Yorkshire allotment, woodwork

The gate I made from pallet wood

The Reluctant Gardener has been on a woodwork course. It was great even though it turned out to be for people with mental health problems.

I suppose I should have guessed when the application form asked me if the course would help me cope better with daily life. But writers are compelled to craft careful replies to all questionnaires. So I described (with examples) how gardening and other practical hobbies helped me deal with stress. There was supposed to be a waiting list for the course but I was offered a place immediately.

On the first day, I was alarmed to see that the other participants were all male and at least thirty years younger than me. Some had care workers with them. And from the way the organizer talked to me in a loud, slow voice, I realized she thought I had mental health problems too.

Some may agree with her. But during the five weeks of the course I discovered a sobering fact. When people treat you as though you’ve got learning difficulties, you start having learning difficulties.

I went on and on committing what the french term ‘betises.’ The drill wobbled in my grasp and screws went in aslant. I gouged ugly chunks out of my ‘project’ with the chisel. I tried to use the plane upside down – and wondered why no wood shavings came out.

Lovely Tom corrected me gently. He was a gifted tutor with the knack of being there just before someone lopped their fingers off with the circular saw or got dragged across the room by the belt sander. I caught myself hoping that he saw me as ‘normal’ (whatever that meant).

Yorkshire allotment, humour, woodwork

Site of religious pilgrimage

But in the end, the question of who had ‘issues’ and who didn’t became irrelevant. All the group were better at woodwork than me. And they were avuncular, despite their youth. They steadied planks while I sawed wonkily and held my work as I tried to bang nails in straight. One even offered me the bedside cabinet he’d spent five weeks making. The tutor gently discouraged him.  I enrolled on the follow-on course – and the one after that.

What has all this to do with gardening, I hear you ask. Well, my motive was to gain skills that I could use at the allotment. I did and I have. In the garage, at Dad’s old workbench, I made a gate, an outdoor table, a bench and two planters. I also made some cross supports for my raspberry canes that turned the allotment into a site of religious pilgrimage.

My attitude is not that of a master craftswoman. My slogan is ‘that’ll do.’ I’m happy if people can sit on my bench without getting a splinter up their backsides. A lowly goal but enough for me. If the bench falls apart in a year, I will make another one.

On the sideboard he made himself, Dad keeps nine little blocks of different woods, planed and polished to show the grain. He often stands (as best he can at 93) and turns them over in his hands. And smiles. I have begun to understand why.