…Me in Good Stead
It was a sad day for all
The day George left the workshop was filled with much well-wishing but it was a sad day and especially so for me. Until now we had both ridden our bikes out of the yard and on up the cobbled streets to see who gave up before we reached Hillgate at the top of the street. His vintage bike clattered along with the rod brakes loosely connected through a series of links. Mine were cable breaks with side callipers applying pressure to the sides of the rimes while his pulled up inside the wheel itself. Such was the time of transition in bikes. Today, tonight in fact, he would board a train with his suitcase and leave work at the bench with me behind and then town too to go and live in a town I knew nothing of called Leeds. There he would start his teacher training course to train as a teacher. I wasn’t altogether sure what I should be feeling, but whereas all of the men expressed interest in his future as a woodwork teacher, for me there would be a huge hole at the bench where he and I had worked opposite each for the past six years. Back then six years was a third of my life, but one thing that I remember most was how unable I was to really express the mixed feelings I felt about my not seeing him every day in future. Once more, as in so many times past, George took up the slack. “I’ll be back to see you, Paul. We can go for a pint. Don’t you fret none!” But though we spoke on the phone for a season, we never saw much of one another from there on. I valued his mentoring and the input he had on my life. I still remember his infectious grinning as my flawed work evidenced against his – along with the speed of my work (or lack of it)!
When George was no longer there I felt much more vulnerable. He had always picked me up when I fell flat and encouraged me when the struggles came. He was also something of a protector when senior apprentices tried it on. This man had taught me most of what I knew in subjects ranging from physics and algebra to history, geography and then of course woodworking generally. He taught me how to survive in the workplace over my apprenticeship. Interactions with others were not always obvious to me and neither were the snide remarks around the workshop. He’d taught me to pick my battles more carefully, not to get to offended unless it was well worth it and then to deliver the goods as succinctly as possible without wasted words. and not to shy away when failures came but to persevere when things seemed to go wrong.
Time to stand on my own two feet
the day George left was the day I finished my joiner’s tool box. It was painted black according to tradition and another joiner who also earned extra as a sign painter wrote my name in white calligraphy in the top right hand corner on the front panel frame. I had been making it whenever I could in the back of the timber racks installed in a large shed where no one knew I was doing it. Proud as punch I wrestled it out of the stacks and racks and walked with it on my shoulders to George’s bench. His smile was so lovely and indeed loving. I placed it proudly in front of him knowing that without his reassurances through those past and recent years I might not have made it. I first glanced at it from a distance as if eying up a painting. His nod gave his approval though there wasn’t really much to see of what was beneath the paint. But I knew the dovetails would have passed muster as I had taken my time with them. Inside there were two tills that would hold the small and longer tools, chisels, gauges and such. These showed the dovetails and I was pretty proud when he said, “These are very nice Paul, well done!”
A lived life making expands
Looking back on my life as a tradesman I realise now the significance of not just apprenticing but too the willingness to actually undertake mentoring when that’s not so much what they are paid to do. But it’s been that way for centuries and of course mentoring can be both good and bad. Of course it was and is up to the individual craftsman and woman to undertake this aspect and up to them how much mentoring they want to do.
Thankfully, with George, it was all encompassing to the degree that he welcomed so much from me that went beyond mere woodworking and work at the bench. George was a moral man, dextrous with his hands and then too his mind and words. Mentoring and apprenticing are not always interlinked as I am suggesting it was for me here. Mentoring is something that grows according to need but also our interacting. These two terms, mentoring and apprenticing don’t always go hand in glove, working with a where caring mentor tar does not compromise the standards but maintains them no matter disallows them ever being dumbed down.
We adults, those of us accepting apprentices, must make a decision to take our apprentices through everything we went through and then add to that the decades of our own ever expanding experiences: the ones we’ve added to life as crafting artisans along the way. Having apprenticed a dozen or two through the years I have seen the standards I have expected then become expected by those I trained too. Currently, my two apprentices are moving rapidly along a steady and progressive path to become furniture making artisans and woodworkers in their own right. This is marvellous to me, marvellous.
A new future is always important
Hovering in my background I have the hope that I can continue my plans to take in other apprentices as autist woodworkers and furniture makers over the next year or two. I further hope that between them I can help steer an enterprise that forms them into a cooperative in establishing their own furniture making work designing and building according to their skills and abilities. By then I may be too old to do more, but it is an exciting prospect for me to think that they will own their future as designer makers. George prepared me for my own future through the things I am teaching you online and then too my apprentices now and in the future. My successes through the years hinge on his simple and pleasant input into me.
It may not be perfect but I believe it is the very, very best I can do. Some of you have and do send in pictures of your successes and it matters to me. And, just so you know, those of you who do indeed send in donations to help my work, I want to thank you here and now. Ultimately, I have now arrived at a point where I want to protect my future work working with autists and the work they do so I am wrestling through things to establish a long term plan for these young apprentices and journeymen. Protecting their future a little more will provide a permanent workplace that nurtures them in their efforts to be craftsmen and women. As the work will be for high functioning autists looking for a future in woodworking and furniture making, I must create a Trust to that end. Who would have thought that George’s influence and favour would pave the way for me to stand as a craftsman in my own right? Now it’s time for many more others.