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My practical classes in carpentry started again last night, after a five-month break.

Back to cutting tenons and mortises, with a new teacher, who I think I am going to like. 30 years’ in the trade. First thing I learn is how to stand correctly when cutting a mortise – have the piece perpendicular to the side of the bench and check its angle with a square. The previous teacher didn't tell us this, and we were cutting askew. The mechanics of joints is slowly sinking in – the way rebates (1/3; ½ and 2/3), grooves and mouldings affect the shape of the tenon and the mortise - but it is logic which does not come easily.

The old group has split in half, most going to cabinet-making, me to joinery/carpentry. It was a difficult choice, but I saw myself more in need of being able to repair a window frame and make a staircase (I need to do two in the house) than to repair Louis XV furniture. We are now merged another group which has split similarly, with new names to learn.

Apart from the sheer pleasure of playing with wood (my grandfather was a joiner, so it’s in the blood), this – and the parallel technical drawing class – are almost the only place where I come into contact with ‘normal’ Belgians, especially of the next generation, outside the church and Russian diaspora context. Though ‘Normal Belgium’ may be a moot word in today’s Brussels: I doubt whether half the class has four Belgian grandparents. It is also the first time I find myself working alongside Muslims.


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October 2015

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