I was never a real boy at school.
I think I realized this most plainly when I encountered metalwork and woodwork for the first time.
While other boys took to the tools and the glues and the heat and the physicality of the work with gusto I felt my heart sink in my chest. Horrible, loud, dirty, brutish work. Urgh.
Which makes me sound like I was a fop. But I wasn’t. I was just a wimp. And like all wimps I was not at all confident with activities that required physical input.
It didn’t help that the two teachers for these classes were stereotypical old school brigadiers. Both had bristling moustaches and the haunted eyes of those who’d seen action in WWII. They had no time for wimpy boys. What they were forging and carving were not shoehorns and mug-trees but boys into men.
My woodwork teacher rendered himself unapproachable during the very first lesson by announcing that his name was Mr Pritchard and woe betide any boy who thought it amusing to remove the “c” and replace the “t” with a “k”. He gave at least half of us in that room an unasked for complex that bordered on Tourettes whenever we had to speak to him. In the end we just called him sir. But Mr Prikhard stuck mentally.
I can’t remember the name of my metalwork teacher. I only recalling him holding up a big metal file in our first lesson and announcing in a voice that sounded like it had been blasted by superhot metal filings that it was a “flat bastard”. This did not augur well for future learning under his hands.
For two years I persevered – until it came time to choose my options and I could drop both subjects. In those two years I produced a shoehorn (which I still have), a towel holder, a wooden tea tray that would best serve a teddy bear’s picnic and various misshapen off-cuts of wood and metal.
If nothing else it taught me that the factories of industry were not meant for me. I couldn’t drill a hole straight to save my life and could only saw wavy lines. If I’d been in the A Team I would have been the one making tea while everyone else built a tank out of a dustcart and an old fridge freezer.
I didn’t, in truth, like getting my hands dirty. And I still don’t. Oil, grease, grime, grit. They do nothing for me. Lord help me I even turned my nose up at glue. I think I built a total of 3 Airfix kits as a child and they, all of them, resembled something that had been cocooned by a giant funnel-web.
I just didn’t have the finesse or the dexterity. Or, just maybe, the will.
I don’t even know if they offer woodwork and metalwork at school any more. When my eldest boy starts secondary school in September it will be interesting to find out. I suspect his opinion of such things will be the same as mine but these things are not set in stone. I do know that precious few chose woodwork or metalwork as a study subject when the time came. Only those that saw them as an easy option. The same lads did “gardening” too though I daresay such pursuits would be termed Agricultural Studies now.
Do we choose our social class or is it foisted upon us?
I do a white collar job now. Never done blue. I would never have survived in a factory. Not back then.
And yet, I get an inkling every once in a while... a desire and a wish to learn a craft. Crafts are good. Maybe I have enough confidence in my own abilities now to actually make a decent job of that tea tray?
And as for the shoehorn... well, what can I say? It still works. Maybe more than Mr Pritchard’s name stuck over the years?
Maybe that bastard did something good for me after all?