Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dale's wonderful Scamp build

 John Welsford has certainly captured something in his diminutive Scamp. The first ones built gained a lot of exposure on the Wooden Boat Forum- particularly in response to Howard Rice's well documented exploits in one. Soon there were kits and group building programmes, and the one pictured here is Dale Simonson's excellent project to illustrate some of Scamp's appeal.

The boat has proven to be rather sporty but very sea-worthy, pugnacious in attitude and quite unusual as a design package. The off-centre board leaves the cockpit floor bigger than seems possible. The simple cuddy provides storage and shelter without becoming a cramped internal space. The pram shape allowed John to create his waterline and stability combination in a very short hull. It is small enough to build in a modest space, but has that quality about it that suggests something big and salty.

But what interests me in particular, is that some boat designs have a way of capturing the imagination, both as a thing to make and as a thing to use. If you look at Dale's Flickr pics you will see that despite being a kit, there is no shortage of challenges in the sub-structures and is still a big commitment of time and skill (we won't mention money), but some of us still seem to be compelled to shut ourselves away for months or years to create this thing. Very healthy, I think, if you can get away with it...

Anyway, since I am not in a position to build another boat at the moment, I thought I'd wax lyrical about Dale's one, which is coming along so beautifully.

Monday, May 27, 2013

my first negative post

Before you read this post from some years ago, I just want to say that it is negative and I'm a bit sad and confused that it is being looked at every week by quite a few people. The negativity doesn't sit well with me and I'm often tempted to take the post down, but the contributions in the comments by some supportive folk make me resist the urge. There are plenty of more positive things on this blog, so maybe don't spend too much time with this one.

Where do I start?
One of the reasons that I no longer want to run a business is that sometimes I feel used.

This lovely little viola is over 100 years old. A couple of years ago a muso and teacher from a very 'hands-on' musical family complained to me that her son needed a small viola, and what with fees and life and everything there was nothing around that could expand him musically in the alto clef. There was actually a longer story than that, but you get the drift. I had this viola, but it needed to be restored and set up for the first time probably since the First World War, judging by the strings and fittings on it. Now these people weren't poor, but they were local contributors and participators and I respected them, even held them in some esteem, and I wanted to be helpful in supporting the musical education of their son. So I did the works on the viola to make it useable and said they could borrow it for a couple of months while they worked out their finances, and the direction they wanted to go. I asked for no payment and just handed it over.

This was not unusual. At any given time over the last 20 years there has always been at least one instrument out there 'on loan' or being paid off over years without interest because I felt good being able to contribute. This has no doubt been the most rewarding part of the business for me. But there is this weird thing called 'the politics of charity' that is all too willing to come back to you for a bite. I won't expand on this because it is complex.

Most of the time a 'loan' gives someone a bit of support without any real cost to me, but the net result all round is positive. But sometimes I've been made to feel that life for others is so complicated that my ownership of the item is a nasty burden for the borrower and returning the goods is a challenge that the borrower is way too busy or weighed down by life to contemplate.

A couple of years after this loan was made, I rang the mother to touch base and see what her plans were, explaining that I was retiring and was running out of opportunities to sell the instrument. It turns out that the boy hadn't been playing the viola for some time, but they hadn't gotten around to returning it. That's OK. That's life, we get busy raising kids, no problem there...but could you please return it? Arrangements are made, apologies are given, the date passes by, nothing happens, a couple of months pass by and I have to be the nasty person who rings up to enquire. Note now I'm the policeman, the rule enforcer, the nasty greedy man who wants his stuff back. More apologies and a final return of the instrument.

What do I find? The case is covered in pet hair and dust inside and out, the bow has been left fully tensioned and therefore warped, the instrument is OK, although two strings are worn out. Net result? That loan has obviously cost me the opportunity to sell the viola. The real cost is not just the sale, the bow and the strings, but after 20 years of trying, I finally feel like giving up.

 It was not even worth their while to clean the case. How is it possible for me to feel dirty when I tried to be helpful?

Sunday, May 26, 2013

20 minutes south of home; autumn high tide, low crowd

Grey and a bit bracing is just the way we like it. Walk in a straight line without tripping over people. Birds are grateful for the company (so are shop assistants). Dog walkers, couples, joggers and wet-suited optimists spaced like pieces on a board.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

getting somewhere...

I've always loved the feeling of the cumulative nature of some work- what I call good work. It's easy to be motivated for a long haul if you can convince yourself that there will be a cumulative effect from the effort- and that each time you do something, the next thing will become easier and will be further along that imaginary line that represents where you want to be.

Of course this is partly an illusion, a construct, to help us feel that getting out of bed really does have some meaning, because rationally, we all have to admit that where we are getting is at some point in the future, the same place (or lack of place) and the getting out of bed is just as meaningful as the other bits.

A more constructive way of looking at this is that good work is simply an expression of a set of unrealised challenges, which, when undertaken, is capable of enriching our experience of self and others because the process is a learning one, and we are the better for it. It's even possible that others will benefit too, if only because we are easier to get along with when we have felt creative.

This is why I love tools, and making things to use, including tools. I sense in these things  (on some primitive level), that by immersing ourselves in making things and in the means of production, we become  minor expressions of the most pleasant and helpful forces that are at work in an evolving universe. But I'm quite aware that many people don't have the opportunities to feel that way, and are too busy just trying to earn enough to get by.

The other forces, the predominant ones, are the ones that are reducing us into market units; passive gullible consumers of goods created to fulfil created needs, designed to generate business. These are the hollow things, that promise wealth and well-being, but somehow don't seem to be making us any calmer or self-reliant, if only because someone, somewhere will be prepared to make them cheaper than we can.

Anyway, the new workshop has become useable, and it is a happy place to be.