Francis Meyrick


The Modelmaker

Posted on February 29, 2008

(It’s always interested me how many people didn’t like the Modelmaker.

He first appeared mixed in with the aviation stories in ‘Castles in the Sky’. Many were the folk who said it didn’t belong there.
A prosperous young lady told me she felt the Modelmaker was a pompous ass, but added that ‘at least he admitted it himself’.

The Modelmaker doesn’t seem to sit well with folk. His efforts are admittedly confused and almost irrelevant in our big wide world.
Working for ONE positive little result doesn’t appear to be considered worth it.
I’ve learned not to be too hard on the Modelmaker.
Yes, he’s a twit. But a well-meaning twit.
Warm heart.
Yes? No?
And at least he’s GOT a heart.
There’s more than a bit of symbolism in this story.)


Photo by Woodleywonderworks

“THE MODELMAKER “

Ireland in the early nineteen seventies…

The youth club was in a tough area of Dublin.
Very tough. It was full of bleak run down tenement buildings, council owned, dirty and squalid.

Nice people lived there. Not-so-nice people. And pretty horrible people.Often they would have children. The children came to the youth club. They varied a lot. Nice. Not-so-nice. Pretty horrible.
A horrible child I hear you say indignantly? No such thing. Only horrible parents. It’s an argument. Then again, at some stage a child loses its innocence, becomes an adult… What then?

Some were pretty rough.
I was warned about Josey. Josey was twelve, and would steal anything if it wasn’t nailed down, cast in concrete, or guarded by a Dobermann. Even then you risked him stealing the Dobermann. He was in trouble with the law. Mind, a lot of them were. So that was nothing unusual. His crime had been to break into a house one night belonging to two old dears. He had bust open the gas meter to rob the coins. Then scarpered, leaving gas pouring into the house. It was lucky the two old women didn’t die. As it was they had been badly gassed. Josey had been caught, and the case was running through the legal system. Not that this worried Josey. It was happening in his family all the time. His father was a drunkard, in and out of prison all the time. His mother was poor of intelligence, drank, got picked up frequently for begging, disorderly conduct, harassing tourists in O’Connell Street, and picking fights. They had twelve children. All had convictions. Josey was the youngest.
It seemed that all the family vented their rage on Josey, and he commonly turned up at the club covered in bruises and ugly welts. Many youth workers, especially female idealists, had tried taking pity on young Josey. But the attempts seemed to always fail. He would steal anything from anybody, including a bicycle from a girl who thought she was getting somewhere with him, break things in the club, fight, and was widely suspected of having tried to burn the club down several times.
Yet he still came, sullen, defiant, hard eyed…

Amon, the chief youth leader used to sigh when he saw Josey. “Ah, sure, Francis, if we’re not open for the likes of Josey, who are we open for? ” I couldn’t refute the logic. Poor Amon. A bus conductor with a heart of gold, he had tried to get a salaried post as a social worker or youth leader several times. He lived in the area, and understood its folk. But he was always turned down in favor of some middle class college kid, bright-eyed and innocent, but with a degree in Social Science or something… Some lousy piece of paper anyway.

I had been present at one of the interviews, and had watched him being torn apart by a prim, very important lady. Who wielded a lot of clout. She was the one who made most of the appointments in youth clubs and social clubs, without ever working in those places, and often without even visiting them. We had gone for this interview to a plush building, air conditioned, and it took place in her office.
Amon, as a salaried worker, would have done more good than twenty five newly qualified ex University social workers, but convincing the powers of that was hopeless. So he carried on as best he could, collecting fares on buses during the day, and, at night, working caringly with people; be they young, old, infirm, mad or lonely.
I met him one night, nursing a black eye and horrible bruising. He had been to see Josey’s Dad, trying to arrange legal defense for young Josey. His reward had been a telling not to meddle in other people’s affairs, and a hiding that culminated in being kicked down the stairs. He wouldn’t, of course, go to the police, the ‘Garda’ as they were called. Even if he had, it is likely they would have just rolled their eyes to heaven. They knew that family only too well…

I was angry. I was also bigger. I went up to Josey’s dad. He came to the door dead drunk. The flat stank of urine and dog excrement. His body odor would make a corpse gag. His little eyes were mean and hard. He listened to what I had to say. He didn’t invite me in. Thank goodness. Did fourteen people really live there? Minus the ones taking turns in prison? Minus Josey of course, who preferred the coal cellar at the bottom of the building, where he didn’t get beaten up so much?
Had this man once been a child? It was difficult to imagine. At any rate, he didn’t care about me. I was too big to thump, but he contented himself with a throat rasping cough, gathering a mouthful of ammunition. For one second I reckoned he was debating firing the missile at me, but at the last second he turned his head slightly, and a vile yellow sticky glob of spittle fired out the door past my elbow. I didn’t flinch. I wanted an answer on the subject of Josey’s defense. I didn’t get one. All I got was the spittle. The door was closed with a bang, and I could hear him fart loudly as he walked off. He simply couldn’t care less.
As Amon would say, “If we’re not open for the likes of Josey, Francis, who are we open for? “

A year went by. Josey at times drove me up the wall. He was so destructive, and was guaranteed to cause chaos and anarchy the moment your back was turned. He particularly hated some of the ‘nicer’ boys, none of whom could match Josey in street fighting skills. Any opportunity for a quick sock in the gob of some harmless lad enjoying himself doing no harm, was taken up by Josey. He seemed to relish inflicting pain. The times I wanted him banned permanently were legion, but somehow he always escaped that fate.

Was I getting anywhere? Probably not. I was realistic enough to know that. Sloppy sentimentalism and wide eyed idealism had long since been knocked out of me. I had little illusions of ever doing anything for Josey.

Then came the day.
I was standing in the hall, behind the big more or less vandal proof front door. I was talking to some other kids. We were laughing. Josey came up.
In a flash, he had whisked off my glasses, and punched me with all his force smack on the nose. My vision disappeared behind a sea of tears, and I coughed and spluttered as blood poured down my nose. It was some while before I could wipe the tears from my eyes and see again. The sudden ferocity of the attack had completely overwhelmed me. I could see again, and there was Josey, holding out my (undamaged) glasses to me, with a look of almost apology on his dirty face. I was staggered. Resisting an irresistible urge to forthwith beat the living daylights out of the little tinker, I accepted my glasses back. There was an awkward silence. The other kids were dumbstruck. I put my glasses on, and tried to recover my composure.

“What did you do that for? “.

He shrugged his shoulders. For once, an almost childlike innocence on his face.

“Dunno, just felt like it. “

There was another pause. The urge to break his dirty little neck had somehow gone.
“It hurt “, seemed a more sensible thing to say. And for once, he almost seemed sorry.
Josey SORRY about something? Unbelievable.
Maybe I was getting somewhere…

After that, there was a subtle change in my relationship with Josey. We could talk. Play.
Nothing dramatic. But… somehow it was a more normal relationship.
What had happened?
I shall never know. Had he been jealous of the attention I was giving the others?
One thing was sure, I felt. I had been right to keep my (ruffled) cool. Right not to shout when he hit me. Right not to be angry.
He had not really MEANT to hurt me…

* * * * *

I was working voluntarily during the summer in a French institute near Bourges.
It was a strange place. It housed several hundred children, ranging in age from four or five up to seventeen. All were handicapped in some way. Some were severely handicapped, both mentally and physically. Some were mentally retarded, but physically fine. And some were mentally bright as buttons, but physically impaired in some way.
To this last group belonged Jean-Paul.

He was seventeen, remarkably good looking.
Tall, attractive features. The girls all agreed he had the makings of a stunner. His trouble was a deformed right arm. From the elbow down, things were not right.
His mind, though, appeared intellectually razor sharp. Listening to his conversation, he was very bright, sharply witty, but with a tendency towards verbal cruelty. I would spar words with him in my imperfect French, and he would make fun of me. I wasn’t that bad on the old repartee myself, and on more than one occasion I too brought the house down – on my side.
Then the joke was on Jean-Paul.

He seemed to cope with this well enough for a while. Enjoying it when he won the war of words, suffering it when the laughter was perhaps a little against him.
Or so I thought. Maybe I was not experienced or mature enough to recognize the warning signs…
I liked him. Went out of my way to say ‘hello’. Chatted to him about his family. Got the impression there was a huge bitterness in him about his family. Noticing his expensive clothes and proud bearing I was not surprised to learn from the institute’s wonderfully caring Director that Jean Paul came from a wealthy background. Yes, they had money. Did they visit him often? The Director looked sad. I knew enough.
Jean Paul felt abandoned because he was not as beautiful as the rest of his family…

I liked him. I thought he liked me.
Until the day at mealtime he smacked me as hard as he could (very hard) over the back of the head with a hammer.

The excruciating pain on my face before I slumped over the table and my gasp of hurt brought staff running from all directions. I was vaguely aware of a fluent French telling off going on behind me. I was too hurt to care.
It was some while before the pain eased. The concern of all was written deep in others eyes. But I was all right.
Shaken, sore, but no broken skull.

From then on, things were rather different.
It was NOT an isolated incident. He would try and sneak up behind me with all sorts of weapons. One day he nearly got in position with a vicious looking screwdriver. A timely yell from a French staff member saved me from a fate worse than I had already experienced.

This guy made me nervous. Although he bullied some of the other children, there was no violence or malice there of the sort that was directed at me. I seemed to be the odd man out he hated. I grew very wary. If I came into a room I checked first to see if by any chance my little friend was waiting for me behind the curtains. I talked it over with the Director, who was as surprised as I was.
Not normal behavior…

Time went by, and Jean-Paul and I existed in a state of perpetual siege. I tried to act normally, and not to show he was bugging me. Not quite easy. The staff members were worried, and if ever they saw him coming up behind me, there would be an immediate warning:

“Regardez! Regardez! Jean-Paul vient! Derriere-toi! “

Great fun…

My time drew to an end. I was going to go back to Ireland. There was a farewell meal, and I said goodbye to several of the staff I had really befriended. I was a young man, and some of the French ladies had quite captured me. In many ways I was sorry to be leaving.

The bus had arrived. A group of us were chatting.

“Regardez! Regardez! Jean-Paul vient! “

I too had seen him coming. I watched him approach our little group nervously. Was this a farewell party piece? I looked for signs of a concealed hammer or screwdriver. A knife maybe? What was he up to?
Our little group fell silent.

Could he have a word with me alone? I was REALLY suspicious now. But…
I looked at the others. They looked at me. Mystified.
I went with him. We walked about twenty yards away.
The group looked on. I was VERY WARY.

What is it, Jean-Paul?

He looked at me. I couldn’t read anything from his expression. He wanted to know if I was coming back.
No, I said, I had to return to Ireland, where I was at university. It was a long way to travel.

He looked at me. I waited. Not unkindly. Just wondering.

Suddenly…

“Il me fait mal au coeur que tu pars! “
(it breaks my heart that you are leaving!)

And he burst into tears, threw his arms around me, and sobbed his heart out!

Gobsmacked! I cuddled him closely, trying to comfort him, and looked across at the group standing twenty yards away.
Helpless, I think my expression must have been a combination of:
1) “I’ll be… What do you think of THAT! “
2) Grief probably. Grief for such a hurt little human being…

I would never forget those words.
And the group… every man and woman had their jaw hanging open!

Stunning.

* * * * *

Dublin once more.
Trouble in the youth club – again.
All sorts of trouble.
The Parish priest and I. We didn’t hit it off. He wanted to close the place down because of all the complaints. Everybody else was terrified of him. I wasn’t. Told him exactly what I thought of him.
Didn’t go down well…
I did not want to see the place closed down. Nor did the Garda. “Keep them off the streets, Francis “, was the plea of the hard pressed forces of Law and Order.
And the Parish priest, who only visited once a year when there was more trouble than usual, could go and…

But there was always trouble.
One day, a neighbor came banging furiously on the club door. Elderly man. Screaming his head off. Can’t understand him. Slow down man, what ARE you on about?

“Your kids are stoning my chickens at the back! “

What? How can they? The door to the back garden is locked!
The man, demented with rage, is jumping up and down from one leg to the other:

“They’re standing on the roof! “

The ROOF??
This is a big building. Which roof?
THE GYMNASIUM???
That’s about sixty feet high. How… They’ll kill themselves!

I scramble frantically upstairs, out the top window, ignore the horrible drop to the concrete pavement below… Up the slate roof, peer over the edge… and, sure enough, there they stand, our dearly beloved children, our nice kids, our little angels, four of them, on top of the gymnasium, stoning our neighbors’ chickens…

Instant loss, I regret to say, of my formidable temper…
Oh, how the fully trained social worker might have said:

“Now, now, boys, stop that, please. Really now…etc! “

Yes, that’s the way I should have handled it.

“PADDY, JIMMY, BOBBY, SEAMUS COME HERE THIS INSTANT OR I’LL BREAK ALL YOUR LEGS AND ARMS NOT TO MENTION YOUR SCRAWNY LITTLE NECKS YOU STUPID LITTLE …etc “

All I need…

There was always trouble. I really believed in youth clubs. Still do. But there was always trouble. Like when the modeling competition was announced.
My idea of course. Trust all the trouble to stem from my bright ideas…

As a kid I loved making plastic Airfix models. I had all sorts of World War 1 and World War 2 aircraft suspended with threads from the ceiling, where they would whirl around in gigantic dogfights. I remember I had a Sopwith Camel, and one day I was hooking it back to its threads. I had taken it down for a routine dusting off.
I somehow dropped it, and watched aghast as it fell to the ground and shattered into pieces. Undaunted, I soon rebuilt it, and it was almost a prize possession, as it was the only model to have really flown, crashed, and been rebuilt.
I had learned lots of tricks, and I resolved to teach some of those skills at the youth club.
One thing that is very difficult to teach is patience. You need an abundance of it when building models. As for TEACHING a roomful of unruly horrors the skills…
Well…

A casual listener outside the door would have been entertained. The tumult from within consists of whoops and cheers and wails and clattering. Occasional roars and pleas from Francis to the over enthusiastic but equally quickly despondent troops within:

‘wait’, ‘hang on’, ‘just a moment’, ‘PLEASE’.

The chatter of many simultaneous conversations…

“Hang on Jimmy, wait until the glue’s dry. Try and find the next thing to do. “
“Bobby, you’ve got to paint the wheels first before you stick them on. “
“Eddy, break the pieces off very gently, use a knife or a scissors. “
“Mind the paint pot, Tommy… “

(wail from Jimmy. whirl around)

“Jimmy, I told you to not to try and glue the wings on until the fuselage is dry. “

(wail from Eddy)

“Now you’ve broken it. You’ve got to be careful. Don’t rush it. Come here, I’ll fix it. Don’t worry, it’s not spoiled… “

(wail from Bobby)

“That’s because you’ve not stirred the paint properly. That’s why it’s runny… “

(wail from Tommy)

“Oh, you clot! Now you’ve done it. Grab a clean rag. “

Etc, etc, etc.
Nerve wracking.
Dismal failures and unexpected successes.
They all tended to start too enthusiastically. It was obvious that ninety five per cent had never seen a model kit. They would look at the picture on the box or the packet.

“Wow! Look at that! I’ll have THAT one! “

Sometimes they would open the box with a look that signaled the discovery of the crown jewels.
Somehow many expected that inside there lay a nearly complete model of what they saw painted on the lid. That a few minutes would put it all together, as spectacular and colorful as the artist’s drawing…

When realization set in that this was going to be a hard slog, requiring much finickety work, some quickly became disillusioned. I had a cupboard full of half finished models, which I kept to cannibalize for spares.
You had to watch the ones who were giving up, starting to just ham around and smash up what work they had achieved.
For in next to no time they would focus attention on their neighbor’s labors, and smash up his airplane with relish. That sort of trouble makers had to be dealt with quickly and firmly, and booted out of the modelling room if necessary, or Armageddon quickly threatened. Josey of course… was an early casualty.

At night I would lock the partially built models away, well aware that otherwise they would never survive the journey home. Once built, I usually had the lads driven home, for the same reason. The kids who failed to produce their own models were, of course, insanely jealous of those who did.
Time went by, and we made progress. I learned a lot about teaching the skills. Never take on a class of more than four to five. Even then you run about as if you’ve got ants in your pants. Take your eye off the ball for ONE SECOND, and disaster strikes, and somebody’s hard work of the previous thirty minutes is nullified.
Many an evening I spent afterwards quietly correcting the worst messes, so that our little junior had a clean base from which to start again the next week. Otherwise there was a risk they would give up. They never noticed, and it was gratifying to see somebody’s courage rekindled, when he was about to give up.

I had been cooking up a crazy idea for some time. (Yet another). Once there were plenty of models finished, and plenty more being built, I announced a competition.
For the best three models. To be judged by… a real pilot. First three prizes: a thirty minute flying trip in a REAL aeroplane, a Cessna 172, over their homes.
I had gone along to the ‘Iona Flying Club’ at Dublin airport, and procured the services of a friendly flying instructor.
He had smilingly agreed to turn up on the appointed night, wearing as much gold as he could lay his hands on, and look as ‘pilotish’ as possible. He would then judge the three winners, talk a bit about airplanes, and then inform the three winners where and when they would be flying.
None of the lads had EVER flown, and it is hard to describe the excitement the news brought about.
Those who had failed to build a model split into two camps. Those who now wanted to have another go. And those who were determined to wreck the models already built.
I was more than worried about the last group. After one or two red Indian style war raids on the modelling room, I took to locking the door when classes were in progress.
In the days before the competition, I started taking the completed models home with me. I dreaded the consequences for some of the lads if their hard work of many a week ended up in a maliciously smashed up wreck. Some of them had put in a fierce amount of effort. Probably for many the biggest single constructive effort of their entire lives so far…

The evening of the competition arrived. All the models were proudly displayed in the modelling room, along with the names of their builders. The pilot was due any minute. I was warned by one of the girls that a nasty mob was gathering in the hall. I went to investigate. Sure enough, a mob of those who had failed to produce a thing. Jealous. Ugly mood. Ten, twelve, fourteen year olds hell bent on destruction. Destruction of the display.
The leader was apparent to me. Demagogue. As I arrived at the top of the stairs, he was trying to jostle, push, bully them into launching another red Indian style war raid. Suddenly, with a yell, he launched himself up the stairs at me, at the head of his troops. They followed, with delighted whooping. I saw red.
Completely over reacted. Belted him one. Over the top. Sent him flying back down the stairs. End of red Indian raid.
Ashamed of myself. Spoiled the evening for me.
I didn’t even attend the prize giving. Stayed in the kitchen. Miserable. Why the hell did I take things so seriously? Why so fiercely protective about a bunch of crummy models? Wise up, Francis.
My girlfriend was there. Dympna. She seemed to understand. A real lady.
The prizes were awarded. And in due course the three delighted prize winners went flying over Dublin. Talk of the town. Good. I suppose.

I was getting depressed again. I guess I just got too involved. And being only just twenty or so, I guess I wasn’t mature enough to cope with powerful images and feelings. I was living Life, that was for sure. But what the hell did I think of it all? What was the purpose of it all? There were lots of laughs and fun. Sure. But some of the images I have retained, and was busy gathering then, of the downside of Dublin life, were haunting.
Colossal injustices. Daughters being married off by greedy parents to much older wealthy cruel men.
What do you say in reply to certain questions?
Tearful sweet little girl. Barely seventeen. Not stupid, not bright. Biggest asset is also her biggest liability:
big boobs and nice figure. Parents want her to marry middle aged shopkeeper.

“Francis, what should I do? ” Answer THAT one. Depressing.

Alcoholics. The Irish drink too much. Fundamentally, by nature, a warm and kind hearted people. Welcoming. Good old Celtic tradition. Much warmer than the Anglo Saxons.
Approach a complete stranger in Ireland. Try a typical Irish ” Hello there, lovely day! “
Chances are within fifteen minutes you’re chatting away ten to the dozen. Best of pals.
Approach a complete stranger in England. Try a typical Irish “Hello there, lovely day! “
Chances are within fifteen seconds you’re on your own. Having received a VERY funny look. After all, you haven’t been introduced...
I know. Believe me. I’ve been there.

Yes, the Celts are friendly. Don’t mean any harm. Loud, but innocent. But, boy, do they drink. Too much. And the sights I saw were depressing. Very sad. And it all seemed so pointless. And then there would be Moyra, poor little barely seventeen year old, now barely twenty. Pushing a pram with two kids in it, and heavily pregnant with a third… And rumors going around to the effect that the perverted old bastard beats her up every night. She suddenly looks forty. And all because the Pope has decreed…

The troubles went on. Trouble AT the youth club. Trouble ABOUT the youth club. I wanted to strangle one or two people. Moaners.
Patience, never my strongest point, occasionally failed completely, and my ferocious tongue could instill fury in my victims.
Call a dumb ass a donkey. And to hell if he doesn’t like carrots…
Yup. I could be a real diplomat.

More trouble. A message that a couple wanted to see me at the door. Oh, now what? Went down. A middle aged couple. Short. Dad and Mum of one of our lads. How do you do?
Thinks: “Now what am I supposed to have done wrong? “
I’m wary. They want me to come around to their corporation flat afterwards. What for? They won’t say.
What’s going on? I get the impression they’re secretly pleased about something. I don’t know.

Later, ten p.m.
Club locked up. I walk around to the address they have given me. Streets are nearly empty. Full of rubbish. I aim a vicious kick at an empty tin can. It flies satisfyingly through the air, and impacts off a wall with a loud clatter.
Scrawny cats. Dogs.
Some drunkard arguing with a woman in a doorway. Clutching his blessed bottle. Pathetic. Do you know how sordid and depressing you look, man? If only you could see yourself. Pathetic. Cop on to yourself.
I’ll NEVER end up like that.
I hope.

I arrive at the right tenement building. Up the stone stairs. As usual, the smell of urine. Somewhere, somebody is yelling. Somebody else yelling back. Dog barking. Baby crying. God, what a crummy place.

You’re a snob, Mister Meyrick… An arrogant overbearing snob. Bloody do-gooder. Come and do your little social work ‘thing’, and then disappear back off to your comfortable flat in Rathgar. Think you’re wonderful, huh? Bet you shine your halo every morning, huh?
Where did you get the God-given right to be so damn judgemental, eh? You may not like the place. But it’s still ‘home’ for a lot of people. Remember that.

Yeah, sure. Okay, I’m doing nothing. I’m wasting my time. I’m arrogant. I’ll give up the youth club, and forget about social work. Yeah. Go and make money, and work for a ‘career’ like everybody else. Sure…

I arrived at the door of the flat. Right number? Yes. Rang the bell. Plump little lady opens the door, smiling.
The smile of the executioner? Plump little husband is there as well. Smiling. Malicious smile?
Takes my coat? What’s this all about? Yes, I’d like a cup of tea, but please tell me what I’ve done wrong.

They show me through the hall. Place is really clean, tidy, pleasant. Very homely. What goes on?
They open a bedroom door. Invite me in.
I glimpse one of my lads sitting there, smiling sheepishly. Proudly, but a bit coy.

“WHAT THE…???… INCREDIBLE!!!! “

From the ceiling hangs suspended a vast squadron of World War 1 and World War 2 aircraft. Fighters and bombers. All whirling and screaming round each other. All beautifully and lovingly finished, and correctly painted. Not easy.
Superb…
I examine it all closely. Excellent workmanship. And the display… just as I had it at home when I was a kid his age. Well. What a surprise!

Everybody’s grinning. I get royally treated to tea and biscuits. Told by proud parents how much their boy has changed… for the better.
They just wanted to say…

” thank you… “

* * *

I walked cheerfully back to the youth club, going out of my way to kick every empty can in sight.
The drunkard was still arguing with the woman. I bid them both the heartiest of goodnights.
-Merry Kwissmasz to you too-, the drunkard slurred, thickly. But I couldn’t care less.

“I’ve made a modelmaker “, I thought to myself.

It sounded good.

“I’ve made a modelmaker “, I said out loud.

I thought it was hilariously funny.
For some reason I was deliriously pleased with myself.

“I’ve made a modelmaker “.

Another thought struck me.

“That makes me a maker of a modelmaker. I’m a modelmaker’s maker.
In fact, I’m a modelmaker-maker. “

And I sauntered along, with a swagger, for once absolutely delighted with my little self…

F.M.

Last edited by Francis Meyrick on May 24, 2009, 3:33 pm


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