People arrived looking apprehensive, not quite sure what they’d let themselves in for.  They were welcomed by a cheerful lady who showed them where to put their coats and introduced herself as Belinda, their self-appointed convenor.

‘Thank you all for coming,’ she beamed.  ‘I’ve been recuperating after a short stay in hospital, a minor procedure, I’ll spare you the details.  Thankfully my surgeon assured me I could count on a few more years and, while I lay there contemplating what to do with the rest of my life, I resolved to seize the initiative, to dither no longer; I’d start a U3A group.’  

She paused as if expecting a round of applause but her guests remained wary, feeling their way.

Undaunted, Belinda continued.  ‘As you know, my idea is to form a crafts group.  Though I say it myself, I’ve always been good with my hands.’  She held her hands aloft and wiggled her fingers leaving her guests to wonder what marvels they were capable of creating.  ‘Of course, crafts is a vague term covering a multitude of different activities, some intricate, some messy, some requiring equipment.’   

Belinda paused again to allow peoples’ imaginations to run riot.  But still they sat there, slow to warm up, biding their time.  ‘So, we will need to agree what is feasible given that this, my dining room, is going to be the venue and this table,’ she patted it, ‘our working surface.’

Eight people were gathered round the table — a bit of a squeeze.  Another lady spoke.

‘I’d better introduce myself.  I’m Diana, people call me Di, and I’m the person who coordinates all the U3A groups and liaises with the convenors who, as you know, are all volunteers.  I’m here to support Belinda and to offer whatever encouragement I can.’ 

‘Thank you, Di,’ Belinda beamed.  ‘Well, shall we go round the table and find out what crafts people have in mind?  Who would like to kick off?’  Belinda looked pointedly at the person sitting on her immediate left. 

It worked.

‘Thank you.  My name is Alexandra.  When I was a little girl I used to make collages out of pressed flowers.  My idea is to do that again, though I know some people think it’s wrong to pick wild flowers.’  Alexandra looked apprehensive, as if bracing herself for disapproval.

‘Why, I think that’s a lovely idea,’ said Belinda, writing ‘pressed flowers’ on the pad in front of her. ‘Who’s next?’

‘My name is Janet and I want to make wire animals.  I saw some in a craft shop recently.  They were robins with little red cardboard hearts and I thought to myself, they’d be fun to make.  I fancy making giraffes with their lovely long necks or elephants with their big ears and trunks.’

‘Splendid, splendid!  And kangaroos would be fun,’ added Belinda. ‘You could have a pocket with a baby kangaroo peeping out.’   She beamed her approval, making another note on her writing pad.

‘And penguins, they’d be easy to make,’ added Alexandra, warming to the occasion.

‘Yes, animals fashioned out of wire, that’s a definite winner,’ said Belinda, oozing enthusiasm.  She looked at the next person, a small pinched lady.

‘My name is Lynn.  I’d like to make glove puppets with heads made out of papier mâché.   I used to have some glove puppets when I was growing up, my granny made them, and now I’ve got some grandchildren of my own, I thought it would be fun to give them as presents.’  Lynn, looked round the room searching for support.

‘Oh, that’s interesting,’ another woman piped up.  ‘I had a similar idea and thought it would be fun to make face masks out of old newspapers.  You paste them together in layers. They could  be decorated with feathers and bright colours.’

‘I must confess I’ve always found masks a bit spooky,’ said Belinda.  ‘I was once on holiday in Venice during the Carnival when everyone wore masks.  It haunts me.  Lots of grotesque black ones with huge beaks and cat masks worn by effeminate men.  Really scary.’

‘Well,’ said the woman who had suggested mask making, ‘I certainly don’t want to make masks that are scary.  I want to make decorative masks for kids to wear at parties.’

‘Add it to the list, Belinda,’ said Di, amiably. ‘At this stage we are just gathering ideas, not evaluating them.’

‘Yes, quite right,’ said Belinda, suitably chastened.  ‘What other ideas do we have?’  She looked at the women who had not yet contributed.

‘My name is Debbie and I want to make brooches out of felt.’       

Before anyone could react, a loud electronic chime interrupted the proceedings.

‘That’s the front door,’ Belinda explained.  ‘Excuse me while I see who it is.’ 

She returned a few moments later with a man in tow.  Everybody looked at him, astonished that a man should gate crash the group.  He was an extraordinary sight, with a large bushy beard and a black patch over one eye.

‘Sorry I’m late.  Walked here and missed my turning.’  He had a deep, unusually loud and booming voice.

‘Better late in this world than early in the next,’ giggled Belinda.  ‘We are just going round the table finding out what people would like to make,’ Belinda explained.  ‘Would you like to catch your breath or are you ready to tell us what craft you’d like to undertake?’

‘By all means.  In for a penny, in for a pound!  It’s Harry by the way.  Well, I’m into carpentry and I thought it would be fun for us to make articulated fish.’  He whipped one out of his inside pocket and plonked it on the table. There it sat slightly quivering.

‘Goodness!’ exclaimed Belinda, ‘it looks as if it’s real.  How on earth did you make it?’

‘Trade secret, I’m afraid,’ laughed Harry, tapping the side of his nose with his index finger, an action that revealed that his third and fourth fingers had been amputated.   

‘But you’d need to show us how to make them or your idea would be a non-starter,’ Di interjected.  ‘The whole idea of forming a crafts group is to introduce each other to new crafts.’

‘Well,’ said Harry, ‘I didn’t for a moment think that you ladies would want to get your dainty little hands dirty actually making them.  You see, it’s quite a palaver.  I use a band saw and have an extractor to get rid of the sawdust.  It’s advisable to wear a mask and goggles too.’

‘So,’ said Belinda, ‘why are you suggesting something so impractical?’

‘And it’s dangerous,’ Harry continued, undaunted.  ‘As you can see I’ve had a number of unfortunate accidents.  All my own fault.  I damaged my eye — I always wear goggles now, a clear case of shutting the stable doors after the horse has bolted, eh?   And the band saw sliced off two of my fingers before you could say Jack Robinson.  I was momentarily distracted when our kitten jumped onto my back.  Gave me one hell of a fright.’

People gazed at Harry as if he were an alien from outer space.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Di, ‘but I have to agree with Belinda.  Why are you suggesting an activity which, by your own admission, is inappropriate and potentially harmful?’

‘Because I thought that if I did all the hard work and produced the fish, you ladies might like to colour and varnish them.  They look lovely painted in bright colours and the varnish gives them a lovely sheen.’

After a stunned silence, when even Belinda was momentarily lost for words, a woman who had not spoken before, piped up.  ‘That’s a bit rich!  If I’ve understood you correctly, you are proposing to have all the fun making the fish using some secret technique, and expect us to sit here embellishing them for you.  Well, I for one would rather busy myself with my chosen choice of craft: canvas work.’

‘Yes,’ added Lynn, ‘I have no wish to be rude, but I think you should decorate your own fish.  Don’t expect us to do it for you.’

‘Steady on. No need to get uppity,’ retorted Harry, quick to take umbrage. ‘I thought you ladies would enjoy decorating my fish.’

‘Well, you thought wrong!’ said Lynn.  ‘We are not prepared to be your lackeys.  I’m sure others will agree with me.’  She looked around the table for support.

‘Yes,’ agreed Alexandra, ‘I’d rather busy myself doing my pressed flowers.’

‘And,’ added Janet,  ‘I still fancy making wire animals.’

Harry rose to his feet, picked up his fish and moved towards the door, where he paused, turned and glared at the room full of women.  ‘I know when I’m not wanted.  Thanks for nothing!’  Then he was gone.

No one tried to stop him.

‘Goodness,’ said Belinda, ‘apologies for that.  Not at all what I was expecting when I suggested forming a crafts group.’

‘Not your fault,’ said Di.  ‘You couldn’t have possibly anticipated such a bizarre intervention.   Shall we resume going round the table?’ 

‘Yes, of course, said Belinda, recovering her decorum.  ‘Just to recap,’ she consulted her list.  ‘So far I have: pressed flowers, wire animals, glove puppets, masks, felt brooches.’

‘Not forgetting canvas work,’ added the lady who had been the first to object to painting Harry’s fish.

‘Ah yes, of course, canvas work.’  Belinda looked up and laughed. ‘You must admit it all sounds a bit tame.  Shall we get Harry back and tell him all is forgiven?’

Seven pairs of eyes stared blankly back at her.  Nobody else even smiled.

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