This week the brilliant Billy Bragg (see what I did with the poetic alliteration?) released a great new single. It’s called Handyman Blues, and here’s the clever clip that goes with it.
A group of ordinary blokes are sat around in B&Q feeling down because everyone expects them to be able to do DIY, and they’re useless with a hammer. They actually prefer writing poetry.
I think it’s a great video. The pressure on men to have to do “manly” things is immense. They feel ashamed of themselves if they can’t put up a shelf, orplumb in the washing-machine. On the other hand, cooking and sewing are traditionally “feminine” jobs but nowadays it’s okay for women to say they’re no good at them, and they’d actually prefer to be doing something else. How did all this happen? Why can’t men feel able to ditch the drill, without feeling emasculated?
Sometimes I feel a bit bad writing the hero’s part in a romance novel. There’s no way any man can live up to the heroes in most romances. It’s an impossible task. Then I got to going through a mental list in my mind of romance heroes, and asking the question “Good at DIY…or not?” And in actual fact, a surprising number of romance heroes in my mental rundown proved to be BAD at DIY!
Here’s my list. I’ve awarded hammers for DIY proficiency, where one hammer means he could barely change a light-bulb, and five hammers means this guy could build his own conservatory no sweat.
The award for poetry is a red rose.
So let’s play Romantic Heroes Under the Hammer!
1. First up, it’s only fair to put my own romance hero, Jean-Luc Olivier, star of The Silk Romance, under the DIY spotlight.
He’s a racing-driver and owner of a textile mill. He’d know all about mechanics, and I think he’d be a handy sort of bloke around the house. He lets himself down on the poetry side, though, since in his own words, he’s never been one for introspection. He ‘prefers actions to words.’ On the other hand, he did give Sophie a view of Paris at night, which shows he appreciates the romantic.
Poetry rating: 2/5
2. Mr Darcy, Pride and Prejudice
Not sure about his handy skills. Apparently he’s a good dancer, and he definitely spends a lot of time writing, which suggests it’s probably not good on the DIY front. He redeems himself with words, and deserves a high poetry rating for this quote alone: ‘You have bewitched me body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you.’ Nice one!
Poetry rating: 5/5
3. Mr Rochester, Jane Eyre
Would Mr Rochester be good at DIY? Hmm. I think so. He dealt with the bed on fire incident in a sensible and competent fashion. As for poetry, damn right. He’s taciturn and blunt, but underneath it all the epitome of a tortured soul. Check out this quote: ‘I could bend you with my finger and my thumb. A mere reed you feel in my hands. But whatever I do with this cage, I cannot get at you, and it is your soul that I want.’
Poetry rating: 5/5
4. Heathcliffe, Wuthering Heights
No need to plead the case for poetry with this chap. He is the epitome of the Byronic romantic hero. How about DIY skills, though? Well, he works in the fields as a teenager, so must be reasonably handy. He’s also a landlord, and ought at least to be able to come round and fix a draughty window. He’s always wandering about being tortured, thought, so that lowers his DIY rating
Poetry rating: 5/5
5. Wesley, The Princess Bride
Wesley definitely has a high DIY rating. There is nothing this guy can’t do. He escapes from the Rodents of Unusual Size, and he rescues Buttercup with a cunning plan involving a wheelbarrow and a burning cloak. And as for poetry, his way with words is so famous, there are endless websites devoted to quotes. Here is his exchange with the baddie, Humperdinck:
Wesley: Your ears you keep and I’ll tell you why. So that every shriek of every child at seeing your hideousness will be yours to cherish. Every babe that weeps at your approach, every woman who cries out, “Dear God! What is that thing,” will echo in your perfect ears. That is what to the pain means. It means I leave you in anguish, wallowing in freakish misery forever.
Prince Humperdinck: I think you’re bluffing.
Wesley: It’s possible, Pig, I might be bluffing. It’s conceivable, you miserable, vomitous mass, that I’m only lying here because I lack the strength to stand. But, then again… perhaps I have the strength after all.
Poetry rating: 5/5
6. Edward Cullen, Twilight
Even though Edward is hundreds of years old, he’s always going to be stuck as a teenager, so you might as well forget any help around the house. He’d get his dad to do it, but his dad has been dead for centuries. Edward is really stong though, so he gets at least one hammer rating for being able to get the lid off jam jars. As for poetry, you be the judge:
‘Before you, Bella, my life was like a moonless night. Very dark, but there were stars, points of life and reason…And then you shot across my sky like a meteor. Suddenly everything was on fire; there was brilliancy, there was beauty. When you were gone, when the meteor had fallen over the horizon, everything went black. Nothing had changed, but my eyes were blinded by the light. I couldn’t see the stars anymore. And there was no more reason for anything.’
Poetry rating: 2/5 for me, but Wesley has set the bar high.
And the winner of Romantic Heroes Under the Hammer is – Wesley! There’s nothing this guy can’t do. He takes away a Black&Decker sprocket set (whatever one of those is – I’m sure Wesley will know!)
What did you think to my scores? Are there any romantic heroes you know of, in modern or classic romance novels, who would be bad at DIY? Please let me know in the comments – I always love to hear from you!