Last Friday I met a fella named John. I met him quite unexpectedly as I was cutting through the lovely grounds of the local community house – a converted mansion – whose location has to remain secret for now (I’ll explain in a wee while). Being a nice autumn morning, I was walking the long way around to the supermarket to get a little air and exercise. I work from home doing ‘office work’, and my bum tends to get used more than my legs do at times.
“Hello,” John called out from his seat in front of a fairly unimpressive and small aluminium garage over by the fence of the grounds. Being the highly sociable person that I am (on another planet), I veered off course and went over to him. “What are you doing?” I asked, small talk being something I view as an optional extra the older I get. I also find that I’m not as averse to distraction as I once was, although I’m not sure if that’s to do with being older, or just being able to juggle my time more freely now that I work from home. John, who hadn’t yet introduced himself, gave me a lengthy explanation about something to do with a water feature. It seemed very creative, and even if I didn’t understand it all I’m pretty sure I made the right noises in the right places. But I’m not entirely certain if men really notice, anyway. Then he introduced himself, and we shook hands as I introduced myself in turn.
John went on to tell me all about why he was sitting there in front of a small, unimpressive, aluminium garage. And it was just the right sort of morning to be distracted from my mission with a good story. John had moved into a unit in the nearby social housing complex, and one day not long after that, he got into a conversation with the woman who runs the community house and grounds about said shed. She explained that it was a MenzShed, a place where men (and women, too, now) can get together, chew the fat, and make things using their practical skills – but it was closed up because there was no one to take charge of it anymore. ‘You’re looking at him,” says John. And two days later he had the keys.
I’ve got to admire John, because he’s clearly not a guy in the best of health, yet he put his hand up for getting involved and taking this on.
When he first opened the garage’s roller door and saw the amount of shite in there, he closed it right back down again. Then he got a phone call. Unbeknownst to John the grapevine had been working, and a woman from the Ministry of Social Development rang him. “What do you need?” she asked him. “A bloody big skip,” he said, “by Friday.” That was Wednesday, and on Friday morning the skip (these might be called dumpsters elsewhere) was there. “Thanks for that,” John told her a couple of days later. “Can we have another one, please?” John’s wish was her command, and another skip materialised.
“Now,” she said, “how much do you think you’ll need for tools?”
“What’s the limit?” John asked.
“I’ll give you six to start with,” she said.
“Six what?” John asked.
John nearly fell off his chair.
So the MenzShed got up and running again. Understandably, John’s pretty proud of what he’s achieved so far. Community initiatives like MenzShed are great for social cohesion and mental health. There’s no need to be a social butterfly to feel comfortable, although at this particular MenzShed, I’d imagine that John is social enough for anyone 🙂
I asked him if I could take a couple of photos and write about our encounter, to which he quite happily agreed. “You need a sign on the shed to advertise what it is,” I told him, as I got my phone out to take some pics. To his credit, he didn’t roll his eyes or say “Oooh, what a good idea – why didn’t I think of that.” Alas, it turns out that the shed just isn’t burglar-proof enough right now to advertise its presence to every casual passerby. Looking at the rusted spouting running around the garage, I guessed its age didn’t help it’s lack of robustness, either. Hence why I feel the need to keep its location a secret – just in case my blog gets read by the wrong people, because you know how fascinating the ‘wrong people’ find an older woman’s blog.
After asking me again what my name was – a not uncommon occurrence – we parted company. I’m sure our paths will cross again.