I once earned the undying respect of an astonished boyfriend by mending the starter motor on his VW beetle. Some years later I was bought drinks by eternally grateful male colleagues after fixing their battered car in the middle of a Bosnian battlefield using the Swiss Army knife I always carried in my pocket or handbag (until airport security decided it made me a terrorist).
This weekend I did it again.
Monsieur Mustapha our friendly plumber came and fixed the leaks. Watching him I realised I could have done it myself. He was, I thought, a little heavy handed with the pipework given its age and propensity for springing leaks. I winced but said nothing. He added a second washer to the washing machine feed pipe. I said: "The thread's gone. The hose needs changing." He agreed but explained he couldn't change the hose because if he pulled out the machine the rotten cupboard around it would collapse. He stuck in the washer gave it a quick spin, double checked everything and cheerily pronounced us leak free.
Of course it wasn't. You don't live in a 200-plus year-old building commissioned by Napoleon's sister that has not been properly maintained for a large part of the last century - if ever - and get off that lightly.
Not ten minutes after Mustapha left we turned on the washing machine. Drip, drip, drip. "The hose needs changing," I said. To cut a long and boring story short, after the Frenchman emptied and cleaned the crud out of the cupboard next to the machine, I squeezed into it and bent double and twisted managed to loosen the "unchangeable pipe" with the monkey wrench and, yes, change it. It's true the plumber, a splendid but portly chap, could not have prised half his lardy backside into the cupboard and at over six feet tall the Frenchman was similarly handicapped even had he known which end of the wrench was which. We turned on the machine. No drips. How true it is: if you want a job doing, do it yourself.
The Frenchman hugged me as if I'd just performed pioneering heart-surgery. He said in English, and I quote: "What a wife?" I put away the wrench. Respect; it's the same in English and French.
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