Sunday, January 3, 2010

Our skills are our stories, our history, our future

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy New Year to anyone reading. I hope that you and yours will have a healthy and happy year ahead.

The other day I met a friend for coffee and she mentioned her New Year's resolution: for every three mysteries she reads she will read one memoir. That is a wonderful idea. It's something that she will be able to carry out because she will enjoy it. It made me think about why I don't usually make resolutions ... they are so often of the lose twenty pounds or similar negative, fix-up-oneself sort.

And then I found myself at the Centre Branch Library, downtown London, and remembered the special crafts collection on the third floor. This is a unique collection, numbered and catalogued, and contains all sorts of wonderful books on crafts, many of them over 50 years old and never to be had again. And I decided that my resolution for the year is to at least browse one book a week for the next year. I'll learn about all sorts of things.

From the first shelf I picked up a copy of The Shell Book of Country Crafts, written and illustrated by James Arnold and published in 1968. It's not really a 'how to' book, because there aren't instructions for all the crafts that he mentions. But he mentions a huge number of crafts, many not done these days except by specialists and historians. There are sections for roof thatching, bagpipe making, wheelwrighting, quilting and making flails ... about thirty things altogether, in over 350 papes. And although there are not step by step instructions, there are useful and fascinating pieces of information throughout ... things like the ways in which specialty blades have both an inside and outside edge, either used dependent on the part of a chair being finished. There are some wonderful photographs of old workshops, and people working at such things as wattle fences, lacemaking and binding besoms. (look it up, I'll not tell you!)

Mr. Arnold has great respect for the craftsmen and women he met, and thanks them and the Museum of English Rural Life (which still exists in Reading, England and houses important collections and has workshops). A bit of his humour shows in the preface where he says: '... there may be individual craftsmen and craftswomen who like to surround their activities with an aura. Those who have left their imprint on the history of craftsmanship have been too busy or preoccupied to bother about auras.'

I think what he's said here is: the real craftspeople just get on with the work. I looked online to find a bit of biographical material about Mr. Arnold and was delighted to hear that he lived to the hale age of 90.

There's a contemporary word - reskilling - that is used in The Transition Handbook. It's referring to finding and relearning skills that we will/may need as we go into a future where we need to be more self-reliant and adaptable (more resilient). This goes along with the ideas that the food and items our communities need will have to be produced closer to home, that we will be using energy sources other than fossil fuels, and that we will be affected by climate change.

This last paragraph takes a big leap between learning something simple like how to bake bread or sharpen our own tools, to living in a world where we won't be able to go to the store to buy bread imported from 800 km away or to replace a cheap knife with another cheap knife. We are going to be in a world where we do not have unlimited 'stuff'.

And I admit that I look forward to that world. For all I use the internet for so much and appreciate some electronics and conveniences, and love that the lights come on and the water works, I do not value the vast majority of consumer garbage that's in the stores. I am over fifty, and my parents (both deceased) were older parents. The great aunts and uncles I knew in my childhood were born in the 1890s. So my life's stories connect me to 120 years of history, and practicality. My people were in trades, not professionals, and there was no money on either side. I've been a make-do-er all my life, and I've had enough interest in history to feel confident as I read about all sorts of artisans.

Well, this entry sure diverted from my original idea. I was going to talk about the importance of stories in our lives. But perhaps this has been a story.

Again, best wishes to all in the new year.

Why's woman.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I hear you!