Karl’s Chronicles Article 52 Benchmark
Two steps up through an open painted door lead one into a garage that has long been overtaken, like the ivy spreading across the outer walls, by the encroaching domain of a workshop. There is no space any more to park the car, which rather like a wild-west horse is parked up outback. The workshop, a symbol of closed-door creativity resonates an English spirit to cut, shape, build, glue, screw, and paint a collection of materials into a work of suburban art and if it combines a practical element as well, so much the better. For hobbyists, inventors, amateur scientists, budding astronomers, artists, and general creators, it unleashes a productive pursuit to happily absorb ones free time.
Spliced between the overlapping fabrics of mechanics and DIY, the work-bench becomes the catalyst to tangible developments mastered from visits within ones Imaginarium. Advanced by technology and gadgetry the workshop can take on the persona of a professional studio. A stroll between the soaring shelves of a hardware store tells you as much about diversity, demand and the merging empires of home improvement and workshop evolvement. But such devices, though labour saving is no substitute for knowledge and ingenuity. Ideas can materialise from anywhere, gathering frequency the more we apply ourselves to the-work-in-hand. Whether it runs as ink from a pen or the moulding of soft clay, creativity like yeast, grows and multiplies under nurturing conditions. There is no difference to the medium or the instruments that give credence to the source within.
Take my late father’s workshop as an example, the tools, the layout, clutter and apparent disorganisation exemplified part of his personality for disorder (how many times had I re-catalogued his Dad’s Army videos?). But the objects he jig-sawed from bits and bobs, unveiled a creative, practical, improvisational mind that said as much about conjuring new from old as it did for widespread jumble.
The workplace had quietly and gradually evolved into a rabble of materials, some associated by functionality, some dropping in like military parachutists, and others swallowed in on creative flurries. After all, the benchmark had been developing over several years, moulded by spilt paint and slopped coffee, discarded rags and leaking teak oil, windswept sawdust set to a Manhattan backdrop of paint-tin towers and wood panel high-rises. Casting an ever-widening eye over this private opus one noticed that layouts were bounded up by foibles just as much as linearity sense.
Biscuit tins stuffed with taps, washers and fittings, stacked up like old expeditionary suitcases beneath a cluster of measuring tapes dangling like tribal earrings. A fine set of wasp-banded screwdrivers lined up with Goldilocks seniority to yoghurt pots full of rulers, upside down scissors and unsharpened pencils. On a nearby shelf, two dozen drill heads lay across a blue cloth, resembling surgical instruments fit for backstreet operations. Miniscule jampots full of assorted pins, screws and bolts took the overspill from a wall of little plastic compartments. Where ever you looked there appeared some double purposed receptacle for holding tacks, clips, and enough rivets to stitch back the Titanic. And regards to nails, there’d still be plenty to spare after hammering together an entire frontier town. Beneath a floral clock that had thrown its hands up at two forty-five stood a uniformed regiment of adhesives, sealants, and fillers, their white ant-eater snouts pointing up to a fattened spider abseiling across its white threaded noose. A jumble of hosepipe and electric cables seemed to recall the busy motorways and their ugly fly-overs. But aside from sanders, drills, plains, lathes, chisels, and piranha teeth saws, it was a faded print next to that untimely clock that made a lasting contribution. A double Oast-house stood across from several men working beneath three fattening haystacks. In between, a dirt road disappeared over a tree-lined hill backed by a pallid sky. The scene pulled him back to his youth, unpolluted by mechanisation in an era where the labours of farming, though still long and demanding, were worthy of halcyon thoughts. Time took one away, memories brought you back, non-fussed with complicated technology and modern-day follies.
Though the work-bench became a pivotal island to the current of everyday demands, it took on a greater definition, especially from a creative point of view in the later years of his life. Coupled with that early period of farm life it would effectively install, with one medium or other, a lifelong attachment.
Son of George William & Hilda Mae Beeney and younger brother to Desmond, Dennis’s immersion to farm-life began in August 1939 at the council farm of Crown Wood in Orpington, Kent. Living on the hem of London placed the family under the dangers of enemy bombing campaigns which necessitated a relocation to Fishers Farm in the Sussex town of Etchingham. By a twisted fate of irony, the farm tooka direct hit, wiping out much of the cottage and several cattle. However, George, Hilda and Desmond remained undeterred, moving into a larger house nearby. Denny underwent evacuation, spending six weeks in the Cotswold’s, returning once the enemy attacks had subsided. The family moved once again when Dennis was eight years old to Langham Farm in Cowsley Wood. With the war over life took on a permanent structure and often is the duty of farm children, both sons completed several chores before heading off to school.
Operating by the mid-1950s, the family had established a contractual company, hiring out labourers and machinery to other farms, certainly during haymaking and harvesting times. The increased labour helped finalise the tasks before the seasons shifted. Under Desmond’s leadership with support from George, the pair founded G.W. Beeney Water Engineers, installing water supplies and drinking troughs across dozens of farms. Dennis oversaw on-site practical work, never being one for office culture. By 1976, Dennis stepped back from the company, turning to construction work before settling as a freelance builder which he stayed with until retirement at seventy.
Farming and building had played two substantial factors throughout his working life. Never content with a recumbent retirement, the workshop provided an ideal opportunity to amalgamate the two. Developing models and concepts, mostly born from the mind than rolled out plans. It kept him busy, chiselling a rudimentary schedule into a bespoke routine, embracing all these decades later a boys enthusiasm towards making and experimenting. Now backed up by endless mugs of tea and coffee (much that fed the bench) and the foot-tapping lyrics of Mark Knopfler. That wasn’t the only rhythm reverberating across the back yard, the dentist’s drill of a wood-saw screeched from No.3 across the road. From a like-minded neighbour who took to his garage workshop with accountant punctuality, you could set you watch by it. Dad didn’t follow such promptness, signified by the clocks outstretched hands in a gesture of why? He didn’t need to be a King of his castle either when the master of the garage was far more sufficient.
Old farming hardbacks plied the sitting room shelves, mingling with cart horses and spit-fires that graced across the front covers. These page-turning museums recalled times from his ancestors which continued to set the backdrop of his youth. So building a threshing barn, a combination barn or cattle housing didn’t prove too much of a problem. All the necessary photos were there in those books, and he retained plenty of memories to know the internal layout as well. The mottle and daub house ‘Tindalls’, where his grandfather was born now stands as an exhibit at The Weald and Downland Museum where the BBC films The Repair Shop. Like scaled-down furniture fit for a dolls house, he would purchase model farm animals to fill the stables and milking parlours. Gifting the gloomy interiors those final authentic details. That same familiar attention to period architecture stood merited in a four circular-kilns Oast house. Consuming one end of the conservatory, and when the Autumn sun falls, the structure radiates the golden days of agriculture and social cultivating.
Old fashioned tools and old hands fashioned products destined for the garden when shelves could no longer support his work. Five bird boxes, a seven-foot dovecote, thirty fruit-tree boxes, a crescent moon, a star-sun, and lots of little signs dangling from walls and glued to the panelling. When cancer passed the thresh-hold of options, he occasionally managed on good days to take respite in the conservatory. Looking into the colourful garden and the things he made, but also looking far beyond the back fence and rooftops to the farming days of his youth. Of threshing machines and wagons, haymaking to milking. Of scenes romanticised by Constable and reconnected by Dibner and Hargreaves. A benchmark and work-bench to assembling things from memories, of modelling the old glories from wood and varnish and allowing creativity to show, that age is never a factor where ideas are concerned.
Home-based hobbies become a perfect deterrent to the lingering empty hours that lock-down has turned a spotlight on. Developing a new skill shouldn’t be only for the young. There is a mind-boggling array of crafts with associated clubs out there. From modelling to Meccano, etching to painting, astronomy to maritime, locomotives to farming, embroidery to calligraphy, sculpture to chemistry. Designing and constructing encourages ideas, expansive thinking and the work-bench, well that’s the starting block for the inventing marathon.
A simply google-search on hobbies brings up plenty of ideas. For model kits that go right across the board for variety, check out www.hobbies.co.uk which also have a member club. Tel 01508 549330.
Another website (watch your spelling as it is close to ‘hobbies’) is Hobby’s which also have a magazine/catalogue dealing in all manner of kits from dolls houses to railways. www.hobby.uk.com Tel 020 8761 4244.
Craft magazines fill another niche with a google search unveiling a whole host of choices. For woodwork ideas, Claromano advertises over 16,000 step-by-step plans to build products from furniture sheds to themed beds. www.claromano.com