Following in the footsteps of Arthur Miller by trying to be the new Mouseman - Ian McMillan

The great American playwright Arthur Miller was good at woodwork; he made benches and pieces of sturdy furniture that were, in their way, as well put together as his plays.

They could stand up to scrutiny, like his characters could, and they were enduring, like his plots were.

The early 20th-century American poet Ezra Pound could also, as I found out in a recent book, turn his hand to the making of furniture. His poems were modernist and avant-garde but his furniture was the opposite. If you wanted a word for Pound’s furniture it would be ‘sturdy’.

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You can see what’s coming, can’t you? Ian McMillan, the Bard of Barnsley, decides that it’s time to widen out the scope of his creative endeavour by turning his hand to the making of furniture.

Ian McMillanIan McMillan
Ian McMillan

Yes indeed: I could be the new Mouseman. I could be the new Thomas Chippendale. In the distant future people will say ‘Well, his poems weren’t much cop but he could certainly knock up a comfy settee.’

Those who know me will be scoffing at this point, if not breaking into uncontrollable laughter. Some men pretend they’re impractical to get out of DIY jobs; I know that I’m impractical but still volunteer for DIY jobs even though I know they’ll end in slapstick disaster.

Let’s face it: if you sat on a chair I’d made you may as well cut out the middleman and sit on the floor straight away.

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But then, if Arthur Miller and Ezra Pound can be chairmen, why can’t I? Best to start small, I reckon. Small and temporary. Each Wednesday our little grandson Louie comes to play for the day. He usually likes to play with toy tractors and diggers but this week I’m going to excite him with the idea of furniture. Cardboard furniture, to be precise.

Like everybody else in the world, I’ve got a load of cardboard boxes in the spare room ready for that unspecified moment when a cardboard box or two (or five or six) might be needed. I’ll bring a few boxes down and Louie and I will make cardboard furniture. Well, it’s a start. Even Arthur Miller had to begin somewhere.

Louie seems excited by the cardboard boxes, which isn’t a phrase I ever thought I’d get to type.

After a few moments I realise the reason for the glee: he thinks he can use the boxes as garages for the diggers and the tractors and he trundles them inside. There one small spare box sitting there boxily and I take it and bend it and fold it and then sit a tractor driver on it. ‘That’s the driver’s chair!’ I say with as much excitement as I can muster.

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Louie isn’t convinced. He takes the driver off the chair-like thing and puts him back in the cab of the digger. I say ‘I think the driver’s a bit tired and wants to sit down in his new chair. Louie disagrees. The driver, I suspect, is easy either way. All he ever does is sit down.

I put a cushion in the box and say ‘Look, now the chair is really comfortable and the driver would love to sit in it. I try to imagine Ezra Pound doing this. Louie still isn’t convinced so I grab a toy triceratops and show him how comfortable the dinosaur is.

‘If they’d had furniture like this they would never have become extinct’ I say, but of course the gag falls on deaf ears.

Still, it’s a start. The furniture I mean, not the gag. It’ll be a three-piece suite next!

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