This is a work of fiction, any resemblance to persons living, dead or otherwise is purely coincidental. The ideas and thoughts that follow are pure fantasies. In real life, at the very least they would be unpleasant and probably illegal. Fantasies are like that; daydreams where we can contemplate and imagine the sensations without suffering or inflicting the pain, despair or humiliation.
"Shi-eet!" The crash of a hammer and the clatter of wood falling to the floor, followed the expletive. Looking up and seeing Leonie O'Connell looking upset, and hearing Mr. Singh shout even though he knew she wouldn't hear, I went to her and touched her arm. Tears were in her eyes when I picked up the pieces and we looked at the way the wood had split.
"Sort her out if you can, Ian, I can't seem to get through to her," Mr. Singh called out.
I knew why he suggested me. His beard and the way he hardly opened his mouth to speak, didn't allow Leonie to read his lips and with woodwork being my star subject, I could advise and help her. I knew she hadn't wanted to take woodwork and had almost no previous experience of the subject, but it was the only class with a place free when she arrived after the term had started. Picking up the remains of her work and with the eyes of the class on me, I led her to my bench. Taking the notepad she always carried, I wrote, 'Not your fault, the wood is crap, the method wrong. Come to my place after school and we can sort something out.' A very bold move for me; being somewhat shy, I'd never had a girlfriend and normally I kept away from them. My woodwork projects and model yacht racing kept me occupied.
Leonie, mostly we call her Leo, arrived at the school a week after the September term started and they placed her in my form. Mr. Danvers, the form teacher, explained that she was totally deaf but could read our lips if we faced her and spoke clearly, but because she'd never actually heard the words, her pronunciation might be different to the rest of us. Of course many of the students took the piss out of her, knowing she couldn't hear what they said, but I knew many times she read the words, even from a distance and her face registered her perturbation. You would think sixteen year olds would have more compassion, but no, egged on by their friends, many taunted her when no staff were around. I felt sorry for her but didn't do anything about it and left her alone to retreat into her own silent, and seemingly friendless, world, hence my describing my note as 'a very bold move'.
"I'll have to ask mum," she replied loudly enough for everyone to hear and cause me some embarrassment.
I took her to the 'design corner' of the woodwork room and tried to discuss the type of container she really wanted. Mr. Singh gave us the brief for our exam projects at the beginning of term nearly a month previously: 'Design and make a container (box, chest, cupboard etc.) for a specific purpose using wood as the main material. Produce a folder of your design ideas and the methods used in the construction of the container.' I'd decided on an elaborate miniature chest of drawers to hold mother's jewellery. She laughed when I suggested it, "Your father's a joiner and makes boxes all the time for other people and has not made anything for me since we courted. I have to wait until my son has a project before I get something else. Are you going to supply the jewels to go in it too, Ian?"
"Not unless I get more pocket money," I grinned.
'What would you LIKE to make mdash; ignore any worry about how to make it' I wrote on Leo's pad and found a handful of design books for her to look through. Really it was something to keep her (and me) occupied for the half hour until the end of the lesson and keep Mr. Singh off our backs. I spent most of the time looking at her more closely than I'd done before and wondered how we would get on together if her mother allowed her to come to dad's workshop. Physically we were well matched, both of us about 5' 5" tall, dark haired and slim. I dressed scruffily; she in a plain, non-revealing way, that almost hid her burgeoning breasts. I liked what I saw but averted my eyes when she caught me looking. She smiled but said nothing. Several times later I caught her looking at me and, almost automatically, I smiled at her. So began our friendship. I wanted her friendship because I'd only dreamed of having a girlfriend and she needed a friend of her own age she could talk to as she hadn't made any friends since moving here. I happened to be there and, despite the communication difficulties, we gelled.
We both lived on the outskirts of Bowthorpeness, a small market town, she about a quarter of a mile nearer to the school and although I walked passed her house each morning, I never saw her because her mother took her by car. I guessed she thought her daughter's hearing problem made it unsafe for her to walk along and cross the busy road even though we had a panda crossing near the school.
Come on," Leo urged and took my hand when I lagged behind, nervous at meeting her mother. "Mum's okay, it's Dad you'll need to be careful of," she went on. Several boys from my form called out obscenities when they ran passed but I ignored them and enjoyed the feel of her hand in mine. Before we reached the car, her mother got out and waved her arms, Leo responded with further arm waving. I knew they were signing but hadn't a clue what they said. Leo introduced her mother as Rita and explained the situation.
I'm sure she guessed there was more to her daughter's request to go to our workshop than wanting to do woodwork, a subject for which she hadn't expressed much enthusiasm, but Rita only mentioned that side of her schoolwork to start with.
"I would like to see the facility for myself please Ian, and talk with your parents if they are at home, before agreeing to this."
"Mother will be in, I don't know about Dad, depends on whether he is working on a job or doing a delivery or getting supplies. Mother will know."
I sat in the back and only broke the uneasy silence to give Rita directions. "Oh, it's real old farmhouse," Rita exclaimed as we pulled up in front of the house.
"Yes, parts of it date back to the 16th century but there's been a lot of additions since. Some time in the mid-1900's an extended family lived here and enlarged the house so it's bigger than we need. There's no farm with it now, just the house and the big barn over there, is our workshop. The door is open so Dad's working."
Mother quickly overcame her surprise at my bringing a girl home, and bringing her mother too. I introduced her as Mary and she did her usual thing; she put the kettle on. I'd mentioned Leonie to her several times but not with any personal feelings, more because of her unusual problem and the way she and others treated it. Dad came in. "Thought there would be tea brewing when I saw the car," he joked and I introduced him as Bert.
I related what happened earlier in the afternoon to them and went on, "Mr. Singh is really the problem. It's not that he isn't a good teacher, he is, but he doesn't speak clearly and seems to dislike having girls in the class, probably because the other two girls do little work and are only there to flirt with the boys. He's only given a token amount of help to Leonie and expected her to nail her box together when he'd given her some grotty mahogany that splits easily. He doesn't expect her to take the exam so he's only concerned to keep her occupied. I think she can do much better with proper instruction, good materials and was making something she really wanted." Quite a speech for me.
"Okay, let her know the rules and there'll be others for her especially as she cannot hear when machines are running and she must tie her hair up at the back so it doesn't flop forward."
"Did you understand that Leo?" I asked. She said she did and Rita questioned him further on the safety aspects of her daughter being in a workshop.
"There's always some risk," Dad replied, "But it sounds as if the risk is less here than in a class with sixteen others at school. I know Ian well enough to say, he's unlikely to take risks. What would you like to make, Leonie?" Dad asked. She didn't really know. We all adjourned to the workshop and I showed her the tools I'd inherited from granddad and the bench I'd made and used. Several times Dad forgot he had to speak directly to her but we corrected him each time so we got along fine. "The machine shop at the end of the barn is out-of-bounds to Ian unless I'm with him, and for the time being, it is certainly out of bounds to you young lady," Dad told her forcibly.
"I can't hear noise like you people seem to," Leonie spoke up, "But I can feel vibrations and know when a motor is running, even the mixer in the kitchen, so that may not be a big problem, Mr. Clarke," Leonie spoke in her odd way but we knew what she meant.
"We'll see, how things go, you won't need them for a while and Ian or I will prepare the wood for you. She still hadn't any idea of what wanted to make so we went through into the little showroom and amazed her and her mother with the quality of the work father did. He unlocked the cases, and allowed them to handle the items.
Leo spent a lot of time looking and fingering a reproduction Victorian inlaid writing slope, one of a batch father made for sale at an antiques fair. "You like that?" I asked when I gained her attention.
She nodded. "The inside would have to be different to take the stuff I use."
"She belongs to a retro letter writing group, Ian," Rita informed me, "They write these beautifully crafted letters to each other, almost like calligraphy. One gets the original but the letter is scanned before it is sent and put on the web site, so all in the group see it. I think I ought to get back and cook dinner now. Thank you for showing us your beautiful work, if she wants to come here and I can get her father to agree, then I've no objection to her coming but I will monitor what she does."
"Can I come back afterwards and start on the project, Mum?"
I saw Rita raise her eyebrows, but she replied, "If your father agrees."
"You'd better bring the things you want inside the box and we'll try and find a suitable arrangement," I suggested as she left.
I hated the woodwork class. Old Singhy never paid me any attention and when he did, I didn't understand what he said and he refused to spend time making notes on my pad. I'd done a term of woodwork at my old school while I was in year seven and I quite liked it then, a 'taster session' they called it, but when in the following year I had to choose between it and needlework, I chose the latter.
The needlework and domestic science classes were full by the time I moved to Bowthorpeness, so I got lumbered with woodwork. The others had started on their designs for a container and Singhy gave me the wood to make a simple box. I spent two weeks sandpapering the wood and cutting it to size and when I asked one of the boys how to fix it together, he found some nails for me but as soon as I hammered the first one, the wood I'd spent so long getting smooth, split from one end to the other. Almost in tears, I uttered a cry and threw the hammer and the wood down on the bench. Next thing I knew, this boy, Ian Clarke, the boy who did the best in class and often brought his own tools in, touched my arm and took me to his bench.
I'd noticed him in class but he didn't stand out, except that he didn't take the piss out of me like many of the others. He didn't worry too much whether or not his shirt and jacket were creased and never wore a tie, but I'm not a fashion addict either so that didn't bother me. In fact I hardly noticed him. My English, maths and science were better than his so I hadn't needed his help before and, as he rarely said much, this was the first time I'd paid him any regard. At most subjects he plodded along about the middle of was six and now he certainly didn't need Mr. Singh for instruction. I think he did most of the work at home, which I know many of the ot the attainment ratings but at woodwork he was far ahead of everyone. I'd heard his joiner father had him working when he hers thought unfair because he had access to tools and equipment, the rest didn't. At the time, I couldn't have cared less.
When he wrote, 'Not your fault, the wood is crap, the method wrong. Come to my place after school and we'll sort something out, ' on my pad, my heart gave a little flutter and I looked at him in a different light. We sat in the design corner for a while, ostensibly looking for a project I could make, but I saw him checking me out and I did the same to him. All the time he seemed concerned that I'd been left to fend for myself and not given proper help or instruction and I wondered if he had feelings for me, like I'd begun to have for him. Understandably I suppose, he looked concerned and nervous when I said I had to ask Mum and would take him to meet her outside the school when she picked me up. He hung back when we walked across the schoolyard and on impulse, I took his hand and half dragged him along. I think at that moment he became my boyfriend, at least in my way of thinking.
Seeing mum get out of the car, I signed her to say I'd got a boy friend. I tried to make it two words but I doubt she saw it that way. Quickly I introduced Ian and explained the situation and asked her permission to go with Ian but she wanted to see the place first and meet his parents. We did and I liked Mary his mother, his dad was okay but appeared to be strict and went on about safety in the workshop. The equipment, even to my inexperienced eyes, looked far superior to the school stuff and when we looked at the work samples he'd done, as well as a few items Ian had made, I wanted to make something similar. Mum was over the moon and lavish with her praise at the items and the photos in an album. A reproduction writing-box caught my attention and I fell in love with it straightaway and when Ian noticed, said I could make one like it. "You're joking," I amswered, "I could never make one, not if I had several years and not a couple of terms and a bit."
Ian and Bert both said I could if shown properly and in the end I half believed them. In any case, I reasoned that I might as well make a mess of that as the simple box. Mum explained about my membership of the Retro Letter Writing Group and what I did with them as a hobby. "Can I alter the inside to take the things I use?" I asked and that didn't seem a problem. I would need to bring in the things I wanted inside and we (they) would design a box around it. Just as I began to get eager to start, mum decided we had to go and I'd need father's permission to come back later. I knew that might be a problem.
Dad's very over protective and hasn't allowed me to go out with a boy and I could foresee him making a big fuss before agreeing, if he did agree. Mother came out firmly on my side and stressed it would help my exam results and that Ian seemed a nice if rather shy boy who would help me.
Dad insisted on driving me to the farmhouse and meeting Ian. Poor boy, daddy laid the law down as to his behaviour with me until his father intervened and told dad to leave him alone. "Ian knows how to behave, even if he hasn't had a girl before and while he's here, they won't be alone for long at a time." That confirmed my suspicion that Ian was a virgin.
I took an instant dislike to Ivan O'Connell. A big, burly civil engineer who drove heavy earth moving equipment for a living, he came into the design room and yelling at the top of his voice, told me in no uncertain terms all the things I wasn't to do with his daughter, and how sorry I'd be if I did. I began to think I would be teaching Leo with my hands tied, a gag in my mouth and wearing a chastity belt. Dad came to my rescue and equally loudly, told Ivan that I was a good lad and I wouldn't be alone with Leonie for long at a time. At one point, I thought there could have been a fight. Leo stood to one side crying and pleading with her father but he didn't seem to hear, but in the end he left and dad sent us into the kitchen to get a mug of tea and calm down. Mother hugged Leo when I explained what happened but still it took a while before we went back to the design room and began to lay out the things she'd brought. The amount she brought surprised me. Six bottles of coloured ink, and a fountain pen for each colour, a pad of special paper with a lined sheet to go underneath, pencils, rubbers and a host of small items. We tried various arrangements before deciding and firing up the CAD programme. I photographed each arrangement saying, "We'll need them for your project and we'll need to convince Singhy that you are doing the work and not me. Before she left I downloaded them on to a flash drive so she could put them on her computer and select the ones she wanted for her notes. We barely had time to find the wood for the carcase and run it through the sanding machine to clean it up and get it to the right thickness before Rita arrived. That amazed Leo. She'd spend two afternoons sanding wood and the machine did it better in a few minutes.
Dad only checked on us once while we did the design work but he stood by while I set up the sanding machine and showed her how to feed the wood through. Leo enthusiastically explained to her mother with speech and signing, what we'd done and showed her the CAD drawing and the wood. She smiled and showed her pleasure at Leo's happiness but I'm sure she hadn't a clue about the drawing or the plain pieces of wood however smooth they felt. I'd enjoyed her company too and hoped we'd get together frequently. "Can we have another session on Saturday morning?" I tentatively asked and when that seemed acceptable, I went on, "I'm racing the IOM on Wicklebrook Pond in the afternoon, maybe Leonie might like to come along." I had to repeat the message because Leo wasn't facing me and then explain that the IOM was an International One-Metre model racing yacht with radio control. "Mother usually takes me and there will be room enough in the car for Leo, and you too if you'd like to come."
To my surprise she took me up on the offer, "Ivan's working this weekend so I'm free." We agreed with mother that Leo and Rita could stay to lunch with us and we'd travel in the one car. Dad, as always, had something he just had to finish!
Leonie and I kept together as much as possible during the next two days; I met her at the gate, we ate lunch together and discussed our homework, almost as if we'd been together for years. On the Friday, Leo showed me the first two sheets of her woodwork project and it certainly would put mine to shame. The text in green ink with purple ink headings, all neatly done in copper plate script, interspaced with a montage of photographs and a separate sheet with the CAD design looking out of place amidst the other hand work. She used a quality cream coloured paper and protected each page inside a transparent punched envelope. I wondered if she'd really become enamoured with woodwork or if she did it to please me. Perhaps a little of both?
"If the pieces of your first project are still in the scrap box, we ought to photograph them to put alongside the finished article," I suggested and we found them where we'd dumped them on Wednesday. Singhy didn't even question our taking them.
Friday night, I talked over her project with dad, "Make a similar box and use it to show Leo what to do," he suggested, "That way you won't have to work on her box and can use it as the demonstration piece and you may well be able to sell it to others in her writing group afterwards." It didn't take long to get out the materials ready for the morning. I even did some extra pieces for her to practice on.
Rita brought Leo about 9 o'clock and promptly left with mother to visit the local farmer's market; dad spent the time in the machine shop preparing timber and moulding it so Leo and I were on our own for most of the morning. Several times I placed my hands on hers to show her how to use a tool and she used it as an excuse to get me to demonstrate more times than were really necessary but we both enjoyed ourselves. Dad sent us to the kitchen to make tea mid morning but we weren't alone for long. Dad came in and talked about the project and wanted to see her folder but she hadn't brought it that morning.
Mother and Rita obviously got on well at the market and were chattering like old friends when they called us in for a quick lunch before going to Wicklebrook Pond. Leo and I sat close together in the back and surreptitiously held hands, while our mothers gossiped in the front.
For once, the weather and the wind were near ideal for the racing and a dozen boats in the IOM class assembled on the grass by the clubhouse where we were sheltered and could rig the sails and check the working of the R.C. controls. Racing wasn't due to start for another hour but a fleet of classic boats of all shapes and sizes and rigs were on the pond to provide spectator interest. I competed in three races and the best place was a third. This was the most exciting race for me because for most of the way I kept in second position and not far behind the leader but I fluffed the final turn at the buoy and lost precious inches and although I gained most of it again, I lost 'by a nose'. While other classes were racing, I tried to explain the rules to Leo but her lack of hearing made it difficult for us to look in the same direction and for me to speak with her. She'd showed me a few signs but they were only for greeting and saying good-bye.
Leo looked as sad as I felt when we had to part. Both of us would have like to have parted with a kiss but didn't dare with her mother there and we doubted her father would allow her to visit again on the Sunday.
In only a few hours, Ian and I became 'an item'. He met me at the school gates and we ate together and spent and spent as much time as possible in each other's company. I made a special effort with my woodwork project folder on Thursday evening, in fact I worked on it until very late and finished several pages in the style I use for the retro letters group. Ian praised it highly and said it was far better than his computer produced effort.
Mother drove me to his workshop on Saturday morning and to my surprise, Ian had prepared wood for a similar box to mine and had spare pieces for me to practice the joints. "It's got to be your work," he told me, "When it's done, you'll be able to truthfully say, 'I made it. I cut the joints and fitted it together.' It's not going to be you holding the wood while I do the work. I'll show you each stage and check what you are doing, but I won't do it for you." In a way that is what I wanted, but the thought of cutting dovetail joints that fitted perfectly like the ones on his father's box, filled me with trepidation. He sensed this and said, "I looks complicated but if we treat each stage as a separate item, there is no reason for you not to make a good job of it and the more difficult bits, we'll do a practice piece first."
"Firstly, you need to use a rabbet plane to plane a recess for the bottom to fit in," Ian instructed. I'd never heard of one and found it a little awkward to hold correctly, but Ian put his arms around me and held my hands in the right position and planed it with me. I liked the way he held me and giggled when I asked twice for him to show me again. The second time he held me really close but we broke apart quickly when Ian heard the planing machine his father was using, being switched off. Afterwards he showed off and did his rabbets in half the time. By the end of the morning I'd done far more than I expected. "I think we'll leave the cutting of the practice dovetails for Wednesday's lesson at school," my teacher suggested, "I'll bring the tools we'll need because the school ones are never really sharp." I wondered what Mr. Singh would say when he saw my new project. The fact that he didn't consider it worthwhile to teach me, made me all the more determined to make a success of it.
When mother and Mary came in to tell us to clean up ready for lunch, I showed her what I'd done. "Looks as if you'll finish next week," she joked.
"No, it will take a long while yet, Mum, I haven't even started on the difficult bits."
"I think you want to hang the job out to be with Ian," she signed and laughed. I blushed but laughed too.
In the afternoon we all went to a model yacht pond and I sat in the back with Ian and we held hands. I've a feeling our mothers noticed but they said nothing. Even at this early stage of our relationship I thought of him as my boyfriend.
The racing brought some excitement and the pond was an idyllic place to spend the afternoon. With all the different boats on the water, it somehow seemed magical. I didn't understand the rules or much of what went on but Mary tried to explain it when Ian had to concentrate on manoeuvring his boat. I jumped up and down when I thought his boat might overtake the leader but he did something wrong and came in third. All too soon we had to return home and I knew dad wouldn't allow me to visit Ian the next day. To do so would arouse his suspicions as what we did and his mind would immediately come to the wrong conclusion and his violent temper could mean, one of us getting hurt. I spent Sunday working on the project and writing a letter to my main pen pal on the group, telling her of the events.
Dad questioned me endlessly about what I done in the workshop and afterwards. I almost had to account for every minute of my time. He wasn't too happy with mother either for spending the whole day away from the house. I know things aren't too good between them at the moment. Like me, she didn't want to come here and they argued for hours over it, but dad forced the issue when he got a job with a contractor building a major motorway link that would bypass Bowthorpeness and several other towns and villages. Mother resents having to give up the house she owned and her job, and so far hasn't found a suitable one here. I've seen them having terrible rows and had to comfort mother a couple of times.
Nobody except Mr. Singh showed much surprise when I went to work on Ian's bench for the Wednesday's woodwork lesson. He came as spoke to me but, as usual, I couldn't see what he said. He turned to Ian and spoke with him but again, I couldn't see the reply as he faced away from me. By the end of the afternoon, I'd cut and fitted the practice joint and, apart from one open gap where I'd cut on the wrong side of the line, it fitted and I felt proud of my achievement and took it home to show mother.