Something Lost

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

Not all learning is in school, but the old ways don't fit in with modern regulations.

Something Lost

There was a park very near to my childhood home where from time to time a tent would appear. Nobody was posted to guard it, so the neighbourhood kids would drift there to inspect it and have fun in and around it. We weren’t aware that an election was to be held, because politics was the business of adults, but we were curious about how the tent went up and how it stayed up even in a strong wind. I can still smell the trampled, bruised grass inside the warmth of the tent. It was of course, the local polling booth where votes were cast on Saturday.

Just the other day, a concrete truck was delivering a load for the foundations of a new house that’s going up nearby. There wasn’t a kid in sight! During my childhood, kids would’ve been there, watching how everything was done, curious and learning about the complexities of working with concrete, which is an art. Of course kids aren’t allowed to watch nowadays for health and safety reasons and if they did, they would have to wear a hard hat, safety glasses and a high-viz jacket and dodge witches hats! I suppose it’s easy to say kids would rather stay inside on their devices, but that might be unfair because they do have homework and they do have sport… but dear oh dear, have you noticed, they do lack curiosity?

A substantial part of my education was when I hung around the men who came to our house or dairy. There was Len the plumber who stopped taps from leaking, dug and piped drains or repaired the hot water cylinder. He would send me to his truck to fetch tools for him, so I quickly learned what a six inch crescent was, or pipe tongs and how to put a thread on galvanised pipe. Frank the electrician came because I had taken the magnet out of my bike’s dynamo, fixed a wire to one point of a light socket, wound it around the magnet and attached the other end to the other terminal in the light socket. It didn’t turn out to work as an electro-magnet, but it blew a fuse in the house and melted a wire or two! So Frank taught me about electricity and his boot up the bum taught me not to play with it. My father bought an ex-army Bren gun carrier because the milk truck’s engine was dodgy. Buying the Bren gun carrier was a cheap way of repowering his truck, so I learned that it’s possible to do an engine transplant, and what tools were needed to do the job. The engineless Bren carrier sat in the yard of Sampson & Son for years, being gradually whittled down for parts and bits of steel. Through watching, I’ve used all of those skills in later life, but nowadays, because of restrictions and non-risk-taking, kids of today don’t have the same opportunity to test their ingenuity.

I earned enough money by hunting possums and selling their skins to buy our first colour television set, but the set had a weakness; if the power went off, a one amp fuse in the back of the set would blow, so it wouldn’t restart. The TESCO man, Mick, lived within half a mile of our place, but he had to travel out from town, twenty five miles, to unscrew the back cover and replace the fuse. There was a big danger warning on the back cover. The cost of travel was more than the actual work, so the second time it happened, I watched him, and later went into town to buy a handful of the fuses. From then on I made my own repairs. Being with workmen, talking and being curious gives young people the confidence to try things; it’s amazing what you can do if you put your mind to it.

Back in the day, there were people who were prepared to give young folk a chance. When I was twelve, I spent half of my school holidays picking potatoes. The money wasn’t great, half a crown per wheat bag – a wheat bag carried 112 lbs or 1 cwt – it’s arbitrary now, but I’m sure oldies reading this will like to hear those words again. We went through the row picking up the table spuds first and back again to pick the seed spuds. The price was the same for both even though the seed spuds took longer to fill a bag. I earned an extra half a crown per day helping to load the truck. The next Christmas holidays I worked at R J Bain & Co., a sports goods warehouse, where I tied the eyes onto fishing rods that I had previously dipped into a trough of paint. There was packing and other warehouse work to do as well. Both of these jobs involved working with older guys so I also learned something about human nature. They called one guy guy was called ‘Sixpence’. It was obvious why, he was a bit slow mentally so he was ‘Sixpence in the pound’. It impacted me enough on me to still remember it after 65 years! Such bullying (hopefully) wouldn’t be tolerated today… but good on the boss for giving him a job.

When I was 15, I was employed by the local hospital during my school holidays. No, not as a brain surgeon, but in the works department; cleaning sumps and grease-traps, fixing slates on the roof, cleaning up after carpenters and painters, washing the ward walls, picking up rubbish, filling in potholes in the yard and once, building a chimney on the head surgeon’s house. The bricklayer was called away urgently so I did my best. The chimney worked, but it wasn’t very straight! Again the experience was better for me than the money. Workers’ attitudes, I found were interesting, and I came to understand that if you did dirty work, you get paid extra and I also learned that you don’t expose your fellow workers by showing exuberance or energy.

It’s no wonder that the youth of today have difficulty choosing a vocation. They haven’t been exposed to physical work nor is it widely understood there is pride to be had in doing physical work. Part of the problem is regulatory, even before a candidate steps onto the work-floor, a small fortune has to be paid out in safety equipment. One young fellow was sent out to the nursery by a secondary school for work experience. He refused to wear gumboots (Wellies for the Brits) that someone else had worn, eyeing some new ones in the storeroom. I wrapped his sneakers in plastic bags so he could do a couple of hours work without getting his feet wet and it demonstrated to him there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

I was inspired at primary school teachers, where else would I have learned about electro-magnets? Mr. Sullivan told us about underground huts and we built ours from the picture in our heads, and it employed for several weeks. Mr. Sullivan had impressed us all by rescuing a girl who someone dived on in the swimming pool, the incident made him a hero to be looked up to. At secondary school I was taught by two All Blacks, Pat Vincent and Johnny Graham, C C Beezar was imprisoned at Colditz while Gordon Slater was some sort of a spy and wrote A Gun in my Hand a novel based on his experiences. Boys like heroes, but nowadays, there aren’t enough men teaching in primary schools, which is another reason boys aren’t so keen on outdoor work. Sure, female teachers are skilled and do their job well, but females generally can’t be expected to know the intricacies of a rugby scrum or shinning up trees … the stuff boys aspire to. So somewhere along the line, we’ve lost something important.


Submitted: October 18, 2020

© Copyright 2020 moa rider. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Back in Black

Well kids today have zero experience in trades of any kind. In the US the trades consist of either Mexicans or grey heads..( older workers ) almost no young apprentices to be seen. Even before the pandemic very few kids even play outside. Their entire lives revolve around a screen. It's sad.

Mon, October 19th, 2020 11:55am

Author
Reply

Yes curiosity and ingenuity has gone. After Pearl Harbour the Japanese quickly took over the rubber plantations and very quickly You guys invented synthetic rubber. But when the Covid thing started you had to import masks and ventilators. It's sad indeed. Usianguke

Mon, October 19th, 2020 12:51pm

Back in Black

When I was a kid my mom after breakfast said out side see you at lunch. We hiked,made our own bows and arrows..built bike ramps,tree houses. We invented our own fun. It made you be creative...that's lost for the most part.

Mon, October 19th, 2020 10:35pm

Author
Reply

Yeah we were much the same. Our parents couldn't find us if they had to. Usianguke

Mon, October 19th, 2020 6:50pm

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