Not being a TV viewer I only ever catch the finale of interesting programmes, strange how it’s never the beginning. The other night my husband was trying to find something to distract me from moaning on about my virus when we alighted on the end of Panorama’s programme, ‘The Big Squeeze’ on how living standards have fallen in the past two years and most affected have been those in the building trades.
I found myself taken into the life-worn and immaculate workshop of a carpenter, in a Liverpool industrial area, who had custom built and fitted wooden doors and windows for new buildings. An exacting and precise craft. Rather that is what he used to do, and although he looked like a pensioner but perhaps he was prematurely worn to the bones with stress, that was what he still wanted and still needed and still could do. I have not been able to put his hang-dog dejection, nor his workshop with its metallic precision of polished and blood warm tools and surgical implements out of sight. If I was Seamus Heaney I might want to write a poem, or if I was David Storey, a novel, for this man, so skilled and outlawed from trade, seemed to me to embody all the dying poetry of artisanal England.
A pause to reflect on the word artisan, which is how the French still refer to their local rural builders, and which embodies the word ‘art’ which is not reduced to utility. Manual skill is art, it can be living poetry and this man with his weak eyes stained by permanent tear, where perhaps once a star had spun as he swung his hammer, and who with his complexion now stained raw by blood pressure was still in every cell the artist in his workshop where every tool had its own hand-worn placement of apprenticeship to the wood.
Yes, His act worships itself.
What disturbed most was that this man, I choose not to use his first name in a wanton intimacy, like other men interviewed in the programme, did not require thousands of pounds to stop his house being re-possessed, his workshop lost, only some hundreds. Why do ‘we’ need a government and the bureaucracy of urgent and unpopular tax reforms for those of us who have enough, or even too much, or much too much. ‘Oh reason not the need ‘ Lear declares, to inspire ‘society’ to give up just one habitual luxury to prevent our ‘neighbours’, some might say the working classes from losing their homes and being cast out onto that unchanging heath of homelessness. Homes which the programme told us, within a matter of a year – or in some instances – still more tantalising, months would have become owned but which were now in the steely hands of repossession.
I wander thro’ each charter’d street,
Near where the charter’d Thames does flow,
And mark in every face I meet
Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
If the ‘Big Society’ means forming circles of virtue and reciprocity, giving receiving and returning, then I’m all for it but how to start? No, I don’t need anybody to tell me, I can if I choose, get on the phone to Citizens Advice in Liverpool and ask for some advice…
Post Script, April Fool’s Day:
It is not possible to make any contact because the CAB bureaus are so overwhelmed that they don’t accept emails or phone calls. In Liverpool, rather like our local Waitrose deli, I have discovered that you have to collect a number from a slot in the wall which tells you where you are in the queue. When there are no more numbers available it means that you must come back the next day and queue again, presumably earlier. Since becoming concerned about ‘repossession’ I have just read Pessoa’s definition of Romantic and I think Blake and Will Shakespeare, at least in some of his moods, might have gone with it:
The fundamental error of Romanticism is to confuse what we need with what we desire. We all need certain basic things for life’s preservation and continuance; we all desire a more perfect life, complete happiness and the fulfilment of our dreams…..
It’s human to want what we need and it’s human to desire what we don’t need but find desirable. Sickness occurs when we desire what we need and what’s desirable with equal intensity, suffering our lack of perfection as if we were suffering our lack of bread. The Romantic malady is to want the moon as if it could be obtained.