Sunday, 9 November 2008
I hope the owner of this toolbox doesn't mind that I've borrowed the picture. It comes from a page of pictures of a garage workshop - and I love workshops like this. They remind me of my dad, who is not just intelligent but skilled at all kinds of craft. Even in the flat where I grew up, he assembled a range of tools, with small items like nuts and drillbits kept carefully in Golden Virginia tobacco tins.
I wish I had the practical skills of my parents - or that my school had taught me useful things like woodworking. But these were seen as boys' skills. The idea was that we girls would marry. We would sew and cook for husbands and children but husbands would do the repairs. The boys' school included woodwork and metalwork on the curriculum; my brother produced a poker and toasting fork, which were things of beauty but of little use in our centrally-heated flat.
When the cat-flap shattered in a fierce wind, I realised I had to do something about it. I may know that the first reference to a catflap comes in Chaucer (the Miller's Tale) but I had no idea how to fit one. At first I worried. Then I asked my son to choose a new one of about the same size. It arrived with incomprehensible illustrations that were suppsoed to indicate how to fit it. I gave up looking and began to piece the catflap parts together for myself. After a while it seemed clear. I went to the shed to look for the drill and discovered I no longer had one. Fortunately a neighbour lent me a drill, a crewdriver and a pair of pliers. It was a fine, hand-held drill - like the one my Dad has. I cracked, peeled and unscrewed the wreckage of the old catflap and my son and I went to work.
Together we marked the places where the new screws would go and took turns at the drilling. It wasn't easy - the holes had to be very close to the edge of the gap and it's hard to drill at the bottom of a door. I was glad that my son did most of the work but felt quite pleased that I was also playing a useful part. I've never fitted a catflap before.
Gradually we got it in place - not particularly skilfully as one of the screws is crooked. But fitting it at all seemed like an achievement - and a great improvement on the hole in the back door. Joe didn't approve, however. He had thought the hole much better than a catflap - easier to manage. He looked at the new contraption unconvincedly and tried to persuade us to open the door instead.
It's not a great catflap but it has three advantages: it's transparent, it has a magnet which stops it from flapping in the wind, and it can be sealed with a small plastic sheet that holds it shut. I'm not sure Joe sees these as advantages.
Odd jobs proliferate. The washing-line snapped under the weight of sodden sheets which I hung up just before a downpour. We need a new backdoor - and the garden is in a desperate state. Unfortunately work is busier than ever and after 11-hour days I find it hard to summon the energy for anything else, except fencing, which seems to have a brief energising effect. Yesterday my Chinese horoscope urged me to do sport or "relaxing activities like odd jobs." The odd jobs didn't seem particularly relaxing. I chose fencing. They didn't teach that at my school either.