The world needs more handy people, and I should know

Brendan Seery.

Brendan Seery.

I have always felt I would have liked to have more practical skills, and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Back in the day (many, many days ago) when I was single and romantic, I had a line which worked really well – once.

As a poor, carless trainee reporter, I shamelessly stole from the Bee Gees to win her over.

It’s only words

And words are all I have

To steal your heart away

It only lasted three months … but that’s another story.

Then, and now, I have lived my life, and made my living, with words. And, I don’t regret a minute of it. This is the sort of job where you’d pay someone to do it (and I hope the boss is not reading this.).

But I have always felt I would have liked to have more practical skills and, specifically, to be able to do things with my hands.

That my life hasn’t enabled me to do that is down to two things. Firstly, I was raised in a distinctly nontechnical household, where my father was capable of little more than gardening and basic bicycle repairs.

I was in my teens when I realised that he did have certain technical skills and his work, as a safety equipment specialist in the South African Air Force in the Korean War, saved lives. Pilots used the parachutes he packed and the life rafts he loaded to get back to base and to fly, and fight, another day.

The men in my mother’s family were similar technically unskilled.

The second factor in why I haven’t often got involved in fixing or making things with my hands is, as my army mate Buffalo pointed out, because I have “bunches of bananas” on the ends of my wrists.

I went to a technical high school, which ended up more renowned for the number of Rhodes scholars than budding engineers it produced. I did metalwork, woodwork and technical drawing but, with my background, it felt strange and I never shone.

These days, where I miss that ability to work with my hands is when I look at the neglected old sports car sitting at home. I bought it when I was 24 and it hasn’t run since Mandela was in jail. If I could pull out an engine, clean and rebuild the carburettors, even panel-beat the dents, never mind respray it, I would feel a real sense of achievement, never mind saving the fortune I would have to pay others to do the work.

Our school system doesn’t encourage the practical side of life and fills kids with ideas that they can all be doctors or lawyers.

The result is not only hordes of unemployed people, but those who do get a job will go through life paying for work they could, in many cases, do themselves.

What about training children from primary school in basic skills like house painting, changing plugs and lights, gardening and car mechanics?

Those who discover they have a love and aptitude for it could head into formal technical education and increase dramatically their chances of getting jobs, or starting their own businesses.

We already have maths literacy, the much-maligned (by ivory tower academics) subject which prepares pupils for life in the real world.

As for me – it’s only grease, and grease is all I have, to show for the satisfaction of having pulled the camshaft cover off the engine myself…

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