Lifestyles Encompasses Work
I have always pursued work as a lifestyle, partly because I always needed to work to earn a living and partly because I always need to work – there’s a difference. I need work because I love it, I don’t love work because I need it, you see. Getting up in the morning and going to work stimulates much of my early morning before I leave for the shop. As a boy I rode my bike or walked a couple of miles to work through cobblestone streets, rain, snow, sleet and occasional sunshine. I left at 7am and looked forward to stoking the boiler, reading the newspaper as the heat built up and then the banter that went back and forth over the morning news between the men I worked under. When other boys clambered over the stacks of newly milled window and door parts I walked around them, stared at them, picked them up and smelled them one by one. Oak, Kerruing, Merranti, Hemlock, Spruce, Walnut and more wood types were new smells to me and imbibing multidimensionally seemed to satisfy the very soul of my newfound craft. I savoured each different smell and retained the new knowledge as I asked about the woods from foreign climes. Rot resistant kerruing for window sills and sills to doorways. Ugly, dark, wiry, stringy, coarse-grained wood, hard to work with planes, gummy substances exuding with every stroke of my plane and sticking the sole to the wood itself. I’m 15 years old, skinny, so skinny, and I am looking into every nook and cranny for new things to learn about wood from stashes covered in sawdust and cobwebs.
Man and Boy
Some of the men were full of themselves whilst others had humility and peace about them. Some were crude and vulgar, loud mouths even while others quiet and refined. All of them could work wood well. No, all of them could work wood very well. When a machine failed to make a cut for whatever reason they would do it with hand tools just as well and effectively but with more strain on their hard working bodies. The difference between woodworkers then and now is that they could do it by hand, knew exactly the right tool to use and nothing ever stopped the work being done. One time, when I was too cocky in myself, I said something out of order to an older man of around 40. He lunged at me over the bench, grabbed my lapels and lifted me off my feet as he pulled my skinny frame up until his nose touched mine. He remonstrated, “If you ever say anything like that again I will kill you.” I felt the truth in what he said as he dumped me on the benchtop. Respect became mine as I saw the boundary I had crossed. It took a few months before things were healed between us and the past forgotten. We did become friends as I matured and learned more of his harsh childhood and upbringing. I was lucky to be alive.
The Boy Finds His Place
Knowing my place became obvious in the first few weeks as everyone called me “boy” or “the boy”. I recall the first day in work as I was shown around and things were explained to me by the man who was to become my mentoring craftsman. Where to clock in and out at the start and end of the workday, where to brew up, where to stoke the boiler, how to bag the shavings from the power machines (never had dust extraction), I was the dust extractor. My boss, the owner of the company, was a man called Idris Owen. Mr Owen was the biggest conservative snob in the world, an MP and a local magistrate. He drove in on my fIrst day in his Rolls Royce Silver Cloud all gleamy and silvery and asked me who I was. I told him I was the new apprentice. “What’s your name, boy?” he asked. I said, Paul Sellers. In the five years of my apprenticeship including working on his home, his property in Wales and seeing him most weeks at the workshop, he never called my by my name. He always called me “boy”. One day I was in the workshop when he drove into the physical shop itself. He climbed out of the Rolls, stood facing me about 15 feet from me and asked one of the men to “tell the boy to wash the Rolls”, even though I was in plain sight and nearer to him than the man he was talking to was. Such was the conservatism of the time and day. Did it put me off wood and woodworking? I didn’t really realise that the man in the immaculate pin-striped suit and highly polished shoes was so sad a man. I never saw him smile or flip a board of pine to smell the pocket of sap. In all of his riches and throughout the five years of my apprenticeship he never altered, never associated with anyone beyond the most superficial level yet I was immersed in a richness of scents and sounds and shapes and textures I would enjoy for the next 50 years. Class is very much a British phenomenon. I know it exists elsewhere too, but I found my place as each day I learned my craft, absorbed those things that mattered and discovered my lifestyle future. I’m so glad my path was so decided.
Beginning Your Lifestyle as a Woodworker
My path has been different than yours. I learned to respect my fellow craftsmen because they earned it. I saw what I wanted to be as a lifestyle woodworker and made the most of every opportunity until I could come to rest in the knowledge and experience knowing what I could and could not do. If someone tells a child they can be anything they want to be they do that child a disservice because it’s really not true. It’s more important to help them discover their honest potential and what they are supposed to be no matter what that is. It should never be tied to economics or politics, social standing or the successes their parents measure success by unless they truly want the child to find their place. Life has limits and a craftsman finds his limits, the limits of his tools and the woods he works and finds rest within those limits. I found rest in my work. You can plan your lifestyle too. Getting of the conveyor belt and the production line of life doesn’t mean working it full time. You do what you can with the time you have and do it to the best of your ability.