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I'm a handyman - but curse you, sprinkler

I was never interested in home repair jobs until I became a homeowner. Then, out of necessity because of the high cost of repairs, I bought a home maintenance manual and a large toolkit on sale – 100 tools for $39.99.

I knew I had some capability because when I was 11, my mortise and tenon joint earned me second place in carpentry. Over the years, through practice, trial and error, I have mastered most household repairs. It's satisfying to save money, but perhaps even more so to bask in the admiration of friends when boasting of my achievements, and to lord it over others who don't even know a Robertson from a Phillips.

My wife Ena is appreciative of my work, but my efforts come with limitations. First, I am slow. Slow to get around to beginning a job, slow in execution and slow in completing the final 5 per cent. To me, Michelangelo's work on the Sistine Chapel represents a quick paint job. Second, I am reluctant to ask for assistance. I like to be independent. As a result, some jobs can remain pending longer than Ena's tolerance level.

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Take the sprinkler system in our garden. Recently, one of the runs refused to work, an important one covering a large bed with shrubs and perennials. I opened the control panel to inspect the terminals. I jiggled the wires on the offending terminal No. 5 to check for loose connections, but it still didn't work.

Then I remembered that a few months earlier I had removed some old junipers from beneath the front window and had unearthed the sprinkler system cable. Perhaps I had broken it.

It seemed the only solution was to run another cable underground from the garage to the control panel on the far side of the house, a distance of some 15 metres. This was too much for me to undertake.

I reported my findings to Ena, who suggested: "Why don't you call in the company that installed the sprinkler system?"

I called but they never bothered to come and I let the matter drop, fearful of the cost and hoping some divine intervention would restore the water flow. In the meantime, Ena was forced to use the hose, which is heavy and time-consuming to move.

One day she asked, "Why don't you call Martti?"

Martti is my daughter's father-in-law. He loves nothing better than fixing things and being surrounded by parts – the more parts there are the happier he is.

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Now, Martti is a fine fellow and we get along well, but I bristled at my wife's suggestion. There was my pride to consider. And besides, I thought, what could he do? The sprinkler needed a new cable and that was that.

Ena is persistent. Soon after, she made a point of discussing our sprinkler problem at a family gathering, much to my chagrin. She knew Martti would take the bait. He said he would be glad to help.

Sure enough, bright and early one morning, he appeared cheerfully on the doorstep with his tools hanging from his carpenter's belt and several devices for measuring electrical currents. Some people would have been impressed by this, but I thought he looked like a witch doctor.

I explained the problem as well as my diagnosis and solution. He knelt down, examined the control panel, checked the connections and asked me to turn on the water. Nothing happened. He pulled out some instruments, played with them a few minutes, then announced that the wire in question was indeed dead. I smirked.

"It looks like it needs a new cable," he said.

"Yes, that's what I thought too," I said. "But thanks very much for coming anyway."

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I made to gather his tools, smugly anticipating the moment when we would tell Ena that Martti couldn't fix the problem, and that I had been right.

But Martti didn't leave. He sat there peering at the control panel. He grabbed hold of the input cable again. He looked at the different coloured wires and counted them. There were six in all, with green being the faulty one. Then he matched them to the terminals in the control panel.

"There isn't a match for the orange wire," he said. "There are six input wires and only five terminals." He thought for a moment. "That must mean that the sixth wire, the orange one, is a spare. Perhaps if I connected the orange wire to terminal No. 5, it would work."

Reluctantly, I had to agree his logic made sense. I silently cursed myself for not having reached the same conclusion.

Martti stripped the orange wire and connected it to the terminal. He turned around and said, "Turn on No. 5."

I went into the garage with mixed feelings. What would I say if it worked? I turned on the run and within seconds I heard the sound of water surging through the system. It was fixed.

Perhaps I could pass it off as a joint problem-solving exercise. But before I could finalize my face-saving strategy, Ena came rushing around the corner, shrieking with delight. She had been in the back garden when the sprinkler came on. She ran past me toward Martti, who was just getting to his feet, and gave him a big hug.

"Martti," she said, "thank you for fixing the sprinkler. I knew you could do it. You are my hero."

He blushed. "It was nothing."

I agree, but his reputation is now secure for all time. I'm just not sure about mine.

Chris Chorlton lives in Mississauga.

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