Making the Bed

Since the last posting earlier this month, it's pretty much been nothing but bed - in the workshop, anyway. ( I read this morning that Stephen Tennant, “the brightest of the bright young things", probable model for Sebastian Flyte and Miles Malpractice, and lover of Siegfried Sassoon, spent "most of his life" in bed - well, the last seventeen years of it, anyway.)

Also among the thoughts provoked by random early-morning browsing, is the following:

 In 1776 the Abbé Nollet, famous for his early experiments with electricity, asked a hundred (or possibly two hundred, or a kilometer, depending on your sources) Carthusian monks to form a large circle holding hands. The first and last monks in the chain did not hold hands, but instead each clutched an iron wire. (Or, possibly, they ALL clutched a continuous wire. Details are surprisingly inconsistent.)  The iron wires were connected to a Leyden jar (an early capacitor) charged by the Abbé's own electrical machine (above).

Upon completing the circuit, all hundred (or two hundred) monks simultaneously leapt into the air, their white robes flapping wildly. The monks' sudden leap, with no time difference observable between the first and last monks in the chain, was a vital first step in the invention of the electrical telegraph.   Apart from the elegantly made machine in the image - and how lovely, strange and exciting these 18th & 19thc. mahogany and brass pieces of experimental and futurist furniture remain - the simple but interesting observation arising is the immense distance we have come from this first galvanic leap: in only two hundred and fifty years - no more than three long lives - I'm writing this little piece of ephemera on a new iMac and preparing to post it online.

(Perhaps a Carthusian monk might read this, and leap wildly into the air. The circle will be complete.)

Where was all this was originally leading to? Well, it occurred to me that woodworking, which after all, is the reason-for-being of this 'occasional' (i.e. not 'journal'), has advanced remarkably little in the last twenty-five hundred years, let alone two hundred and fifty. Joseph would certainly recognise the function of every tool in a modern workshop. Wood is still cut and shaped with metal tools into very familiar forms - fixed shelter, and contained within it, what the French and Spanish languages usefully call "moveables" - that is, furniture; add in transportation and other domestic stuff, and there isn't much more. It's fastened together with wood or metal pins (screw threads* would  be a new thing, but much easier to understand than micro-processors), possibly reinforced with glue (no conceptual problems here for Joseph), and then protected with some sort of oil or resin. The only things in my shop that he might be puzzled by are the power tools, and although he'd be quite aware of their function, he'd not know what to do with the long black ropes coming out of them, with the funny prongy bits on the ends. (Perhaps a chat with the Abbé would help.) 

I'll get to the bed next time, which is nearly all finished bar the oiling. 


*Witold Rybczinski wrote an excellent history of the screw and the screwdriver: One Good Turn.

Image of electrical machine borrowed from  "SPARKMUSEUM"  Click to open link.