Hands: Apprenticeship V, Cape Town 1971


The man who taught me the most was a journeyman called Andrew. He must have been in his late twenties or early thirties, but seemed the most mature of the workers. He was married, and was the only worker with a car, a Volkswagen Beetle. A patient teacher, he would explain and show me how things were done, and he called me to watch if he did some technique that was new to me.

Seeing me cutting silver solder into pieces that were too big, he’d say “Paillons, not pile-ons,” a concise instruction in pronunciation, technical terminology and technique.

We communicated in a mixture of English and Cape Afrikaans, but apart from some witticisms it is his hands that I remember, because I have incorporated them into my own. It was his gesture that I imitated when I wielded a hammer or bent a piece of metal with pliers. He was a fine craftsman, capable of making all the jewellery that was then seen in the top stores, or of raising up in silver an accurate posy of orchids, life size, using hammers, punches and a lead block.

Some time in the nineties I encountered the polisher who had replaced George, and whose name I can’t remember, in Town. He had stayed in touch with the workers from Huppertz’s firm, and I asked him about Andrew.

‘He’s not in the trade any more,’ I was told, ‘he’s installing kitchen cupboards. The money is much better.”

Apprenticeship Part VI



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