Wednesday, 17 October 2012

On Cogs & Ratchets

In my third year at secondary school, we were tasked with a term-long project that involved making a mechanism out of wood and plastic. Something ingenious that would move when you turned a dial, pulled a lever, or something. In a vain attempt to inspire us to produce something wonderful, we were taken on a field trip to the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre in Covent Garden, a place full of magical wooden gadgets that came to life through intricate systems of cogs, gears and ratchets. My attempt, of course, fell far short of the works of art we'd been taken to see, and to be honest the entire project, trip included, has nestled, undisturbed, in a remote corner of my brain for the last fifteen years.

Until this evening. I was walking through Liverpool Street station at six o'clock. Liverpool Street is a complete nightmare at rush hour. It's actually a beautiful building, but the angry hoards of commuters make it hard to stop and look around. Traversing it without incurring somebody's wrath or losing your scarf takes far too much concentration to allow any time for appreciation of Victorian facades, cast-iron pillars or the number of places you could run away to if you only had the guts. INTERESTING FACT: it was built on the site once occupied by Bethlem Psychiatric Hospital, popularly known as Bedlam, which is quite an apt description of the chaos that descends, like clockwork, between 5 and 7 on weekday evenings.

So, I'm walking through Liverpool Street, fighting my way up a staircase which everybody else IN THE WORLD has decided to descend. My third year project bounced to the forefront of my mind; I was a spanner in the works, a cog with a broken tooth, an obstacle in the way of an elaborate piece of choreography.

Bear with me, for I am about to embark on a wild flight of fancy that is unlikely to make any sense.

This new way of looking at things has inspired me. If I could do my DT project again it would be so much more impressive. An army of puppets on conveyor belts, swerving round corners, up escalators, down stairs. It would have lights flashing from red to green, and tiny cars slowing down and speeding up. Little wooden people being shoved on to little wooden trains, and shoved back out five minutes down the line, to rejoin the intricate ballet that is London's rush hour, where somehow nobody ever touches anyone else and everyone gets to where they are going. The clicking of the gears could be replaced by a soundtrack of tutting, newspapers rustling and horns hooting. It would take place amid matchbox houses, shoebox skyscrapers and a tin foil river that reflects the twinkly lights I'd use for stars. Oh, I'd get top marks for that. I'd be the apple of my DT teacher's eye, rather than the oddball afraid to use the big scary sandpaper machine.

And come to think of it, my commute actually could run on cogs and ratchets. That's how little thought I put into it. I am like a little wooden puppet, pushed and pulled from point A to point B, at set times of the day like I'm part of a giant cuckoo clock. Not that I mind. Now that I'm imagining everyone else as part of the same huge mechanism, I'm quite looking forward to tomorrow.


  1. I don't think you were in the way of the works. Yours may have been a path against the grain, but it was your path just the same.

    Sometimes I get a feeling of the whole world moving in time--I just miss the person going the other way, a car crosses behind me seamlessly--sometimes I feel the oposite of that too. Feels good, bro.
    See you tomorrow!
    -The world

  2. Tom - I've missed your writing and you! I've never been a conventional commuter, but I've seen people running for trains in suits and heels. I'm always the one walking in the opposite direction - swimming upstream.

  3. Welcome back.

    You are missed in this giant cuckoo clock. <3