Will you be doing DIY today?

This week David Sainsbury took £290m and welded the Texas Homecare chain on to his Homebase. A good day for mankind? Jonathan Glancey and David Robson think not
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Indy Lifestyle Online
There they stand in all their horror. Prefabricated monuments to male delusion and female oppression. Homebase, Texas, B&Q, Do-It-All. YES, THAT'S RIGHT. DO IT ALL! Build that cupboard. Hang that light. Lay that patio. Grout those tiles. Wire that kitchen.

"I've never done wiring but there's always a first time. I'm sure I can do it. I'm damned if we're going to pay through the nose to get some cowboy in." Famous last words.

Why not pop down to B & Q, darling, and get the stuff now so you can get a good start in the morning. Oh, all right, but I'll go to Homebase - they're open till eight this evening. And even as you say it, you know it. You're on the ring road to disaster.Darkness at the edge of town.

Oh, Mr Sainsbury, when your grandchildren ask you what did you do in the sex war, what will you say? You might tell them how you improved the lot of womankind; how you elevated British cookery from a wan boring tasteless thing to a symphony of cosmopolitan delights; how you transformed the salad from a hard boiled egg, a spring onion and a limp lettuce leaf to a fandango of radicchio, lamb's lettuce and frisee; how for just a few dollars more you took the work out of it all and packaged everything nicely, ready for the microwave. Then tell them what you did to the men, reducing them from adults confident in their dignity as protectors and willing providers into cackhanded nincompoops confronting any number of undoable tasks.

How happy you must have been this week when you put down your Black & Decker and picked up your cheque book; and then put down your cheque book and picked up the new minted Social Trends report from the Government's office of statistics. It must have made sweet reading.

For it told you that this tussle with drills and saws and things is a duty that has gripped the nation, cutting through religion, colour and class. We spend 1.6 hours per week on this DIY (do in yourself) business. That's almost four whole days per year.Nobody seems to be too rich or too wise or too proud. Those desirable A-Bs put down their glass of best vintage Bordeaux just as readily as those tricky D-Es put down their lager. You've got everybody hooked, or nailed or screwed.

But what of the statistics that the Government did not see fit to tell us? What of the sloping pelmets? What of the bubbly wallpapers? The skewwhiff Rawlplugs? The wonky picture rails and sagging shelves? What of the crooked borders and half-finished paint jobs? The doors that don't close and the tiles that fall off? And what of the marital disharmony? For through millions of doors (badly hung) with your shrink-wrapped lengths of veneer banging against the new paintwork comes the threat of frustration and humiliation. And when women see their men on their knees physically, spiritually, morally, how quickly does the thought "I really should have got a man in" become "I should have got a real man in"?

Democracy is doubtless a wonderful thing. Empowerment is a catchphrase of the moment. But for millions, with a powerdrill in their hands, empowerment is disempowerment. And democracy? The freedom of every man to make himself a home fit for heroes is a delusion. In those dear dead years when men in brown cotton coats presided over small dark shops full of a hundred varieties of screw, sold by the pound and hundreds of obscure tools that only the dextrous would even think of using or know how to ask for, the maladroit man and his wife knew their place. It was walking down the street, passing by on the other side. It was phoning the plumber and the decorator or, if that was not possible, it was accepting that life would be lived amidst the patina of the decades.

Does Denis Thatcher do DIY? Does Mark? Does Maggie? Well they should. For those out-of-town DIY sheds, just as much as the tower at Canary Wharf, are the cathedrals of her reign. Her answer to Mitterrand's grands batiments. The first superstore opened in1982; a year later there were 200 of them. At the beginning of the Nineties, there were more than a thousand. And like so much else of their vintage their path to success has not been entirely smooth. 1989, the economic plague year, saw the businesses dip. The collapse of the housing market meant that the necessity to paper, paint, shelve and glaze took a dive. But even then it was the builder's merchant and the builder that took the full impact. The DIY trade by comparison took nothing more than a bang on the thumb.

Perhaps it is time for a modest proposal. It could be a piece of disempowering legislation. It could be a self-denying ordinance. Either way, it is time to confront the threat these Homebases contain, for they are temples of temptation, where weak men are drawn by the desire to emulate their more adept neighbours or to placate their own dreams of drilling-screwing virility or to fulfil the modern duties of the modern man not to make do but make good. Entering a Sainsbury's store is a threat mainly to the pocket. Entering Homebase can be a threat to hearth and home. Before you are allowed in you should be obliged to pass a series of simple tests: saw a piece of wood straight, drill holes above head height with a power drill, judge a straight line by eye(how many of us have a spirit level?). Carry an 8ft plank down a narrow corridor without touching the walls. Climb a ladder with both hands full and a flex hanging out of your pocket. Paint a ceiling over a valuable Persian carpet. Lift from the ground and carry 25 feet a hundredweight bag of ballast. Put into a wall four Rawlplugs fit to hold two brackets five feet apart.

Or else - give a guarantee that the task to be undertaken and the products purchased will be equally shared by all parties in the household and that, should you put your domicile on the market, you will list on the inventory all practical jobs embarked upon during your ownership. For unhappy is the purchaser who buys a house where DIY has been committed.

They say you can spoil a ship for a ha'p'orth of tar. Which is nothing compared to what you can spoil for the want of a decent builder.

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