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A Shout From The Attic: The Craftsman

Ronnie Bray recalls woodwork lessons in school - and making a Stradivarius-class pipe rack.

To read more of Ronnie's memoirs click on A Shout From The Attic in the menu on this page. Read also his exuberant Letter From America columns.

Girls learned domestic science, boys were instructed in woodwork. Domestic science was taught somewhere in the school - I only attended for about eleven or twelve years so I had no time to discover exactly where these lessons took place.

We started woodwork when I was twelve. My male classmates trooped out of Spring Grove, gaggled along Water Street and chatted down Spring Street to what was once an infants' school. We had heard that when new boys started there the older boys pushed their heads down the lavatories and flushed them. The thought petrified me. In the event I was not treated to involuntary lavage and never heard of any one who was.

Woodwork was interesting. I spent the best part of two years there. The first year we attempted to make various types of joints in wood: the halved joint, mortise and tenon, etc. I started making a holder for a roller towel but had difficulties getting the ends of the tenons right and my pieces of wood grew shorter by the week. This project was abandoned in an incomplete state. Then I turned my attention and somewhat dubious skill to making a pipe rack. This was when pipe smoking was common. It took me many long months but eventually ended up looking like an impressive rack for three pipes. The varnish was deep, rich, and inviting. I took it home and gave it to my granddad.

One of the lodgers saw it and asked me to make him one. He was obviously impressed by this Stradivarius among pipe racks. I had one more week of woodwork left and the prospect of a quick ten bob for a pipe rack was irresistible. I agreed to make a sister to the Stradivarius. My problem was that I had two hours to reproduce what had taken many months. The result was a pipe rack, but it was no Stradivarius. The lodger gave me half a crown.

I was noted in school for my handwriting. It is worse now than it was then on most days. My scrawl was illegible and malformed although supposedly based on standard written characters of the thirties and forties. I can write as I was taught. Many occasions saw me retained for handwriting improvement - the only remedial attention I received. At that period of my life, which afforded me more spare time than the general population, I made a determined effort to become a calligrapher.

My calligraphy had started with making copies of the title of the Huddersfield Daily Examiner, but my interest declined. Its difficult to get much written when each letter takes over half an hour!

At a later year, I found myself with rather a lot of time on my hands. This unexpected leisure opportunity gave me the time I needed and the effort at good writing made the time pass without boredom. I invented a character set of my own, many of which are still part of my standard writing. I ended up being able to write some beautiful hands with remarkable speed. If I write in a hurry, trying to keep up with a speaker, for example, it deteriorates into a wiggly line that I can not decipher after three days. If necessary I can still calligraph. However, the writing machine has been a boon and a blessing to those who receive my correspondence.

I did not like school and was not often happy to be there. In my later school years, I often made myself absent, choosing to spend my time more advantageously in the pictures. I was uncritical in my choice of programme; any film was welcome.

Most of my school year left in midsummer of 1950, a few at Easter that year and just one or two of us at Christmas 1949. By the time my classmates had resumed school in the New Year of 1950, I had been working for a couple of days.

Have I any regrets that I did not take advantage of the educational opportunities available? Of course, I have. I would be foolish not to regret so many wasted days, so much opportunities swept aside, so much failure of understanding, and so little direction put into my young life by those who knew better.


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