[Note: This is the first of Paddy Mitchell’s seven final blog entries, written shortly before his death on January 14, 2007, and mailed to Ottawa to be posted on his blog. The series is being published posthumously between January 21 and January 25th.]
I was never much of a handyman; breaking more of what I set out to repair than what I fixed. If I got a flat tire on my car and I was near a telephone I’d call a service center and have them send someone to change my tire. If I tried to do it myself, I’d strain my back or bang my knuckles or tear a $100.00 pair of pants or soil a $75.00 shirt – or worse still; break an expensive part. I’m the kind of guy who thinks if a screw or a nut and bolt has one last turn in it … snapping the screw or the breaking of the bolt. When I went to the Philippines and married and bought a house, I found myself in a dilemma.
They didn’t have any tradesmen in my area, only general handymen. They didn’t have trade-schools where people went to study carpentry, electrical, plumbing, etc, etc. And no one that I contacted seemed to know what they were doing. So I went out and bought a whole bunch of tools and a big tool chest to put them in and decided I’d fix things myself. I fixed nothing and broke everything! One of my first operations was to replace a rubber washer in a sink in our bedroom bathroom. When I visited the store that sold me plumbing supplies and asked how I should go about fixing a leak in my taps – he told me it was a simple thing. Pop the plastic thing on top of the tap; there I’d find a Phillips screw; take that out and put a new rubber washer in…but he neglected to tell me to turn off the water and where the shutoff valve was located … I flooded the bathroom and part of our bedroom…
The next thing I tried to fix was a plug on our floor polisher. I got it right and told my wife Imelda, “Okay, plug it in.” Needless to say, I hadn’t got it right and a black ‘Puff’ emanated from the wall, plug and blew the circuit out, scaring Imelda so that she jumped and yelled at me. She would never plug in anything I fixed after that. Then I tried to fix her flat tire. She begged me to go down to the village and hire a handyman to come up (the mountain) and fix it. I told her I could fix a simple thing like changing a tire. I didn’t know how to work the car’s jack and the car fell off it just as I pulled the flat tire off and knocked me off my feet jamming the tire between the rear fender and the break drum. I had to go to the village and hire a handyman to pry the tire out there and to repair a bulge in the fender. From then on, every time I went to the little room under my stairs for my toolbox Imelda would appear and ask: What are you doing? In an accented way she had of asking an accusatory question. And I’d answer: I’m going to fix something or other.
She’d block my way, saying like: “Gary, please, you can’t fix anything. Go to the village and hire someone. You’ll end up breaking it or hurting yourself.”
And I’d always say: “Get out of my way, Imelda. Any idiot could fix …” and I’d end up breaking it.
We had a 300 foot deep well and a really high pressured pump on the property in the compound that pumped water into reservoirs that cell fifty houses in the compound had high above their houses to provide water. Rather than hire someone to turn the pump on every day and fill the tanks and then shut them all off after they fill up I volunteered to do the job – a good deed on my part that everyone appreciated. (People would come to me at all times of the day AND NIGHT wanting me to fill their tanks of water.) Anyhow, what I was going to fix this particular morning was a pipe that was leaking at a connection. I figured it just needed a half a turn…. This was a high pressured pump and I bent over to tighten it. I turned the bolt with all my strength. The pipe snapped and shot up in the air almost taking my head off and shot water into the sky. I stood there and shook, and promised myself I’d never try to fix anything ever again. Imelda had been watching me through the front window and came running down the hill. I told her she had been right and I apologized for not listening to her advice. The only thing I was permitted to do after that was paint – but that’s another story!