Wednesday, August 31, 2011

1976: Have myself a little talk

Secondary school was full of new experiences. Not all of them good.

I had no interest in doing woodwork, metalwork, technical drawing or home economics, the four practical subjects on rotation in that first year. None of them held an appeal so the fact that it was woodwork first made no difference.

Our first project was to make a letter rack. It was simple: three bits of cheap pine. One for the base and two for the sides, shaped anyway you like. No screws or tricky joinery necessary, just wood glue to hold it all together. Easy as pie. But could I do it?

I decided to go octagonal, and needless to say I was pulled up endlessly for the myriad saw slip marks on it. I just about managed to chisel the grooves in the base for them to stand it and when it was glued it was wonky, but amazingly it survives to this day.

Of course, some people - even girls! - were brilliant at it. They probably left school at 16y and now run their own bespoke kitchen fitting company and are worth millions.

So when it came to metalwork I was beyond hopeless. Some people were fashioning house numbers and name plates (think of the handiwork that went into the 25 Cromwell Street sign and be impressed), whereas my bit of polystyrene that you had to assemble then mould into your house number by dipping into the molten metal vat just disintegrated. That vat's only proper purpose that I could see was as a recepticle for a classmates' pens when Mr Smith's back was turned. Anything that could be thrown in, was thrown in. And as for the dry ice and the sulphuric acid...

Why they let a group of 11 to 12-year-olds near powertools, sharp edges, heavy blunt instruments and vats of boiling steel is anyone's guess, as the temptation to piss about was far too great. It was bad enough being let loose with a compass or being around a Bunsen burner. Who didn't put their hand in it? Or worse? It was all I could do not to put Stuart Gill's entire briefcase in there and then die laughing. I'm sure I got letters home. But seeing as these were non-academic subjects, my parents couldn't have cared less. Like when I had a letter home about not trying hard enough in cycling. They just laughed. And as for cookery, that's quite another post altogether.

Anyhoo, this song reminds me of a woodwork lesson in which we sang snippets from and discussed this song as being too American to be believable for the cheesey - and they were - Brotherhood Of Man, though it does remain my favourite BOM song, and perhaps their least remembered too.

I'm still totally non-practical, though I did assemble an Ikea miniature filing cabinet in record time over the weekend and I can change a fuse, put the rubbish out, use a drill and mend leaky pipes. But I won't be making a rabbit hutch or putting a shelf up any time soon.


  1. Me too - hated all those boys-own lessons. Including most of PE. It didn't help that our metalwork teacher (Mr Bivvins) was the pyscho type that would spank anyone across the palms with a metal ruler for keeping their hands their pockets. Nothing appealed to me, the over-heated oily smell, or iron filings and grease everywhere.

    I'm still hopeless at most DIY. painting - perhaps? Drilling - occaisonally! But projects never..

  2. Bless the young you, not trying hard enough in cycling! What did that consist of, exactly? Couple of scoots along the playground with feet dragging on the floor then sod that, I'm off to read Look-In?

  3. Unless you went to Clown College, and they meant a unicycle. In which case, that would have been very bad form.

  4. I didn't really get why I wasn't trying hard enough either, but I do know the teacher had it in for me, so there was that. We used to have to cycle round the town for hours on end, and it wasn't me who got knocked off by a left turning truck. You'd never be allowed to do that today.