I woke late in Kilkivan. It was still raining and everything was sodden; whenever the rain eased off I could still hear fat drops of water sliding off the leaves of the trees. I quickly decided it would be a good day for a rest day, if Annie and Jock would have me.
When I wandered up to the house, Annie immediately said, ‘I was going to bring you a coffee but I didn’t want to wake you!’ I could see I was going to be very spoilt.
After eggs and bacon, Annie dug out some old clothes for me to wear around the place and we wandered down to the back of the block to see whether the new dam was full. It wasn’t – not yet – the clay had yet to settle into the cracks in the soil so the dam wall was still leaking a bit.
The ground had turned to fine, grey mud and it felt wonderful between my toes. I dug my feet further into the silky soft bits and walked lightly across the rocks, just like when I was a kid. I could feel myself happily regressing back to feral child.
We chucked a stick in the dam for the dog to chase a few times, then we surveyed all the improvements on the place. Annie had had the hillside newly terraced so that there were flat camping spaces for visiting motorcyclists; there were shelters and a camp kitchen and a bonfire pit. We talked about the property, about adventures and travel and motorbikes, about the world in general. I had time, and curiosity, and so did Jock and Annie.
What a wonderful thing it is, to have time. That afternoon, Jock and I decided to upgrade my sidestand to an adjustable one, and Jock taught me to stick me to weld. He explained the basic technique. ‘I love welding,’ he said. ‘You have to feel it, and listen to it. You want to be smooth in your welds; it’s beautiful.’ The property isn’t connected to the electrical grid, so we were welding with a stick welder and a generator. Each time the current arced and the weld started to take, I could hear the draw on the generator running beside me.
I welded up the bottom part of the stand, and Jock welded up the top. I was absolutely thrilled: the mystery of stick welding was dismantled, the veil of mystery snatched clear! This is not to say that I’m necessarily much good at welding, but it means that now, if I need to do it in the future, I can.
I felt like I’d acquired a super power. Each time I add a practical skill to my repertoire, I feel less vulnerable. It lets me give less credence to all the people who tell me, ‘you can’t do that on your own, you’re a girl’.
To me, the gift of a practical skill – whether you teach it to me, or you help prove to me that I was capable of a thing all along – is just the greatest gift of all. It’s empowering; it makes me better and stronger and less afraid and less anxious. It lets me anticipate the unknown instead of fearing it. It lets me enjoy the present rather than fearing the future.
Of course, not everyone on the internet sees it like that. After I posted a photograph of myself welding victoriously, the comments were almost entirely negative. The male internet was outraged; ostensibly because I wasn’t wearing welding gloves, silly little girl. “Cover up”, they said, all manly and authoritative: “You’ll get burnt! Welding is hot!” No, really guys?
Jock shook his head and chuckled the next morning when he saw the comments. “They seem to be suggesting that you’re stupid,” he said.
Now, I don’t usually do anything except simper sweetly in the face of sexism on the internet, because biting back just excites the keyboard warriors, and trolls like the smell of blood. Besides, a few comments on a screen won’t change a person’s jaundiced view of the world and their own place in it. I was reminded of this afresh when I briefly gave in to my ire, and called out a couple of commenters. Their defence was that they were right! Apparently this means it’s okay for them to be disrespectful towards me. Who knew!
I could have entered into the debate and pointed out that I do know what welder’s burn is, and that welding one bolt onto a sidestand was not going to constitute sufficient exposure to be a problem. I could have also pointed out that I know that molten metal is hot, for which reason I try to keep it away from my skin. But that’s not really the point: the point is that I’m a grown woman and if I choose to weld a bolt without welding gloves, that’s my own responsibility.
Anyway, that’s that. I now know how to weld a simple metal thing with a stick welder if I need to, and this makes me pretty damn pleased. One more skill in the repertoire!
As a final observation, time is a beautiful thing to have. All my life, I have been surrounded by talented people who have had skills and knowledge that I’ve coveted: mechanical and electrical expertise, metal working skills, knowledge of history, personal stories. In ordinary life, all of that seemed to remain just out of my reach: I was always a spectator.
Now that I’m on the road, however, these things are starting to come to me. They’re shared with me by strangers, and I think that’s a wonderful and beautiful thing. I remarked on it and Shane said, “You know, it’s because you have time. You’re rich in time now, and so people share things with you because they know you have time.”
So it’s not that the people are different, but that I’m different. I’m here and I’m curious and I ask more questions and I say yes to more things, and whatever it is you have to share with me, I have time.