Home Life: House Doctor

A ST VALENTINE'S DIY singles evening in the local B&Q might not be everyone's idea of a chance to meet destiny, but it's happening, apparently, all over the country. This appearance of the building materials industry in the "heartsearch and romance" columns is not because DIY has become the new rock-and-roll - whatever you read in the papers - but because of the large numbers of twenty and thirty-something single people who have been cajoled onto the home-buying treadmill, and who don't have the slightest idea about how to look after their property. When they were arranging the mortgage, nobody took them aside to point out that home ownership entailed the upkeep of a few hundred tonnes of assorted bricks, mortar, plaster, timber, slates, copper pipes and cables - for richer or poorer - till they flogged it on to someone else.

And it is not just single women who find themselves overawed with this responsibility. Since woodwork and metalwork are no longer taught in schools, there are also plenty of men who lack the basic skills required for home maintenance. So this crop of vulnerable young people can be found wandering the aisles of the DIY cathedrals, seeking solace; what better idea than to get them paired off with one another? It won't lessen the responsibilities of their property ownership, but at least they can be frightened and vulnerable together.

Apart from this initiative, love and sex are not normally things with which the construction industry is associated. The predominantly male culture of the building trades means that chances for meeting heterosexual partners at work are limited. No doubt there are plenty of gay couples whose eyes first met across a crowded site hut, but that sort of thing is not talked about. Attitudes to women remain firmly Neanderthal, and boys who start work in the building game are presented with some powerful role models to follow.

The chief one of these is the tattooed oaf leaning out of the passenger window of the van, whose job is to shout sexual abuse at every female figure within earshot, sometimes accompanied by the driver sounding his horn. Another is the labourer who whistles at passing women from the scaffolding. The success of a wolf whistle is judged by its ability to get a woman to turn her head and look, and I once worked with a labourer who had made this into an art form - his finger-and-thumb in the mouth technique was so powerful that he could draw attention to himself over half a mile. Unfortunately for him, women over the age of 15 have mostly conditioned themselves not to react to whistling, so his world-beating F- sharp tended to turn the heads mostly of dogs and policemen. It was a hell of a whistle, though.

Another type of sexual encounter which figures prominently in building site lore is the woman who strips off in front of the window. Although these stories are largely anecdotal, there have been a sufficient number of authenticated cases to keep builders' hopes up; I once worked on a job where a woman in the flats opposite did, indeed, stand in the window and reveal all. The effect this had on the builders was not at all what you'd expect; men who spent their days jeering at women out of the van window, and whistling at them from the scaffolding, became strangely subdued when confronted face-on with the object of their desires, and there were even mutterings about indecency and unacceptable behaviour. No Valentine's cards for her, then.


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