Life & Culture

I’m turning 60 … is it time for a new profession?

With a husband who’s no good at DIY, Claire Calman’s considering a radical shift in direction


In a couple of weeks, I will turn 60. “No, no!” I hear you cry, “The woman doesn’t look a day over 59 – how can this be possible?!”

Some kind friends duly mutter cries of disbelief about my milestone, turning a blind eye to the irrefutable evidence of my ageing – face resembling crumpled old tissue, knee replacements that are best not used for any actual kneeling, inability to rise from the sofa without a team of strong chaps armed with levers and pulleys. But we are all in agreement on one point: I am definitely very immature. I still get bouts of the giggles for no good reason, and consistently fail to keep on top of anything ‘grown-up.’ My worst shortcomings fall in the areas of non-filing of paperwork (my study now looks like a secular attempt to emulate the Cairo Geniza), forgetting to use my inter-dental brushes every day, and only sorting out the figures for my accountant after he’s nagged me a hundred times because, in case I have not understood, he ‘cannot do every single client’s return in January!’ (Yes, yes, obviously, but why can’t he do mine??).

But chief among the grown-up things I fail to attend to is the myriad of to-do jobs around the house…

The house, in a spirit of empathy with my increasing decrepitude, is slowly crumbling around our ears. At least the multiple leaks have been fixed so that now it once more operates like an actual building instead of an outsize colander. One leak happily occurred immediately above the fruit bowl on the sideboard (and as neither Husband nor Offspring will eat fruit unless it has been lovingly prepared for them by their in-house Fruit Factotum (ie me), it was empty, but all the other leaks have left a legacy of crumbling plaster and peeling and discoloured paintwork (so that’s what shabby chic is…).

We have not yet got round to booking a decorator to repaint, even though the prospect of my 60th and therefore the possibility of hosting a party isn’t a surprise that’s come at us out of the blue. As we know, if you’re Jewish, DIY stands for ‘Don’t Involve Yourself’, a direction The Husband has always regarded as the Eleventh Commandment. Despite being both intelligent and impressively able in other areas, he must have sworn some secret oath never to read an instruction manual and so should not be left in charge of flat-pack furniture. His attempt to assemble a bedside chest of drawers for our son some time ago resulted in the item becoming irrevocably damaged in the process. When I came home and found its mutilated carcase by the bin, I opened my mouth to ask what had happened. “Don’t,” said The Husband. “Just don’t,” as he Googled Post-Traumatic Stress Counselling on his phone.

My sister had the foresight to marry a non-Jewish man and it is rare to see him without a screwdriver in his hand or surrounded by a sea of parts from a dismantled appliance. Often he is to be found atop a ladder or with his arm submerged in a blocked drain voluntarily. In our household, by contrast, the approach is one of competitive patience – who can put up with the leaks, dripping tap, faulty shower screen, broken drawer etc the longest. The way to ‘win’ this unusual game is to affect an air of not being bothered by the problem or malfunctioning item, forcing the other person finally to sigh and say, “I’ll try to find someone to come and sort this out then, shall I?”

In the past, the quest for the perfect handyman (ie by perfect, obviously I only mean someone who will actually show up) has usually fallen to me because The Husband had the perfect get-out clause of having a proper job to go to. But now he has retired, so it will be Game On to see who is better at foisting this task onto the other person.

We all know it is impossible to find a decent plumber, electrician or handyman. The guy who plumbed in the sink, dishwasher etc seemed really nice and helpful, but now the sink blocks if you dare to drain more than a teacupful of water down it at any one time. I’m not at all sure that we’ve done the right thing in sending The Offspring to university rather than signing him up for a plumbing apprenticeship. How is a degree in Philosophy and Politics ever going to keep him in the flat whites and smashed avocado on toast to which he’s become accustomed?

It’s perfectly possible he could study for three years and still be completely unemployable at the end of it. I should know because I have an English degree, which is well known for its complete uselessness in the job market. I wonder if the plumbing apprenticeship scheme would consider an unusually senior applicant? Though I probably should disclose that, as my knees barely function, I will need a young assistant to carry out the actual work…

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