Getting my hands dirty

My grandfather would say to me: "Work with your hands, not with your head."

He was professor of history at Calcutta University; and he was an avid sportsman. His physical prowess was unmistakable. I have nostalgic memories of him wading through the flood waters to the market. He would return laden with goodies: mouth-watering mangoes, delectable sweetmeats, and fresh fish.

My grandmother was a diminutive women; unassuming, but as sharp as a tack. She ran the household like clockwork, and lectured in poetry during the day. When I was an infant, she accidentally dropped me from a rickshaw, and I landed on my head . I attribute my many deficiences to this incident!

I arrived in Melbourne as a 3 year old. I was a placid child, and found it hard to assimilate at school.

My father was a pioneer at the "Camberwell Trash and Treasure Market". I was about 10 years of age, and on Saturday mornings, he would drag me from bed at 5am. We then gallivanted around searching for garage sales. The afternoon was for sorting through and cleaning our newly found treasures, in preparation for the market day.

The market instilled in me a fascination for re-purposing unusual objects. By my mid-teens, I was able to identify many timber species, and place antique furniture into different eras and categories. It was Rustic and Naive furniture, however that grabbed my attention.

My senior school years were checkered. My father continued doing the market religiously. But my attention wavered. I became engrossed in Tolkien's "Middle Earth" . Sherlock Holmes became my champion, and I discovered Bob Dylan. I started to wag classes, and developed a pathological fear of exams.

I passed matriculation with mediocre results; but enough to find a place at University.

Uni was a romantic notion: lounging in the quadrangle, smoking cigarettes, hobnobbing with fellow students, and flirting with girls. I took no interest in studying. To the utter dismay of my parents, I decided to abandon uni without a piece of paper, and took off traveling. I came back a year later disillusioned and afraid. I had no qualifications, no money, and no direction; reality bit. How was I to survive?

I tried a few menial jobs, with indifferent results. In desperation, I started doing the market again.

Around this time I was introduced to meditation. This helped me re-gain my poise. During one of our sessions, my teacher made an announcement : "Do business; It's in your blood."

My father's 5 brothers were business men. My mother's side were academics. But I needed to get my hands dirty.

I taught myself restoration and French polishing, and tested the waters on unconventional furniture pieces: I wasn't enamoured by the shiny, glass-like finishes of antiques, and I experimented with boiled linseed oil, shellac, and beeswax, in search of a different look.

It was late one night; I was working on an early carpenter's bench, that was gnarled and covered in scars and nail holes. I had applied the final coat of polish, and stood back to scrutinize the piece for flaws. It had a light lustre. As I ran my hands over it, I felt the grain, and the age-old patina; it was soft to the touch. There was nothing to change.

When I turned to Recycled Timber, I started off using similar polishing techniques, and found the timber responsive. But that's another story, for another blog.

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