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Sign of the times: It’s Hammer Time... Again

It began harmlessly enough. Shortly after we moved in, I needed a hammer to hang up a few pictures. While I was in the shop, I decided I'd get a set of screwdrivers and maybe a spirit level.

But then at the checkout, there was this multi-tool with three dozen separate functions. There was an attachment for delousing your hamster and another for driving out hobgoblins and it was only €8.99. Within the week, I was back there again, on some flimsy pretext, and came out with a hacksaw, a hex key set and three different types of wall plug. Things started to get out of hand somewhere between the set of 42 drill bits and the fluted plugging chisel.

I knew that this kind of behaviour would take a bit of explaining at home, so I started hiding things around the house -- the set of straight shank chucking reamers down behind the fridge, the duckbill tin snips taped, like the gun in The Godfather, behind the cistern of the toilet. I knew too, on some level, that I'd never need a retractable gimp clamp, but -- using the defence of all pathological hoarders everywhere -- You. Never. Know. When. It. Might. Come. In. Handy.

Of course, I got caught. I came home to discover all my guilty purchases, still in their packaging, spread out on the dining room table, much like what the cops do when they find drugs.

"What's all this then?" said my wife. "What do we need a ... " she picked it up and read, "MR750 mortar raking diamond blade for?"

I sighed with mock exasperation. "It's for an angle grinder. Everyone knows that."

"Do we even have an angle grinder?"

"Maybe ... "

"Do you even know what an angle grinder is?" she asked.

"Look!" I shouted, pointing. "Shoes! Strappy shoes! Covered in chocolate!"

"Where?" she spun round.

I swept my precious tools off the table and ran.

That's the difference between men and women right there. An empty shoebox covered in fancy paper and tastefully positioned on a bathroom cabinet is perfectly rational. Use it to store a 40mm clagwrench and you're some kind of monomaniac who needs to be on medication. When I get round to bringing out my own line of tools, I'm going to call it 'Insensitive Boor'.

The problem is that when you go shopping, you don't buy for yourself, you buy for who you'd like to be. So even though every attempt at DIY usually ends up with a mad dash to A&E, one likes to think of oneself as handy about the house.

Many times I've stood beside some guy in overalls and surveyed the wreckage of my attempt to sort it out, and he'll smile pityingly and say. "Had a go yourself, did you?" Yet one likes to believe that one knows one's way around a set of adjustable hinge jigs.

Aspirational shopping is not restricted to tools. The press under the stairs is the Museum of Good Intentions. I've a whole library of language courses -- Spanish, French, Italian, even, God help me, Chinese, but I couldn't even scratch myself in any of them. Beside the language lab, there's all the fishing gear, right down to the hat with the little yokies on it. None of it has ever seen the light of day, let alone an actual fish. There's a wet suit above in the wardrobe that will never get wet, and enough camping gear stashed about the place to keep a troop of scouts permanently lodged in the wilderness. And I know I'm not alone in any of this. Who doesn'thave a set of barbells sitting on the floor of the wardrobe, half-hidden by a pair of equally disused tracksuit bottoms?

So anyway, I've hidden my new 150mm heavy-duty bench vice under a loose floorboard in the spare bedroom. If she finds it, I can say with a straight face: "But honey, it's my only vice."

John Hearne is available for DIY: no job too big or small