What's In A Box?
Around ten years ago life was at a low ebb.
Work had dried up and I was drinking like I'd just got off an oil rig. I ended up crashing at my Mum's house in a small town at the top of the Pennines, miles from anywhere - unless you count abandoned lead mines. Still, for a small place it was friendly enough and I soon became a regular at the nearest pub.
The other locals were mainly eking out their pensions on pints of Guinness and games of low stakes dominoes. Come last orders every night the curtains would be drawn, the smoking ban lifted and while the wind howled down off Fiend's Fell we'd chat increasing amounts of nonsense at each other. The cast always included Sam, a whippet thin ex-fly-half and sometime poet...Tom, an original early 60's mod (old enough to be Paul Weller's Dad)...and, at the sound of time being called at the bar, in would walk Bart, with the telltale missing digit of a seasoned woodworker.
After a few weeks Bart invited me to join him in his workshop. He made presentation boxes for some very high-end clients, and I was struck by the contrast between his cavernous workspace filled with dusty antique machinery and the intricate, detailed work he carried out. A large order had just come in and he needed a spare pair of hands, so I jumped at the chance to help.
Over the following days I was given a series of repetitive tasks. Each of them required a serious level of precision, and while Bart never lost his temper he'd let me know soon enough if my work wasn't good enough. Eventually the small piles of tiny parts began to form complete boxes and I began to understand why he put so much emphasis on attention to detail. This was work of a higher standard, where the sense of touch is as important as that of sight.
We worked late into the night on the final day, double-checking everything before packing them up for collection. Finally, Bart handed me the last remaining box and told me to keep it. We walked up the lane towards the pub, just as last orders was being called. Bart spent the rest of the evening trying to persuade me to take over his business. I was flattered, and it felt like I had passed an interview, but I was convinced that my future lay elsewhere.
Sam, Tom and Bart are all gone now. News of their passing filtered down to me in London, where I'd begun to make a new life for myself. I'll always be grateful for their companionship and encouragement at a time when things weren't working out too well.
I'm busy making boxes again for the first time in years this week, and I've got the box I made with Bart right next to me. A reminder of what can be achieved if you get the little things right, one step at a time.