Upcycling & the life of a Lovejoy Womble
At the age of four my mum and dad moved to Turriff in the North east of Scotland with me and my three older sisters(my brother was to come later as a pure bred Turriff boy).
I recall from an early age being so thankful that my parents had decided to buy our new house, an old abandoned school, a spare old school next door, garage/workshop and for also making sure it was a short distance from a local dump. Looking back now I’m pretty sure the location of the dump was not in the selection process or that they considered for a moment the joy it would provide me with for the years to come, but back then I was grateful. Secondly, I am guessing that it was also not also in their plan to parachute me into a world of upcycling and engineering, that I have to admit, was my doing.
In the 1970’s the days were longer and life was simpler. No mobiles, no IPADS, no computers and no Insta or other methods of global embarrassment. Mistakes and missteps where limited to sibling ridicule and no method of being able post them to global audience existed. If it had, I am in no doubt that my sisters would have taken full advantage of the downsides of being a boy at the end of the “hand me down” chain!
Back then, taking pictures of food was the preserve of the health inspectors investigating some minor outbreak and not a craft on its own. It now seems that the humble beans on toast can attract over a million views! How the world has changed.
Upcycling & dirty hands
Summers were warm enough to melt tar and the winters had real snow, however, I suppose every adult looks back on their childhood with rose tints and fond memories. I still not convinced however that butter is the best method of removing tar from a child’s hands after a few hours of playing on the road, but it was always within an arm’s reach of my mum and stored in her virtual break glass of remedies, undoubtedly handed down from mother to daughter. I still can’t eat butter on sandwiches to this day, as this particular scarring looks like it’s with me for life!
Upcycling & Older times
As far as upcycling and re-purposing is concerned, it’s true that most of us unwittingly walked into a throw away world where IKEA rules and it’s easier to dump and buy new than effect any kind of repair. Television repair men, washing machine repair men, cobblers, saddlers and basically all the trades are consigned to history, but when I was young catapults came from trees and bike inner tubes and not Amazon and where old prams were converted to go-karts spawning a new generation mechanics and engineers. In reality I am sure that there were some downsides to growing up in that time, but now, and watching the world going slightly crazy, maybe my memories are not so tinted after all and I’m pretty sure that I could still whittle a mean crossbow or catapult if any of these zombie apocalypse abilities were ever needed in the future.
Anyway, back to the scavenging and where it started. I loved the local dump! but it’s was not really how most would imagine though. It did not have black bags of household waste or other of sacks of dubious content. No, house waste was collected by the “scaffies” and this dump was where everything that might end up on Market place or landfill now, ended up there instead. A curious mix of ford Anglias, Morris Minors, furniture, fridges, top loaders and countless contents of a drawers from umpteen house clearances. I often wonder at what point would become worthwhile to excavate the old dump and to recover a bygone car or two?? Anyway, a curious mix of jumble it was somewhere between Aladdin’s cave and Santa’s grotto where an aspiring child inventor could find a bottomless chain of goodies. Considering that three bits of rust held together with more bits of rust and ford escort badge constitutes a second mortgage on Ebay nowadays, it can’t be long before I would be able sell the hidden location of the old dump for a king’s ransom…
Recycle Dump & Train to…
OK, to the story again! The dump very quickly became my second home when I was growing up and from about the age of 8 it was my go to place and became my special place and enchanted playground. I do think back sometimes about why my mum let me go there on my own to be honest, often disappearing for hours and for her not to worry, but this was the seventies and part feral kids were normal, plus I was the only boy and not part of the female trinity, so they had more normal offspring spares.
Also, it actually was normal practice for my parents to put me on the train at the start of the summer holidays in Aberdeen while asking some random unsuspecting passenger to make sure I get off at Queens cross station in Glasgow, (3 hours away) in the hope of being intercepted by my Grandma and Papa at the other end, and then forward posted the next day on a bus to Islay and after they too captured and unsuspecting fellow passenger and relayed the handover procedures. I am sure these are all jail able offences now, but as I said, simpler times…
I have always been an engineer and inventor and right from the start I was destined for it and possibly the easiest afternoon for my career officer ever had when going through “options” at my twilight school years. It was a sealed deal from the start and he knew it. Stretching back and with the faintest of chin rubbing added for effect it was noted, stamped and cast in stone…ENGINEERING. Years later when stuck in Africa, alone on one of my many solo trips, I often consoled myself with the thought of tracking that particular career maker down and kicking him squarely in the shins, but destiny had delivered me to the dump at the start and my curiously scientific mind did the rest, so his day of atonement never came.
At the age of nine, and once able to lift a television into a wheelbarrow for the trek home things really kicked off for me and probably my earliest memory of upcycling. Now I am not talking about the plastic wafer thin picture frame television jobs you get now, no I am talking about the full fat cathodic ray ones that left shadow imprints on the wall behind the unsuspecting child who sat too close. Immensely heavy for a nine year old to get in a wheelbarrow, but they outweighed themselves pound for pound in the dissection and fun department. Incidentally, I was constantly told by my mum when sitting glued to it watching that it would ruin my eyes, but once I understood the science more I can see that it was actually a public service announcement she was making to avoid radiation poisoning, rather than what a future of wearing glasses would do for me.
My first upcycling experiment was using a television to make a room to room intercom with bell wire and suitable distributed speakers and also a listening device for future covert use against my pesky sisters. I don’t honestly remember being taught electronics at that age and the only book I can remember reading on it was “simple electronics” from the lady bird collection from a church sale. Other than that it was all self-taught and while other kids were buying football cards with chewing gum I was buying batteries much to the dismay of my school friends who would be electric shocked by one of my devices made from the inner guts of the television. By the way I still call them televisions without abbreviating and not TV’s or the latest trend of the “tele”! Wtf, I really must be getting older!
Often I would spend a whole day at the dump harvesting components or items to work with, so I suppose that my urge to upcycle roots was really entertainment or possibly a way of satisfying my need to understand how everything works in the world, a thing I still do to this day and love nothing more than “speaking shop” about world science! I suppose my mum just accepted the fact that this was how I was wired and my dad said little about it at all, but I know that he was delighted when I made a light detector from an old radio that told him when a car was arriving at the house. I think he was less impressed when he discovered I drilled though the window frame to accomplish this feat, but nothing came without wires in these vintage years!
Even now I can remember all the items I made(or attempted) some were my pride and joy until the next project and some, like the when I made “hand grenades“ from match heads and railway bolts are best forgotten and nobody more please that the my intact 10 fingers
Upcycling as I grew
As I grew into a teenager and adult, I spend less time at the tip and more time with motorbikes and girls(or girl to be more accurate) So, in the heady early eighties a new thing arrived and with my new found wealth as an apprentice on £48.52 a week (yes, I still have the first wage slip) SCOT ADS! The highlight of Thursday night and a good three hours of reading! From that point on my world was immediately expanded and a new feeder route of the old and obsolete was available to me. Scrap yards too were the fields of plenty in those days and allowed to wander and route out the gems before the HSE police amputated this particular weekend activity for everybody. Seeking treasure was addictive and all consuming often stashing items of uniqueness for a future and yet unplanned use and where is still can pull items out of the long grass on the farm that I bought in my twenties!
Auctions satisfied my quest and delivered my bounty on the weekends after pay day. I suppose liked to think of myself as the Lovejoy of upcycling, even though upcycling had not really been invented then in the modern sense, but back then I saw a romanticised rescuer of the abandoned and unloved and it never left.
I literally love to upcycle and “save” stuff and I suppose from anyone else’s viewpoint I spend a little bit too much time repurposing old things. Now that the internet has replaced scotads, I see items everyday that I know that I can make into amazing pieces and must restrain myself from typing … “is this still available” ……most days.
As my method of collecting my projects has changed, so has my desire to not only repurpose, but to also keep as much out of landfill as possible, so the “future project” mountain is bigger than ever and growing. As I write this I have to chuckle as the weeks haul was a 6 ton cement tank, three tons of Douglas fir, A lazy-boy chair, four cast iron bath feet, a air cooler from a 1940’s compressor and… well you get the picture.
White Monday (now called circular Monday) is a relatively new idea and an antidote to the global consumption triggered by Black Friday, so regardless if you see yourself as a Womble or a fixer at least be a doer. Wear white not black and join us and be GREEN.. : ) Gavin
To be continued…
I love upcycling! Uphill cycling on the Hand….
Upcycling at Harestone Moss
Find out more about our upcycling projects