We’ve just moved into a new house. New to us though it’s bones are over a century old.
In the rear garden sits a small shed. It’s appearance similar to that of our new dwelling. classic Melbourne weatherboard. Under its steep pitched rusty steel roof, the paint peels, there are a couple of small windows in various states of glazing and a faded pea green door. The inside is small and cosy. Strewn with cobwebs that could be older than me. Whilst I know nothing of this sheds past glories it is already dear to me. My grandfather was a shed enthusiast, his was a different style (and calibre) and on a different continent but I can feel his spirit here.
Years after his death he speaks to me, metaphorically, reminding me to measure twice and cut once. I do my best but I’m not the craftsman or engineer he was.
At school in the 80’s, I fumbled my way through wood and metal work classes. As punks and skins, we were far more interested in sniffing wood glue than we were in utilising its bonding qualities.
Back then you’d have sooner requested a haircut from a chainsaw wielding lumberjack than ask me to ‘fix’ or ‘make’ something.
In my early twenties, Grandad would ask me to help him with jobs around his house. He had polio as a child and struggled to walk, climbing was not an option particularly in his later years. I accepted his requests with the grace and dignity you’d expect from an unemployed, rebellious, dreadlocked crusty. I could barely disguise my frustration at having to get out of bed before midday to help some old codger fix his stupid roof.
He’d call out instructions in a vain attempt to supervise proceedings. He wanted desperately for me to do a good job, for both our sakes. I’d be on the roof swearing under my breath. He told me “when you screw down the plastic corrugated sheet make sure your gentle or it’ll ….” at this exact moment a squeaky plastic crack rang out across Carpenders Park. I could hear his words but I chose to ignore them. Who did he think he was, telling me (a faux anarchist) what to do? I took orders from no man. I also had more important shit on my mind, an animal cruelty rally to attend, some angry music to listen to. I needed to get the fuck off that roof as quickly as possible and smash the Tories by walking around London in the pissing rain with a placard. That plan worked well, didn’t it. Thirty years on and England still has a bunch of posh school boys/girl at the helm, robbing the poor to feed the rich.
On another occasion, myself and my cousin were drafted in, to concrete over his front garden. He could no longer manage the upkeep of his beloved plants and required step modifications with a smaller drop and longer runway. Without it, Grandpapa wouldn’t be able to walk safely from the elevated street down to the entrance.
I was in charge of mixing the concrete. I think it should have been three parts concrete one part sand, whatever right. I was too busy laughing to hear his concreting wisdom because every time my Grandfather bent over he farted. I and my cousin were in hysterics, whilst the dignity of an elderly gentleman crumbled into something that might once have been tatters. I’d never seen him so annoyed and he turned on me, “that mix looks too sandy.” “It’s fine Grandad, ” I said amid stifled guffaws. I think he may even have grumbled “fucking kids.” He left, we felt so awful it took us a full ten minutes to wind down to a modest chuckle.
I returned to my mixing without amending the recipe. I didn’t know what I was doing and I didn’t care. What difference could a bit of sand make? Quite a lot as it turns out. The edges of the step crumbled, not significantly but enough to prove Grandpa’s point. Every time we walked down those steps together he’d tap them with his walking stick and say “I told you there was too much sand in the mix.” He’d shake his head and continue. All I remembered was the hilarity of the day.
But now things are different. It’s taken my Grandfathers values the best part of half a century to resonate with me, but finally, they have. I now take pride in my work, do my best, learn from my mistakes. And last but not least, I pour scorn on those who do ‘shonky’ repairs, even though I’m clearly not qualified to make such assessments. And I know exactly what he means by ‘fucking kids.’
Now I’ve succumbed to my Grandad’s values I couldn’t be more pleased. He was a talented and good man. He modelled a great work ethic. I love him and I miss him. My life was tough as a child, full of abuse and fear, without him and my Grandmother I’d likely not be here today. I owe them both a deep gratitude.
If I’m to do my Grandfather any justice I’ll have to get a move on. I’ll soon be too old to get up on my shed roof and I’ll be farting uncontrollably when I bend over. But that’s fine because I have a daughter who’s not only a great climber but has the inherent genetic ability to ignore the advice of those with age and experience under their expanding belts. After all, what do we know? She also believes flatulence to be one of the highest forms of humour, again that could be genetic, though it appears to have skipped a generation where my Grandfather was concerned. And when she’s my age she might well be glad she failed to completely reject the values I’ll try to pass on to her, the ones I inherited from my Grandad. Thanks, Grandad.