IN the present pandemic many of us have become avid online shoppers. Many items, including furniture, are delivered in flat packs. The separate parts are packed in cartons and are accompanied by assembly instructions with tools such as screwdrivers, spanners, allen keys, wrenches.

Those of us who are incompetent at home assembly can usually call on a colleague or neighbour who has become competent in home assembly and is only too willing to demonstrate his skill. Many such experts advertise their skills and can be contacted readily. Many suppliers of ready-to-assemble furniture have online demonstrations of furniture construction for those willing to learn.

A man can watch a demonstration on his phone while on the job. But it wasn’t always like this.

Some forty years ago a man I knew was a long distance lorry driver and often found himself in London. In the early 1980s Jack had just bought a house in Glengormley on the Carnmoney Road close to Crazy Prices supermarket. The house was in a state of disrepair and his plan was to carry out repairs and minor renovations over a six-week period before moving in.

On a visit to the British capital a friend brought him to a brand new ‘continental store’ which specialised in the sale of ready-to-assemble furniture. He was particularly interested in the display of kitchens. He returned home from London and on his day off he literally ripped out the kitchen. He returned to the store in London the following week and purchased the new flat pack ready-to-assemble kitchen which he stored in the back of his van.
He arrived back in Glengormley on a Thursday night and next day he set to work fitting out his new kitchen. He hurriedly opened one carton, emptied out the contents. Being a very systematic and tidy person he put the cardboard and packing paper in the fire and burned them. He worked all day Friday but was unable to assemble the contents of the carton into any recognisable form. Unable to achieve any progress he unscrewed everything and laid out the parts on the floor.
He decided he needed help and made a phone call to one Mickey Lemon, telling him he needed help to “attach some kitchen cabinets to the wall”. Mickey, a well-known joiner, promised he would call round the following morning (Saturday) thinking that it would be a straightforward job which he would complete in a couple of hours before heading to the Glen Inn in the afternoon.
Jack brought Mickey into the house, showed him around, pointed at the cartons and headed off.
At about 10.30am  I got a phone call ( no smartphones then). Mickey told me he had a problem. He was on a pay phone in Crazy Prices and needed a word with ‘the Wee Man’. He asked me to go and get hold of him as he had no phone number for him.
The Wee Man was none other than James McCrossan. James was the general foreman on a job on the Whitewell Road just then, renovating a big housing estate.
A master craftsman with top qualifications and oceans of experience, he had the ability to look at a set of plans and instantly see the finished building.
I called up to James’ house and found him just ready to leave. When I gave him the message he said, “Young Lemon must have a problem.”
On arriving at the house Carnmoney Road James quickly ascertained the problem. He told Mickey he would be back in two minutes and went across the road to make a phone call from the public phone in Crazy Prices. He gave me an address and asked me to pick up “a young fella”. He pushed all the parts into one corner and opened another carton. On finding the instructions and diagrams he and Mickey set to work.
By the time I returned two units of the kitchen had been fully assembled, all the cartons opened and inspected and the two men had sketched out where they would be mounted on the walls. Mickey was by now a much relieved man. The young man I had picked up was James’ apprentice and he was now going to “get some experience, some overtime and a few shillings”. He would help Micky assemble and mount the units on the walls.


James headed off to the city and back out to the Glen Inn in the early afternoon and Micky joined him later on reporting that he had just finished and that the apprentice was a great worker.
Everybody had their own take on the job. The Apprentice didn't let on that James had threatened him with the sack but boasted to his friends that he earned half a week’s wages in just half a day and now knew how to fit out a kitchen. Jack never told Mickey that he had tried to do the job himself but had failed. Micky never let on that he almost had a heart attack when he couldn’t find the instructions. He never let on to Jack that James was in the house. James never told anyone that he found bits and pieces of the instructions and diagrams in the fireplace of the living room and that if the second cartoon opened hadn't been exactly the same as the first they would still be on the job.
Jack told me the following week that he knew when he saw the gear in the London shop he was “on a winner”. He never told me that Mickey did the job. Mickey told me he would never touch a job where the carton had been opened. Jack’s wife said that Mickey did a great job and her kitchen is the “bee’s knees”.
The late JB McCluskey, a neighbour of James on the Cliftonville Road and no mean handyman, once told me if advice was ever needed about a structural problem, “ James is yer man.” Mickey agreed with that saying, “ You see that man McCrossan, he knows his onions!”