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JOHN DeMONT: How COVID-19 put me on the road to self-sufficiency

During the COVID-19 pandemic, columnist John DeMont has had to learn to take care of things himself.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, columnist John DeMont has had to learn to take care of things himself. - Contributed

The other day I coaxed a flame from our mutinous propane gas barbecue. Before the congratulatory emails flood my inbox, this is not as impressive as it sounds.

Some energetic Googling led me to a webpage titled something like “What to do if your barbecue will not light”, which recommended examining each step of the gas and heat transmission process to see where things broke down, which I did: by hand weighing the propane tank, uncoupling the cylinder valve that connected it to the barbecue, finally running a soapy sponge over the burners. 

When I hooked everything back up, poof, there was flame. I'm not exactly sure why.

I suppose it is sad that I then pumped a fist, like Kyle Lowry after hitting a three, except I am a man who takes pride in such things now, who feels a deep sense of accomplishment at managing to make the music from my iPhone emit from a speaker on the counter, who felt like popping the champagne the other day, when, after the toilet handle went limp, I lifted the porcelain top, peered inside and successfully hooked the little chain onto the valve that lets the water in and out. 

I have never been one of those can-do folks, those problem-solvers who, when a car won’t start, lift the hood with the knowledge that the answer may be somewhere inside.  I have never been one of those owners of toolboxes and workshops, those pragmatists who can jerry-rig a broken fence, or Gyprock a basement.

There’s an irony to that. During a fallow period as a freelancer I took a gig writing the voice-over script for YouTube do-it-yourself videos for a well-known name in the field of do-it-yourself home repair, meaning a man who may not have owned a handsaw was giving people advice on things like how to patch drywall, replace a light fixture and fix a torn window screen.

In truth I had come to suspect that my son, upon getting yet another inquiry from me about how to log onto Netflix, has programmed a laptop key which, if hit, replied, “have you tried Googling it?” 

For better or worse, those days are in the past now. COVID-19 gets the credit. 

In case the food chain breaks down, I’ve been baking bread and growing vegetables. Yet, my feeling is that if we revert to pioneer times, we had better be able to do more than keep ourselves fed. 

If the power grid and monetary system fail us, if the folks who can actually do stuff — plumbers, carpenters, electricians — are too busy protecting themselves against the coming apocalypse to make house calls, we had better be able to do a few things for ourselves, hadn’t we? 

The learning curve is a steep one for someone who has only a single industrial arts class tie rack to his woodworking credit, so I am cutting my teeth on the small stuff first: figuring out how to raise a flag on a flag pole, banging a few nails into the wall of a barn, doing manly battle with a patch of goutweed, all of which, in the past, I might have paid someone to do. 

At the slightest provocation, I will now fire up the electric drill to tighten any screw that has loosened. When my latest virtual Zoom gathering goes on the fritz, why I try again rather than just shrug and say it is simply not to be, as I used to react to most technological challenges. 

Don’t get me wrong: the remote control is still too much for me; the clothes dryer went on the blink a couple of weeks back and boy was I happy when a neighbour, who knows about such things, showed up at the door. 

When I commented recently about learning how to wield a chain-saw to cut up a fallen tree, my wife said something about me “needing both hands to work” and suggested I ask another kind neighbour, which I did.

Yet, it's early days, so who knows? 

Even if society doesn’t completely break down, I now understand the profound, almost spiritual, contentment a person feels after changing the bubble bottle in the SodaStream machine. 

I doubt whether the glass blowers of Murano, Italy, feel any more satisfaction than I do, after kicking our basement sump pump back to life. 

I have grand dreams now, you see, along with a handsaw. 


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