August 13, 2010

My history with locks

John Ray

Most people don't seem to realize that mechanical ability correlates quite highly with general intelligence. A good motor mechanic will generally be pretty bright as a lot of mechanical work is pure problem solving.

So while I have always been good at academic tasks, I was also pretty good with my hands as a kid. If the family toaster or electric jug ceased working, I would be the one to sit down and fix it. And if a fuse blew I would fix that too.

And when I was about 13 the family moved into a house that had been occupied by my recently deceased grandfather -- with some of his possessions still in it -- including all the books that the family had got as kids for school and Sunday school prizes. I read them all from cover to cover of course and still remember something of their content.

Underneath the house, however, we also had lots of bits of junk, including parts of defunct bicycles. I found enough parts to put together a complete bicycle and even got some paint and painted it a fetching shade of maroon. At one stage my father used to borrow "my" bike to ride to work on.

And when my mother was in hospital giving birth to my brother, I took her up a newspaper she liked to read: "The Sunday Truth" -- light reading and something of a scandal sheet. Newspapers become all messed up as people read them, however, so when that newspaper arrived in the house, I punched two holes in its spine and used them to bind the newspaper together with a piece of light wire. So when she got the newspaper it was in perfect order. I remember that being greeted with surprised appreciation.

And I have always been interested in locks. Any house where I live always has all its door locks working, complete with keys. I can't specifically remember fixing locks in the parental home but think that I must have. I could never fix clocks, however. I just used to end up with a collection of parts.

With adulthood, however, I found more interesting things than working with my hands and to all appearances became a "typical academic", who left such tasks for others.

That had an amusing consequence once when I was living in a shared apartment at Bondi with two bright and attractive ladies. The deadlock on the apartment door developed problems, so after taking one look at me they decided to fix it themselves. As soon as they got the back off, however, a spring went SPROIINNGG!!!, as springs do, and they just had parts scattered everywhere and no idea what to do further.

At that stage I gathered up the parts, put the lock back together and soon had it working perfectly. There was a stunned silence when I did that. They had no idea that I had it in me. I later married one of the ladies concerned so maybe being good with locks has its advantages.

Now the point of all this is that my mother and father had a very conflicted relationship and, somehow related to that, my father was often rather hostile towards me. I inherited my mother's serene self-confidence, however, so it never bothered me.

I always attributed his hostility to his devotion to hard physical work. In his life that had always been the way to make money so the ability and inclination to work hard was something of a criterion of virtue to him. And with my bookish ways he could never see me as living up to his work ideals. On several occasions he said to me in disgust: "You'd never make a quid in a week". A quid was two dollars and was even then a small amount.

It is only recently, however, that another explanation for his hostility has occurred to me. My mother had what my father called a "caustic tongue" and she certainly used it in arguments with him. So I am almost sure that there would have been at least one occasion when she said to him: "John does all the work around the house. You do nothing". That was pretty true in its way but would of course have been very wounding -- and could well have contributed to his hostility towards me.

In later years, however, my father and I got on perfectly well. When he heard how much money I was making in my university teaching job, he considerably modified his ideas about work.

NOTE: I am slightly embarrassed by the fact that I still have a small reserve store of 19th century rimlocks. There are not many Victorian houses in Brisbane and I have stopped buying old houses anyway. So I will never use them. My present house has some Edwardian rimlocks but no Victorian ones.

I built up most of the stock when I was in Sydney as it was not uncommon there to find Victorian rimlocks that were completely broken or gutted so could only be replaced rather than repaired.

So if anyone comes by here who knows what a Victorian rimlock is and who needs one, it might well be to their advantage to contact me.

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