John King 1

Spring and the onset of some reasonable weather and a few public holidays (in France at least) – ‘Tis the time to undertake home improvement projects which will

1) either remain unfinished until next Spring
2) be so badly done that you will have to call in a professional to make them right
3) be simply an excuse to get together with your mates and drink enough beer to sink a battleship
4) be completed on time and with a quality finish because you possess the tools, the time and the knowhow o do the job properly

For reference sake, this post is wrtitten by a male who cannot weild a power tool and cannot even bang a nail in a piece of wood without losing his temper.(I dream of being Mike Delphino without getting shot.)

Power Tools (saws, drills, sanders, screwdrivers etc) mowers, hedge trimmers, steam wallpaper strippers – the essential accoutrements, some might say even toys, for the modern-man-about the house.

I’m not much good at DIY and I certainly no great fan of gardening, but I do have a selection of the above items, sitting in my garage and ready for occasional use. I drill very few holes in the course of any one-year, but it is always good to have an electric drill handy.

The drill in question cost around 100 Euros, which; at the time I purchased it was about £70. I would call the drill a « medium purchase » and seeing how little I have use dit over the last ten years, it is still in reasonable condition.

Now, here is a thought. What about if I had bought the drill just for one job, carefully removed it from the packaging, done the job in question, cleaned up the drill and the bit, then taken it back to the shop claiming:

a) This drill doesn’t work
b) The drill you sold me has actually already been used.

Either way, I would have asked for my money back, or asked for a credit note with which I may have purchased a sander – brought it home and done exactly the same i.e. use it for the duration of the job, taken it back to the shop and exchanged it for a saw on the same pretext as before.

This concept is alien to me. Had I not the cash to buy tools, the space to keep them, or even the call to use hem regularly, I might have considered renting them from a tool hire shop, or, I would have used another solution, buying a tool in common with several friends with the ail of sharing it and also cutting the cost.

In a recent conversation with a friend, who has just bought a flat and is in the process of doing jobs that require power Tools, the friend in question informed me that in purchasing power Tools, he favours the « use it once, clean it up and take it back solution ».

I greeted this solution with all due disbelief, only to be told that it is very common, and in fact tat the DIY stores he goes to, everyone does it. It is apparently a national phenomenon in the UK.

« It happens all the time » says my friend. « All the stuff you buy is stuff that has been taken back to the shop. You can tell by the way the boxes have been resealed. »

Conclusion – no one in the UK is actually buying power Tools and DIY stores are no more than tool hire shops.

« It even works for flooring. » adds my friend

Does this mean that people buy a floating parquet, or lino, lay it, walk on it for a few years, then before they move, they clean it, rip it up and take it back to the shop in whatever packaging is left saying « ‘Scuse me mate, but we bought the wrong flooring » or even « this flooring is faulty ». Presumably there is some kind of guarantee on flooring (can’t say I’ve ever bothered to look, I just lay the stuff and walk on it for a few years) – so you have to rip it all up before the guarantee expires.

Is this really happening?

The friend informs me that the taking of items back to the shop and expecting a full refund doesn’t work on paint.

« ‘Scuse me mate, we used half the tin before we realised it was the wrong colour . »

Which brings me to lawnmowers

Friend in question has a garden (not sure of the size). He informs me that « you can get a flymo for thirty quid. »

A real Flymo for thirty quid? Pull the other one.

« Yeah, straight up. »

So, my friend is buying a Flymo, which, after cutting the grass, he will clean up and take back to the shop.

« Yes but, your grass will grow and you’ll need to cut it again. » I observe,

« So, I’ll get a refund, then when I need a mower, I’ll go and buy a new one. » Which he will then take back to the shop when finished.

As for the thirty pound refund, he will use this to buy another tool, which, when finished he will take back to the shop, get a refund, which he will spend on a mower.

« That’s loony » I say

« Everyone’s doing it. No one can afford Tools in Britain. There’s no jobs. »

So, Flymo prices. I must first say that the average French gardener is most sceptical about Flymos, and electric mowers in general. I needed to buy a new mower a couple of years ago. I fancied a flymo. There were however few to be had. Asking the vendor why, he explained that people didn’t like them and they didn’t trust a mower without a Wheel at each corner.

There is also the size of gardens. Most people in my neck of the woods have large gardens and they like the good old motor mower. Those with smaller gardens will have something electric, but with wheels. We just don’t do Flymo.

As for the price. The smallest, most basic Flymo in France starts at 70 Euros (without grass box) – the top of the range model weighs (or hovers) in at 170 Euros (prices including VAT from the official Flymo website)
I told this to my friend who then suggested I buy a flymo in the UK on my next visit. Use it for a few months, then clean it up and bring t back on a later visit, take it to the shop and exchange it for a new one, or just get my money back.

My friend says he can’t afford to buy all the Tools he needs to decorate his flat; neither can he afford a mower. He says this is commonplace in Britain.

« Out here we buy mowers » I say

« Ah yes, but France has been less hit by the recession. You have a large public sector and people are still working in real jobs. Out here there are no jobs and no money. »

The sales of mowers in France, and their large price differential with the UK, would therefore be explained in part by the 5 million French men and women who are working in public service jobs. Hmmmmm. One to ponder.

True, France was generally acknowledged to have weathered the world recession just a little better thanks to the 5 million civil servants who kept their jobs and kept making and spending money. We all carried on shopping and consuming and France didn’t totally sink into an economic quagmire.

I am still not sure about the lawnmower argument though. Just to say that Flymos are more expensive in France.

Just a bit of consternation about life in Britain. How do people survive?

I quote one friend who earns £50k per year. She has trouble meeting the monthly mortgage payments on her two up two down terraced house in south London. Another friend who is roughly on the same salary cannot afford to come to France with her car on holiday. She is still coming to France, but minus the car. And another friend with a half decent job in communications – she takes in lodgers to make ends meet.

Out here, we always stare across the Channel in « gobsmacked » awe at the salaries people are supposed to earn in the UK. I conclude from recent conversations that it is not true. I presume if everyone lives like my DIY friend, you are all taking half eaten food back to the shops on the strength that half has been eaten and « I didn’t like the rest ». Perhaps people are saving up dead mice or cockroaches, to deliberately put them in half eaten food. « Sorry mate, can’t eat this, there’s a dead mouse in the tin. »

Is it that bad in blighty? Tell me I’m wrong, or tat my friend is just a little dysfunctional.