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Around The Sun: Dad Made Me A Mechanic

Steve Harrison tells in glorious style of a father-son relationship.

For more of Steve's vivid life story please click on Around The Sun in the menu on this page.

My dad was a very creative man, an enormously practical person. He may have been strapped for cash but he was never short of ideas.

We needed a shed. We didn't have enough cash to buy one. Dad was a fork-lift truck driver. There were lots of wooden pallets lying around at the place where he worked. Now I'm not saying he stole them...but some of them gravitated to our house. Dad dismantled them one by one, then he began to build. Bit by bit, as if by magic, in the space of a few weeks, a garden shed appeared.

One day dad decided to keep chickens. More pallets gravitated towards us. A chicken run appeared behind the ever-expanding garden shed. The neighbours disapproved. They did not like being woken at crack of dawn by a crowing rooster. But boy, when the day came for that bird to stop crowing, he sure tasted good!

Our back yard was a mess. Beside the shed the grass was knee-deep, hiding rhubarb and other vegetables. We did not have a lawn mower. Every couple of months or so dad went to a nearby garage and bought a can of petrol. He doused the grass, set it alight, then sat back and rolled a cigarette while he watched it burn. We kids loved the sight. There is something hypnotic about a fire. But then, panic! The fire was threatening the shed, the house... We raced around with buckets of water. Of course there was no garden hose. Part of the beloved shed would be damaged. Another pallet had to migrate from dad's work.

Other men sweated as they mowed lawns. Our dad was smarter than them. The black smoke which curled into the sky on lawn-burning day was a symbol of his ingenuity.

The clean white sheets that had been hanging on the washing line when the lawn-burning began, sheets now covered in soot... Well, they could be washed again. Though perhaps dad could give a warning next time... Though he never did. It was all spontaneity with him.

When the last flame had died, the last flit of smoke had wafted away we would sat around admiring the destructiuon. A blackened expanse of garden. Within a week or two new bright-green shoots sprang up. Nature’s a wonderful thing.

I was willing to follow my dad anywhere, drive with him to the ends of the earth. I just loved hanging out with him. He used to take me to the markets. Sometimes he had a stall selling wool and cloth that had conveniently fallen off the back of a wagon. I would sit by him, never saying a word. Then he'd say "Get us both a ham sandwich and a mug of tea.'' He would give me a couple of shillings, and off I would go. "Sit here,” he’d say “mind the store, I’m off to see a man about a horse.'' I was his ever faithful lap dog.

On Saturday nights, after the market had closed, he bought hot pork pies, fresh from the oven. Juice ran down my arm to the elbow. I demonstrated extreme dexterity by licking it off. Boy I loved those pies!

My father had a considerable mechanical ability. He had done some dodgy deal to acquire an old motor car, a Ford Prefect I think it was. He couldn't afford a road fund licence. He put an old Guinness label on the windscreen. He assured us that from a distance it looked like the genuine thing.

If a hose needed changing, or the battery, he always asked me if I wanted to help. I was always eager to do so. Dad sat on a wall and rolled a cigarette, ready to supervise. "Just open the bonnet,'' he ordered. I did so. “Now do you see those two nuts at the top of that square thing. Get a spanner and slacken them.'' He drew on his homemade excuse for a cigarette. By the time he had smoked it through I had changed the battery. “All you have to do now is turn the key in the ignition and see if she starts. Brilliant! We have ignition.''

One day the engine needed to be replaced. He had obtained a reconditioned engine from somewhere. Did I want to help? Is the Pope Catholic?

There he sat, giving directions. From time to time he came over to inspect what was going on. As if by some divine cue along came a couple of burly Samaritans to help lift the old engine out and the newish one back in.

“Okay son,” dad said, rolling his umpteenth cigarette. "Now you've got to do what you did before, but this time in reverse.''

I dropped spanners, banged hammers, and dad smiled. There was no doubt he was proud of me. He didn't say much. From time to time he came across to peer under the bonnet.

"Now son all you got to do is re-attach the battery leads and turn the ignition.''

Phew we were there at last! But would it work? Actually neither one of us had any doubts that it would work.

I jumped into the driver's seat, and turned the ignition key. The engine roared into life.

Dad beamed from ear to ear.

We drove triumphantly round the block.

My dad was a great mechanic. He could supervise the fixing of anything.

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