Nothing Is Too Far Gone To Be Fathomed and Fettled

Val Fraser explains why she’s hooked on The Repair Shop
August 18, 2022

I blame it on the boogie. Specifically Wednesday evening band practice. Each week the ‘lads’ came round to rehearse with hubs. With only a tub of ice cream for company I would take my sad little self off to watch the telly in the bedroom. Over time the Shopping Channel / Ice cream combination increased the number of pounds on the scales while reducing the number of pounds in my bank account. Things were getting seriously out of control, until The Repair Shop saved me from myself, and I’ve been hooked on it ever since.

As ever I’m gripped when the owner unpacks their deep personal attachment to an artefact. Often these moving family stories hold meaningful memories involving the loss of a much loved friend or relative. The damaged item evokes these memories and serves as a sort of touch stone which links them to their past. Initiating the process of restoration seems to serve as a healing balm and somehow honours the memory of previous owners. These rich histories not only reveal fascinating insights into lost skills and craftsmanship but also layer upon layer of social history.

At the point when an expert bravely begins the painstaking process of dismantling the fragile artefact entrusted to their care I find myself clutching the edge of the sofa. I want to look away but can’t. The more fragile and precious the item the more loops my stomach turns. Next a string of tolerably tense mini-dramas unfold as work on the precious item proceeds. These reliably culminate in the exciting reunion of the besotted and grateful owner with the now beautifully restored item. A gentle unforced ‘reveal’ transpires, often with genuine gasps and heartfelt tears.

The production values are stunning. The stories of human endeavour are remarkable. The mini-dramas are intriguing. The items are quirky. The owners are beyond grateful. And lovely as all these things are, for me, they’re out shone by the stars of the show - the nerdy restorers themselves. My interest is held by these real human beings with neither a fake tan nor a false lash between them. Down to earth northern Repair Shop restorers include art conservator Lucia Scalisi who trained at Sheffield University and Yorkshireman Dean Westmoreland who owns Oh how I love each and everyone of these humble aproned grafters. Let me count the ways.

Delight: Along with significant fear and trepidation each restorer demonstrates a simple child-like delight in the object they are about to restore. They are so into it, so deliciously obsessed. In spite of vast experience in their chosen fields they approach each project as an exploration of unchartered territory. They embark upon the process with a sense of adventure, as if they are discovering the detail of how the item was made and sensing a connection with the thoughts of its creator. They seem genuinely happy and privileged to become part of the new history.

Pride: Their work seems to be a source of great satisfaction. Their senses appear to be wholly absorbed in the task at hand. They become utterly immersed in the moment, as if temporarily evaporating to nothing. Losing all sense of self they appear to find great meaning in working with their hands in the physical realm. How many of us spend our days wandering in the digital dimension? Leaping from task to endless task, swept along in a black sea of gaping vastness? Could we benefit from becoming temporarily absorbed in some sort of manual project which has a finite end point?

Competence: These restorers have practised their craft and honed their skills. They are seriously competent experts. They know, without a doubt, that they know what they are doing. That level of skill is impressive to observe. In a world of instant touch button technology, their commitment to long and complex processes is mind blowing. I find this level of patience staggering.

Collaborations: During most episodes one team member will collaborate with another, and I want to weep tears of joy at this scene of human thriving. (Perhaps I’ve been isolated for too long.) There’s complete generosity of spirit. A healthy pragmatism without competitiveness and, as far as the viewer can tell, no scrambling over who gets the credit.

Difficulty: Seeing these experts at work debunks the idea that ‘easy’ equates to fun and ‘difficult’ is dull. For them, robust mental exertion appears to be great fun and brings a measure of personal satisfaction. They’ve discovered the secret of that old adage - hard work is its own reward. The grand finale delivers that which many chase, a well-earned social sweetener, in the shape of momentary public validation. All too often the grateful owners have no idea of the lengths the repairer has gone to. It’s a special moment for all concerned.

Declarations: The positive self-talk of the restorers is really quite beautiful. It’s a valuable lesson in constructive self-acceptance and self-encouragement which I have learned purely by watching these experts do their jobs. “I’m happy with my work” is a phrase I have shamelessly stolen from The Repair Shop. I say it out loud half a dozen times a day as an act of kindness to myself.

The whole thing is held together by the easy laid back style of furniture restorer Jay Blades. Jay does an excellent job of putting guests at ease and sensitively unpacking their stories. In my estimation he is a naturally gifted interviewer and the master of understatement. Listen out for his signature three word lines such as “How we doing?” “What’s the Story?” “Totally understand that.” In a media landscape bursting with spin and bluster Blade’s micro messages shine like tiny unscripted stars.

I so admire these experts, possibly to an unhealthy degree. In reality they are most likely flawed human beings just like the rest of us, each with an ego, bills to pay, hang ups. But here’s the thing; reality can be harsh and lacking in kindness. It’s a place where broken things, and broken people are often cruelly discarded. Sad as it may seem, I need to believe that somewhere tucked deep in the heart of Englandshire there’s a magical barn bedecked with twinkling lights. A realm where angel’s hands are at work, gently restoring the broken hearted and uplifting the downtrodden. Where healing triumphs over hurting, and nothing is too damaged, too neglected, too far gone to be fathomed and fettled.

Social media is all a flutter over this new series. Warm comments are scattered like bright red poppies singing sweetly above the everyday hellscape of digital outrage. Perhaps I’m not alone in my need to experience a little hope for an hour on a Wednesday evening. The Repair Shop takes warming comfort telly with happy endings to a whole new level and I for one, can’t get enough of it. It’s inspiring, it’s uplifting and it beats the Shopping Channel and a tub of ice cream by a country mile.

Episodes are available on BBC iPlayer and Amazon Prime

Image Credit: BBC


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