D.I. Why?

By - November 23, 2005 (Updated: November 30, 2014)

It’s 7 am. I open my eyes and try to clear my groggy head.

I haven’t awoken to an alarm clock radio as I used to in Canada.

Instead, there is a ‘symphony’ of noises — the whir of a cement mixer, the hum of a crane, the pounding of hammers. The sound of construction is my morning serenade.

Belgians always seem to be building something.

The Brussels skyline is punctuated by cranes and scaffolding. The rumble of heavy trucks intermingles with the wiz of traffic through the smallest of streets.

Even in my tiny town, construction workers bustle from sunup to sundown.

And it’s not just construction workers who are toiling away. It seems that the Belgian male is more prone to the do-it-yourself gene than others.

On a sunny weekend in my town, there are at least three people out re-paving their driveways, four or five people landscaping and at least one who is building himself a garage.

It is madness to attempt a trip to the Brico on a Saturday, unless you want to stand in line for half an hour.

However, just because they have a passion for DIY, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all Belgians are innately good at it.

My own house is an architect’s nightmare which includes a ladder to nowhere and a room you can only reach by going outside.

One of the theories I’ve heard to explain the passion for DIY in this country is the lack of reliability of professional trades people.

Apparently, the good ones are always busy and waiting times can be absurd. Then there are the not-so-good ones …

Friends of ours have to wash their dishes in the bathtub and shower sitting down thanks to a disreputable plumber.

This has been ongoing for months because no one can track down the plumber and no reputable plumber wants to be responsible for his mistakes.

Faced with these problems, I too might get the urge to pick up a wrench and try my hand at a little DIY.

Before we moved to Belgium, I thought living in the country would be a haven of quiet.

But when we first viewed our house with the rental agent, I eyed the empty lots across the street with skepticism.

“Won’t the building noises be loud,” I asked, noting that the bedroom windows faced onto the street.

“Oh, no,” replied the earnest-looking Belgian. “You won’t notice a thing.”

Eventually, I got so used to it I could sleep through the hammering.

Even so, I was delighted several weeks ago when I noticed that the roof was finished and the windows were in.

“By the time I’m back from holiday in Canada, all of the noisy outside work will be done,” I thought to myself.

I returned two weeks later and looked across the street. I saw one finished house and one gaping hole waiting for a new foundation.

I guess I won’t be needing that alarm clock for a while.

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Alison Cornford-Matheson
Alison Cornford-Matheson is a Canadian freelance writer and travel photographer and the founder of She is the author of The Foodie Guide to Brussels: Local Tips for Restaurants, Shops, Hotels, and Activities. Alison landed in Belgium in 2005 and, over the years, has become passionate about slow and sustainable travel, in Europe and beyond. She loves to discover hidden gems - be they museums, shops, restaurants, castles, gardens or landscapes, and share them through her words and photos. She has visited 45 countries and is currently slow travelling through North America in an RV, with her husband, Andrew, and two well-travelled cats. You can also follow her work on Google+
Alison Cornford-Matheson
- 17 hours ago


  1. Comment by Shannon

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Shannon December 1, 2005 at 19:57

    OK. After 5 months, the tub is a tub, and the sink is a sink, and my guy is back to making dinner with a smile!
    And, for those looking to feel better about their misfortunes, the story goes like this:
    Apartment is completely redone. Tall guy moves in, July 2005. New EVERYTHING.
    He realizes after a shower, the tub is sinking… hmm.. Apparently, it has no supports?
    Then, he realizes the kitchen sink has no hot water.
    The plumber comes, puts a new regulator on it.
    Now, the sink leaks.
    The plumber comes back, fixes the sink, and with luke warm water, you can have clean dishes! With a smaller leak.
    The plumber bad mouths the carpenter, who botched the tub. He has beef with him.
    All this time, the carpenter is on vacation btw.
    Then the electric blows in the house during a shower.
    Why is that, you ask?
    Because the sinking tub has a quarter inch gap all around it, where the caulking has failed, and the shower water has shorted out the bath motor.
    On a serious note, imagine if someone got hurt?
    So, now an electrician comes, disconnects the motor, fixes the electric.
    Then tall guy notices water leaking from the wall in the guest room….
    Now the plumber is on vacation.
    So, the kitchen sink is out of service.
    For a month, all dishes are done in the bathroom sink or tub. YUCK.
    Plumber is back in action! He opens the wall, fixes the pipe.
    He blamed it on the house’s bad karma. That’s a new one.
    A few days later, there’s another leak in the wall, same room, different place!
    And, the plumber has a heart attack.
    Finally, after 4 months, the carpenter re-emerges.
    He doesn’t like the plumber either.
    He fixes the plumber’s faulty plumbing, and the damaged wall.
    And he fixed the tub.
    The carpenter has redeemed himself.
    Is this the end of the story? You’ll have to stay tuned.

  2. Comment by Alison

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    Alison December 2, 2005 at 06:44

    Glad to hear it’s finally sorted out. Hopefully that will be the end of your tub troubles for awhile. And I thought our leaky ceiling was bad…

  3. Comment by shannon

    Alison Cornford-Matheson

    shannon December 2, 2005 at 01:56

    Do you think people know that I am referring to/following up on your blog? OK, well I am.

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