About George—Day Two

 

It wasn’t too long before someone said you need to buy a pair of overalls. “Navy blue, mind! White’s for painters and brown’s for plumbers. You can see why can’t you!” I asked why? “Painters are always dealing with white paint and plumbers deal with you know what.” George was in stitches. When he laughed he became uncontrollable; his body  kind of doubled up, he clutched his non-existent belly and rolled along the corner of the benchtop until he hit the vise. His 6’5″ frame was lanky thin and he alone could make anything laughable just by watching his actions of laughing.

 

“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!

 

 

18 comments on “About George—Day Two

    • I fully agree.

      It requires courage to admit not to know to others and to ourselves.
      But it opens an opportunity to make little steps into a culture where we know the boundaries of our knowledge and suddenly we have two options – to learn or to ask someone else. Imho it shows respect, but not servility to the knowledge of other people. There is always a person who knows better or does better in a specific situation than we.

      On the other hand every person is characterised by a collection of imperfections and that is what makes every person not better nor worse, but unique.

      E.

      • Ecky,
        You are absolutely right. The ‘presumption of knowledge’ was quickly and painlessly dealt with back when people such as Mr Sellers were apprentices. It was also handled in most workplaces with new (wet behind the ears) starters.

        Asking when you don’t know does, as you rightly say, show respect. It also increases the chance of doing a better job, doing it quicker, more efficiently etc.
        Many of us have the luxury of being able to ask for advice but we are not bound to take it. (I doubt if Paul Sellers enjoyed such freedom as an apprentice). Never asking for advice is, however, a sure way for an ignoramus to maintain his/her status!
        The way in which some individuals spurn advice has lead to terrifying results. I saw it in my working life and there are leaders of large countries who cultivate their arrogance until they listen to no one and make the most ill-considered decisions which badly affect the lives of the people they ‘lead’.

        To ‘ask when we do not know’ is as obvious to me as the nose on my face and I suspect to pretty much every follower of Mr Sellers. Each of us is seeking advice/guidance every time we log on to Paul Sellers.

  1. It is awesome to hear you relate these events from long ago.
    What would George say if you had a cell phone in your hand or on the benchtop all day? Kids nowadays have this notion of entitlement and cannot understand that their phones should be turned off and stowed away from the work area. It is an ongoing problem in my trade (elevator-lift UK-installation).
    This subject can be discussed endlessly, I am sure. 50 years ago a mallet would render said device in pieces if it appeared on the benchtop after first warning, I am sure.

  2. On the first day of my engineering apprenticeship in 1963 I was told by the Forman “the boss is coming today, when he appears stick a broom in your hand, he likes to see people busy and whatever you do don’t have your hands in your pocket” whilst I watched the foreman work I had that broom right next to me.
    Not being used to standing all day on a rough concrete floor my legs were aching, an ‘old boy’ said “don’t worry lad only 50 years to go”
    One of my first jobs as a boy was to clean the toilet, I will not describe what I found…….can’t imagine my grandchildren doing that…….and quite right.
    I worked with some very clever men making materials handling plant….conveyors, elevators….screw conveyors……..when I was in hospital after a bike crash one charmer broke into my tool box and stole my tools…happy days……..BUT can’t beat retirement

    • Saddened to hear about the tool theft – both my Grandfather and Father both made very clear to me that a mans tools are his livelihood and are to be touched by no one – even the boss – without asking permission first, and that everyone felt the exact same way, no matter where they’d ever worked. Dad has told me about more than one occasion where a tool borrowed without permission, even by trusted friends and colleagues, has led to heated arguments and came close to blows. A theft would have made the man a pariah, not just in the shop, but in the community too

      I work ‘on the tools’ like they did, but instead of wood and metal, its computers and electronics, and instead of a workshop, its in an office. People help themselves to my tools all the time without permission, and cannot understand why i get so irate about borrowing a £3 set of wire cutters or screwdrivers. They don’t understand that its not the cost of the tool that’s important, but the respect that those tools need to be shown

  3. I’d love to read Paul’s autobiography, stories from starting out and when woodworking was supporting a family. Less on teaching, more on tales from a professional woodworker. Not that teaching isn’t important!

    Also, is there a gallery of Paul’s work from that time? How did you get the commission to to build the White House pieces?

  4. I enjoy so much what I learn here, that information has been priceless to me but Mr Sellers outlook and attitude was even more insightful. I often wondered what those first years were like working really as a mere boy – I know 15 seems younger now than when I was that age but were were still basically children. After the first installment of “Adventures With Work” I wondered when all the different personalities would come in to play, not to mention the pecking order that runs through all aspects of society. Dealing with coworkers and indeed the various quirks of some of the men I worked for and with was often much much harder than any of the work I had to do at times – human beings can be complicated … sounds like George was one of the good ones!

  5. I can relate to some of what Paul has said. My first day on the job as an apprentice Tool and Die maker was spent partially in the heat treat room with a particularly surely gentleman.

    I was the grunt for the day and one of my jobs was to man the fire extinguisher when the white hot pieces came out of the HT oven. First time, I was told by the guy – “If I don’t get this into the oil quench bath fast enough, it will catch the surface of the oil on fire. If that happens you hit it with the fire extinguisher. If you panic and run, I will hunt you down and kill you dead”

    I remember thinking at that moment “What did I get my self into.” LOL

  6. Paul, This is another one of your well needed stories. There are days when I forget why am I putting up with other people’s opinions and today I’m glad that I am reminded that in everyone’s world we are going through the same experiences. I’m not the only one and I’m moving on to the next day…”Time to build another project…” Thanks Paul.

  7. One of the ways industry has gone wrong is the doing away with auntie. Auntie was the old man who took the new young lads and not only started them on a trade but taut them the difference between school and the work place.
    You were very fortunate Paul in your “auntie “ a real good un.

    • Funny how their known by different names across industries, but serve the same role. To a mariner, it would be a ‘seadaddy’. Engineers call them ‘greybeards’

      • ‘Pops’ or ‘chippy’ was reserved for the oldest guy in the shop in the carpentry trades when I started out.

        Us younger guys called him Mr.

  8. Paul,
    Please tell me that there’s a plan in the back of your head to collate all these memories into some sort of book. The picture you paint is just as in need of preservation as the woodworking methods you teach.

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