Not so much Handy Andy as Frank Spencer

Alex Darcy is 47, lives in Suffolk with wife Jane, daughter Emma, 14, and son James, 10, and wonders how life got so... baffling

Alex Darcy is 47, lives in Suffolk with wife Jane, daughter Emma, 14, and son James, 10, and wonders how life got so... baffling

ONE of the side-effects of being a grown-up is having to fix stuff. That's fine if you've been born with the brain, dexterity and toolkit of engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, but if life has dealt you the cards of Frank Spencer then DIY disaster will dog you forever.

However much society's gender-based attitudes have shifted, there's still a latent sense that anyone with a Y chromosome must be genetically adept at all things technological, spatial and requiring of a screwdriver. Hence all our domestic “it's broken!” jobsheets end up in my intray - even though, inside, I'm much more Hugh Grant foppishness (well, I can dream) than Fred Dibnah grease-under-the-fingernails. And, hence, three recent challenges.

Task One didn't look too difficult: putting together a Lego Power Miners truck James was given for Christmas. It's hard when you have kids; they have such blind faith in your ability that you simply can't swear like a Channel 4 drama, throw in the towel and disillusion them with proof their dad is a klutz. I find it best to suck one's teeth, frown thoughtfully, and say in a low voice “Yes, tricky... but I think I see how it works” - while desperately scanning the manual for clues. Actually, this worked rather well. Took 40 minutes and three under-the-breath curses, mind you... and we had six parts left over without obvious homes.

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Task Two: In the autumn, one of us ran over the vacuum cleaner hose after sucking a summer's gunge out of the car. (No names; but it wasn't me, and the kids can't drive.) With a new one �25, tape and rubber bands kept the shards of plastic handle together until this week, when another section broke off in sympathy.

Out came the hacksaw. We now have a sawn-off handle assembly: ugly and snub-nosed, but it slots into the extension tube and does the job, though I'm looking to employ a cleaner of Lilliputian stature, for this cut-down appliance is doing my back in.

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Task Three: a biggie. My car intermittently won't start (inconvenient) or cuts out (hairy). Our mechanic has changed electrical leads and I've replaced the battery (“Did you know how?” asked my doubting sister) - to no avail. Now James and I are changing the spark-plugs, which are buried in the under-the-bonnet equivalent of Cheddar Gorge and require a special tool. Determined he won't grow up like me, hopeless and hapless, initiating him in the mysteries of automobile science. He's removing the plugs as I write.

A cry goes up. “Dad, what do we do if it breaks with half of it still stuck in the engine? Dad... Dad?”

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