It starts innocently enough.

The impulse to fix something that’s broken is hardwired into humans. Especially humans at a cocktail party. Casually mention a leaking hose bibb and the room will empty as everyone goes outside to ‘have a peek’. 

“Let me give it a yank”, someone will say.

“Let me give it a try”, comes a second voice, then a third. We’ve arrived at the “Hold my beer” moment in the evening

“Righty, tighty; lefty, loosey”, is unnecessarily intoned.

“Whadda we look like? Amateurs?!” This mock rebuke is met with back-slapping endorsement.

“Righty,tighty; lefty, loosey”, is unnecessarily intoned.

“I’ve got a wrench in the trunk”, the voice rises above the rest.

People step back to make way for a hero. There’s wide agreement that anyone who has a wrench in his trunk – someone who travels with tools – will be able to sort out this pesky problem in no time. While he’s gone people share stories of the time the sump quit working. The time a squirrel died in the chimney flue. The time they dislodged seven single socks from the washing machine drum.

Photo by Matt Artz

Wrench Man returns but to no avail. People now want to shut off the valve on the other side of the hose bib. This will necessitate the whole crew now crawling on their bellies through the crawlspace. And just where do they think you, prior to their arrival, shoved all the stuff that routinely accumulates on the stairs? The unsorted, un-packed Christmas decorations? The old coffee maker that’s kept for backup purposes? The bag of styrofoam peanuts you’re saving for a friend’s upcoming move? The illusions you work so hard to fabricate are being shredded. Welcome to the crawlspace. 

No one can find the shut off valve. I’m not sure why but someone volunteers to run home and get their tool box. I ask, jokingly, if an acetylene torch will be required. The reply is delivered with utmost gravity: he doesn’t think so. As cocktail parties go, this is getting weirder.

Photo by Rob Lambert

Yep, humans love to problem solve.

My most recent foray into deep DIY country was when I decided, based upon YouTube videos, that I could re-tin my Mauviel copper pots. Honestly, it looked so easy.

I ordered the necessary materials: flux, tin pellets, wadding, and gloves. I assiduously prepared the pots. I co-opted the handiest fellow I know and we set up to perform the task.

… the tin melted like the bad guy in a Terminator movie …

Everything went according to plan. When the tin melted like the bad guy in a Terminator movie we high-fived. The molten, shiny metal swirled around inside the pot. We followed the instructions, and here’s that word again: assiduously. Again and again, we tried. Again and again, we failed.  That tin just wouldn’t stick.

Photo by Heather Gill

I called the tin supplier. I did a deeper dive into the subject of re-tinning. I took a night course and got my welding certificate. (Just kidding.) I bemoaned the fact that professional re-tinners are few and far between. In fact, it seems I’d have to send my pots to Ontario or Seattle if I want them professionally re-tinned. 

So, the question becomes what do you do with a batch of old, value-dense copper pots and pans?  And what do you do with your supply of tin and flux and wadding and gloves when your attempts – assiduous attempts – have failed?

Well, for the time being, the whole shebang is going – yep! – into the crawlspace. I guess I could host another cocktail party and invite the guy with the acetylene torch – I bet you he’s willing to give re-tinning a try. And if not him, then the guy with the wrench in his trunk. There’s gotta be somebody in the “Hold my beer” school of DIY who knows what to try next.

This week’s question for readers:


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Submissions to last week’s question:

Did you backpack Europe? What were your experiences from going abroad? Any lifelong friends?

It was edging into fall of 1979. It was a time of adventure and memorable experiences for young lovers as we utilized Frommer’s book to guide us through England, Scotland, and Eurorailing through the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and finally Greece. Three months later we learned the lesson “if you can’t travel with a person, don’t bother getting married!” It may not have been $5 a day but Arthur pointed the way to museums, hotels, must see’s, and when to see them. We learned so much about the world, and about each other and the travel bug remains for this couple who have been married for 43 years. 

Patrick Newby

It was the mid-70s. I’d completed my nurse training and worked at the Montreal General Hospital, saving every penny I could. Filling my yellow aluminium framed backpack and leaving a brief last Will & Testament with my mother, I set out for Europe – the unknown.  Through some eleven months, I set foot in almost every European country, including Greece.  It was there, on the little island of Ios the course of my life was altered.  Barefoot and mini-skirted one night in the Ios Club I danced with a handsome young Englishman. He became my life partner; we are now married forty years.

Derinda Marteinson Fitton

It was the 60s!  After university and working to save some money, I headed for Europe, pack on my back. By staying in hostels and hitchhiking, I usually succeeded in living on $1 a day. The most expensive place was Scandinavia, but it was worth it. Not only was the scenery amazing but because that’s where I met my future husband, an American. We met in Copenhagen, had our first date in Stockholm and married two years later. In our 40 years together, until his death, we travelled often: Africa, Asia, North and South America. I still love to travel.

Carol Weinstock

It was 1971 when I took a three-month career break to hitchhike through Europe on a shoestring budget. Entire days and nights could be spent at the side of the road, but the experiences I had and the interesting and often generous people I met, made it all worthwhile. Always intrigued by what was next over the horizon, trains and buses took me through Turkey to Afghanistan. I returned two years later to do the “hippie” trip in a Volkswagen van that I bought in Amsterdam with my now wife and two young children. 

Ron Lauria

I have a 1966-67 edition of “Europe on $5 a Day” in very good condition with no missing or marked pages.  Do you think it is worth more than the original price of $1.95? I tripped around Europe before backpacks and runners. I climbed the 463 steps of The Duomo in Florence in high heels and saw Mona Lisa at the Louvre, pre-plexiglass.

Myrna McGregor

My wife, Diana, and I spent six months in Europe in 1969, travelling all over the U.K., south as far as Greece, then back through Italy, France and Spain to end up in a very wintery England again. Of course, we did it with Arthur Frommer’s Europe on $5 a Day. If we diligently followed the guidebook we could do it on $5 a day but that was pretty skimpy living. We travelled by motorcycle, tent-camped all the way, and only stayed in hotels four nights in Athens and Paris. When we got back to England in December, motorcycle travel on black-ice roads finally drove us into a rented Volkswagen van. We had a $5,000 budget and came back with a bulging wad of unspent traveller’s cheques and lives broadened by the experience. 

Larry Emrick

In 1970, when I was 22, I took a 13 week bus tour for young adults through Europe. We camped in tents, cooked most of our own meals and it was wonderful! One highlight was meeting my Scottish penpal whom I had been writing to for 13 years.  I visited her a couple more times and she and her husband have visited us here three times.  I was also fortunate to make two trips to South Africa to visit my tent mates and we still keep in touch today. Over 50 years of friendship from one trip through Europe.

Pat Parkhouse

My UBC graduation present to myself was seeing 17 countries in Europe. I worked six jobs during school to pay for it. I arranged an au pair job in Paris, a Eurail pass and a 52-day Contiki bus tour with 54 other young people. I am still in touch with one friend from that trip, (a Kiwi) almost every day.  That trip changed my life! I’m writing this from Australia, and I will hit my 112th country this year, having done all seven continents and all seven new Wonders of the World.

Danielle Bretton

“Europe on 5”- Thanks for the memory! I carried this guide around Europe with my sparse backpack contents – couldn’t bring myself to disembowel the sacred book, as others did, for only the parts needed. And it helped in Britain for $2.40/day (or 1£ Sterling, the exchange rate in 1970). With Frommer’s tips, our budget was: lodging – 75p for youth hostel or pension, food – 75p, likely starch with no protein or veg & the remaining 90p – a princely sum for local transport, admission fees and the occasional 1/2 pint of bitter at the pub. Intercity travel – there was no money for expensive Eurorail or BritRail passes, so it had to be thumbing.

Jan Gauthier

I still have my edition of Frommer’s guide that we used in 1964 when my friend and I spent four months in Europe and Great Britain. We did not backpack as my friend had a bad knee so we travelled with our Eurailpasses and Five Dollars a Day guide, which served us very well! Mr. Frommer suggested that we should go to Norway if we were in Scandinavia.  I liked it so much that I ended up marrying a lovely Norwegian immigrant to Canada. Among many virtues, being Norwegian, he had me hooked. A man from that beautiful country must have something good!  And yes, he was a good one!

Marsha Unheim

It was September 1971.  We had new passports, cheap nylon packs and a three month Euro-Rail ticket.  We travelled north to south with Europe on $5 a Day as our bible.  It listed the inexpensive pensions with some meals, excellent cheap or free food, and highlights not to miss.  Exchange rates were good and with train seats that slid down to make a bed, accommodation could be free.  Delis provided delicious cheese, meat, and bread.  With wine for .50 a bottle we were set.  Florence – bed, breakfast, and dinner – $3.50 each.  Paris – steak, spaghetti, bottle of wine – $3.75

Marg Crosby-Jones

In 1963, a student charter allowed my husband, our two year-old and I to travel  around Europe on $5.00 a day each.  This fifteen dollars covered hotels/B&B’s, food, galleries etc.  The expenses for our Renault were extra.  We had a stroller and fold-up bed for the baby and off we went for three months.  So many fond memories of a time long gone. Now grandson carries on the tradition, but with two children, two car seats and a double stroller. Yikes!!!

Sandra Schemmer

I went to Europe on a Contiki student tour, and it was 35 amazing and glorious days! I was 20 and  it was my first trip out of the country. Visiting seven countries and absorbing the different sights, culture and food made it the best trip of my life in the four decades that have passed since.  We were put up in all sorts of places, even a horse barn converted into a dorm! I went with a friend from college and we are still in touch today. 

Sherriey Y.

Frommers was high end!  Our Bible was  Let’s Go Europe and Lonely Planet. I left Vancouver right after graduating from  high school in 1980.  Fiji, New Zealand, Australia , Singapore for the first year and half and then onto Europe where I met up with my brother and travelled with for six months. The other day we re- read our journals. What fun recalling all the people we met and the adventures we had.   After touring Acropolis in Athens, I wrote what a marvel it was and all the history that goes with it.  My brothers entry was something along the lines of “A bunch of rocks – no big deal”. Oh to be young again, a backpack stuffed with all your belongings along with a baguette and jar of jam.

Penny Barnett

In 1971 fresh out of University and with $500.00 in my bell bottom jeans, I headed to Europe with my then boyfriend. With our backpacks stuffed full, we boarded our flight to London and began a two month hitchhiking adventure.  A highlight: camping amongst olive groves in an island off Yugoslavia!  After 11 countries, many great rides and experiences,  we made our way back to London, broke.  We were able to camp,  cleaning the campsite bathrooms every morning,  in lieu of payment. It was many years before I returned to Europe. Older, maybe wiser, with a bit more cash and minus the boyfriend.

Lynne Moran

Your column brought back faint, but fond, memories of the three and a half months I spent in Europe in the summer of 1963.  (Jeesh, that was 60 years ago!)  A classmate and I flew to London where we bought scooters,  travelled to Norway, where we worked for six weeks, then travelled through six countries in Europe before sailing back to England from Dieppe (an emotional visit).  Our bible was “Europe on $5 a Day” and I think we were able to do that, budget-wise.  I don’t remember any brothels but I do remember staying in a school dormitory near Notre Dame in Paris for the equivalent of $.50 per person per night and refilling our wine bottles from large casks in nearby stores for about the same price.  A major reason for cheap European travel back then was the favourable exchange rate between the Canadian dollar and the various European currencies.

Clark Woodland

After graduation and a few months at my summer job it was off to Europe on a freighter with a rucksack and Frommer’s “bible”. Used the guide for a few weeks in London, bought a car cheap as it was left-hand drive, inconvenient for England, but perfect for Europe. Frommer saw us through France, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar, back up to Switzerland, Austria, (then West) Germany through Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Holland, back to London and, eventually, home. We found many great and cheap places to eat and lodge with Frommer’s guide, places we would never have found on our own. We departed Canada in the Centennial year and returned to find a new PM none of us had heard of, some guy named Trudeau!

Tom King

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