Until I was around seven years old my father was just this man that drifted in and out of my life. He was kind, gentle and patient, and when he visited with us he always had toys for my baby sister and me. They were made in his off-duty time at sea, from whatever scraps of wood he could find, mostly old ammunition boxes.
For me a sailing ship, whose sails were made from old charts, you could see that when held up to the light. And another time a naval destroyer, I sailed the seven seas in her with my toy soldiers acting as crew.
A pram for my sister. It had arrived late one winters afternoon, and dad had to go search the dark streets of East Wemyss to bring Heather home. Dad found her running up and down William Street, pushing the pram almost as big as herself.
The household pets at that time were my dog, a three-year-old Border Collie named Fluff when I moved Fluff moved. We would walk down to the old Schoolhouse in the village together, at the gate Fluff would sit by the gate until we all lined up at the ringing of the bell, Boys in one door, Girls, in another. When we had all trooped inside, Fluff would then turn tail and head for home. Mum, never needed to tell Fluff the time, no matter what he was doing or where he was, as soon as it came time to collect me from school, he would make his way back into the village and sit by the school gate until I burst from the door with fifty other children. We hardly ever went straight home, the world was a wonderland for a boy of my age. There was the woods to explore, the burn and the old castle on the headland. Fluff and I slew dragons that lived in the deep cave, hunted under rocks on the shore for crab, but in general, we just got very dirty and very wet.
Heather had her kitten, the poor cat had a dog’s life, dressed up and hurled around in her gaily painted pram. Another time dad brought her home a butterfly. It had wheels and a long handle, when pushed along this beautiful creature came to life, it would flap its wings with each revolution of the wheels. It went everywhere with her. Wow, betide anyone who tried to take it from her.
When dad hung up his sea boots, we moved to West Fife dad had taken up employment in the local colliery, and mum, at last, had a home she could call her own, her own council house. Dad built a large workshop in the back garden and fitted it out will electricity from the house. It was his special place where he kept and could work on his motorcycle. I spent a lot of my time in that workshop, dad had the patience of a saint, never raising his voice even at my daft mistakes. He would simply go over it again, and again if necessary.
I did not do well in primary school but at eleven we were streamed, clever clogs went on to High School, those that were deemed to be able to go on to apprenticeships, and those that were making heavy weather of their studies. I made it into the second of these three groups, where all the time spent with dad in his workshop paid off. We spent a lot of class time in the woodworking and metalworking workshops, I could not be happier for I could already handle tools, both in wood and metal, well.
My days now are all about keeping active, I cycle a bit, scribble a bit, and have my own little workshop bench set up in my bedroom, there for those dark and cold winter days. There I wile away my time in there, mostly wondering what I have done with my day, for little of substance seems to emerge. But is that not what hobbies are all about, just enjoying time spend doing something you enjoy?
But why crude little toys?
Toys free to a good home.