I had decided - possibly inspired by the sight of TV’s Sarah Beeny almost single-handedly restoring a 1,000-room mansion - that it would be a great idea to learn how to carry out basic plumbing repairs in case a pipe burst in one of my rental flats this winter. That’s why I’d signed up for one of B&Q’s do-it-yourself evening classes.
“I’ll save a fortune on plumbers’ emergency call-out charges,” I told my brother, who is the only one of the family who can do anything useful with a screwdriver. I told him, perhaps a little optimistically, that I might even learn enough to tackle the shower valve the tenants broke months ago. “God help us,” he said, which was not the encouraging response I was expecting.
B&Q runs “You Can Do It” classes at 15 of its larger stores around the country. For £10 to £20 it promises to teach you basic plumbing, decorating, plastering or tiling skills. It also runs classes for kids and I briefly considered signing up my 10- and 13-year-olds, until I discovered they’d be taught how to make a bird feeder or a mug tree when I wanted them to plumb in a radiator or change taps.
“DIY isn’t scary,” says B&Q, but as it doesn’t run You Can Do It classes at my nearest branch I had to go to Sutton, which was pretty terrifying. As it happens, my lesson almost turned into a “You Can’t Do It” class.
I arrived at the Sutton store to find its two resident trainers, Jimmy and Ben, packing up for the day. B&Q had changed the timing of the course so it had ended two hours earlier, but nobody had thought it necessary to tell me - the only customer.
Fortunately the lads agreed to stick around to run through some plumbing skills with me. Jimmy rang his mum to ask her to take his chicken kievs out of the oven, then Ben and Jimmy (but mostly just Jimmy) showed me how to attach copper pipes “to a rad” and repair one of its pipes if it sprang a leak.
Jimmy patiently talked me through wrapping a pipe in plumbers’ tape (several times), didn’t tut when I dropped the fiddly little nuts and olives, or groan when I couldn’t turn the wrench to tighten the screws. He even pretended it was a common mistake when he realised I’d put an isolator valve on upside down. Given that I’d never even heard of an isolator valve until an hour earlier, we both thought it unnecessary to dwell on the error.
You can’t learn much in two hours but I did leave feeling fairly confident that I could deal with the smallest of plumbing emergencies. Should a tenant call out of normal working hours to report a burst pipe, I’m ready, I think, to carry out a temporary repair rather than being forced to pay a plumber’s emergency call-out charge. I mean, all you need is a bit of patience and the right tools - essentially a couple of wrenchy things, a pipe cutter, plumbers’ tape, a drill, set of screw-drivers ... oh sod it, it’ll probably be cheaper to call out someone else who really can do it.