In the Royal Navy until quite recently on a Sunday afternoon on board ships the bosun would pipe on his whistle ‘make and mend’. It was a time for the ships company not required for the essential running of the ship to stand down and repair clothes and make ships in bottles etc. My grandfather who ran away to sea at 14 years old in 1912 and joined the Royal Navy ( no need to look too far for my own wanderlust) was a dab hand at sewing, darning and weaving.
Like the UK with their DIY enthusiasts, Italians also love to make and mend and Sunday seems a good day to do it though often much earlier than the afternoon. I have never been any good at DIY and blame being left handed for that. Every tool is made with a right hander in mind and some like chain saws are a positive danger to a lefty. So I have developed every non DIYer’s talent for looking helpless and cack-handed to the extent that the nearest DIY guy or girl can’t wait to take over. It is a useful talent to have with BBQs as well. Within minutes I am back sitting down and enjoying a beer while another male has grabbed the tools and is busy cooking.
Some Italians however take DIY to the extreme by doing just that namely doing it all themselves. Two of my neighbours fall into that category as did the owner of this house before we bought it from him. They will not go to the local ferramenta ( ironmonger, hardware store) instead they will gather material and start from scratch.
Now I am not talking of finding a few planks of wood on a tip and transforming them as some do into tables or chairs or front doors. No this is often quite serious stuff like electrics and plumbing, you know the kind of jobs where you look online and it says to find a professional and any parts you buy say in big red letters do not attempt this yourself. My neighbours treat this kind of instruction a little like they do red lights and stop signs. They are for general guidance only and anyway do not apply to them.
When we bought our house the estate agent told us it was abitabile ( livable in ) this term again is like the afore mention red lights etc but we believed him. He hadn’t realised however that Luigi the previous owner was part of this club who took on all tasks with scant regard to safety. He had done all the wiring of the electrics himself. He had plumbed in the heating system and the new new shower. He had fitted the new upstairs loo and its connection to the drain and he had made the windows himself. Giovanni a bus driver from Taranto my nearest neighbour and Flavio a policeman from Martina Franca the other one had helped as both had no training in any of these arts so were ideal companions to give sound advice.
Within a week of moving in to our new ‘ abitabile’ house it rained. The windows we found lacked any outside putty and there were gaps between the frame and the brick. Strange burning smells seemed to emanate from behind the walls and flushing the loo when it was raining didn’t seem to have any effect. Things stayed were they were if you get my drift. So from the bar we arranged for the plumber and electrician to come look see.
The electrician started behind the wall and found small fires where the wires were overheating as we tried to plug in appliances. He pulled some out and found Luigi had used speaker wire for part of his rewiring job. Behind the cooker he found that the earth had been disconnected for some reason not that it really mattered as the three guys hadn’t thought it necessary to put an earth in the ground anyway.
The plumber found bits of pipe soldered to other bits of pipe some of them lead and words failed him when he went outside and looked into the bathroom drainage system.
As they worked on rewiring and re-plumbing the entire house Giovanni ( he of the grandchildren from hell) bounced down the drive to ask why I was paying for all this work when he and Luigi had only just completed the lengthy task.
Words then failed me.
I can’t resist this one