A Brief Meditation on Mess


This was the state of my bench at the close of play yesterday afternoon.

In my defence, it had been a very busy day: the display box for the wax polish had to be finished, which since I'm supposed to be woodworker meant that it couldn't just be a few bits of pine tacked together with a finish-nailer. 
On the other hand there's really no excuse for this disaster area. Using the radial arm saw is an adventure in itself, I can't find anything, there's no room to work, and I'm likely to make mistakes (which I did, and had to go back after supper to correct).

So when does mess be come "creative" (If ever), and when does simple untidiness become simply hazardous? When I worked in Austria, there was a good word for this sort of thing: "Schlampigkeit". Kipling also nailed it nicely:

"All along o' dirtiness, all along o' mess,
All along o' doing things rather more-or-less,
All along of abby-nay, kul an hazar-ho,*
Mind you keep your rifle an' yourself jus' so!"

Since this last line is Kipling's prescription for colonial and military success, it's tempting to think that a little more untidiness and mess might be a good thing, if it means less wars, less soldiers – after all, the noun "efficiency" is usually qualified by words like "grim" or "cold" – but of course it wouldn't mean anything of the kind: we'd have dirty messy wars rather than clean tidy ones, and I'm not sure which are worse. (And I also really like my ferry to run on time, and stay afloat).

I did say that this would a "meditation". Meditations have no conclusions. In a word, they're untidy, or as Bilbo put it "Not all those who wander are lost".
It's simple, really: I know when my mess is creative, and when it's a disaster. Now it's high time I got down to work and cleaned up.

* "abby-nay" = "not now"; "kul" = "tomorrow" and "hazar-ho" = "wait a bit".