We awoke to blue skies this morning and when I reached the allotment shed the whole place was aglow with an all-is-well-with-the-world ambience. So powerful was the sun that its rays penetrated the shed windows, long a stranger to Windolene. In the corner Eric was already chiselling away at his latest creation. An accountant for all his working life, Eric is now a self-taught joiner of no mean ability and loves to tell all who will listen that he derives more pleasure from a completed chair than he gained from a hundred completed audits.
Our time on the allotment is spent on important work or, if you prefer the verdict of she-who-must-be-obeyed, messing about. Either way it has had a remarkable effect of considerable impact on a bunch of men most of whom spent their earning-days sitting behind a desk. Speaking for myself, I cannot claim to have discoverd skills to match those of Eric, but I remember vividly the first attempt I made to construct a gate for the chicken run. I visited B & Q, borrowed some tools and proceeded to make something that fitted and opened to the touch. I was amazed. Right up to that day such a task would have meant reaching for the yellow pages. Suddenly I felt fulfilled. Suddenly, at the age when I should be sitting on a banch watching equally ancient codgers playing bowls, I was embarking on a new life. It has proved to be one in which neighbours with a DIY probelm send for me. The effect on my self-esteem has been uplifting. Now I won’t die, just wear out amongst fellow craftsmen!
It was that eureka moment that had me looking for books on the subject of manual versus brain work. An early read was ‘The Case for Working with Your Hands’ by Matthew Crawford. ‘Real men’, he wrote, should stop being slaves to their screens and Wi-Fis. They should drive nails into planks and wield spades. Crawford had noticed that graduate entry into professions like his was plummeting, with those supposedly educated for them drifting into listless semi-employment, ” a state of uncommitted future potential”. But he also noticed something aboiut himself. He worked as an academic but worked on motor-bike restoration in his spare time. He noticed that he was always exhausted after a day at the former yet felt strangely exhilerated by the manual labour on the bike.
In his book ‘Craftsmanship’ sociologist Richard Sennett describes a similar reaction. He concludes that the handling of tools is far more than just a passing phase in human evolution. There are “skills in manual labour that link hand and brain and which are still not recognised” he argues. To Sennett it is downright cruel to “assume downward mobility in those who love working with their hands”. It is a natural human activity. Sennett even cites the satisfaction a parent gains from caring for a child. Childcare, he points out, is skilled manual labour that delivers more than just family bonding.
In a way the case for manual labour relates to what is happening to the economy. Ever since tha Thatcher era when technical colleges were replaced by academia there has been an increasing shortage in specialist skills such as plumbing. Apprenticeships have almost vanished except for those in Sugarland. And now graduates are pouring off the academic production lines with skills unsuited to the vacancies of tomorrow. We face a permanent reduction in professional, managerial and financial areas. Consumer spending will shift towards leisure, towards live activity. This covers ranges from hobbies, exploring, riding, festuvals, concerts, restaurants and tourism. Yes they will demand skills such as salesmanship, but most will provide jobs that are literally hands-on as in building, equipment maintenance, cooking etc.
In other words the jobs market of tomorrow will require craftsmanship that we as a society have almost lost. We will not be able to outsouce the mending of a broken pipe to India. If we cannot adjust back to the days when working meant using ones hands we will need to rely on migrants from places such as Germany and East Europe where the tradition of high-status technical education and apprenticeship has not been eroded by the ‘humanities’.
So, like it or not, the majority of careers of tomorrow will require the very manual skills which for generations we have downgraded. But if the experience of we old yet born-again allotment men means anything it is that therein lies self-esteem and job satisfaction long lost in our society. And the powerful message from people such as Crawford and Sennett is that the carpenter, engineer, plumber, needleworker or any other craftsman or woman is pursuing a route back to the inner self that may indeed be more direct than working solely with the head – or the screen.
As we young-old man of the allotment like to cry come back Bob the Builder, all is forgiven!
ANY QUESTIONS CAN BE A TURN-OFF!
Did you watch last night’s ‘Any Questions?’ on the Beeb? I did for a while before turning it off in sheer exasperation.
The first question concerned the proposed changes to child benefits and the audience was largely hostile. Each of the non-politicians gave an honest and sensible answer which is that, whatever ones beliefs on the welfare state, the mathematics used whereby one household will lose benefits whilst another, with no one higher taxpayer but a higher total income, will retain it is nonsense.
But the politicians waffled about the mess left by Labour, the dire straits of the country and anything else that came into their heads rather than contemplate that an error had been made. One of them was called, I think, Lady Warsi. She simply refused to stop babbling on and even David Dimbleby was hard put to get a word in edgeways. At one point when for the umpteenth time she said that the coalition had not realised that the country was in a mess, hence their not including benefits in the manifesto, Dimbleby exclaimed that the Conservatives had fought the election on the basis that it was in a mess. She babbled on.
The concept of the Thursday night show is good but it would be even better if the Beeb excluded political parrots whose self understanding is lower that that of my hens!
STRANGE DECISION BY ED MILIBAND!
I have just heard an unofficial story that Alan Johnson has been appointed Shadow Chancellor. If correct this is surely an odd decision by the new Labour leader.
Former postman Alan has distinguished himself in various offices and was an excellent Health Secretary. But is he a qualified accountant and has he the relevant experience at a time when finance looms large?
In terms of relevant ability we already have a poor Chancellor, having an equally inadequate shadow does not sound reassuring!
YESTERDAY’S QUIZ ANSWERS; 1. U Thant 2. Manchester United
TODAY’S QUESTIONS; 1. Which newspaper stopped its Saturday edition in 1974? 2. Which group sang ‘Seas of Rhye’?