counterpoint, will increase the rodent population. And Hamish the Shetland? His donors billed him as adept at keeping weeds down. He certainly has a gift for decimating my treasured hawthorn hedge.
Hamish is also, and for a little while longer, ‘‘intact’’, and expresses amorous intentions towards a mare four times his size. Funny, were it not for the warnings from experienced horsey folk that an improbable consummation is on the cards.
To Headingley, to watch Yorkshire lose a limited-overs cricket match. There’s no better place to mull over the shortcomings of a deficient batting line-up than the Angel and White Horse in Tadcaster. It is, literally, next door to the town’s enormous brewery on the banks of the River Wharfe. The beer is fabulous and, at £2 a pint, priced so implausibly that I return home determined to present everyone I meet with this incontrovertible proof of the North/South divide.
Except that the shock is muted. Time was when, like the price of a pint of milk, some purchases became freighted with extra significance as barometers of inflation. But, so reduced is the pub in our national consciousness, that it quickly becomes obvious through a succession of blank looks that the price of a pint of beer is a matter of indifference or ignorance to the swelling number of people in the South who either forswear alcohol altogether, or sip wine quietly at home.
Rather late in the day, I turn to the autobiography of the recently departed journalist AA Gill. Two things stay with me from the book, Pour Me. First, shock and delight on learning that he was a practising Methodist. Second, his red lines on parenting. They involved the prohibition of three things: heroin, tattoos and motorbikes.