My father-in-law is 78 and complains that not even his expensive noise-cancelling headphones can mute his ticking clock – and he would know as he sleeps with them on. This is partly because of the neighbours across the road liking their beats at +11, and partly because he’s going mad with boredom. Since retiring from a factory job that required sweating twelve-hour shifts and thinking on his feet, he leads a life of having nothing better to do than be annoyed by the sound of competing lawn mowers. He’s already repainted the entire house three different shades of Eggshell, concreted the path between back door and washing line, washing line to lemon tree and lemon tree to garage, and then built himself a pergola large enough to live in. I’ve employed his skills for sculptural commissions of mine at the Arts Centre Melbourne, and more recently for the sanding and lacquering of the 700 cubes of Wordacus, but there are only so many commissions to work on and grass left to concrete, so he lives between pine-fences, eating three cooked meals a day and playing rounds of ‘what if we win the lottery’ with his wife. And for many people this would be paradise – to own your home with access to plentiful food and be healthy with a loving wife isn’t as commonplace as it should be – but for a man who isn’t moved by music or reading and finds the glow of a TV tedious, he spends a lot of time staring at hands still able to make a difference. When it comes to his friends most of them are a lifetime away back in Hungary, and calls on Skype can only get him so close even when they’re in high definition. If you ask he’ll say he’s content with everything the way it is, but I’ve seen the difference it makes when he’s working on a job where his skills are valued and needed. His thinking becomes sharper, his attitude more positive, and then once the job is finished he’s back to prowling the house for things to break and fix. Last weekend he finished building a pergola for my gym, and in the process screwing all my excuses not to use it, so now the family is hunting for something else for him to do, because otherwise the paint swatch on his desk suggests that 2017 will be the year of Coastal Fog.
Matt Blackwood: Matt Blackwood is an award-winning writer and artist who is fascinated with stories that are experienced and linked to the places where these stories are set. His stories have been commissioned and experienced via a range of visual forms in galleries, libraries, laneways and in other public spaces across Australia and overseas. Matt has also compiled a list of 200 City of Literature initiatives to increase the presence and engagement with literature and literacy within public spaces.