Thomas Patterson: Build It And They Will Come
My grandfather was very good with his hands. He could build anything, from impressive dolls’ houses with tiny lifelike furniture, to full-sized rocking horses, sanded and varnished to a quality that would make professional woodworkers weep, and small children weep even more because they weren’t allowed anywhere near these beautiful toys, lest they got their sticky fingers all over them and buggered them up.
My father, likewise, is rather handy, with a shed crammed full of tools and a desire to repair and rebuild the family home with a zeal that makes Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen look like a modest wallflower (although we’ll ignore his attempt to install a sliding door through a load-bearing wall or the time he redecorated my bedroom after a gin and tonic too many and I spent my childhood with upside-down wallpaper).Which makes it all the more baffling as to why I’m so useless at anything with a hint of craft or design. Or mechanics. Or electrics. Or any kind of knowhow that extends beyond pushing a button.
A candlestick I made for my mother in a school metalwork class ended up with edges so sharp it was more lethal than a flick knife. A bust of Marilyn Monroe’s head I carefully moulded from clay transformed the ravishing screen siren into a hideous gargoyle, once I’d pulled it from the kiln and then cack-handedly applied three layers of poster paint. And let’s not talk about the time I spent two hours incorrectly rewiring a plug and then shorted the electrics of the entire street back in 2002 (to the people watching the finals of the World Cup, I apologise for ruining the climax. FYI– Brazil won).
Yep, when it comes to making and mending things, I am what the French would call ‘un idiot’. I’d like to think that I’m not alone, that this is a 21st-century malaise affecting all cosseted city-dwellers, a disease turning us into namby-pamby men and women who couldn’t work a tin opener, let alone a buzz saw, and who think that a bench vice is a new type of illegal sex act that could see you banged up for one to five at Her Majesty’s Pleasure.But I know that’s not the case. The Guardian newspaper is constantly giving away supplements meant to teach us how to build artisanal saunas out of twigs and hemp and I have plenty of friends who can actually make stuff, such as my pal who crafted his own banjo from Arkansas wood so he could sound both creepy and inbred to a highly authentic degree. There’s also the casual acquaintance who hooked up an Oral Exciter to a motorised torque wrench loader and nearly gave himself a heart attack.
All of which has got me worried. What is my worth to the world? What can a person who can’t actually make anything offer to a planet with a rapidly expanding population, a planet in which those who remain passive consumers rather than active suppliers will find their worth increasingly diminished, thanks to their meager skill sets. And most importantly, how am I going to come out on top when the Apocalypse hits? See, when the End of Days comes round, and leafy west London looks more like the set of Mad Max – Beyond Thunderdome than the Good Life, I want to make sure I’m one of the cannibal overlords rather than a malnourished sucker in a leather codpiece being led round like a pet. I clearly won’t achieve this simple aim if I’m unable to make a rudimentary crossbow from the charred remnants of Epping Forest or hot-wire a car by pressing together two cables I’ve ripped from the dashboard, like they do in the movies.
To which end, I’ve set myself the task of overcoming my ham-fisted ways. I’m going to learn how to make stuff. I’m going to build a record turntable solely out of peanuts and Blu Tack, and whittle down an old oak tree into a three-inch Peruvian nose flute and I’m definitely building some sort of shelter out in the mountains with a plasma TV and one of those taps that instantly produces boiling water, just to get a head start on Armageddon. But first I’m going to try to correctly rewire this plug – and I apologise in advance if you live on my street and were hoping touse your Hitachi Magic Wand for something like a massage. But, hey, do what I’m proposing. Use your hands.
Thomas Patterson is a Journalist and Screenwriter. His areas of expertise include Psychedelic music, NASCAR, G.K. Chesterton and Louchery.