The Hobbyist (Part 1/3)
McKendrick was a hobbyist. Throughout his short-lived life he had turned his hand to just about every past-time imaginable in order to distract himself from all of the deadlines and appointments he had found himself subject to. During his final school year, he achieved a nine-dart check out in the time he had set aside for revising for an upcoming Biology A-Level resit. On the eve of the exam itself he was to be found alone in his room, grappling with the very basics of crochet with a view to creating a traditional set of Flemish table dressings in time for Christmas. As he sat outside the examination hall waiting for his number to be called, he proved his aptitude for the Rubik's Cube to his schoolmates, posting a personal best of forty-two seconds from a blind-start. His powers of procrastination were truly nothing short of prodigious, and he often imagined himself transposed into an alternative universe and an education system that granted due respect and reward to the young man's finely developed and wide-ranging skill set.
Unfortunately for 'Mac' (for this is how he had always been known), the reality of his situation was that he was subject to the whims of a society that held little stock in the extent of a man's kayak-carving capabilities, and far more in his ability to regurgitate information pertaining to the function of Polymerase in the process of DNA replication, and he found himself without the offer of a University place shortly after the passing of his eighteenth birthday. Academia's loss was the retail industry's gain however, as Mac easily found employment for himself at a small craft shop in Camberwell he was wont to frequent, and at which he imparted expert advice to the next generation of London's young hobbyists on the direction of their Airfix collections.
This talented man met his demise in the Winter of 2015. His life had meandered in the most unremarkable of ways for just over a quarter of a century, with no point of ambition to drive towards, no individual goal that he could dedicate his hours into achieving. This was true up until the final two months of his existence on this Earth, a period in which he experienced the thrill of completion for the very first time. He was shot in his smiling face.
I discovered my final hobby in November of 2014. I'd been working at an Arts and Crafts shop in South London for just over seven years. It was a role that extended far beyond just the simple working of a till whilst lazily recommending the model with the highest mark-up and it had been a job I'd loved for a vast majority of that time. We were situated in a notoriously rough borough, and as such my role often extended to the provision of pastoral care for our young regulars. I took great pride in the number of teenage boys I had guided away from lives of gang-warfare and distasteful music with a challenging Hawker Typhoon or rage-soothing MIG Fulcrum. The job was changing though, that was evident for all to see. The Internet and Playstations were beginning to take a greater hold of our youths' spare time, and our pool of regular customers was dwindling by the day. It was as if the world had entirely forgotten the importance of hobbies.
My frustration came to a head after a long, slow Saturday at the shop. I'd managed to shift a cheap, small scale model of HMS Victory (with seriously inferior rigging) to a grandfather looking for a teenager's birthday present and handled a couple of returns; but there had essentially been no business up until around 4 o'clock in the afternoon. It was around this time that Donald Rodney came in. Donald was seventeen, and I'd known him as a shop regular for five years. It was often the case in his early teens that he'd come to me with a problem—whether it be feeling pressured into experimenting with drugs, or being told that he had to carry a knife—and I would demonstrate to him a few new quilling techniques that I had been working on in order to keep him distracted from such trouble.
It had been at least six months since he had crossed our threshold, and I had assumed his life had descended into a plethora of vice in the absence of hobbies. But in he stepped in apparently fine fettle with the broad grin of a man who had simply stepped out for a momentary stroll, completely oblivious to the consternation he had caused to both me and—to a lesser extent—my manager William. The arrogance of his approach resulted in me taking a funny turn, and—much like a mother driven to violence by the relief of their child's return four hours beyond curfew—I launched myself over the counter and heavily struck Donald with a clenched fist, sending him crashing into a display of biblical paint-by-number scenes, before dropping to my knees to cradle his bleeding forehead in my lap.
It was shortly after this that William suggested, and eventually insisted, that I took a leave of unpaid absence to collect myself. “You're a fine hobbyist, Mac” he said to me, “but you mustn't punch the children.” In the days thereafter I did come to accept that he was, to a degree, correct and resolved not to repeat the behaviour when I returned in one fortnight. In the meantime I had plenty of days to fill. I had recently taken up archery at a small club up in Elephant and Castle, and set off there on the morning of my third day of leave to perfect my form. We had been given a few archery lessons during a weekend activities trip away to some dreary hill in Derbyshire with school, but it had never been a sport that I had had any opportunity to get fully to grips with, so I was glad in many ways for the time off.
My overriding memories of this day were that of sheer frustration. It soon became apparent to me that archery was not a hobby easily mastered, and too often for my liking did the arrow veer off to the right just moments before being released, resulting in it falling limply from the bow to land just five or six feet in front of my position. On the few occasions in which I did manage to impart a sustained period of flight, I had trouble zeroing in on my target and achieved nothing beyond grazing its outer circles a couple of times. It is unusual for me to be so inept when undertaking new skills, and even after the woman standing next to me had taken pity and imparted a few articles of friendly advice, I still failed to make the progress I desired. It was later suggested to me that I should take to the internet where I could find a whole variety of archery tutorial videos that would be able to teach me the basics of the sport and allow me to come back some other day with renewed vigour. I heeded this advice, slung my bow over my shoulder and set off down the Walworth Road and back to my accommodation.
I had almost been embarrassed at the club to admit to my ignorance of what can be found on the Internet. I knew it existed, I knew that there were videos aplenty stored within its digital vaults, but I had always been led to believe that these videos operated under the strict ruling that they should solely contain a cat; and should the cat be unavailable, a dead eyed teenage girl being repeatedly violated by middle-aged men with beards. I suppose it was a fact to be found somewhere in my subconscious mind that some enterprising chap somewhere in the world would have recognized the Internet's potential for hobby tutelage, but it had never been a fact that had been brought to my attention before that day.
I was living at that time in a Victorian terrace just off of Peckham Road and not a five minute walk from Camberwell Green. It had always been my ambition to live alone after leaving school; I had yearned for a solitary existence that would provide me with the optimal environment for mastering all of the hobbies I so desired. It soon became apparent—however—that should I wish to have any spare time at all and to not be working every god-sent hour, that I would have to take lodgings with some similar minded twenty-somethings. Compared to some of the stories you hear of inconsiderate house-mates, with their penchants for ill-conceived electro music and barbarous love-making, my living situation was not at all unpleasant. I had been living with George—an artist who attended a near by art school and who I had met at the shop, where he would buy the enamel modelling paint he used to create dreary photo-realistic paintings of his home town of Coventry—for three years now. The third room in the house was occupied on an annual basis by one of a rolling stock of nylon clad hipsters, any one of which would claim to be three years younger than the age suggested by the photo ID they were required to provide to me as the lead tenant and who all seem to possess a still shrink-wrapped boxset of films by Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismäki.
The current incumbent of this position—a foppish twenty-seven [thirty] year old who insisted on being referred to by his primary initial 'T' as opposed to his full name, Torquil—was sitting alone in the living room when I returned. He was in very much the same position as he had occupied when I had left, with his feet propped up upon the battered coffee table and his attention divided between the screens of the television and his new iPhone. He was an amiable young man, and his easy manner endeared him to me in spite of his devil-may-care attitude to paying the bills on time. We struck up a brief conversations regarding how our days were proceeding and he gladly granted to me the use of his Macbook for the afternoon. In my bedroom, and after he had spent a short while doing something I was not allowed to observe with the internet browser settings, he showed me the basic fundamental principles of searching for video content and left; presumably to return to his well-worn position in the front lounge.
I see no harm in admitting that up to this point in time, I had always regarded the internet with a sense of foreboding and disgust. I had on the most part managed to keep myself isolated from its effects, but too often had I seen the Torquil's of the world waste away their days ensnared by the glow of their laptop screens, and this had always made me reticent to the idea of ever owning a computer of my own. It did not take long, however, for me to realize that my opinion had been one formed out of ignorance, and that the internet truly was a magical place for a hobbyist to be; for not only did I manage to locate ample videos that allowed me to analyse my archery to the standards of a qualified archery coach, but I also managed to find multiple websites dedicated to every hobby I could possibly think of. It soon became apparent that—in moderation—the internet had the potential to make me a more powerful hobbyist than I ever dreamed of, and before I knew exactly what I was doing I found myself heading into Peckham on the number 12 bus with the intent of purchasing myself an inexpensive desktop computer.