This cupboard on my kitchen wall was built by my Dad when he created a new kitchen out of a spare bedroom in our family home. As I’ve mentioned before, our house was full of beautifully crafted cupboards and shelves and bespoke bits of furniture that he made; no nook or cranny went unused. After my parents’ deaths when we had to sell it, the buyer claimed to be looking for just such a Victorian house, in a state of some disrepair, to restore as his family home. Had we known he was in fact a property developer who would demolish it, we would never have sold it to him. The house where we were born is gone now. But when we learned of its impending fate, Brother 2 salvaged everything he could from our old home, including bits of Dad’s DIY. Hence my mantelpiece, bathroom door, and this kitchen cupboard.
At one of my parties recently, a friend of mine, struck by the fine craftsmanship, asked me who had made it. The detail and elegance of the design are typical of Dad’s DIY skills. The doors snap snugly but quietly shut with the cunning use of hidden magnets, there are shapely “pockets” inside for recipes etc, and he has brought out the natural pattern of the grain in the plywood.
Further examples of Dad’s handiwork can be found in both of my brothers’ homes, along with their own (they have both, unlike me, inherited Dad’s skills!). This lovely glass-fronted cabinet, now housed in the wooden cabin at the end of Brother 1’s garden, once displayed Mum’s precious china and glassware in her dining room (formerly my childhood bedroom):
This cupboard with worktop, tucked into the pantry of Brother 2’s home, was also part of the kitchen that Dad built:
In short, Dad “did it himself.” He had a shed – of course – with an orderly tool rack and every different size of screw and nail neatly sorted into old jam jars. As a young man he won a treadle powered fret-saw (like this one) in a competition, which he put to good use for the rest of his life. He loved to watch those early TV DIY shows, such as Toolbox, if only to poke fun at the hapless presenters. After retirement, he became the neighbourhood’s go-to DIY man, always working on a project for someone (he once hinted that he would have preferred to be doing it for members of his own family, but sadly by the time he died I was still a long way from settling into a home of my own). He was actively involved in the local Community Association at Rose House, Barnes, which he and my Mum had helped to found in the 1970s, and wasted no time in putting his skills to work there too. The following tribute published in their newsletter, Prospect, expresses the deep loss felt by the whole community when he died:
“Jim’s name has been associated for so long with Rose House that nobody can really remember a time when he hasn’t been around. Just look anywhere in the building and signs of him are everywhere – new cupboards, new locks, a door moved upstairs and fitted – all for the satisfaction of a job well done and to show his pride in the old treasured building. Rose House, a place where he did a rota duty willingly and regularly without failure for so many years. I don’t think the word ‘no’ was in Jim’s vocabulary and anyone who stepped in the door was given a smile and a greeting.
Those of us who came regularly knew him as an old style socialist Guardian reader, whose great pleasure was to debate politics and to quietly and calmly insist on his kindly well reasoned feeling of true equality and justice for all..
‘When you needed Jim, he was always there to help.’ Alas, to our infinite regret, we can no longer say that. We wish Eleanor and all his devoted family to know how much he was loved and appreciated by all who use Rose House. We have all lost a dear friend.”
I must go back and visit Rose House sometime, to see if his handiwork is still there. But I think of him fondly every time I close my kitchen cupboard and feel it silently snick shut. (“Good job, that“).