OK, it had to be sanded and damped and sanded again before it was ready for oiling, and it had to be oiled a couple of times before it was ready. I will oil my beech chair again, and the elm chair too, in a few weeks and build the finish on both over the years to keep them looking bright.
It feels pretty good to be sitting on the chair but I’m reminded of King Canute. Did he really think that he could command the sea to stop encroaching on his shore? I looked it up and it seems that he was trying to demonstrate to his cohorts that his power was limited and that only the Almighty could decree such things as tidal ebbs and flows – “mind you, (the unwritten caveat) a favoured King is a pretty unstoppable force……” (So watch it, my friends.)
What about Robinson Crusoe? He made a table and chair early on in his sojourn and they are just mentioned in passing. Did he enjoy making them?
“…my time or labour was little worth, and so it was as well employed one way or another.” (So, probably not!)
He had an axe and an adze ( according to Defoe ) and later on “ I was full two and forty days making me a board for a long shelf, which I wanted in my cave; whereas two sawyers, with their tools and a saw-pit, would have cut six of them out of the same tree in half a day.” This is the thinking of the Industrial Revolution, more than that, this is the mantra of “Progress” and this book was cited by Karl Marx in Das Kapital to illustrate economic theory (don’t ask me how – I read it somewhere).
Defoe was writing in 1717 and his narrative runs on as though he was a master of all trades, but it is all from observation. You would also think that he had been abroad – he describes the jungle and island life with gusto, but it was all from books and traveller’s tales that he created this backcloth. Another great communicator of the second hand is Henri Rousseau the eccentric French painter of exotic scenes and well worth a visit.
Defoe has Crusoe whittling down his 42 day board “With inexpressible hacking and hewing” and you can just feel the aching muscles and sense the determination.
Crusoe again “….labour and patience carried me through that, and many other things.”
So, not much enjoyment there; little sense of achievement is mentioned. Was it really worth it?
We would have to ask Daniel Defoe that and he is long gone. He lived and died before the Industrial Revolution as it is now called, he was an entrepreneur and an obsessive writer. His business life was troubled by debt and there were allegations of dishonesty. In 1726 his Tour thro the whole Island of Great Britain was published where he gives an overview of British Trade prior to the Industrial Revolution and he was later described in Scotland as a Government spy.* (Thanks to Wikipedia for this.)
By the way, Robinson Crusoe has run to 700 editions, so Defoe was very successful and very persuasive – and so is the message of Progress. In fact we live in Post Industrial Revolution times when this message is food and drink to the world, but we have the benefit of hindsight. Our environment is under attack, from us; and the whole of the natural world is at risk from man’s greed and waste, and the spoil of the industrial process.
Robinson Crusoe is about a young man who defies his father; Dad recommended “a quiet, retired life” but Robinson runs away to sea; always feeling guilty and having, as it turns out, plenty of time to reflect on his actions when he was shipwrecked. In fact the book is heavy with religious guilt and it’s not easy reading for today’s young person. There’s not much redemption there – well, I couldn’t find it. I would have liked to see some evidence of satisfaction for its own sake, pride in a job well done, joie de vivre even: However, Crusoe is dogged by uncertainty and frailty before a Greater power. Maybe it’s that tension that gives the book its driving force, its undeniable un-put-down-able quality.
The logic of the 42 day board versus the pit-saw and teamwork is undeniable and it leads to the sawmill – water powered, then steam driven, then electrical and so on, and it’s called Industry and everyone wants a bit of it, and there’s satisfaction there, but does it go any deeper? Cutting down a giant Californian redwood in the early days must have been a great achievement, but when it becomes an industrial process, and it’s Friday afternoon and you are looking at the ground, cleared, except for a few branches, what then? Another job well done? What does it really feel like if you care at all about nature?
With the benefit of hindsight then, what can we say about “Progress”?
Is it the same as evolution? No.
Is it all bad? No, far from it.
Is it unavoidable? Is it “Going to happen anyway”? No, we can choose.
Is it irreversible? No, but some of the results of our short-sightedness are.
Why is it that we have not learned to be sceptical as the ideas have “rolled out” and the new products and organisations have washed away what was there before? Babies and bathwater spring to mind as I think of the eagerness with which politicians and businessmen of all nations have welcomed the new with greedy self-righteousness and hastened “progress” along; Thalidomide in the 50s, the arms race, genocide etc. and now we find that global warming is advancing faster than we had ever expected.
It seemed like fun to put a man on the moon, but is that a good enough reason for doing it when people are dying of starvation on earth? I remember the question being asked at the time.
What have we discovered in our costly adventure in space that makes it all worthwhile? Teflon?
It seems to me that we have got to get to grips with our usage of this planet as our researchers show us conclusively that this is all we have got. I’m not suggesting for a moment that we should go back to the conditions of 300 years ago. I am concerned that our society in the UK seems unable to tell the difference between holistic, healthy and informed progress to a better life for all, and progress which is an infernal and selfish race to get more for ourselves while wasting more and more of nature’s bounty.
I am suggesting that we should stop and think and savour and digest what we have before barging on towards the next glittering thing. We are not very good at this as individuals and far less adept when acting as a mob.
What would have happened if respect for our environment and community and genuine satisfaction in our work had been amongst the goals of the Industrial Revolution rather than occasional or incidental by-products?
-- Allan Fyfe, Lethenty Mill Furniture, http://www.lethenty-mill.com