Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Heads can ache as well as backs

Apart from two years in the fifties, I worked on newspapers and consumer/business/technical magazines from 1951 until 1995. When in 1959 I wrote to Mrs BB’s father to ask for her hand (the tradition then) he agreed, even though he was never sure journalism was a real job. He was a chef, working 6½ days a week.

My two-year blip involved RAF national service. After trawling my psyche the RAF decided I was capable of understanding airborne radio equipment. Basic training (Learning to kill with a bayonet. Avoiding venereal disease. etc) added to technical training took almost a year after which I repaired VHF transmitters/receivers in a large non-air-conditioned shed in Singapore. However incurable athlete’s foot took over and after very primitive and futile treatment I ended up near Doncaster modifying radar antennae used on Lancaster bombers (see pic).

None of which is terribly interesting except to prove that in a mainly sedentary professional life I have also worked manually. Received wisdom says manual work is harder than sitting-down work. I didn’t find this so. Admittedly I wasn’t digging holes or assembling Ford Anglias but I used screwdrivers, soldering irons, Avometers, and some delicacy.

The repair work was complex and I needed to study a large circuit diagram. I found it fairly entertaining but, more particularly, it was a finite world. By comparison a thousand-word article on fork-truck masts, initially at least, presents a huge range of options. An inverted pyramid of work, some of which isn’t entirely enjoyable.

No, I’m not saying I’d rather have been a navvy. Hard work’s where you find it, although most sophists work at desks.


Avus said...

A latter day T.E. Lawrence, B.B.!
Have you read the (unexpurgated) "The Mint"? That totally irrelevant Basic Training for an Aircraftsman was transferred from the army to the fledgling Royal Air Force when it was formed. I find T.E.L.'s descriptions evocative even of my own basic army training some 35 years later.

20th Century Woman said...

I'm thinking about the difference between "hard work" and its apparent opposite, "easy work." The easiest work I ever did, that is work that required no brain power except trying not to let the mind wander, was a clerical job lapsing insurance contracts for non-payment. I sat in a room with about 30 other young women. We each had a list of contracts to be blanked out of a big book, when done we returned the book to the shelf and got another. Every 2 hours all the workers rose in unison for a 15 minute break. The insurance contracts were a gyp, sold to people who couldn't afford to pay. It was really tedious disagreeable work. Sometimes difficult or strenuous work, which might be called hard is satisfying because one enjoys the result or the challenge of mastering it.

Barrett Bonden said...

Avus: Up to a point, Lord Copper. There were several avenues down which I wouldn't have wished to follow Lawrence. As to whether my version of The Mint was unexpurgated I am not sure: it was a first edition in an oversize format and it amused me to read it after I was well shut of military service. The problem with Lawrence he was such a fibber that much of what he wrote had to be taken with firkins of salt and why he thought he could hide himself in the RAF seems inexplicable. However it was interesting to see that the ways of inculcating discipline in the RAF hadn't changed back down the decades.

20CW: You have grasped the reasons for this post: it is more about the nature of work than anything else. Your insurance work sounds like a nightmare - a bit like being on a perpetual flight to NZ where you find yourself willing the time to pass and not even the most congenial book nor the most familiar piece of music can do anything to help. There's an extra horror to all this when you realise you are in fact wishing your life away.

Journalism is a volatile activity and on three occasions I found myself unemployed. Once, in desperation, I took a job on the house magazine published by Wimpey, the house builder and civil engineering company, and this proved to be my professional nadir, a period of utter ponitlessness. In theory I was going out and interviewing people then writing up my notes; in practice I could have been trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.

Avus said...

A lot of Lawrence was "smoke and mirrors", but he wrote well.
As to trying to hide away - I like the quote about him as "backing into the limelight". I wonder if his travails in the first world war left him with undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder. He seemed able to invoke either contempt or worship.
The Hon. Aubrey Herbert diarised, "Lawrence, an odd gnome, half cad - with a touch of genius". Whilst that august personage, the author John Buchan, 1st Baron Tweedsmuir GCMG, GCVO, CH, PC , Governor General and Viceroy of Canada is on record as saying "I would follow him to the ends of the earth".
First editions of The Mint now fetch hundreds of pounds (do you still have yours?) These were expurgated, as too strong meat for the delicate souls of the '30s. The full script was published after 1955.

Plutarch said...

Having been occupied for most of my working life with jobs that required brain activity I have always found satisfaction in manual work. While still at school I worked on a farm, harvesting, building hay-ricks and even hoeing a field of turnips. Digging in the vegetable garden still has a therapeutic value for me. But that was in the open air; unlike the monotonous work as described by 20th Cent. W, with whom I sympathise. The only consolation in that sort of activity is conversation, if there is someone to talk or lsiten to.

Sir Hugh said...

There is nothing like having a long hot soak in the bath after a session of hard manual work, or even better after a run. It is the reward factor that provides an experience not provided by an unearned pleasurable soak.

Barrett Bonden said...

Avus: And yet it's fairly easy to sympathise with the character played by Jack Hawkins (Allenby?) at the very beginning of the film who is asked a banal question about Lawrence by a journalist following the memorial service: "Hasn't there been rather too much about Lawrence?" he replies with a sigh.

Certainly a number of intelligent people liked him but his claims about what he achieved in the desert are generally felt to be overblown and this turned an even larger number off him. John Buchan's quote seems odd given that it seems unlikely it would ever have come to pass.

Plutarch: Hard work we can perhaps stand if we can envisage a worthwhile end; what is harder to bear is drudgery (in the office or in the hole in the road) which implies for me valueless labour. I once volunteered to stack stooks of corn into those A-frame structures one used to see in farmers' fields. The next day they had all fallen down and I felt terribly ashamed.

Sir Hugh: There are all sorts of rewards that diminish the pain of labour: the simplest and often the most effective is merely bringing it all to an end.