Monday, September 21, 2009

Plywood dreams

I need to frame a memory for you, a memory I have of a man called Pop.  When I was growing up, Pop lived across the road from us, in a cottage in the yard. The cottage was part of the farm we lived on (although it no longer functioned as such).  Pop was in his eighties, or at least very old, and he lived with Jean and Tom.  He wasn't our Pop, but he was presumably theirs, and it didn't cross my mind that we should call him anything else.  Jean helped clean our house, and Pop sometimes came over to join her for a mid-morning coffee and to eat drippings of lard on toast.  He always wore blue nylon overalls; the uniform of the nearby tannery where he'd worked in younger years.  The smell of the leather-curing chemicals lingered in the fabric.
Pop kept bantams and spent most of his time in a small shed which backed onto our chicken run.  He sometimes threw seeds and bread rusks to the birds over the stable door.  Inside his shed, the whitewashed dry stone walls were dark with dust and cobwebs. The sheets of corrugated plastic on the roof were covered in dirt and the place had the musty, fungal smell of droppings and feathers.  Jam jars of shrapnel, nails and netting staples were balanced on makeshift shelves.  Pops' bantams roosted above him on a support beam and the floor was wood chippings and sawdust.  It was not a place in which I ever lingered, but that gave it a curious appeal.
Pop's shed didn't beat my dad's for size or tool quantity.  In dad's shed the rafters were packed with coils of rope, rolls of chicken wire and folded fruit netting. Any size of hammer, spanner, chisel or screwdriver was available, snugly held between nails in the walls.  The work bench was as thick as a mattress and deeply etched with the scars of earnest sawing.  Dad's shed smelled of creosote and weed-killer and produced things on a grand scale like guttering systems, paint-stripped grandfather clocks and pheasant coups.  But Pop's shed produced toys; plywood creations for my brother and I.  Tool sheds were indeed wonderful.
Among Pop's toys for us there was a dolls house; two levels, four rooms. I loved it even though Barbie's legs stuck out of the window if she lay down in her bedroom.  He also made a fort for my brother.  I think Jos can still summon up the fury he felt when unjust parental arbitration meant that I was allowed fort-playing time - even though it was his.  The last creation was a stable that, having no interest in horses and being more familiar with cows, we turned into a bull pen.
With that shared, it might go some way in explaining why I decided, that in the absence of a San Franciscan Pop, it should fall to me to make my children a building out of plywood.  I've chosen a garage because cars have had an enduring presence in our house for a while now.  Here's what I should have known before I started:
A project like this should NOT be attempted without a tool shed.
We do not have a tool shed.
It really is cheaper and much, much quicker to buy a toy garage for your child.
If you produce a saw, a three year old will want to have a turn.
Working out the size of a drill bit in fractions of an inch is beyond my maths skills.
Max and Oli will have moved on to Star Wars before the project is actually finished.

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