Friday Woodworkers no. 10. 3 Dec., 1988.
God, what a start. This is the most depressed morning I've spent in years. I am completely broke, there are massive unpaid accounts and I am almost without employment (this class being one of only 2 days per week I work) and I have a cold. Now, I am usually reasonably tough, so it may Just be the cold that is the trouble. By which I mean that nothing much has changed but that I am feeling it more than I did before, so it must be the effect of the cold on my psyche. Whatever it is, I fail to find the humour in anything even if it's overtly humorous.
On my arrival Hugh is standing in the carpark, having Just been dropped by his very beautiful wife. Now, this is something that really surprises me. There is a habit in people of thinking that age has no beauty. Yet here it is. She has the same skin-deep beauty that a young girl might have, but without any pretence at all at being a young girl. And if I look at the other 70- to 80-year-old people in my class I can see a great beauty in many. Have I at last learnt to appreciate people for what they are instead of what I like to think they are, or is the reverse the case? This needs investigating. But getting back to Hugh: he is standing waving goodbye to her, and both are looking very much in love! What lucky people.
Myrtle arrives (parking her car in the staff car park as though nothing had been said about it 2 weeks ago) and shoots across to the workshop like one with a will to get started. Hugh is moving at his usual 1/2 m.p.h. with his bag of tools. He is making for the main door far along the building. "don't worry, " says Myrtle, "I've got a key for this door," going to the fire door at the car park end of the building. She unlocks it, they both go in. I have a key to this door too, but how did Myrtle get one? She must have borrowed my key one lunchtime and got one cut. Well, It doesn't really matter, but I'll bet it's against the rules.
Several of us have arrived just on 10 o'clock. I actually hear the church clock strike ten (unusual to hear a clock strike in a town these days, isnt't it?) as I get out of my car (being a staff I have parked my car in the staff car park). I have brought the mail with me. It has amongst it lists of jobs, and I am under pressure to apply for one as I have such debts. But I don' t really want to. If I get a job of a regular type I can no longer do my Friday classes, and I suspect I need the classes more than they need me. So I am carrying the jobs lists about not looking at them. But this brokeness affects everything. I have brought sandwiches instead of going out to get some at lunchtime. Yetserday, there was no lunch!
Hugh finishes off his secret mitre dovetail and wants to know what (if anything) is wrong with it. They are very small things, I tell him, and anyway it works. "Yes, but most important," he tells me, "is that now I know how to do one." The thing is, this might seem rational at 30, or possibly my age (50), but at 82?! Will there ever be a time when he needs to know how to make a secret mitre dovetail during the remainder of his life? I must have failed to understand some aspect of being 82.
No matter. He's a happier man than I today, whatever else.
Frank shows me his mirror fittings that he has bought in a famous West End shop. They consist of 8 items per set, but he only has 4 items. There are a pair of screws, one threaded plate and one reinforcing plate. He asks me how it goes together and I have to tell him it doesn't.
Pity, that. He hates going up tho West End, too.
The kettle has gone on very early, so perhaps I am not the only one who doesn't feel too brilliant, I drink hot water, not tea. And have seconds.
Myrtle rarely stops, unless in a bit of gossip, and even then she seems to have something to do. At the moment she is staining a set of mouldings for her pair of cupboard doors. She's staining the bench, her hands, and most passers-by as well. This could be annoying, but the class being what it is nobody takes any offence.
Bill arrives. He draws a wooden bird that looks extraordinarily jolly. In fact, it is to be a toy penguin, and looks something like this:
You just push it along by the stick and the rubber flaps go round flapping and it waddles a bit. Pity his drawing is so much better than his woodwork.
There is a lot of secretive handing round of cards and envelopes going on, and I'm trying not to notice. But being only 2 weeks before Christmas end of term I can guess. These people have been very kind to me in the past, and really it is time I gave them a Christmas present. The problem is that there are about 24 of them in all. On last day of term I shall bring a cake or something.
Funny how people still manage to huddle together and giggle years after they have "grown up". Perhaps in their minds they are still at school. The class announces to me through Patricia that we are having Xmas drinks on 16th. December at lunchtime.
So there! That's it decided then. The people who normally only come for one of the two sessions are going to either stay on for lunch if they come in the morning or arrive early if they come in the afternoon.
Lunchtime tea is made, but no one can find my cup. "I've taken to washing it up," I tell them, "in fact I'm thinking of starting to do the same thing at home."
"When you run out of cups," says Sandra.
My sandwiches turn out to have been squashed to some extent, but a bit of minor physiotherapy gets them back to somewhere near a sensible shape. There are five of us again for lunch. Myrtle says "do you want your coffee now?" as though this is 'as of right.'
What Dickens would have called 'an appreciative silence' ensues while we all have a bit of a nibble. My sandwiches are gone in no time, and out comes the 'C melody'- this is a concert pitch saxophone of a type that has a reputation for being almost impossible to play in tune. It lives up to this reputation until it warms up. Presumably with practice I could make it play somewhere near in tune almost immediately.
I've brought along a book of 'Golden Oldies' with the intention of reading them all straight off. But somehow I can't always. There are some that I don't know and if you don't know the tune it is almost impossible to make it sound good. So I'm crashing my way through these tunes, and every so often coming across one I know. And from time to time either Myrtle or Sandra starts singing. That helps. I go over it again, bearing in mind what I heard them sing.
The people start to drift in for the afternoon session. But it is only 12.30! They don't care. They've got things to do. David the sewing table takes the trouble to stop me playing to tell me that he has been called out of retirement to play timps in Sibelius' 5th. For a timps. player, he tells me, this is a particularly knotty piece.
David Woody Allan arrives. He goes round greeting everybody. He's making a lightweight frame with a sliding door in it. It is to go over a ventilation grid in the wall that is not always needed. He is sawing long thin strips in the bandsaw when Victoria (who likes more than anyone else in the class to tell people things) shows him how to fit the machine up with a 'fence'. This he does, so that when I come along and tell him that sometimes when the blade is getting blunt it wanders and therefore the fence might not be a good idea he is in a position to utilise the pun that he has obviously been dreaming up since being shown. "Yes. They showed me, but I didn't take offence," he says. This frame of his, which is very straightforward, seems to be giving him much trouble. He can't seem to organise a logical assembly sequence, and I am unable for some reason to communicate anything useful to him. Yet, if we get into English Social History or psychology there is no particular difficulty. Does he have a block, or is there some mysterious psychological phenomenom here?
Hugh has decided to make a 'duckboard. ' This is a thing that you put on the ground to stand on in wet weather. It is arranged in such a way that any water that gets on it from your shoes falls through the gaps. He wants it for going out to the washing line. It seems to me that if it is wet there is little point in going to the line. But maybe I've missed the point. Hugh and his wife live in an ordinary suburban house locally, and I find it difficult to imagine washing in the garden. I've never noticed washing hung out in such areas, although it must happen just as much there as anywhere else.
Cholly is really enjoying himself. I don't know where the job is going, but that may not matter. When I ask him if he needs help he tells me no, yet he stands there and does nothing as though waiting for it. Indeed, David (who is on the same bench as him) tells me that he needs help, but he says he doesn`t. Who should one believe?
David is putting the first coat of varnish on his toy box, and it is suddenly looking good. Various class members comment on it, "Good, innit?" says Cholly every time I pass by. Yes, it is, and it now seems enough to keep Cholly happy to be near this pleasing piece of work. He is no longer even trying to do anything on his job, but instead trying to solicit the approval of David's box from all passers-by. I'm glad to see the class seem to like and accept him.
It's 3.30. I'm not leaving yet because I have to do a few things around the workshop. Half a dozen or so of them decide to "just do this before I go," and so I am obliged when asked for help to say that I need to do my own work just now. They potter about a bit and gradually disappear, leaving Victoria only. She rumbles that I am about to fit the storage shelf and offers to hold it in position while I put screws in. "Don't put the leg there where there's already a weakness," she says. Well, maybe I won't, but I don't really want to be told not to. I point out that there's one at each end, and I want one half way. We have a bit of disagreement.
"But I suppose you'll just do what you. want, " she says.
And I do.