1 – How to use a hammer.
I was perhaps five, or seven.
lived close to the Savoy
a magnificent Art Deco picture house.
Bill and I were crouched together
behind bushes at the end of the garden.
Hold the handle loosely but firmly.
Throw the head at the nail.
2 – Greasing a gear box is fun.
The gear box was larger
than the tiny engine with its
round-ended horizontal fuel tank
that was the 1949 Seagull outboard
the best known of its day.
The grease was clear, cool, firm
and squeezed in my small hands
through fingers perfectly sized to pack
the cone-shaped gearbox.
During the war the Navy ran them
for 24 hours. It never let us down.
3 – My Eyes were Better than Dad’s.
We were in the asbestos-clad
metal-framed garage that smelled
of petrol, grease, the sea
and fish glue in the double-skinned
electrically heated steel pot.
We were mending something or other
that had small machine screws.
He grumbled how he missed young eyes
and I remember how upset he was.
Now it’s me that misses
the eyes of a young boy who could
easily find the slots of tiny screws.
4 – How to Rust-Proof a Stay.
It was too heavy for me,
the long wire rope as thick as my thumb.
Dad coiled it into the black ring
that was half a car tyre.
There was no sense of the length
holding the mast against the wind
that drove the boat forward.
It was grey, dark and dull
brown-flecked with specks of rust.
He then poured in a mix
of crude lanolin and white spirit
or turps sub as it was then called.
For a day or two or more
the thin brown liquid seeped
around the twists and strands of steel
which were then hung to dry
dripping onto old copies of the Daily Express.
As the spirit evaporated it left
a sticky layer that smelled of sheep,
whose wool it once water-proofed,
now a barrier to water, oxygen and salt.
5 – Glazing a Greenhouse is Fun
It seemed huge, our new greenhouse
sturdy, galvanised frame
glass held in place by zinc strips
built against our ugly fletton balcony.
I had the knack, long since gone,
could produce beautiful smooth fillets
of the delicious mix of white lead and linseed
I’d kneaded warm and pliant in my hands.
I was eleven I think, maybe twelve.
Puttying the roof I sliced a great flap
of skin on my right middle finger
a thin strip stopped it falling off.
A stoic and a scout, I went to the kitchen
to wash and dry the wound,
apply a plaster, went back to work.
Nobody noticed, I told no one.
I still have the scar, can see the small strip.
6 – My Bricklaying is Functional
There is photo of me aged thirteen
in front of the greenhouse, corduroy shorts
laying bricks for a couple of cold frames.
The sides, the slope accurate, the front level.
I’d mixed the mortar, carried the bricks
which were all shapes, quarter, half, whole.
No one had told me to stagger the joints
but they lasted, worked jagged as they were.
Sixty years on my bricklaying still tends
to the organic, not discipline.
7 – Plucking a Goose is Tiresome.
The long neck swayed and the beak
tapped my shins in a parody of goosing.
My arms embraced the soft plump
body and the tail feathers tickled
as I carried the Christmas goose
to the garage where I sat
surrounded by damp newspapers
and plucked and plucked and plucked.
The feathers piled high, bright, white
to be carefully wrapped and tied with string.
My fingers were sore, ached
from pulling the long, tough quills;
today I would sharpen them to a pen
not then; ball points were new, exciting.
The goose hugged to my chest
I’d carry it to the kitchen.
It was most likely me that gutted it
though I don’t remember.
8 – Pheasants need to be Hung.
Fresh killed and plucked
a pheasant is dry and tasteless
but hung for three weeks
and then plucked, they are moist, tasty,
lovely with home-made game chips.
Aunt Margaret was a source
she lived in Norfolk, there was always a shoot.
There was usually a brace, a cock and hen,
hanging in the garage for me
to inspect, pluck and gut.
9 – Sunday was a time for pre-prandial drinks.
I’d cube cheddar cheese,
spike some with cocktail sticks,
pile it in little glass dishes,
It was not long after the war
and Dad’s drink was Pink Gin
the officer’s wardroom favourite.
A drop of Angostura’s bitter
swilled around the glass, shaken out.
A shot of gin and then water.
For Mum it was Gin and It.
Gordon’s with sweet vermouth.
The drinks and mixers were kept
in a saloon wind-up gramophone.
It was curvy, mahogany and burr walnut
now with a shiny mirror in its lid
shelves for bottles, mixers, glasses.
I’ve just remembered the soda syphon
with its heavy dull-nickeled lever and spout,
glass re-enforced with cross braided wire.
10 – I could not trust my mother.
Later I was to learn this of my father too.
© Anthony Fisher February 2015