Home Life: House Doctor

I KNOW this is risky, but I must report a well-known fact - well- known to builders, that is - which is that men and women behave differently when you're working in their homes. Men like to see a lot of macho stuff going on; knocking down walls, putting in steel frames and mixing concrete. Women, on the other hand, are not often so keen on this side of the building game. They go for the finishing touches stuff - you know, the last roll of wallpaper, the final deft flick of the painter's brush, the idea that you could actually sit down and live in the place and not have to climb over a stack of cement bags to reach the kettle. The smart builder quickly learns to exploit gender-specific desires. For a single bloke, for example, make sure there's lots of mess to come home to. It gives the impression he's getting something for his money, and almost certainly arouses his prehistoric hunting instincts. It is most important to deprive him of cooking facilities at an early stage; he'll have to go down the pub every night for his dinner, which he will absolutely love. Get him involved at weekends, preferably letting him play with some really hefty tools, like pneumatic concrete breakers. He may only last five minutes, but he'll thank you.

Women are a different proposition. They just do not like the mess of building, and cannot wait to get it finished and get you off the premises. Cooking, bathing and sleeping areas must be preserved at all costs, and structural work, however complicated, hidden behind polythene and Hoovered at the end of the day. But if women are only concerned about the final decorative finish, and ignore what's happening underneath the wallpaper, they become easy targets for unscrupulous builders who take short cuts. And if men are only interested in the meaty side of construction, their builders may get away with murder on finishes. But why these differences in the first place? Well, it's got to be social conditioning, hasn't it? In an ideal world, children of both genders would be taught the rudiments of construction, so that when they grow up they are able to distinguish shoddy cowboy rip-offs from genuine home maintenance necessities. They might also learn the basics of lighting, colour and space, so they have confidence to make themselves comfortable in their own homes without slavishly apeing glossy style mags or a bunch of interior designers poncing about on TV.

As it is, you'd think the punters most likely to get a good result from a builder would be a male and female couple. How does the smart builder cope with that one? Easy. Find out which half pays out the money - and just go for it.

Jeff@doctoronthehouse. demon.co.uk

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