My grandpa, John, is an amazing old salt. He’s an accomplished sailor, a veteran of the British Merchant Navy, a printer – one of the country’s finest flexographers in his day – and a massive motorcycle enthusiast. He won the 1960 Australian Sidecar Championship as the sidecar passenger, among other things. That’s just scratching the surface. I could write stacks more about his life… and probably will at some stage. But this article is about my Grandpa’s Shed.When I was a boy my mum and I lived in suburban Melbourne. All over the place. But the place we stayed a lot, and in fact the house that I was born in was my Nanna and Grumpy’s, near the Dandenong Ranges in Eastern Melbourne (“Grumpy” was my first attempt at “Grandpa” and it stuck… now even his children call him that). It was kind of my mother’s invaluable home-base when she was down on her luck.
I can’t remember what year the new shed went up, but I can remember it happening. It must have been 1984 or 1985. It was the first time I’d ever seen a Besser Block… those enormous grey bricks that have two big holes through the top. As a kid who loved Lego, they were like eight ways of Christmas. I have a vague recollection of talking to a bricklayer, who was installing those Besser Blocks on the western side of the garage. I can’t remember the conversation, but I remember his trowel, his tool-belt, and the beating sun on a still-roofless garage.
The shed was destined for tens and thousands of John’s hours over the following decades, particularly in relation to his bikes. John always had motorbikes, and will still talk for hours about them. He used to go to work every single day on one of his five vintage Puch SGS 250’s, or the old Yamaha that might belong to my aunty now. “They’re cheaper to run! 14 miles to the gallon!” The metric system never really caught up with him. On top of that, he’s from the old school repair-wise. If something went down, he’s spend two weeks trying to fix it himself before he’d even consider getting a second opinion. Having said that, when he was actually stuck, he was the first to admit it.
John’s fix-it-or-die-trying attitude is what made him so good in his vocation as a printer. In fact it’s what makes him so good at everything he does; sailing, biking, fixing random items, you name it. In the movie The Castle Darryl calls Steve an “ideas man.” John’s a bit like that, only less of the “built in brake lights for bike helmets” and more of the “hell, we’ll get that going again in no time.” He kind of reminds me of MacGuyver. “Sticky tape?” “Check.” “Tarpaulin?” “Check.” “Toothpick?” “Check.” “Great. We’re making a hot air balloon!”
In another life I, like him, served the industry as a flexographic printer. I was lucky enough to learn my trade with John, (when you do an apprenticeship with a family member, you stop calling them “Grumpy” and start calling them by their given name fairly quickly.) Working as an apprentice of this wonderful man was and still is one of the highlights of my life – and I was lucky enough to work in printing when it was still mechanical. Sadly, the printing trade is fading away, enveloped by robots and computers and reducing the skill required almost minute by minute. The most rewarding jobs were never the ones on the new fancy machines; they were the intricate tasks on the old dusty ones that no-one knew how to run anymore.
But I digress. Initially the shiny new shed got the bikes. That goes without saying. Gradually though, all the other little things were added – the wood lathe, the drill press, the fifteen iterations of the shadow board for the tools. This shed has seen so many different lives in the last thirty years.
This week it got its first run as a photo studio. A good friend of mine needed some motorbikes for a fashion shoot. She remembered that my grandpa rode, and asked me. I rang John, and he was more than happy to oblige. Initially we were going to take the bike into the countryside, find a west-facing hill and shoot the bike in the sunset.
But then they walked into my grandpa’s shed…
“We’ll just do the shoot here… The light is perfect… I’ve never seen so many motorbikes…! Can you believe all this stuff???”
We still went up the hill for the sunset anyway, but their reaction got me thinking about all the time I’d spent in this shed with John over the years.
Countless cups of tea.
My Pee-Wee 50 mini-bike.
My step-father doing his carpentry out of there.
Innumerable St. Kilda games on the wireless – talk about heartbreak!
Welding the battery tray back into my 1972 Kombi. Twice.
I got my camera out and took a few snaps of Grandpa’s shed myself. I’d never really appreciated it before, but this shed holds some of my dearest childhood memories. I’m seriously lucky to still be able to spend time in there with my granddad, and this week, I was lucky enough to realise how lucky I am before it is too late.
John still rides, and sails his 30 foot Clansman yacht all around Bass Straight. By himself. He’s reached well into his 80’s now, and there isn’t a thing in the world that would stop him from doing what he loves. It’s a lesson we could all benefit from: don’t ever stop doing the things that makes you happy. And if you don’t know what those things are, then find them. Then do them. And then don’t ever stop doing what you love. It doesn’t have to be motorbikes or sailing ships (or cameras like me), it could be sewing, or sculpting or sushi-making… just do what you know you were meant to do.
“You’d have to kill me first.” John has said that on more than one occasion when somebody suggests he take it easy. I’m starting to think that he might be right!
Do you have an inspirational family member? Leave us a comment about someone in your life who is just a proper energiser bunny – they just keep going and going! We’d love to hear your stories!
I have to send a big bag of love to my friends Andreas & Souri at www.fabulous-femme.com. Souri took the second to last photo of John and me horsing around on the bike and the photo of John looking totally surprised in the shed. The two of them are the inspiration for this blog and my work. Please go and check out their blog! They’re totally amazing!
Until next time,
Thanks for wearing pants!