I'll be the first to admit that I'm not what you'd call 'a tidy
person'. The minimalist style of living is something of an anathema
to me and whilst I wouldn't go so far as to say I positively relish
clutter, it would only be perhaps because I make a distinction between
clutter and something that might come in handy at a later date.
This is perhaps where the problem lies.
Some of you might have wondered why my site doesn't feature shots
of yours truly, looking intensely industrious at nice neat workbench
- a touch of subtle lighting perhaps, a few esoteric tools neatly
laid out beside me, all giving off general air of spotless efficiency.
No doubt you've seen other sites with just such photographs on display.
The reason I don't do this is because it's complete rubbish, and
paints an entirely false picture of what a real working workshop
When I first entered this noble profession I had cause to visit
an established craftsman in order to help me sort out a tricky problem
for which I needed a few spare parts. I remember to this day the
excitement at the prospect of seeing a master craftsman's workshop
- and I remember too the horror of discovering that my preconceptions
were so completely different from the reality.
Clutter just wouldn't be the right word for it - even chaos wouldn't
do justice to the sight of the workbench piled high with keys, pads
and various bits of instruments. My astonishment wasn't at all assuaged
by the sight of the craftsman cutting a swathe through the pile
of debris with his arm in order to make space to place my job on
In fact I was so taken aback that I mustered up the courage to comment
upon the apparent unorderliness of the workbench.
The reply was honest, simple and succinct - if you have a tidy workbench
then you're obviously not busy enough.
How those words rings true even today.
Having visited a number of workshops since then, of varying trades
and professions, I've found this tenet to ring true. I've also discovered
an informal correlation between the excellence of the work done
and the volume of crap on the workbench.
Whilst I firmly believe in the principle of hanging onto all manner
of debris on the grounds that it's bound to have a use sooner or
later, I've occasionally had cause to rue this philosophy.
The most recent incident involved the loss of a flute key. The client
had dropped his flute in for a general service and I'd begun the
job in plenty of time to meet the deadline a few days later. However,
rarely a day passes without new work coming in - and it's often
the case that this work gets slotted into the current workload...either
because it's a simple job or perhaps because it's a pro who need
the instrument back rather more urgently than an amateur player
And so I found myself returning to the flute a day or so later -
in fact on the very day that the client was due to collect it.
No real problem, I'd done the major part of the work - all that
was left was reassembly and the adjustment of the action. Things
were going well enough until I came to assemble the foot joint.
I could not find the low C# key anywhere.
I wasn't too worried - I know from past experience that even something
as large and shiny as a key can suddenly disappear, only to turn
up moments later right in front of your very eyes. This process
is usually substantially speeded up by the application of a nice
cup of tea...and perhaps a bit of a poke around on the workbench.
Having brewed up, and duly poked around, I still hadn't found the
The floor is always the next port of call. I work seated on a large
rubber mat - the idea behind this being that if anything should
drop off the workbench then it won't be damaged (plus it provides
a degree of protection against lightning stikes. It could happen...it
could, it could).This really applies to tools more than instrument
parts (you'll be relieved to hear) - particularly screwdrivers,
which seem to make a dive for the floor as soon as I take them out
of their rack.
I had a good shuffle around on the floor - found a few useful screws
and a couple of small drills, but no key.
It's around this sort of time that you have to start considering
There are various pots and jars on the workbench - and it seems
not that unlikely (well, OK, a bit) that perhaps a key might have
somehow found its way into one of them, to be covered up in due
course by the contents. I consider this to be unlikely in as much
as it's never actually happened - but it didn't stop me from poking
a finger into various pots and having a bit of a jiggle about.
It was about now that the client arrived to collect his flute.
I was tempted to make up some sort of excuse as to why his flute
wasn't ready. I could have embellished it with any amount of technical
balderdash to the extent that the client would have been none the
wiser as to the real reason for the delay - and would even have
gone away feeling grateful that I had found an unusual fault and
needed to spend more time on fixing it.
But I decided to come clean and admit to the disappearance of the
The client was most understanding, and proceeded to aid my search
- but between the two of us we couldn't come up with the goods.
It was then that I began to consider the impossible.
I had worked on a couple of instruments since I dismantled the
flute - was there perhaps a chance that the key might have got tangled
up in them and found its way into their cases?
It seemed like an attractive idea, until I considered that the last
thing I do before I put an instrument back in its case is play it
- and if I couldn't notice a spare key dangling off it then I had
no right to be in this business.
I considered too the clothing aspect - my work jeans I was wearing
a few days ago had the legs turned up an inch or so...might not
the key have dropped off the bench and got caught in the turn-up
(I've actually seen this happen)?
A quick call home assured me that this wasn't the case - though
I did momentarily have visions of a flute key whizzing around in
the washing machine.
The client decided to call it quits - it wasn't an urgent job,
so I was left alone to consider the terrible prospect of having
to tidy up the workbench.
This isn't as simple as it sounds - it's really NOT just a matter
of 'putting things away'. OK, so the tools are easy enough - they
all have their designated places - but what about the other bits
Point screws can't just be shoved in a drawer - you gotta know what
they came off, and what they'll fit. Likewise rods screws.
Then there are the various pads dotted about. They can't just be
shoved away, they have to be measured and put back in the right
This goes right the way down to little offcuts of plastic tubing
and even fragments of cork - not to mention (ouch) assorted needles
Rest assured - clearing the workbench is a major operation, and
not one to be taken on board lightly. In the end, I compromised.
I found a few plastic tubs and used them as a sort of holding station
- metal bits in one tub, corks and felt etc., in another, general
(useful) detritus in another, and so on - but still no sign of the
I brewed up another cuppa, took a deep breath, and considered the
Perhaps I had a mouse in the workshop. Perhaps, in the dead of night,
it had crept onto the workbench and made off with the key. OK, so
perhaps I was confusing mice with magpies - and there's also the
fact that mice don't just creep, they crap too...and I hadn't seen
any droppings...but the idea was fast becoming feasible in the face
of nothing else springing to mind.
So I started pulling various boxes out from under the bench in the
hope of finding a cosy little nest, complete with mouse babies and
a low C# key.
It wasn't to be (but I did find an 8BA tap, so it wasn't entirely
a waste of time).
I sat down in my chair, lost for ideas.
There was but one last possibility - and one that always makes me
shudder - that a client, or more probably a client's child had picked
up the key and pocketed it. It isn't beyond the realms of possibility
- but then I hadn't had any curious kids (or clients - well, not
curious in the sense of being inqusitive, at least) in lately.
And as I sat there, wondering when would be the right time to admit
defeat and order a spare, I spotted the bugger.
I'd been tinkering with a computer power supply a day or so ago
- and having got halfway through my tinkering I'd placed it up one
end of the workbench. Its leads dangled over the edge of the bench,
and there - hanging amongst the trailing leads, was the C# key.
I must have lifted up that power supply a dozen times, even turned
it over a few times and shaken it about in case the key had dropped
inside...even the client had examined it in his own attempts to
find the key. The leads had even brushed against my head as I was
scrabbling about beneath the workbench - but such was the design
of the flute key that it had hooked itself securely round a small
plug and remained there until I spotted it.
I would have had a tidy up after this incident - but instead I
chose to sit down and share the sorry tale with you...and now I
don't have time to tidy up.
Ask a busy man, as the saying goes...