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Addressing the chair

Evan Davis | 16:21 UK time, Thursday, 23 April 2009

It's not a bad idea to occasionally spend a little time thinking about things you take for granted. Plain everyday things.

The Today planning team evidently share my view on that and to that end have set up some interviews on bizarrely prosaic subjects of late.

We recently ran one on road signs, for example.

This morning it was the turn of chairs to take the spotlight. You can hear the interview with furniture designer Tom Dixon below. (Thinking about it, chairs are very relevant to this year's budget, in that when you listened to it you rather felt you needed to sit down).

So, what did I learn about chairs from meeting Tom Dixon?

At one level nothing at all.

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You see, I had thought Mr Dixon would tell me about how a good chair works; what the optimal ergonomic design consists of; what the relative dimensions are that spread the weight of the body over the widest possible area. That sort of thing.

Not a bit of it.

He appeared remarkably uninterested in the functional aspects of the design and almost exclusively preoccupied with the aesthetics.

That was initially disappointing.

I thought I was somehow missing out on securing any crucial new insights into the pure ideal of a chair. Until Tom explained that good chairs are not about function at all.

And now I understand...chairs are really about meaning.

A chair's function is not just to provide a place to sit; it is to provide a medium for self-expression. Chairs are about status, for example. Or signalling something about oneself.

That's why the words chair, seat and bench have found themselves used to describe high status professions from academia to Parliament to the law.

And the implication is that the statement a chair makes through its design is as important as any ergonomic performance. Or to put it another way, most of us would put up with some discomfort to have the smartest looking chair on the block.

Obviously one can't push the argument too far...the comfort of a chair does matter of course. And some chairs - like the plastic one I'm sitting on, in fact - are designed to be little other than cheap, stackable and sturdy.

But the general message that there's more to a chair than its contact with our backside applies to most of what we consume. Once we are fed, heated, housed and healthy, our extra consumption inevitably has an element of luxury about it.

And once luxury enters the scene, the practicalities are in trouble, as women who wear expensive stiletto heels can testify.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Oh, so close... as you could have developed, another thing about chairs as metaphors in a budgetary sense is at least sometimes they could, once be seen to stack up.

    But maybe it's best to sit on that notion.

  • Comment number 2.

    Dear Evan

    I was fascinated by Sarah Montague's excellent interview of David Cameron and I can't find a good place to comment. So here I am.

    Though she sighed with frustration at the end, I felt, as a listener, that she inadvertently exposed the fact that he is not fit to be Prime Minister. However, I am unable to understand why a man like David Cameron, who has just lost a child, is back on the front line of politics with no comments about his experience of loss. How lonely, how phony, is that? Why is his personal experience of loss suddenly a taboo subject? During this recession, we are all experiencing loss - loss of jobs, homes, pensions and income, if not a loss of joy and hope. In truth, the subject of loss should be a subject of mass interest.

    Why do we even expect someone like that to be able to cope? Cleary he does not have anything public to say – it is all said privately. But even in that realm, does he really say it? The fact that he has experienced this and does not comment leaves the public with a problem.

    We don't know him.

    What he feels, what he knows, what’s happened to his family - why does the leader of the so-called party of the family not reveal anything?

    Why is it so taboo for us to hear a man in a position of ‘power’ discuss what he feels about the death of his child? It is becoming the elephant in the room whenever Mr Cameron speaks.

    While I do not advocate asking Mr Cameron direct questions about his personal life, neither do I think that omitting them is an appropriate approach. If Mr Cameron has so much to say about 'the family' - how it is to be taxed, looked after and exploited - then he must be expected to tell us about his own comprehension of what a family unit is and why it is so important to him. We need to get to know him, before we can place him in a position of power over the rest of us.

    I believe that the excellence exhibited daily by the Today team of journalists, editors and presenters is responsible for taking us on that journey. They need to sort out the questions and approaches which will reveal David Cameron's real feelings and plans.

    As it stands, although I am a Conservative voter, I feel uncomfortable with trusting this Eton boy with governing a nation in crisis. I know that he bought his first home for £1.2 million, paying in cash. This single fact from his life divorces him from the reality faced by the other 99.7% of us. I also know that his son died after a short, tragic life. The complexity raised by these two incongruent facts provide the key to his character.

    it is the duty of the Today programme, to taxpayers and voters, to find out what the result of this combination of privilege and tragedy really is. Who is David Cameron? That should surely be the question journalists examine over the coming months.

    We need to know if he is fit to lead. What has he learned? What does he now know? Who is he?

    I commend all who work on the Today programme for their efforts in sustaining a truly extraordinary show, day in and day out, over many years of change. I am always struck by the pleasure taken by the presenters (such as yourself) in delivering the highest quality product, and by their conviction that only the highest standards will do. I hope that this commitment to excellence is never compromised or thwarted, at this critical time for our nation; I know that great skill will be exercised in establishing the truth about the UK's likely political future, and that every effort will be made to provide voters with a powerful position from which to choose their next Government.

    My thanks to Ms Montague for making a powerful start. As the issues grow more complex, I shall be looking to Today to provide me with clarity. I have no doubt that all of my questions will be answered.

  • Comment number 3.

    I felt, as a listener, that she inadvertently exposed the fact that he is not fit to be Prime Minister.

    Just wondering... is that really what one should expect, professionally to Charter-wise, from an objective political commentator from a publicly-funded national broadcaster? Whilst accepting that fitness for PM-ship is a matter of some public interest.

    I believe that the excellence exhibited daily by the Today team of journalists, editors and presenters is responsible for taking us on that journey.

    I now rather concern myself that the route may be being decided by the people allowed to keep the interpreting of the map according to events and places they'd like to see, rather than helping us all share the view as it evolves on the most direct path.

    I believe the technique could fall under 'being taken for a ride'.

  • Comment number 4.

    Come, come JunkkMale, you would appear to be alluding that the Today programme, and possibly the whole BBC for that matter, pursues some form of agenda along the lines of "anybody but the Conservatives".

    There are disreputable web sites out there like BiasedBBC who attempt to provide evidence of your allusion, unfortunately with seemingly ever increasing success.

  • Comment number 5.

    Oo, eck, I stand rebuked. Possibly. Anyhoo, duly noted.

    Heck of an interpretation of what I wrote there, but, taking that and turning it into an allusion about the Today programme, and projecting it onto the entire BBC, with a pretty narrow conclusion as to specific intentions and a political stance was awesome. All without me writing one word that says any of that. But, as the saying goes...'if the cap fits':)

    Way to go. It's almost like those events getting interpreted all the time, just like wot Jon Humphrys was on about.

    And of course these seem to be further getting shaped - apparently - by hordes of rebuttal units, funded by political parties, or from the public purse, who are out there to stir or spin to order. All a bit devious for me. Maybe I am just being played as a mere individual, as the two 'supportive' posts here seem, well, gifts. But let's work on the basis that they're just from others who have a different view. Which is cool.

    And why I tend to go with the facts, and as these are hard to acquire in 'unenhanced' forms these days. I usually go for a spread, from 'disreputable' sites like Guido and Biased BBC who do have posters nevertheless posting silly things like links as 'evidence', to bastions of reporting probity such as Labourlist, the Guardian and some parts of the BBC. All of whom who would never dream of letting reporting what happened get in the way of presuming to tell people how to think. Makes you indeed wonder how the former are succeeding. This phenomenon to some does seem important and of concern, but then these of late do seem to be the same gilded ones who don't think the public is voting the correct way any more, and are appearing quite defensive as a consequence.

    I merely noted the views of a possibly genuine listener, and how they were shaped by the 'interview' with Mr. Miser ( latest balanced insight: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8019114.stm ) Cameron. All in a thread from a colleague about chairs. Go figure.

    And as it was raised, I merely wondered if adding 'sighs of frustration' was really where objective interviewers should be going with their interpretation of events to help enhance the narratives to get to emerging truths. Next you'll have folk in charge of the mic calling others fascists and what not, and having to apologise rather than resign. Just think if they'd used an un-PC word in earshot of others under the hallowed roof, if off-broadcast. The BBC does have indeed have many standards of who should be within its walls to help influence the nation.

    As it happens, if I have formed any clear 'anybody but' notions at all, as a priority they would be more directed at our current 'fit to be' PM and his GOATs.

    I'd be interested in how such as Ms. Montague would handle a Q&A session with or Nokia -testing 'steady hand in troubled times', based on her current record of studied objectivity, and whether the audience would be treated to a collection of sound effects in complement to make points that inadequate words are inadequate for. With tongue in cheek, I am suspecting sighs might still be the order of the day.

    From paid public interviewers to blogs of any hue, I don't respond well to being steered by folk that see the future of this country, and my kids within it, in terms of how things can be spun to how they can be made 'better' to suit their narrow group agenda. Especially in the MSM. And that applies even more, with cherries and cream on top, to the national broadcaster I am currently required to co-fund.

    Give me just the facts. Hew close to the line, and let the chips fall where they may.

  • Comment number 6.

    Can we revert to chairs, please.

    Furniture is in my DNA. I would be working in the furniture industry now but for the fact it is the first into recession and the last out. As a consequence I have had to go elsewhere to make a living and betray about two hundred years of furniture making, design and selling which exists within my family.

    I heard the interview with Tom Dixon and promptly filed him alongside all the other `top' furniture designers I have come across. I am sorry but the file is marked `irrelevant'.

    I agree with a sentiment expressed in the interview that chairs are a sign of status as all we had originally was a decorated stool for the monarch, the ale bench for his `comitatus' or gang of thugs and the rushes at best for everyone else.

    However, we are some 1,500 years after that and we should be exhibiting some changes. I must confess to being a bit Georgian in my taste for furniture. Not so much the decoration but the delightfully understated functionality. It goes with my love for Hogarth. It has a visual balance, a quality of jointing and an absence of pretension that pleases my puritan soul.

    Since then the chair has not progressed with the exception of German ergonomic design which is truly delightful. I do recommend it, it is beautifully engineered; but it is expensive as is anything requiring proper research and development.

    Modern British furniture designers tend to reflect the pretensions to grandeur their clients expect. Yes, furniture is an expression of culture but I don't think much of ours.

  • Comment number 7.

    re #2

    Nothing to do with Evans' witty post but surely David Cameron is no different from a lot of others who use work as an escape from difficulties/sadnesses in their personal lives. In fact I'd go further and say that work is like a drug in this respect and to be a workaholic is an acceptable addiction in this society. It's not always easy to face up to losses, difficulties and tragedies. Sometimes it's easer to bury one's hurts as it's too painful to deal with them.

    Unfortunately they have the annoying habit of re-appearing in one guise or another at a later date. However in the meantime I think we would find that David Cameron would be an excellent leader as he will be compelled to work really hard for us.

  • Comment number 8.

    To those on this blog who have written unnecessarily about politics I would like to dedicate this short poem written by the late Adrian Mitchell, a beat poet of an earlier generation. He was a life-time supporter of the Labour Party and shortly before his death was asked about his view of Blair and he replied:

    `Imagine a chair,
    And the chair's not there.
    That's a Blair'

    The old boy was good'un to the end.

  • Comment number 9.

    Well Evan let me tell you about my experience of chairs. For some of the most uncomfortable experiences of my life have been spent sitting on chairs trying to read text which kept blurring and trying to figure out whether or not it was something to do with the angle I was sitting at or the chair itself which was lulling me into unwanted drowsiness and even sleep.

    The answer was actually a hard to detect squint not picked up by the state eye test. Many thousands of people have the same problem. We know how to raise the bar on eye testing - a Fosbury Flop rather than a straddle of the bar - and need to re-introduce eye testing in schools as an urgent priority. But politicians of all parties in this dirty,stinking, rotten parliament prefer to do anything. To their collective shame they prefer people just to suffer.

    The BBC has done two wonderful radio broadcasts on the issue. Still they do nothing. Alan Johnson knows all about the issue. Change policy? No just get more people to take the flawed test than do such a thing. The man is not fit to be Health Secretary let alone Prime Minister. An utter inadequate like so many in this Parliament. The sooner the lot of them kept back to their family seat and stay there the better.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    After reading British parliament sessiongs on many issues,I think that Mr.Tonny Blair!s parliament debates and answers from opposition members were more lively than now.
    I do not know correctly,what reasons,Labor party had chosen Mr.Gordon Brown as a Prime Minister.
    When i was in college,all advance English papers,or for any Government High level officers entrance examination,there used to be a compulsory englsih essay on British parliamentary proceedings.
    We have to read lively debate between two partys,vote of confidence and from Speakers final wording.
    Now, all became a general assembley,main hours goes to some mis-use of government positions,corruption in public life and so on.

 

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