A few days ago, the owners of Homebase announced they are to close a quarter of UK stores because of the reality, they said, of “a generation less skilled in DIY projects”.
Harsh obituary writers were quick to point out that Homebase is overpriced and a bit, well, crap compared to B&Q, but the sobering truth is that the entire DIY sector has taken a hammering in recent years.
Some might argue that the demise of DIY is down to the fact that home ownership on the decline, as more of us are forced to rent, unable to get on the property ladder. (Thought: if Homebase had stocked “property ladders” maybe their fortunes would have improved?)
Yet, undeniably, today’s 20- and 30-somethings don’t seem to possess your traditional “dad skills”. The dismal fact that a mere five per cent of 18-24s would attempt to unblock a sink doesn’t bode well for humanity – unless you’re a plumber.
Although the UK DIY sector is still worth a healthy £7.3 billion per year, that’s its lowest annual worth since 1999, and if it continues to decline at the current rate of 13 per cent per annum, there will be no DIY sector at all by 2040.
By then, Britain will have slowly drowned under the collective ocean of blocked bogs and leaky radiators.
Which is bad enough, before you begin to ask whether the decline in DIY is actually indicative of a deeper malaise in masculinity.
DIY used to make us feel manly. We’d chuck on a tool belt, press our power drill’s trigger – perhaps while even growling – and feel the testosterone course through our veins.
The trouble is, being a man – in the old-fashioned sense – is deeply unfashionable, naff almost, these days.
At some point this century, bombarded by an agonizingly right-on, feminist, PC doctrine through the liberal media, many men decided it was time to stop being men and embrace their inner sister.
Metropolitan, largely office-working men launched a mass PR campaign to win the hearts and minds of women – and their peers. They publicly decried wolf whistling and Page 3 of The Sun – while privately consuming a tidal wave of internet porn (ironically making them do-it-yourselfers in a very different sense).
Men were clamouring over themselves to be seen as anything but sexist.
But as we lost our rough edges and took on more of what had traditionally been regarded as female roles, no one really stopped to question whether equality for women came with a cost for masculinity. If everything overtly “masculine” is dismissed as sexist, what’s left of men is, arguably, sexless.
You see this behavioural androgyny everywhere, from the increasingly corporate and sterile football terraces to the Croc-wearing househusband on the school run.
In an age where we’re expected to Hoover, iron, change nappies, make a woman climax for four hours like Sting and cook like Jamie Oliver, old-fashioned pursuits like DIY have become quaint, self-indulgent and almost shameful.
The result is that many modern men are more like our mothers than our fathers, while the opposite is true for women, who are increasingly wearing the trousers.
Women decry us for not being able to wire a plug like our dads, but can – or would – they cook a cracking apple crumble like their mums?
No, they’d rather watch some bugger else do it on the Great British Bake Off, then go to M&S – just like we’d rather watch Grand Designs, then pay a Polish geezer to do our wallpapering.
Manual labour is increasingly seen as something other people do for us. While 43 per cent of 18-25s would attempt a DIY task, 41 per cent would hire around their own deficiencies – and call in the navvies.
Another depressing fact is that Lloyd’s Bank estimate that some 3.3 million bodged DIY tasks need to be put right by a paid professional, at an average cost of over three grand each time.
A French electrician I once got in told me, “I love British DIYers: 75 per cent of my work is finishing jobs you guys started.” But at least I tried in the first place.
It’s unfashionable to admit, but some men are better at being men when they have traditional roles that they understand. And working with our hands gives us a sense of worth that we can never get from filing our tax return.
There is an additional benefit in doing DIY: you get more sex. A study by sociologists at the University of Washington found that couples who follow traditional gender roles around the house – wives doing the cooking, cleaning and shopping; men doing the DIY and fettling the car – reported greater sexual frequency.
So there you have it: with DIY you’re screwed if you do it, and screwed if you don’t.