When I was a young boy, the most mystical place I knew of wasn’t in my imagination or in any books I had read. Rather, it was down the end of my street in between the haberdashery and a gift store that seemed to exclusively stock stuff nobody wanted. It was Phil’s hardware store and it was packed with some of the most amazing, fascinating and down-right weird things I could imagine.
I spent hours wandering the store’s bare wooden floors, enthralled by such medieval contraptions as industrial sized rat traps, spring-loaded vice-grips and compressed-air powered staple guns. And the things I learnt talking to the old men who crowded Phil’s counter kept me in good stead in my adult years. I can still impress Susie by authoritively stating that an 8G galvanized counter-sunk self-tapping screw is just the thing needed to do the job. Or that a 14.2 volt cordless jigsaw is going to rip through sheet metal 10 times faster than a 12 volt.
So it was an exciting time when I decided that the girls were ready to sample their first hardware store. I was interested to see how they would react to the smell of stale grease, the sound of old men whistling through their teeth and the site of a store display made totally out of corrugated iron. “Will there be Barbies there?” was all Maisie wanted to know. “Well, yeah, but they’re the kind of barbies you cook with, not the ones you play with”. After I promised to buy them a flower in the gardening section, Maisie and Frances accompanied me to the store.
I should have known that a serious revolution had taken place in the world of hardware when, rather being located in the middle of the local High street, the store was located in the middle of a car park. Likewise, the gauntlet of sausage sizzles I had to pass just to get to the front door of the store should have told me that this hardware experience wasn’t going to progress as I’d imagined – but blindly I pushed on.
After passing a battery of registers manned by uniformed twelve-year-olds I was confronted by a make-shift auditorium playing host to Dale the Chippie. Dale was educating an enthralled crowd on the mystical healing properties of epoxy resin which, coincidently, could be purchased directly from Dale following the presentation. While I was busy finding a seat, Maisie’s eagle-eye had found its mark. Just past Dale, next to an indoor playground that deserved its own postcode, was a table offering to teach toddlers the life skill of pipe-cleaner insect manufacturing. Dale’s hypnotic display would have to wait.
With Maisie engaged in insect creation and Frances lost in some demented maze in the playground I whizzed around all 20 hectares of the store trying to find one packet of screws. When I finally returned, carrying a dozen items I had only just decided I couldn’t live without (but no screws), Maisie’s face was painted like a tiger and Frances was screaming for a sausage. By the time I got back to the car I was completely frazzled and flat broke. What the hell had happened to the humble hardware experience? When had it gone from a refuge for old men and young boys to the worlds biggest school fete? Just as I was determining never to enter another hardware store again Maisie piped up: “Can we come back next week?” In that instant, life had come full circle – just as the hardware store had been my favorite destination as a child, so it has becomes Maisie’s favorite store. But I can’t help thinking that, somewhere along the way, something has been missed. The humble bbq is now a Master Chef proving ground, a "simple" birthday party means hiring only one entertainer and now even a trip to the hardware store has become an 'event'.
Am I just becoming old or have many of the ‘simple’ things given way to screaming whistles and pounding bells? What else is there out there that was once simple and is now a carnival? Comment on Joseph's blog.