I feel it expected of me to foster the romance of the humble wooden boat builder, hard at work alone in a draughty shed, making an honest crust against the odds in a cruel world, but in truth it’s been a quiet few months on loch Woebegone, or rather beside Loch Broom. The snows of autumn are upon us, the stags are roaring in the hills, the workshop is colder inside than it is outside, but there is not much going on, Viking Boats International of Ullapool, after a busy spring and summer, having fallen on its first barren patch in nine years.
If I had a pound for every time someone told me “you’ll never get rich being a boat builder” I’d be, er, rich. My heart bleeds for all those apprentices we hear are pouring from the training schools...
But all is far from doom and gloom. Praise the lord, for I can hear again., thanks to Bryony, the practice nurse, and what looked at first when she wheeled it into the surgery like a small tropical fish tank. I mouthed a sense of alarm, but she just smiled and stuck this pulsating probe thing in my ear. What was I expecting? A pair of Amazonian ear-cleaning piranhas?
And it worked, detritus fell from my lugholes like leaves from a blocked storm drain, viz: several spoonfuls of olive oil, introduced over the preceding days to soften the wax; several pieces of that softened wax, which had plugged my eardrums as efficiently as those little yellow squashy things, and half a pint of warm water (introduced by Bryony in order to loosen the wax) on the surface of which noxious and probably toxic soup floated a film of glue and sawdust... Suddenly I could hear as clear as a bell, and just as I was getting the knack of lip reading and ignoring calls to do the washing up.
“I see you are a boat builder,” says she, knowing full well that I was, still am. I expect she was waiting for a 1/2in chisel and a lost pencil to appear, as was I (where the hell did that chisel go?) “Occupational hazard,” she says. “Ear defenders trap the wax.” And, so, apparently make you go deaf? That can’t be right.
So, another hazard of boat building: to ‘blinded by a splinter’; ‘crippled by a band saw’ – or starved to death – we can now add ‘deafened by ear defenders’. Time I had the health and safety boys round to close me down, claim for disability allowance and spend the rest of my days on benefits.
Personally, and I am quite proud of the fact, I have never taken a penny in state benefit in my life. I could claim all sorts of things, my income now being well below the bread line. Furthermore, unemployable after 25 years of self employment, alternative occupations open to me are few and far between.
Did consider becoming a poet, to which end I have begun scribbling the odd line on a pad, the most recent of which I will exclusively share with you.
An ocean, an ocean, simply waves repeated,
Ad infinitum, ad infinitum...
Profound, eh? OK, I’m working on it. Becoming an artist was rather more appealing, having discovered for how much they sell their work, and how short a time it often takes to make, compared to humble artisanship, a subject about which I wrote last month. Except I can’t draw (so what’s the problem, you say?)
Having tried writing, maybe teaching is the answer? After all, as the old saying goes “If you can: do; if you can’t: teach and if you can’t teach, write.”
Logic says that, having skipped straight to writing early on in my career, and then having back tracked to a spell of doing, it’s time to move forward again. As my good friend Topher, a boatbuilder who incidentally is now a teacher, is fond of saying: “Whatever your problem, boat building is not the answer...” Trouble is I quite like building boats.