Thursday, January 15, 2004

Windmills part 2 

I saw a wonderful sight this afternoon. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people walk past it every day and I’ll bet none of them give it a second glance, and wouldn’t see anything wonderful in it if they did. Wonder, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.

I had a meeting across London and took the tube to get there. I had nothing particular on my mind so I was simply allowing the world to go by, idly gazing at whatever came into my field of view. To be honest, there’s not a lot else you can do standing up on a jerky, rattley London Underground train. I was travelling on the Circle line, which is one of the oldest lines, built by cut-and-cover methods, I think, rather than tunnelling. The stations on this stretch are mostly brick built, often with attractive arched structures. They are fine examples of railway architecture, well worth preserving, so the black grime of the years which at one time had almost obliterated the original yellow ochre of the brickwork had been cleaned away returning the bricks almost to their original colour. Being shallow, these stations have no escalators, just stairways to access the platforms.

What passed into my field of view as the train slowed to a stop at Bayswater Station was a simple brick structure supporting one of these stairways. Looking closely it was obviously new but had been built to match the style of the old station, blending almost perfectly, except for one thing; one key feature that grabbed my attention.

It was too perfect. Every brick had been placed with absolute precision, perfectly aligned with its neighbours. Every mortar joint was precisely the same width, and the mortar smoothed off to precisely the same angle. The overall effect was mirror-flat.

It didn’t need to be. It was better than the original; near-perfect would have been good enough. But it had clearly been built by a craftsman, someone who cared about his own workmanship. I say he; I’ve never yet seen a female bricklayer, so I reckon it’s a pretty safe bet that this was built by a fellah. Even though no-one would ever know that he was responsible for it, even though it mattered to no-one else whether the odd brick here or there was out of alignment, he knew; it mattered to him. He used his skills to create a small piece of perfection; craftsmanship purely for its own sake, because he could, because he wanted to; because to do anything less would be to deny his craft; because it felt good to do work he was proud of, no matter whether anyone gave him recognition; because there was a part of him that drove himself to do his very best, and his very best was very good indeed. So that wall supporting the stairway stood in its own right; functional yet in its craftsmanship, a thing of beauty.

On another day I probably wouldn’t have noticed. I would have passed it by with all the other travellers, too intent on matters elsewhere to notice. But today, as you might have guessed by now if you read yesterday’s post, it assumed a particular significance; it had a message for me. Craftsmanship is good for its own sake. That bricklayer created with bricks, I create with words, both do so for the sheer joy of creating. There doesn’t have to be any other reason.

That wasn’t the only thing I learned – or was reminded of – either. The very fact that such a powerful message can be carried by a simple brick wall in a London Underground station that happened to pass by my eyes, is in itself another all too easily forgotten message. Meaning is out there; there are lessons for the taking if only I allow my senses to receive them.

I ought to get out more.

And thank you brickie, wherever you are.

PS I’ll stop whining about writer’s angst now ;-)

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