(I am going to be away from the blog for a few days, probably until next Monday. Nothing dramatic, just to let you all know I will be doing my best to catch up on everything when I get back.)
I must be in a reflective mood today, as I got to thinking about how many times we try things, in a long life. I remember my Dad telling me, “If you never try, you won’t know if you can do it”. He was talking about swimming at the time, but as he had just let go of me in a sea-pool, and I had almost choked on the water, I didn’t get his point at that moment.
The next thing he wanted me to try was to be good at sport. He was the sort of Dad who wanted his son to be the winner, and the sporting prowess of his own youth drove him on. I tried playing football, even though I obviously lacked the natural talent that marks the gifted player. I finally settled for being the goalkeeper, at the age of eight. In my first Sunday morning match, I let in (or failed to save) seven goals, and the team lost 7-0. After that, they chose a different goalkeeper.
I did manage to do quite well at running, at least over short distances. I was chosen to run in the 100 yards for my primary school, and very excited. However, when the day came, my Dad was unable to attend the sports event, so never saw me come first, just that once. When I was older, I tried Hockey, something of an unusual sport for boys at the time. My Dad got me a professional hockey stick, but never managed to find the time to watch me play in a match. And I did OK too.
As I got older, he decided it was time for me to learn to try ‘manly’ tasks. Things like digging up the garden, using power tools, and servicing car engines. Although I had little or no interest in such things, I had to try. My skill with carpentry was non-existent, and that seemed to infuriate him. Perhaps because he was a trained carpenter, and assumed that skill would be inherited. The workings of car engines were also a mystery to me, and I had a tendency to drop important tiny parts as I fumbled in the depths of the mechanism. Digging was easy enough, so I was set to hard labour, re-modelling the large garden under his tutelage.
Next, I had to try to learn about hanging wallpaper, and painting doors with gloss paint. Once again, I tried, but had no apparent skill in these areas either. My brush left bristles in the fresh paint, and the folded wallpaper stuck to itself, before tearing. Dad concluded that I wasn’t trying hard enough, and preferred to do it on his own. When I stated “At least I tried”, he shook his head in disdain.
Once I was grown, married, and living in a place of my own, I had many new things to try. After much effort, I did manage to plumb in a washing machine, but a friend was giving me instructions over the phone, I confess. I bought an electric drill, and was so proud when I managed to put up a series of curtain poles, and a whole wall of shelving. Admittedly, the poles may not have been completely level, but at least one side of the curtains closed easily. Facing facts that I was never going to be a useful house painter or wallpaper-hanger, I paid a professional to do those jobs. I reasoned that I was providing much needed employment for the tradesmen concerned.
I even tried my hand at electrics. Changing plugs was easy, but that lulled me into a false sense of security. I rewired a fan heater, and very pleased with myself, I plugged it in, only to blow everything in the house. At least I then had to learn a new skill, replacing a fuse wire. When we bought a new central light, I decided that I would try to attach it to the fixture in the ceiling. But as I hadn’t thought to isolate the live connection first, I managed to blow myself off of the step ladder, and received a nasty electric shock into the bargain. After that, I employed electricians.
Cars were still a mystery, though I could manage to change a wheel, replace oil and air filters, and even once repaired a carburettor. For anything else, it was a trip to the car dealer, and an expensive bill. The time came when I despaired of trying anything, as I was convinced I would fail by default. Even house plants died in my care, rarely lasting a week. Trying to trim decorative bushes in the small garden resulted in lots of dead shrubbery, as I had presumably cut too deep, and at the wrong time. My wife at the time began to despair of me ever being able to do anything, and made her opinions known to all.
When I applied to join the Ambulance Service, she counselled against it. “You hate blood, you are not a practical person, and you cannot even watch an operation on television. How are you going to be able to do that job?”. “I won’t know, until I try”. Was my reply. So I tried, and for once, I succeeded. Not only did I manage to learn the necessary skills, I was very good at the job too. At the age of 28, I had finally found something that I could do, something that not everyone else could do too.
I can’t tell you just how good that felt.