‘Hey Mate!’ The Liverpudlian twang was unmistakeable. The two words rhymed perfectly and the ‘t’ of the ‘mate’ was almost sibilant, hissed through closed teeth, ‘You wanna hand? I’m bored and I can help if you wan’ ’. The speaker, a gangly youth called across the divide between my yard and the big house. He’d heard me sweeping and scraping the weeds and accumulated detritus in my yard. ‘Yeh sure come over.’ The arrival of the youth a few minutes later was accompanied by a torrent of self description, his name, Jonothan and an endearing introduction, ‘I can’t read or write much but I know how to mend a bike.’ My sort of man then.
This was my memorable meeting with the newest member of the Barrowmore community and someone I immediately warmed to. Within half an hour I had been treated to a life history and some priceless pearls of wisdom. I wish I could remember them all. Amongst the best was his description of his favourite pastime, skip rifling. ‘Some people think I’m not normal but I think it’s them.’
A young man of twenty seven, tall, thin as two yards of pump water, sporting various home-crafted tattoos and a stooping way of looking at you like a shy dog, always looking for approval and encouragement. Which of course I gave him. He disappeared to reappear minutes later to show me his bike which he had decorated himself and acquired various parts from Halfords’ skip which he confidentially assured me was the best around, ‘and he had permission to go through it even though he had once been questioned by police for stealing by finding but they had left me alone when I told them I had permission.’
He told me he loved my workshop. ‘A real man cave’ he said, appreciatively eying the array of tools, wood and piles of all sorts in my man cave. ‘Can you help me with a clock?’, disappearing to reappear a minute or so later with two motorbike brake discs and a plastic wall clock. He explained what he wanted to do and I warmed to his creative thinking. He wanted to use the attractive polished disc as the background to the clock and the mechanism and hands of the wall clock to provide the mechanism and hands.
Within ten minutes with Jonothan watching closely and continuing the running commentary of aphoristic truths, interspersed with observations about people’s attitudes to him, I had achieved his horological vision. The glue had to set so we left it and he said he would be back the following day. He had noticed the pile of unicycles and I lent him one, preceded by a quick unicycle lesson. He went away glowing. Lovely. He put the first smile on my face I've had for a while.
The following day arrives Jonothan with bike, rucksack full of skip presents to give and an apology he had forgotten he had to go to see his mother in Chester. He pulled out a pack of new coping saw blades, a reel of soil Ph tester strips and a clockwork Smiths vehicle clock which he said an old guy he used to know had left him after he died. On the plate into which the old man had inserted the clock was a scrap of probably 1950’s newspaper cartoon with the saying ‘It’s a shame to throw it away – there must be something you could make with it.’ A relic of the days when ‘Make do and mend’ were giving way to the affluent post-rationing days I found myself in all those years ago, and in many ways still inhabit.
He made me a present of the clock as a swap for the brake disc clock he had taken back to his room just before.
I now have jigsawed a suitable hole in a suitable location in the lorry for the quietly ticking clock in place of the battery one I had there before. It keeps perfect time too.
I think I’ve made a friend, cemented with a fair clock swap.
All the best from a road near you,