14/08/2014 12:48 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

The House Dad Chronicles: Dad Vs Broken Dishwasher

Dad vs broken dishwasher.

My wife was having a pre-work cuppa and I was putting on the first wash of the day before the school run, when she drew my attention to an old article in the newspaper.

Boffins had invented a washing machine that takes 12 minutes, rather than 90, to do the laundry.

"I'll buy you one of those for your birthday," she said, smirking. "But only if you get the dishwasher fixed first."

The dishwasher! Or rather, 'That-big-white-box-under-the-countertop-next-to-the-sink-that-hasn't-washed-a-dish-in-weeks' aka The Dirty Cupboard.

Now, it's not the end of the world, washing up. Back in the day, our mothers did it with a bar of carbolic soap and a piece of wet sandpaper.

But we're pampered now. We've been brought up with 'labour-saving' devices. When once we would put our clothes under the mattress, we now have an 'iron.'

When once we would hang our carpets on the washing line to give them a damn good thrashing, we now have a 'vacuum cleaner.'

And instead of taking our clothes down to the banks of a dirty river for a scrub, we have the good old about-to-be-reinvented washing machine.

And then there's the dishwasher. When I was a boy, it was my job to do the washing up before our mother got home from work.

My hands would be red raw and flaking from the harshness of the chemicals, and it was no doubt one of the things that made me determined that when I grew up I would never do manual labour of any kind whatsoever.

The dishwasher is a blessing for many reasons. There's obviously the fact that it washes dishes, but it's also a great storage place for pretty much anything you want to get off the counter top to make space for more important endeavours, like smashing a lump of meat to pieces with a hammer, imagining it's your old boss's face (paradoxically, it's called 'tenderising'!).

And of course it saves time and prevents my soft labour-avoiding hands from getting sore. But it's only useful if it works.

Despite being middle-aged, I am - like the majority of younger people when it comes to DIY - hopeless at it. So when it came to the untrusty old dishwasher I decided to Get A Man in. A real man. One who works. With a job.

And so, a search on the internet later, Alex turned up. He was Russian. Not very quick, but pacy enough for me to think he knew what he was doing. He fiddled with the dial, played with the knobs, opened and closed it, stuck his head inside, said, 'Mmmm' a lot, sucked his teeth a lot.

And I thought: "I could do that."

But then he started to take the thing to pieces, with screwdrivers and spanners, and other manly things. Which was when I realised I couldn't do that after all.

It is why I became a journalist and Alex is an 'appliance engineer.'

"All done,'" he said. "It works now."

"What was the problem?" I asked.

"No problem. Fixed now."

This was the issue that I'd described to him: the machine made lots of gushing and sloshing sounds for 187 minutes, but when it reached the last minute, it refused to give up.

It clung onto that last minute like a tramp on a chip. For minutes. For hours. And then, because I forgot all about it, for a day. Not good for the planet, no sirree!

But it was fixed now. Alex said it was fixed. I trusted him. I had no reason not to, because Alex was a Real Man With A Proper Job (as opposed to a House Dad With a Diminishing Sense of Identity).

"Can we just see if it reaches zero before you go?" I asked.

It was an unreasonable request. It would have meant Alex and I making small talk in broken English for 186 minutes before it reached the magic '1' and Alex had other jobs to go to. Jobs. Plural.

I paid him some of my Successful Other Half's money for the call-out and then got on with what has become my life - prepping dinner for the kids and for my wife, doing another stack of ironing to-keep-on-top-of-it.

And then the '1' arrived. And stayed. And stayed.

I phoned Alex straight back and explained the issue. To be fair, he was quite upset. He was a Working Man and he needed the word-of-mouth recommendations to make a living.

He promised to come back the next day, so I turned the dishwasher off and washed the post-kids-dinner dishes by hand (wearing my blue rubber gloves, by the way - I'm not a fool).

My Successful Other Half arrived home from work a couple of hours later. It had been a hard day at the office, as per usual, and she needed a glass of wine to unwind.

"This glass is greasy," she said, after the first glug. "I thought you were getting the dishwasher fixed."

I know, I should have decked her there and then and told her to do it herself if my efforts weren't good enough, but she seemed a bit on the 'I'll-kill-anyone-if-I-they-cross-me' side and, well, she earns the money, so better not upset her.

Instead, I went for appeasement.

"The guy's coming back tomorrow," I said.

"Lovely guy. Alex. A Russian. Trying to make ends meet like all of us."

"We're not a charity, Keith," she replied. "If he doesn't sort it, then you sort it. Man up."

The next day, Alex duly arrived, and as efficiently as he didn't 'get it sorted' the day before, he didn't get it sorted today, either. He left with a shrug of the shoulders.

"It's fine," he said. "No problem. Fixed."

So I gave him a bottle of wine - my wife's wine - for his lack of trouble.

"Time to Man Up," I thought to myself.

I rooted in the cupboard under the stairs to find the toolbox my dad had bought me for Christmas 10 years ago. It smelled like a new born baby, fresh and clean.

This was the moment I was going to become a Housedad Hero. I would fix the dishwasher and when the missus walked in from work I would pour her wine into a glass so clean she could eat her dinner off it.

I'd watched what Alex had done and decided to do the opposite on the principle that what hadn't worked for him would work for me. I had all afternoon. The online shopping delivery was due soon, but I'd get through this Manly Stuff, then do the other Domestic Dad stuff with plenty in the bank to go and collect the kids from their Easter holiday camp.

Forty five minutes later, the kitchen looked like the aftermath of a plane disaster, strewn with bits of metal and screws and odd-shaped inner-workings.

Then I received a text from the supermarket: "Your delivery is running 60 minutes late. We apologise for the inconvenience."

No problem. Now where does THIS bit go? An hour later, I received another text. The shopping was now going to be 120 minutes late (that's 2 hours in normal people's language).

By now, it was knocking on 4pm and would soon be time to get the kids.

Dishwasher vs Picking Up Kids? Despite the urge to Get The Job Done, I couldn't abandon the youngest again, as I'd done once before. I downed tools and headed for the door just as the Man With a Job from the supermarket arrived.

"I'm sorry, mate," I said. "Gotta get my kids. Just leave the shopping in the hall, please."

I got to the kids 15 minutes late, red-faced and frantic. There was a different clock ticking now: the countdown to She Who Wins Bread arriving home.

By the time we got back from the camp run, all the frozen stuff had defrosted. The kids didn't seem to care that their ice cream was now just 'cream' but I did.

They'd have to wait until it had frozen again before they could have their after-tea treat. Cue meltdown.


"Number 1, to your room; Number 2, stop crying; Number 3, stop smearing tomato ketchup on the side of the fridge I'VE JUST CLEANED THAT."

The crying seemed to go on forever, but I blocked it out. I had a dishwasher to repair.

I was Manning Up. I turned the radio up and ignored the appeals from my children to let them have their ice creams in their liquid state. I didn't even hear the key in the door that signalled by wife's arrival.

The first thing I knew of her presence was as she towered over me, hands on hips. The kids were crying, they hadn't had their baths and the kitchen was a disaster zone.

She shook her head, but she looked more amused than annoyed.

"What exactly have you been doing all day, Keith?" she asked.

Which translates as: "Go and have a pint and I'll sort all this out."

So I did. And she did. It's been three years now, and I still don't think I'm cut out for this house dad malarkey.