I’ve been house-hunting lately. Cruising in and out of places in the ‘burbs of Auckland, I realised that a way of life is dying. Not in houses, but in garages.
It was usually single because families usually had one car.
They all had a similar smell. It was a musty blend of oil, old rags, dust, paint brushes, turps, weedkiller, wood shavings and rusty metal. They were dusty because no self-respecting dad dusted his workbench. (Oh, maybe once a year.) There were hammers, drills, screwdrivers and planes plus bits and pieces of wire, yellowing electric plugs, used and unused sand-paper, jars of bolts and nails and screws… maybe some old number plates and an outdated calendar tacked up on the wall.
There could have been a lawnmower in a corner, coils of old rope, barbecue flares not used since last summer, a shelf with a few broken-down toys, fishing rods and tennis racquets not played with for years.
It was where blokes tinkered with the car, mended stuff, made things, messed about with tools and felt at home.
Such spaces are now rare as hats on cats.
For one thing, garages are now carpeted, far too swanky to absorb messy oil or paint splashes. Who, in God’s name invented garage carpet? And why? Just to give householders another swathe of floor to have to vacuum rather than sweep?
And of course, no-one knows how to service their own complex and computer-controlled vehicle anymore, so there’s no need for auto equipment. Who does an oil-change or a valve grind in the 21st century?
I guess many homeowners are working so hard to pay the mortgage that finding time to get engaged in a garage hobby is impossible. Of course, they may hanker after a ‘man cave’, but that’s more about wanting a space to install a 50-inch TV, a La-Z-Boy or two and a beer fridge.
And then, sons who might once have pottered in the garage are now on the couch, immersed in screentime or playing video games. Scant interest from them in getting grime under the fingernails.
So all over town, cars are being banished to the kerb.
Garages are becoming spare rooms, extra living space or (with the addition of loo and shower) self-contained accommodation to advertise on Air BnB.
Your good old garage is probably still there in rural areas, lifestyle blocks and suburban streets where re-furbing hasn’t fully taken hold. But the skills once employed to make full use of garage tools are quietly eroding. A zone of mainly male culture is sinking out of sight.
The days of garages seem to be numbered. But then we would once have thought that about sculleries and butler’s pantries. Now, in the smarter parts of town, new houses have them all over again. Just a shame there are no maids and butlers to go with them.