The world, it seems, is divided into two groups. There are those who know a good bit of four-by-two when they see it, understand that MDF stands for medium density fibreboard (rather than my dustbin's full), can hold a wiring diagram the right way up and are handy (perhaps even in an Andy sort of way) with a screwdriver.
Then there are those for whom the three-pin plug is a source of head-scratching mystery, who see wood as something to be burned and plastering something that takes four hours in the pub on a Friday night.
I confess that I am of the second persuasion - a complete DIY duffer. I have sat through hours of DIY SOS, Home Improvements and Changing Rooms, happily admiring the handiwork of Laurence and Linda (though not, it must be said, Anna Ryder-Richardson) without understanding a single word. I will, therefore, take all the help I can get.
The problem with any project is getting started, so to get the DIY juices flowing, try www.boldstroke.force9.co.uk/frames/house.htm where you can enjoy the before and after story of Calvin and Karen and the ex-pig farm they bought just outside Cambridge. The previous occupants ensured that a total facelift was required; but be prepared, it's both a warning and an inspiration, especially the X-rated fireplace.
Hitting the nail on the head
Suitably fired up, it's time to get the background to all this straight. If you're reading this, then it's likely you have a feel for computers and may well have come across the 'for dummies' series of guides. These are branching out and now include Home Improvement for Dummies - available from Amazon (www.amazon.co.uk) and elsewhere. Although it reeks of that well-rehearsed American chattiness, it's actually full of good stuff. Incidentally, you could also check out Decks & Patios, Home Decorating and Home Remodelling for Dummies, after which less understanding partners may direct you to Divorce for Dummies (details at http://catalog.dummies.com/section.asp?section=14).
The DIY frequently asked questions archive at http://pages.eidosnet.co.uk/~ukdiy/index.html is excellent - you can almost feel the calluses on your fingers starting to grow - and offers help on decorating, solving electrical problems, heating, plumbing and so on; it even thoughtfully provides a zipped version you can download and then decompress to read at leisure (should you have any). Visit www.winzip.com for the best unzip facility around.
Looksmart has a decent selection of books and magazines at www.looksmart.co.uk, or try www.ukbookshop.com/topbooks/diy/diy.htm where the titles (including the Country Living Paint Recipe Book and The Stencilled House) are rather more exotic. Real beginners can start at http://movingmusic.co.uk/vid/vid221.htmwhere you'll find the stereotypically bearded and marvellously named Tony Lush who'll sell you his DIY Back to Basics video for a only fiver.
Having improved your feeble grasp of the subject, it may be time to buy some equipment and here you'll find that not only are there a selection of good sites but they also contain helpful information. Visit www2.diy.com for example - which is actually B&Q - and you'll be able to drill down to the Ask the Experts section which (revenge is sweet) is restricted to UK residents. The questions are broad-based - from painting exteriors to varnishing floors - and although they inevitably plug B&Q products, they are generally helpful.
This attitude extends to other sites, like Focus Do It All (www.focusdoitall.co.uk/home.htm) where the ubiquitous Tony Lush awaits you, and www.homebase.co.uk which has one of the most comprehensive and friendly tip sections on the net. Indeed, as a whole, the DIY business formerly known as grumpy has discovered which side its bread is buttered on and these days presents an altogether more cheery face.
There are lots of good local chains by the way, and Irish enthusiasts are warmly recommended to try Woodie's DIY and Garden Centres www.woodiesdiy.ie which has lots of useful tips, clearly explained. Finally, if it's all too much, make it someone else's problem courtesy of www.improveline.com - a site and service which tries to fit the jobs you need doing around the house with vetted local professionals who are willing to do them. A similar service can be found at www.homepro.com.
If, deep down, you actually prefer to watch, then the popular TV shows are well represented, including Changing Rooms (www.bbc.co.uk/changingrooms/), Home Front (www.bbc.co.uk/homefront/) and DIY SOS (http://cgi.bbc.co.uk/diysos/).
Of course, for many people all this is second nature and they know their way round the DIY shops like they do the local curry house menu. For them, the net is full of what kindergartens call 'messy play'. And they don't come any messier than concrete.
At www.ablemix.co.uk/PREPARAT.htm you'll find one of the best - and the wittiest - sites, which kicks off with the Mission Impossible theme and includes scintillating, ice-breaking tutorials like "An introduction to concrete", and best of all "Can I get the truck in?" - obviously these are the voices of experience and should be heeded.
Decking's big these days too and at www.deckdesign.co.uk/index7.html you'll find highly detailed step-by-step instructions to take you from removing the root systems of the plants that could scupper the sub-frame support timbers, to sipping that first gin and tonic in the rays of the setting sun.
There's also a home for serious woodworkers at www.woodworking.co.uk where you can shop securely (click the link through to www.toolpost.co.uk) and discover more about "the great craft of wood turning", or you could try www.worldwide-woodwork.co.uk where they're putting together an online woodworking course.
As you get more specialised, you may find the mainstream stores can't deliver the kind of power tools you need for a particular job. If that's the case, www.toolmart.co.uk (from builders' merchant Travis Perkins) is a good bet, thanks to a wide range of equipment for hire and a branch finder which lets you type in your post code to find the one nearest to you.
The writing's on the wall
But once you've started, will you be able to stop? I mean, everywhere you look in the house, there's going to be something that needs either fixing or improving, so where does it end? Frieze Frame, for example, has a wonderful collection of DIY mural kits at www.friezeframe.com/newhome/test.html, and at www.ncsl.co.uk/bandsaw.html, they'll tell you how you can build your own bandsaw from a kit - a sort of do-it-yourself-do-it-yourself.You could also build your own aquarium cabinet (www.marksfish.f9.co.uk/diy.htm), or get into soft furnishings via Wendy's World (www.wendys-world.co.uk), or treat yourself to a bit of pavement laying after reading www.tmac.clara.net/paving/home.htm.
If paving's not enough, go one step further and actually build your own house from scratch - though before you go down that route, have a look at Rick Hughes's fascinating diary at www.ihomes.co.uk/info/diary and be afraid, be very afraid.
Finally, should you wish to enter the territory of serious strangeness, then there are no limits to the things you can do yourself - like making your own soap, for example (www.fragrant.demon.co.uk/makesoap.html).
In the end, if you're still in doubt that any of this is worth the candle, pop along to www.woolwich.co.uk/survey97/other.htm which is a mine of information about the kind of home improvements we like the best, and which ones will increase the value of the house the most. They've also knocked up a list of the DIY jobs most likely to end up in a visit to casualty.
You have been warned ...
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