“Over here!” George said to me. “That’s where you will be working when you’re on bench work and I’ll be keeping my eye on you.” He pointed to the vise on the opposite side of the bench he worked at. His side was loaded with hand tools while my side lay empty. He took out a #4 Stanley plane for below the bench, then a few well worn chisels, a mallet and a tenon saw. “You can use these until you get your own. “Take care of them or I’ll take them away and it’ll be no woodworking for you.” I picked up the plane to look at it and George jumped in. “Wait till I tell you you can touch them and we’ll look at them together.” I liked that. The way he said it. It was nice.
I started to turn the vise and George said, “Listen, Paul, is it.” Just to let me know how small I needed to become. “You can’t touch things until it’s time and it’s not time yet.” I put my hands in my pockets and waited to be told. I soon understood that sudden moves, actions without instruction and disappearing from view were unacceptable actions. George really was a happy soul, but he was preparing me to work with others beside him. I saw that when my arms and legs were needed by another craftsman to lift, move or transfer something from one place to another. “Ere, boy!” that’s was my call and that was what I needed to answer to quickly and without question no matter what I was doing. “JUMP!” from one man meant for me, ‘How high?’
I soon settled in. Or at least I thought I soon settled in. It was a steep and unending learning curve but not at the benchwork so much as the complexities in the personalities of individual men. Some liked each other, some tolerated each other and some hated each other. Social status within the working classes was extremely complex. Inverted snobbery depended on many things, what religion you were, and that meant which Christian church you went to, which council estate you lived on, what side of which street, what your parents did as working men and women, what car they drove if they had one, what bike you rode and so on. These were the nuanced differences dividing ordinary working people. I had never met this to date. In the ten-men gang surrounding me there were a thousand opinions I had never heard of let alone thought of. All I wanted was to work wood. Siding with anyone else’s view other than the man you were working under could make your life hell for days.
It was George that steered me through from bench to bench forewarning me of who to be wary of and not to cross. When the “Boy” call went up George leaned his long legged frame over the bench, touched the side of his nose and gave me insights as to what was about to happen. He was always right on. It seemed like my stock answer had always to be, ‘I don’t know.’ A boy’s opinion always raised eyebrows, sideways glances followed by a ‘Uhoo! Get you!