Perhaps it was the wiggle nails that did it. Anyway, they are my first memories of construction matters ín my young life. And my earliest association with a sense of ineptness over practical concerns.
Actually, the wiggle nail tag was attached to my father first, after he used them in a manner deemed to be extremely crude by my mother. Who, incidently, could never claim a title for possessing any special practicality.
For those unfamiliar with the finer points of joinery and cabinet-making, a wiggle nail is a flat-plane corrugated steel fastener which is used to join two timbers, by hammering the said fastener into the two. Deftly and with due care and skill with the hammer. I recall my father approached his constructions with more vigour than skill, with the result that both wiggle nails and timber suffered unwanted mutilations. Not to mention thumbs too, and frequently his muttered oaths announced yet another injured digit. Mother laughed, which did nothing to improve either injury or humour.
Wiggle nails became synomynouswith woodworking crudity, and my father’s impracticality. And , just a little later, with mine. I can’t guarantee that wiggle nail is the technical term used to describe those curious little fastening thingummies, but it should be. Personally, I think it is perfect. I also doubt that any cabinet maker worthy of his title would be seen dead using a wiggle-nail.
Anyway, let us simply record that we were never a family which distinguished itself with artisan genius. Always a feisty child though – brattish would be a gross exaggeration – I sought to reverse that stigma. Not necessarily with great success. While my friends craftily created from scraps of wood swords and tommy-guns realistic enough to blunt the bravery of the most distinguished foe, my efforts were rewarded with mocking derision. My would-be enemies died laughing. Oh the cruelty of children.
How I loved my first tree-house though. I constructed it in a blackwood tree, pruning away its branches first sufficient for it to cradle my architectural masterpiece. That poor tree suffered such an indelicate dismembering that it never survived to see old age, for when I had outgrown my treehouse phase, the result of my effort was deemed to be such an eyesore and the tree so irreversibly disabled that it was sawn off at the base. A callous act which probably caused enough psychological damage lasting into my adult life that I could sue my parents into penury for their insensitivity. Perhaps I will, all my other get-rich schemes having failed miserably.
To be fair to them though, they did support my initiative stoicly at the time I hatched my design, and indulged me to the extent of turning a blind eye to the vast pile of lumber which I appropriated from the sewage system conveniently under construction in the neighbourhood at the time. And indulged me even further by supplying me with what must have seemed like an extraordinary number of nails of varying sizes. The sheer weight of the steel which I drove into those timbers must have represented some sort of revolution in building technique. If weight approximated to strength, then my cubby-house would have been indestructible, and was certainly a testimony to the durability of that descrated blackwood tree.
Whatever its shortcomings, many hours of joy were whiled away in that arboreal palace, and in hindsight it represented the foundation stone for all the magnificent edifices which I have undertaken to build in the years since. Mind you, I had to overcome crippling criticisms. For years afterwards, whenever we were driving through the countryside and any member of the family (except me; I maintained a stony silence) sighted a building in an advanced state of decay, or leaning at a precarious angle in its delapidation, it was always gleefully pointed at, and referred to as a Bone House. My nickname at the time was Bone: the origin of that epithet shall remain a dark mystery to you, dear reader, and I trust that you will be respectful enough to dignify my embarrassment without comment.
My family’s scorn failed to dent my determination to master the skills of wood-working. In my first year of secondary school, I eagerly enrolled in the carpentery class, under the august tutelage of old Herbie Stern. Perhaps he wasn’t so advanced in years, but merely suffered from premature aging due to disappointment in the achievements of his young proteges. After a whole year of tireless effort on my part, he awarded me with a C minus for the teapot stand which resulted. One full year, and all I was able to produce was a wobbly, wonky teapot stand, consisting of a small flat square(-ish, in my case) affixed to two crossed lengths of wood. it was all those bevels that were impossibly difficult for me to perfect. That is reasonable, surely. Fiendishly difficult. Herbie did not think so, and he frankly discouraged me from perservering for a second year. I suspect that if I had tried to insist, he would have refused outright.
I guess that old Herbie’s point struck home, because I shied away from carpentery altogether for more than a decade, and the closest I got to working with wood was delving into wood pulp in the form of books. I had hung up my hammer, shelved my wiggle nails. Such was my disillusionment with teapot stands and bevelled edges, that I thought I may never drive another nail again.
Fate works in mysterious ways though, and ten years later I returned with a vengeance. I decided to build my own house. I don’t mean this in the normal sense, of approaching an architect with vague ideas, transforming them into his design, then contracting a professional builder and his team to put it all together for me. No no, my perversity knew no bounds. I was determined to do it all myself, from concept to reality. And what material would I choose to fashion my castle from? Rock? Or brick? Metal-framed with pre-fabricated cladding and plaster walls? A roof of tin or tiles? No, no ,and no to all the above. I chose wood as my medium, of course. I know, you are probably thinking that I am a complete nutter, or at least a true masochist. Perhaps you are right.