Yesterday morning I sewed a lilac fringing onto a turquoise tablecloth and in the afternoon I laid some vinyl flooring. I haven’t felt such a heady mix of butch and femme since I crafted myself a pink satin cummerbund. I’m renovating a caravan. Two caravans actually. If you are to imagine that a caravan is a bit like a tiny house then renovating one is a bit like renovating a tiny house. Or two tiny houses. And in the same way that a house has walls and windows and floors and furniture and curtains and a bathroom and a kitchen with a fridge and an oven and a hob that needs gas and a tap that needs water and a spare wheel that needs pumping up, well so does a caravan. Actually, houses don’t have spare wheels so this is essentially an even bigger job than renovating a whole house. It’s multi tasking to the max. It’s Grand Designs and Tiny House Nation all at once. It’s all going on. I’m renovating the lot. Everything but the kitchen sink. Except…and the kitchen sink.
I’m lucky enough to be able to do all of this at my parent’s place. They don’t know this yet as they are out of the country but I’m sure they’ll be fine when news reaches them that a band of travellers appear to have settled on their drive. You see, it’s not just the two caravans. It’s also Patsy, my beloved 1976 VW camper van that is getting a makeover. It’s fine. There’s plenty of room for all three vehicles. At least there is now that I’ve moved dad’s car out onto the road.
Then there’s dad’s garage with it’s plethora of tools and gadgets and helpful things like work benches and ladders and dust sheets and paint rollers. It also contains a set of six pine doors, three bike racks, all the left over tins of all the paints ever used anywhere ever and a set of golf clubs but I don’t think I’ll be needing any of that. I’ve also found a cupboard with a strip of masking tape stuck to the door bearing the description ‘sanders, router, jigsaw’. Following further inspection it transpires that this would be much more accurate if it read ‘dad’s secret wine stash’ for the cupboard is chocca with bottles of red. This will be the ‘special stuff’. Some of these wines will be at least three years old and may have cost anything up to £7.50.
Recalling the last time I rummaged around in dad’s garage and stumbled upon a jam jar full of urine (“Well, your mother was in the loo and I didn’t know how long she’d be…”) I decide to only borrow what I need and use my own tools wherever possible. This is probably best on all accounts as dad’s tools are very precious. When I look at his selection of hammers and screwdrivers and chisels and trowels they are the same quality, wooden handled, well looked after and cared for tools that I watched him work with as a child. When I was a child, not him. That is impossible. Although some of these tools are probably that old and may indeed have belonged to his father. To Pop. To a time when you looked after your stuff because things were made to last. There is something really rather special about handling equipment that has been well utilised. The weight in the hand of a good solid piece of kit that has seen a bit of life and been employed by generations. I’m reverent as I remove the caravan’s interior covering with dad’s wallpaper scraper. Deferential when I hook out unwanted staples with his pliers. And it is with a great deal of respect that I pee into his jam jar.
I’m frightened I might damage or break something. Imagine, all those years of conscientious regard ruined in a nano second. Then I hear my dad’s voice say “They’re just tools love. They’re there to be used.” In my head this is accompanied by strains of a song by US singer-songwriter Catie Curtis, “Dad’s Yard”.
“So if you need something
When times get hard
You can probably find it
In my Dad's yard
And if you need hope
If you're coming apart
You can surely find it
In my Dad's heart …”
These tools have been used to build me a bed that hung from the ceiling, a hutch for my rabbit and a case for the clarinet I begged for and then never played. These tools built our coffee table. They carved a tiny black horse to replace a missing chess piece and chiselled the wooden heads of a set of six hand puppets for my brother and I one Christmas. And as dad worked with wood, mum worked with fabric. Sewing the mini costumes for the puppets out of scraps of material, hemming a pair of shorts for my teddy bear and adding badges to my Brownie Guide uniform. Just as dad’s tool box has a history, so does mum’s sewing box. And the sewing machine I used this morning to fringe tablecloths is the same sewing machine she used to fashion me countless outfits in the ’70’s. People made their own clothes back then. Mum would often interrupt me half way through a ‘painting by numbers’ project to ask me to thread up a needle for her so she could clatter away at that machine. Altering an old dress of hers to fit me, fitting elastic to a spraydeck for my brother’s canoe or knocking up a trouser suit in hot pink or purple featuring a flowery complimentary fabric for the collar, the puffy ‘lamb chop’ sleeves and the inset in the flared trousers.
And so it is, that while mum and dad enjoy red wine at £1.88 a bottle in Spain, I’m borrowing their stuff. Their house, their drive, their tools and their appliances. What is curious is that while I am inhabiting their environment I also seem to be assuming all their little idiosyncrasies. How we laugh at the fact that dad always has elevenses at eleven and lunch at one. At how mum pulls the curtains the second it gets dark and always has to ‘have the news on’. Not only am I adhering to the usual rules of the house - close the doors to keep the heat in; spray the shower screen down with ‘screen clean’ after each use; turn the lights off when you leave a room - but I am completely adopting the behaviour patterns of the usual inhabitants of the property. In other words…I am turning into my mum and dad. I’m osmotically ageing.
At about ten to eleven this morning I started to crave a coffee. I struck up a conversation with the postman. I took the bus for one stop. I cut short a call to ‘directory enquiries’ because it’s “too bloody expensive”. I sprayed down the surfaces and did a wordsearch. I put my used teabag on the small teapot shaped ceramic dish next to the kettle and I settled down at 5.15pm with a G&T and a dish of nuts to watch Pointless. Before I know it I’ll be ‘popping out for a paper’, complaining that ‘peppers don’t agree with me’, or doing a quick ‘hoover through’. Things will start ‘giving me jip’, I might ‘have a fall’ or ‘take off my cardie so I feel the benefit when I go outdoors’. Before I know what’s hit me I’ll be weeing in jam jars and leafing through the Betterware catalogue.
Good lord, is that the time? I need to pop to the village for a few items and it’s free parking until 10.30am. I’ll call in at the butchers and get some nice chops for tea. I might even pick myself up a scratch card, I’m feeling lucky. Right then, best be off if I want to be back in time for elevensies.
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