(This was first published in Le News 23 October 2014)
I come from a long line of handymen and handywomen, and so does my husband. There is absolutely nothing these people can’t do: they bake, garden and make jam; they build bookshelves, dig French drains and put in their own swimming pools; they sew, embroider, knit, make jewellery, do their own tiling and house painting … I can only hope that if I’m ever stranded on a desert island, it’s with them, because we’ll be sorted in no time. We’ll be sitting in our fully-equipped modern huts, stylishly dressed and eating pineapple jam on fresh bread before the first monsoon.
Even the children will have made themselves iPads out of driftwood and pebbles. ‘Be a Maker,’ I’m always telling them. ‘Don’t just consume!’
So here I sit, in the middle of this family who are always hammering, digging, stitching, stirring … and yet somehow, the Handy gene has rejected me.
After years of trial (and some absolutely horrible errors), I can finally say that I’m a competent cook. But I still can’t bake, and if it weren’t for fondant icing – surely the Spanx of the confectionary world – my cakes would look as dodgy as they taste.
Same with needlecraft. The downstairs storeroom looks like something out of Silence of the Lambs: the eerie gloom (because I put the light fitting on skew) is a weird array of things, hanging from the shelves and stuffed into bins … jerseys with gaping necks and overlong sleeves; pencil skirts that no human body could ever fit into; a dress for a strangely foreshortened child; two malformed amigurumi birds …
And upstairs: three sets of Ikea shelves that list to the left and cannot be trusted in a stiff breeze. When I finished each – feeling like quite a hero, I must tell you – I was left with a handful of screws that I still can’t explain, despite following the instructions to the letter.
For a while, I blamed my tools. But then I got new tools and I realised, it’s not the tools. It’s the skills that are the problem.
All this is very unfair, because nobody wants to be a Maker more than I do. I longfor a hand made life. I’ve watched every programme Kirsty Allsopp has ever filmed, and if I ever meet Kaffe Fasset, I’m going to scream like a teenager and faint. I want to be like Pa Ingalls, who made his log cabin out of trees that he felled himself. I want to hand-rear a sheep, so I can dye its wool using plants I’ve foraged for, then spin the yarn and make our carpets. But until I get the hang of the electric mixer, I think a floor loom may be beyond me.
I know that I should just move away from the toolbox. And the sewing machine. And the oven (every cake I make only damages my self esteem and frightens the children). But maybe Malcolm Gladwell is right, that the key to success in anything is 10 000 hours of practice. By my estimate, that’s only about 500 ill-fitting pairs of knitted socks, 10 000 collapsed soufflés and 5 000 untrustworthy pieces of flat-pack furniture to go, before I get it right!