For the last five days, I have become a wall ‘lad’. A ‘lad’ on any building site makes tea, mixes cement, and sweeps up. Almost never does a lad get to do anything creative or interesting. He’s mostly not even allowed to watch the master at work as it’s “offputting”. Technically, I’m not even a lad. My husband is Lad number one, I’m sub-lad, and we’re working under the instruction of Dave, master wallbuilder and all round useful person. For the last five days, I’ve been moving stones from one side of the wall, to the other, and back again.
Sometimes I think Dave is having me on.
The only person more lowly than me, is Laddie the dog, who lies in the middle of the stones and waits for me to throw a root that he brings back, instantaneously. I throw the root because it gives relief from breaking rocks and mixing cement. I’d listen to the radio if I was allowed, but it seems that wall building is best carried out in silence, or with the gentle drone of a cement mixer. The whole exercise is designed to empty your head.
And that’s the problem. With all this thinking time, I keep having thoughts. Thoughts about edits, ideas for characters, things I could change in my stories, all turning over in my head without a pen or paper in sight.
I’ve also had thoughts about engineering, and funnily enough, about cement mixers. Cement mixers are designed for giants. Mere mortals find the shovel too heavy, the angle too steep, the cement dust blows back in your face, the whole tipping thing is fraught with danger, and they’re horribly noisy things to work with.
Recently, Sir Paul Nurse, in the Dimbleby lectures, talked about the need for the scientist to liase with the end user. He had a particular interest in biology, but I think more engineering students and product designers need to spend time with cement mixers. They need to talk to material scientists about ways to make the cement mixer lighter, easier to clean, to rocket scientists about silent and more efficient engines; to lads on building sites about access and height and cleaning out.
It got me thinking about end users and creators, about industries where one influences the other, where they are one and the same people. Amateur astronomers still make their own telescopes, cooks design their own kitchens, but gardeners don’t make their own spades, and do readers design their own books? Do children really get to say what they want to read?
I’ve thought long and hard about this.
I’m still thinking.