(Emails to and from an old tradesman friend)

Len Riley.

to me.

Dear Joe

    I have been thinking lately about my hands [no, I haven’t lost it} 

It occurred to me after reading the piece you recommended to me. I have spent some time around Adelaide CBD and I can no longer tell people, mainly my Grandchildren that I knew the bloke who built this stone surround to the Bonython Fountain [Richard Carli] it has been replaced with a non-descript piece of ,”art” As John Ruskin stated ,” and I will show my children , this is the work my hands hath wrought”. I look long and hard at my hands and sadly remember the work they have done. Each scar and knobbly joint has a reason to be there. It tells a tale of work, of time and patience spent carrying out work as a tradesperson. Should I be proud of such malformations or should I hide them in shame. I prefer pride to shame as each imperfection tells a story of endeavour. I have conquered much in life but still have more to overcome. I cannot predict my end/demise, it may be quick or slow but I know for certain it will come. I am not a morbid person or suffer from  depression, I am a realist and hunter. Once I accept my human frailties there is nothing to fear. I am holding my hands out at arm’s  length  {no pun intended] I realise that most damage is to the left  hand, the hand that holds and guides. The right hand held a saw or swung a hammer, whilst inflicting pain on its partner. They were not at war with each other, they simply played a role in my work.[I have been lucky so far, I have spent 58 years at my trade, and still have all my fingers, nor have I broken any bones. Is that good I hear you say?, well it’s not bad considering my age and temperament. But my hands are more than an extension to a set of tools, they have held children, grandchildren, and  the occasional glass of wine. What will be their fate ? I watched my own father loose the use of his hands .then arms and finally his lungs. Motor neurons disease is not easy to watch, but he did it all with dignity. A painter and decorator by trade he relied on his hands to guide a paint brush or roller. To hear him ridiculed for his lack of skill at paperhanging during the early days of this disease, broke my heart. But back to my hands, I only remember them as passive weapons and only once remember them as being aggressive when I 

knocked a person out in anger. I am ashamed of that incident as it showed a lack of self control  on my part. I have noticed more recently that my grip has reduced in strength and I put that down to an over tightened jar or bottle rather than a loss of strength due to age. Age is a blessing and a curse that I can do little about! What of the future? Well as my mother in law would state, “ the future is a mystery that we’d be wise to keep , lest we gain a history that would make us wail and weep”. . For those who have read , “Carlos Castaneda ,A Second Reality”, we may well ask , what is real? My hands look real, feel real and I think they have done real work, [what  ever that is? But what I have achieved maybe viewed as meaningless ]I do not suppose that the nurse who opens a door to a ward in the children’s hospital even remotely thinks, well that is a well hung door, I wonder who carried out that work? The reflection in these matters is left to those who know which person may have carried out the work. So  what ?you may say.

I have a need to continuously learn and particularly in the area of IT. My hands are not dexterous any  more,  and even the simple use of a phone can be troublesome with my carpenters fingers [wide and fat] But I have digressed from my original thoughts on hands. We would achieve nothing without them and our society depends on all hands working without the skilled hands and the guidance by the brain nothing could be achieved. Even the great explorers, heart surgeons and musicians could do nothing without the use of tradespersons hands and brains. James Cook would have had to walk to the Great Southern Land without the ship builders. In classes I teach, I ban the word, ‘just’. We are never,’ just’, we are the accumulated result of others who have turned their hands to carpentry and other things. You can see by my ramblings that my hands cause us to think and contemplate. My dear wife says,” you think a cup of tea solves everything,” and my reply is,” yes it does” it allows you to stop and think for a moment. 

    I could not help but reflect on the demise of the great English wood carver, Grinlin Gibbons, who towards the end of his life found that he was involved in a dying art and turned his skills to carving in stone and although good, it was not to his liking. I believe he died almost penniless but famous, and it was that regard for him as an artist that carried him through to the end of his life. So what will we be remembered for and by whom. I remember you as a good shot, a good motor cycle rider. But who am I to promote our skills, so we have to rely on our children and grandchildren to remember us and they are more likely to remember us as a caring/loving grandfather. I think of my own son and daughter realise they know more about me than most people. They have witnessed what work my hands hath done and what skills I excel in and those I don’t. So now I work for them in a limited capacity or where and when they need me. But then I would have it no other way. I gave my son a wooden  car, a scale model of a 1927 Bugatti and my daughter several timber boxes with carved tops. The boxes are now set in bedrooms and used to house trinkets and keep sakes.  I am proud to have been a carpenter/drafter/writer and everything that went with it.

Yes I think my hands have done well!

Len Riley  6/10/2020 

Joe Carli. Oct. 8, 2020, 7.25 am.

to Len.

Hello, Len…
I got your email late last night, read it..stayed awake a while pondering on its substance and the mood of yourself (never known to me to be such a contemplative chap) that inspired such a tender and honest response…and quite beautiful in its admissions too if I may say so… Yes…our hands could be called those mute, instinctive instruments of our desire…I too have quite often rolled my hands around each other and marked the now dry skin and now lack of deep callouses. Thanks for the insight to your thoughts, Len…we may not have had much contact over these last many years, but I do often think on those days in the craft.. Can I leave you with another small but so true reminisce on the trade that I am CERTAIN you too will recall…regards..joe.    

Joe Carli Oct 8, 2020, 8:03 AM  

to Len.

Now..having had breakfast and that soothing cup of REAL coffee..I can also speak of our parents role in our upbringing..You speak of your father Len…yes, I remember him..quiet chap with always a smile whenever I recall him, I recall your mother as the more strident of the two..a registered nurse, if I recall..quite serious and determined..I’d avoid her out of my youthful fear of adult fear, just that youth / adult thing of those days… My own parents were a strange match…one of the first mixed ethnic marriages after the couldn’t have been easy for either of them socially when I think back on it..Her for marrying a “dago”, him for marrying outside the cultural expectancy…I know it wasn’t an easy marriage… But my mother had youthful expectations of becoming a writer..or poet…and she tried and had several pieces published in women’s magazines..but that was it..and as I struggle to have my pieces accepted and read to any extent, I can see that she came up against that same obstacle that I have had to overcome..the grammatical purity that marks and brands one of coming from a certain class…a network of favour, introduction and influence..I’m not paranoid nor do I now expect it to change, for I am convinced at this my 70th year, that civilisation as we know it is not a carefully constructed edifice, but rather the result of a period of benevolent calm after conquest and secure by the political and military power of an ethnically superior force… After the passing of my mother..and her generation…back in 2014, I remarked to a cousin that I now felt like an orphan..for however that older generation saw their place in this society, be it servile worker or aspirant individual, they slotted in solidily and stoically endured the good with the bad and created a solid foundation for us younger generation to launch ourselves from…I now miss that certainty that they exuded… I have written a piece in respect and memory of my mother’s younger woman’s desire for that moment in the poet’s the risk of boring you (like I seem to bore so many other people with my pieces) with that piece written just a little time ago…regs..Joe.            

Len Riley Oct 9, 2020, 7:59 PM     .  
to me.

Dear Joe
Our writing styles may be different but I feel we touch the same core nerve in our generation. Like you I now feel like an orphan with the passing of my mother 4 years ago on Anzac Day. An appropriate for her as she had served as a young nurse on the American airfields in the UK during WW2. She was a proud Londoner who married a young gunner whose father and grandfather were deeply religious {not a good match by standards in those days}   .  

Len Riley Oct 9, 2020, 8:53 PM    

to me.
Dear Joe 
Your summary of nailing down floors brought a wry smile to my face.. My very first job was to punch the nails in three homes all laid in Jarrah and God help me if I split a board at the end of a cut. After a week of that I had blisters on my blisters. I well remember the art of nailing pine floor boards,, especially as sometimes they had to be nailed with the oval type bullet heads. I can still feel the pain in my mind as I recall nailing so rhythmically that I would sometimes with the second blow bend the nail over my finger. Like you the boss would sometimes stand and watch as though waiting for a mistake [especially nailing WRC match boards] which was not hard to grant him as an apprentice, he would then lose his cool and with a few choice words storm off..  

Len Riley Oct 9, 2020, 9:30 PM        

to me.
If I can be so bold, I offer the following as one of the few poems I had published!  

Like leaves that cling to summers vision
Long into autumns cold
Tattered, torn by winds of seasons past
That long to break their hold
Crumpled, broken
They gather in some sheltered lea
And long to love and live and just let be, just be
Will winters rain rot them down among the growth of newer days
Or will a ray of early morning sun shine through a misty haze
And spring to life the vision of tomorrow’s dawn
That in the act of falling a more sacred wish is borne
To join the brotherhood / sisterhood of life
A circle in full turn
Or will the apathy of man simply gather them to burn
If only I had all the strength to take them to my care
To give them back their yesterdays now stripped bare 
Len Riley 1995      


Joe Carli               Oct 9, 2020, 10:05 PM  

to Len
A good poem…an internal poem…It hurts, what has been done to refugees..can I ask you where you had it published and have you had other writing published?…What does E… think of your writing poems?…I get condescension at best..ignored at worst..even a tad mockery..from various people..I put it down to class snobbery…at least I know my own worth, and I keep writing…I have to…have to get them out..      

Joe Carli Oct 10, 2020, 7:27 AM  

to Len.

I have for years been looking for other working-class people who write and comment on  their political/social situation…You seem to have been hiding your light under a bushel…I know you wrote an autobiography..but have you continued with writing…that poem was from 25years ago…have you kept it up?..I meet some good tradies, clever, intelligent, but lacking that reach to delve too deep into their soul to put poetry down..some fiddle with amusing anecdotes or “stream of consciousness” pieces of around 100 – 500 words about nothing much in particular..and are not to be taken seriously as writers in most cases.. I have not much truck with the idea of “art for art’s sake”..but rather like to work my characters to portray a social situation and I like to end my stories not with sentimental “happy endings”, but at least with the spirit of hope.. And yourself?… Quo vadis?…Joe.      

Len Riley Oct 10, 2020, 9:03 AM    

to me
Dear Joe
May be its a trade background but I too am a Labor supporter I worked for TAFESA for some 41 years and finally for private providers for the remainder of my time that makes up my 48 years as a lecturer/ carpenter. I was at Adelaide TAFE for about 26 years and wrote about 120 books [technical manuscripts] in that time. You can google me up on line but there are only a few books left now. I don’t know much about  intellect but I have always told my students that to be really good at anything you must continue to read, to contribute.. I would point out that to learn as much as possible about building you need a brief knowledge of Architecture,Fine Art  Entimology Botany and Science, About the Old gang at Kingston Park, it brings back memories, especially Maris and Harry. I came across another person who lived in the area, John L…, another Latvian but he was also an extremely good cello player and when I met him at the Conservatorium he did not want to know. Those days in the gully opposite the Zalup’s house were the best days of my life [carefree]. It is sad to reflect on our passing and where life takes us.  Regards Len     to name a few. I can still remember a young lady in the lecture theatre at Marleston Tafe asking me,, How do you know all this ,shit Len ,        

Joe Carli Oct 10, 2020, 9:59 AM  

to Len
I’ve gone a bit cool on Labor since I wrote that piece, coming to the conclusion that so many of them now are just middle-class brats without that base/core of working class ethics…too many also are from the private schooled network that controls the majority of authorities /judicial/corporations etc, etc of the country…I DESPISE the middle-classes for what they have done to the skills base of the common people over that last couple of hundred years since the industrial revolution…But I still persist in voting for Labor as the best of a bad bunch.. What has happened to TAFE over the last decade is a, personally, I’d like to “Stalinise” the whole mob of LNP bastards!.. 🙂 … I remember John L… there was also the “Crasts”(spelling?) next door to the Zalups…I believe the eldest girl was a very good chess player.. Knowing a trade let’s one into a world of knowledge not only of the one specific trade, but into the knowledge of methodology of structure, weights and a physics sense..and the world of manpower management and time-tabling…I did a couple of years mature entry at Adelaide Uni studying the Classics ..: Roman history / Latin..and then Howard fucked the whole system up and they cut classics down to the bone, making some courses bi-annual and taking the guts out of the whole department..I tried to compensate with other social science courses but I couldn’t get interested in them..and since I was there for interest and already had a career, I deferred indefinitely… I had to give the Latin away after passing the first year as it got too advanced in a grammatical way that my basic knowledge of English grammar let me THERE’S and interesting subject..: The turning of Ancient Latin (that the Romans spoke) into the constructed grammatical complexity of Medieval Latin of the Popes and religious scholars that we use today..deliberately manufactured to stop the common people from learning it.. anyway..will continue later..Joe.                      

2 thoughts on “Reflections…

  1. This sounds so much like my father and grandfather – men who were denied school from the age of 14 but who nevertheless continued to educate themselves in literature and the arts for the sheer pleasure of it and valued skilled craftsmanship. .

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I left school (voluntarily) at 14 and started work in the building trade…But I was to become an avid reader all through my developing years…I first met Len Riley (an English migrant) and his family when I was in apprenticeship as a carpenter…as was he too…He is several years older than me, and he went on to continue his education to become a Trade Teacher and writer of curricula….a fine example of the archetype “English Gentleman”…


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