Designer, why designer? Part 6 – Work Experience

‘Designer’ why designer? a story with lots of twists and turns, with some what might seem completely random career choices. But no I had a plan, and it’s just coming together!

“Sorry, was that, ‘half a kilo of Cheddar and a complete Camembert’?….. No, sorry we don’t have that particular cheese….. I am sorry sir but that lady was before you ……. Yes that’s right madam it is rather smelly….. Here try some, well, if you don’t like it no one is forcing you to buy it, you fat, cheese eating, free loading, time wasting git!!!!!!! Ok so apart from the last one, which I may have thought on many occasions, these were standard lines from my joyous time working the cheese counter at the local supermarket. I was trying to earn a bit of cash to keep me going through the winter after finishing  uni and before heading out to France for the racing season. Funnily enough it wasn’t the fact that I would come home every night stinking like a Frenchman’s sock that prompted me to change my holiday job for one in a local furniture makers, but a good friend pointing out the bleeding obvious, “You do have a degree in Furniture Design and Craftsmanship cheesy boy, so why don’t you use it?”

In an ideal world a typical winters day should have gone like this; ride your bike for 5 hours whilst freezing your balls off, get covered in crap, then get home, clean up, eat lots of healthy stuff, put your feet up, watch TV and not move off the sofa until bedtime. Instead it went; do 5 hours of training in 4 hours, then clean as much of the crap off as possible whilst scoffing down whatever was the quickest to eat and then tearing it down the road to work the afternoon shift at Justwood Furniture.

Justwood operated out of a surprisingly cosy workshop, hidden down a back alley on a bit of a dodgy industrial estate, next to a garage where the local police would have had a field day checking the hotter than hot cars, which were having their serial numbers ground off. Just by coincidence my dad was working the ‘health and safety’ shift in a civil engineering company across the road. It was a good job he never did a check-up on our workshop as the high octane combination of the thick layers of old sawdust and the gas turbo blaster heater would have given him a heart attack.

If you have never watched an episode of Fawlty Towers with John Cleese, then before you read on just jump on Youtube quickly and get yourselves up to speed. When I describe characters in my stories I really don’t set out to be mean or nasty, as is the case for the boss of Justwood, his heart really was in the right place but sometimes he would ‘Mr Fawlty’ himself into a tangle. What does a hotel in the southwest of England need to be a success? Customers of course, the same rule applies for a furniture company in Exeter, but yet just like with Mr Fawlty the cringe factor was high, the boss would treat some people like something he stepped in, spitting fire at anyone asking for pine softwood desks. On the other hand enquire about a hardwood dining set and you were graced with poetry and wooed with tales of romantic furniture building.

This apart, I was very grateful for the job and to be fair, in my position as workshop assistant I never got spat out or stepped on. Workshop banter flowed quite nicely in fact; I was the young Danielson learning the ropes from a somewhat tall, beardy, pipe smoking Mr Miyagi. Mature people in workshop environments (can’t call them old as they don’t appreciate it) love to give away advice and stories freely, I think they must feel it is their duty, passing on the knowledge, which is great most of the time. Mr Miyagi would however sometimes get a little too graphic on some of his non furniture related stories; it was a good job that the rather loud radio pumping out BBC Radio 4 would drown out the worst.

Lady luck was on my side and I got to work on some very cool projects including a beautiful maple table with curved laminated legs and a rather swanky oak office set. All in all an interesting experience which kept the bank manager happy, me off the sofa during the cold winter days and stopped people turning their noses up at me as if I had just consumed more cheese than the population of France.

Great side story, never let it be said that I am a scaredy cat but I do have limits. We got a job fitting a custom-made oak kitchen in a rather posh house. So we cruised on over to measure up, the very pleasant lady owner invited us in and booooom in the hallway a huge glass cabinet with a gigantic boa constrictor, seriously big, I mean too big. “Ok, ok it’s in a cabinet just walk past and focus on the kitchen”. Phew, measuring up done and we were out of there. Bad news was that the boss needed some help to install the kitchen and a couple of weeks later we went back. You can imagine my doubts when the lady opened the front door and I saw that the cabinet was empty. ”Oh, no snake anymore?” I said, she laughed “Oh no silly we let him out sometimes.”

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