Monday, May 21, 2012

Real Boys

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?


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23 comments:

libby said...

I suspect you were not the only lad that felt that way.....not everyone is good at 'making' and 'doing'...'words' is your thing really isn't it? When I was a girl I really fancied doing woodwork and such but had to make scones in domestic science....woodwork and wiring would have been much more useful...

Gorilla Bananas said...

Well you'll always have your Lego, which we could call "plastic-work" to give it the appearance of a craft. Clearly, an arty-farty fellow like you wouldn't enjoy doing macho things with metal and wood.

Wanderlust said...

I imagine there were a number of girls who suffered through 'home economics'. Writing is a craft. And you don't get your hands dirty.

Steve said...

Libby and Wanderlust: great minds. I actually would have preferred Home Economics but it was still seen as a girl's subject in my teens.

Gorilla Bananas: you've got me there on both counts. And I kind of like the tag "plastic-work"... though it makes me sound like Katie Price's personal masseuse.

Hannah Denski said...

:D I have a memory having to paint what we wanted to be when we grow up when I was 8. And (don't laugh) I painted trapeze artist walking tightrope... now what class would that have made me? Certainly no factory worker... :D

Steve said...

Hannah: no, but somebody head and shoulders above most other people...!

Hannah Denski said...

Ah, you said it nice! (Class of mean kids laughed at me!?) : )

Steve said...

Hannah: I bet they're all cleaning toilets now.

the fly in the web said...

We had a first year of compulsory sewing and cooking.
I loathed both, being naturally cack handed.
Sewing lasted one term before I was banished to the library.
Cookery two.

I'd much have preferred something useful like plumbing or wiring.

Steve said...

The fly in the web: I swear to God that plumbers and sparkies are immune to all recessions.

Being Me said...

I got to do woodwork, home economics and sewing. Boys and girls did both by my time in Aust. I preferred music, studio arts and graphics. I still do, compared to cooking. I was cack handed at making things from wood, but give me a blank page and I'd write a story, paint a picture or compose a song.

Steve said...

Being Me: I shoulda been born and raised in Oz! I knew it! Is it too late to emigrate and retake my exams?

Owen said...

Shivers... like something out of "The Wall"...

Boys in our school in the US were allowed to take "Home Economics" if they didn't want to take "Shop", which is where I learned to make baked Alaska... which I'll take still any day instead of standing over a lathe with a chisel and trying to make something actually round...

Vicky said...

I am the same as Being Me, going to school in NZ we had the choice of woodwork, tech drawing etc

Steve said...

Owen: I think I would mave made the same choice if it had been laid before me.

Vicky: Australian schools sound well ahead of those in the UK.

TimeWarden said...

It was my French teacher who was the bane of my life at school. I would never learn the thirty words for the test the next day so I always got a detention. The punishment helped neither of us.

Conversely, I had the most brilliant music teacher for whom I shall always be eternally grateful.

And while I'm on the subject, I'd like to dispel the myth that music is a subject for girls or wimps, not that the two are synonymous. To play an instrument properly, for example, you need as much stamina as any Rugby player, as well as considerably more sensitivity and intellect than many sportspeople possess, if you're going to perform the solo part of a three-movement concerto with any degree of credibility!

Nota Bene said...

Head to Ikea, buy a cupboard and then assemble. Think of it as post-graduate studies...

Katriina said...

You have to pity those people who enter the teaching profession with names that are just begging to be gutter-ized (like your Mr Prikhard). My high school principal's name was Mrs Hancock.

Steve said...

TimeWarden: I wish I'd had the brains and the ability to learn music, to learn an instrument. It is one of my biggets regrets that all I can play is chess.

Nota Bene: or detention?

Katriina: anything with cock or bottom in it is dreadful. Red rag to a field of bulls that is. I worked with a bloke called Ramsbottom once. I bet he went through hell at school.

Jon said...

I was pretty hopeless at craft-stuff at school, but over the years (mostly through the necessity of penury) I've become pretty handy. I can't quite match me father (who for some years held a RAF record for stripping down a Merlin engine and rebuilding it in the fastest time with no bits left over), but I lay a mean parquet floor.

Steve said...

Jon: are you available for hire?

Jeneane said...

This certainly touches a chord. It was metalwork and woodwork for the boys and cooking and sewing for the girls here in NZ when I was growing up and at secondary school it was for the dummies. Things have changed like Vicky says, and boys and girls can do all sorts of things with different materials even in the 'Workshop' and there's no stigma attached to doing technical stuff thank goodness.

I might have ended up being a gardener but I still don't like getting my hands dirty. I do wish I had some of those manual skills though - to tackle this old house of mine.

Steve said...

Jeneane: yes, if the stigma had been removed and we'd all felt a little more free to choose it would have been interesting to see what options we would have taken...