DIY, Do and Die?

Think twice before you launch yourself into the world of home improvements, for many perils await you. Life is beautiful - so don't fiddle with it!

It is a curious fact about the British that they have never quite come to terms with the idea that weekends are for resting. Saturday and Sunday are, indeed, the busiest days of the week for many people in Britain. During the week activity has to slow down because they are at work, but come the weekend Brits can indulge in their twin passions, DIY and gardening.

These two are really one and the same thing. Gardening is just DIY outside, in the garden in fact. What's important is the concept of home improvement. They say that an Englishman's home is his castle, and it seems that he always wants to raise another tower or dig another moat.

This apparently harmless passion has had some interesting effects on British society as a whole. The most important one has been the universal desire to own one's own home. Obviously, if you are going to start removing walls and stripping out the plumbing, without professional assistance, it is better if you are the owner and not just renting the property. And then you must have one with a garden. Flats are not popular, but those who cannot afford a sprawling patch of green often produce wild displays of colourful flowers on their balconies. The pride and joy of every middle-aged British man is his lawn, no matter how small, and he mows it with great care and regularity. This is why the suburbs around British towns are growing so rapidly - there is no grass to cut in the city centre.

Another consequence are the large square buildings looking like aircraft hangers, mushrooming around the edges of every city in Britain. These constructions are, in fact, DIY superstores. They sell everything the home improvement enthusiast could ever desire. At weekends, they are packed with ambitious amateurs, each with a project taking shape in his mind. Here are the men who complain that their wives waste money shopping for clothes and cosmetics, grinning like children as they purchase a new saw or some shiny copper pipe. The atmosphere is one of straightforward practicality, of getting things done. Of men being men.

A little further from the cities and there's a less macho atmosphere...
A wide expanse of flowers, trees and shrubs, lawn mowers, garden furniture, ponds and sheds can be found at the Garden Centre. Here the happy horticulturist can pass hour after wonderful hour identifying the different species on offer and watching the ornamental Chinese fish. Some experts believe that British children are performing badly at school because of the amount of time they spend being dragged around these centres. Small children have been known to be lost forever amidst the bushes - while parents pushing huge carts full of plants and equipment have been known not to notice for months.

Every man in Britain, it seems, believes that he is either "green-fingered" or "handy", or both. The man who is "a bit handy" should not be confused with "the handyman", who is handy professionally. Nor should the dirty-fingered gardener be mixed up with the genuinely green-fingered one. Unfortunately, even among those who are handy for a living, there is many a one who can best be described as a "Jack-of-all-trades", which means "a master of none". And these types are likely to produce a botched job. Indeed, if you call on them to construct something large you made well end up with a real Heath Robinson affair.

It will come as no surprise that with all these untrained weekend workmen running loose with power tools, accidents happen. In Britain we have a Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, and they have recently criticised the wealth of Gardening and DIY programmes on television for making complex jobs look too easy and encouraging viewers to "have a go".

It is thought that one of the main reasons the NHS is so overstretched is the endless stream of patients who have hit their thumb with a hammer or removed a toe whilst trimming a hedge. If you ever visit the casualty department of a British hospital at the weekend, you will see one half of the sufferers are wearing old, paint-splattered work-trousers, and the other half sports kits, sport being the other great way to keep active while waiting for work to start again on Monday.

It is unlikely, however, that the TV stations will relent and cut back on these programmes, they are so very popular. Gardening shows especially are in demand and every night of the week one can find new ideas for improving one's patch and injuring oneself. The presenters of these programmes often become cult figures; they are gardening gurus and their advice is widely sought.

It is difficult to say whether this craze will ever reach across the continent to Poland. Many people, it must be said, do a lot by themselves, but that may be because of the huge amount of new building and the legendary sloth of indigenous handymen. If you are tempted to try something yourself, say, putting up some shelves, or rewiring your house, be careful. And if you find that it's not really your thing, that you are all thumbs, don't despair. Remember: many enthusiasts have no thumbs at all!