By Fionna Hill
I did some homework on MENZ SHED a couple of months before moving to provincial New Zealand and decided that I was a starter.
My branch in Greytown has an active female membership of 25% and is happy to increase the number of women. Plaudits to you Greytown because I gather this isn’t the case with some other Menz Sheds. There was one other woman on my first day and about nine men.
I arrived to live in Greytown and, before I even finished unpacking boxes, I snuck down to see the Menz blokes. Not wishing to arrive empty handed, but unsure of the system I took a small, peculiar, probably industrial, metal pedestal table that I bought in a junk shop near Dunedin years ago. I wanted to convert it to a side table for beside an armchair. It’s black with abundant rust traces. The top was actually a sort of ‘lazy Susan’ but I can’t think of a sensible reason why I would want to revolve a side table. I want to keep my scotch and soda at arm’s length and not spinning out of reach like at Yum Cha. I bought a vaguely wooden round table top in a dump store for it and when I took to it with sandpaper it fluffed up like candyfloss. I need to learn about faux wood. I want to do a decoupage decoration on the table surface but Menz is probably not the environment for this less practical stuff, although they encourage suggestions for future skills practice and there are many skills among members.
The blokes look askance at my table and suggest black paint or varnish to cover the rust and patchy surface. They clearly want to ‘tidy it up’ more than I do. My idea is ‘rustic industrial chic’.
The workshop has masses of machinery and the men help me with the names of gadgets that we use. Ratchet. Combination square. I’m all over it. Not. I had my eye on a grinder that has a sort of tiny floor polisher looking attachment made of lethal metal spikes. Someone says it will take the rust on my table down to silver but I don’t want that. Anyway, Les says it’s too dangerous for a newbie like me. I do some sanding and wire brushing and Les saws off the nails sticking out of the bottom of the legs with sparks flying everywhere. I can’t work out why his trousers don’t catch fire.
John’s wife Eve shows up and is my first female colleague at Menz. Looking like an astronaut because of head safety, she whips up a perfect looking wooden bowl on a wood turner and helps me clean the gunk off my table legs with white spirits.
You can’t complain about the membership fee – just $30. With it comes my own ear muffs and protective goggles that immediately have my name emblazoned on them and are shoved into a dusty pigeonhole, which will have my name on it as soon as my sub is in the bank. How cool is that?
Morning tea is announced by a loud hooter and we all clatter around a large table for tea, coffee and biscuits. Dunking your gingernuts is OK and one gentleman ices a slab of chocolate cake in situ, complete with a lone candle. He doesn’t want to talk about the obvious purpose of this cake. No problem.
A Scout master joins us for tea and asks about someone teaching scouts to make a knife. There are lots of suggestions and then, by pure chance, a former blacksmith and new member turns up. He has great suggestions and produces a gigantic sharpened cleaver sort of instrument from his pocket and like Crocodile Dundee proclaims, “That’s not a knife. This is a knife.” Fred tips out the morning tea gold coin donation coins and some comic has donated metal washers.
The second week, I take an old office chair, bought at the Whangarei dump store for $2. The blokes look a little startled but they will get used to my stuffed stuff. They kindly carry it for me to an operating table and soon Pete has the raggedy splintered wooden seat sanded smooth and clean and sends me to the supermarket to buy coconut oil to oil it. A vigorous scouring with a metal pad reveals a patina on the table metal but the pads’ plastic composition is almost useless. Mental note - bring an apron next time or wear scruffier clothes. The following week my chair is ready to go home to my desk and is clean and au naturele, not over-tidied and varnished.
I’m going twice a week to this blissful Menz Shed retreat and take along items that I never dreamed of bringing back to life.
The fundraising knife sharpening day is extraordinary and confirms that I have indeed joined rural New Zealand - but that’s another story.