There are handmade boxes of drill bits; masonry, wood, metal. Small cardboard boxes of screws in varying lengths. Large toolboxes with pliers and spanners and hammers. The garage is a trove for the D-I-Y hobbyist. It’s now my job to sort it out and find new homes for all these items.
Dad was always building and fixing stuff. Less so in these last eight years, when renting a smart, modern-ish bungalow left little to repair, but he was still the first person to call when any washing machine was leaking, or curtain pole needed putting up. He’d be there with the washers, the spanners and screwdrivers, the electric drill.
When we first moved to Hadfield in 1974, we moved into a three-bed semi on a medium sized relatively new housing estate. Dad couldn’t stop fiddling with it. He’d knock a wall down here, take out the chimney breast there. We (and it was a collective effort, my mum had the job of moving half a ton of cinders from the front driveway to the back garden in a wheelbarrow; my main job was to ‘get out of the bloody way Debbie, stop trying to help.’) built a single storey extension with French windows, and a new patio on which Mum and Dad could recline on sun-loungers, listen to the radio and drink beer.
Dad refenced the garden one year. It was quite the task. We had a corner plot, and the fencing ran from the side of the house all the way to the little gate out onto open land at the back. I’m hazarding a guess at sixty feet. Dad, the engineer, would have been able to correct me. Anyway, it was a long fence. The panels arrived and Dad gave himself weeks to do it. He ran out of nails and with his day job getting in the way of this fun summertime pursuit, I took it upon myself to buy him what he needed. I was used to the ironmongers, would always ask to accompany dad when he needed to pop in to buy bits and pieces. I loved the rows of chains, the drawers full of nails and screws of all sizes, the smell of metal and grease in the air.
‘Pound of one and a half inch galvanised nails please,’ I said. I practically sniffed. I was just your average ten-year-old turning up on her bike to pick up a bag of nails for her latest building project. I may even have leant a casual arm on the counter as I waited for the shop owner to weigh out the nails, scooped from the large wooden box.
I paid, stuffed my newspaper-wrapped heavy bundle of nails into the pannier on the back of my bike and cycled home.
‘Happy Birthday, Dad,’ I said.
He was genuinely pleased.
And, after all these years, it remains the one birthday gift I gave him that I know he used. The fence project continued, was completed. There were other projects – pitch-pine panelling the kitchen, building a shed, but then life took a different turn, and we left that house and moved to somewhere in such a state of disrepair that even Dad’s magic couldn’t make it better. It didn’t stop him trying. His tools, the boxes of screws, moved with us and the little stone shed outside the kitchen door became a smaller, but just as useful trove. It became, after twenty-five years, Grandad’s shed. Dan and Dad would potter in there, Dan asking questions, Dad telling him to be careful in one breath and then letting him have a go with a chisel in another.
By then, Dad was working as a handyman at local nursing home and doing odd jobs for others.
‘My grandad’s a REAL Bob the Builder’, Dan would boast delightedly.
Grandad’s shed became Grandad’s garage with the last house move to the bungalow. It became the place that housed bicycle pumps or, more accurately, football pumps. Dan would play footy at the local Astroturf pitches, a-pound-a-play, and when the inevitable happened he would walk down to Grandad’s and get the ball pumped up again. And maybe have a quick snack of crackers and butter like only Grandad could make, or Nanny’s hot chocolate with the squirty cream she kept in specially. Full of love and sugar, and with the football inflated, he’d head off back to the pitch.
And then it was just ‘the garage’ again.
In the time it’s taken me to get round to finishing this blog, I’ve found homes for the tools. One friend took a few gardening implements. Someone else has taken a few power tools and sprocket sets. I’ve claimed the strimmer and the lawnmower and a crowbar. And the rest have been neatly packed into fruit boxes and will be shipped out to a project in Africa to help others.
The rental period on the bungalow ends in a few days. The charity shops have had their share, the skip has been filled, and my own home contains boxes of photos and mementos to sort through later. Everything is gone. The house is empty. The garage is just a hollow space. There will be no more nails.