Thursday 22 September 2011, 15:49
There is a man in a village somewhere in Wales. He is more good than bad. He still feels guilty about the ants, the spectacles and the sunlight when he was a kid. He got a buzz out of Bob-a-Jobbing for the OAPs but he's also got into a few scuffles, kissed some girls he shouldn't have done, and he has been known to take a few drinks. Still, he is a long way south of being a bad man.
One of the things that keeps him on the straight and narrow is his passion. It has stopped his days from filling with bitterness or boredom. Because his folks have instilled in him a strong work ethic, he becomes very good at it.
His passion is to work with wood. He started off whittling in his room when he was a boy. Then he learnt about dovetails and filled the family house with boxes in a multitude of sizes. The walls fairly teetered with all of the shelves and cupboards. He put his dues in, but it rarely felt like hard work. It felt like his calling.
He left school with a few bits of paper in his hand. His mum and dad are proud of the pieces of paper, but he's not all that bothered. He knows what he wants to do. So he starts a business, earns himself a wife who loves him for his heart and his fingertips, and works to keep a roof over his new family's head.
He spends a week building a cabinet out of the finest wood he can find. He puts an advert in the newspaper. "Handmade oak cabinet. £150." A friendly woman comes into his shop and marvels at the cabinet: "That's just what I was looking for! I didn't think I'd ever find one this perfect. Oh, I will definitely tell all of my friends about this. It's expensive, but you get what you pay for."
The man sells the cabinet to the woman. She's very happy and so is the man. The £150 pays for food, water, the roof and clothes for his new baby.
His reputation spreads to the villages in the vicinity and the nearby town. The workshop gets a little bigger. He employs a couple of people to help him. There is another baby. The fact that the supermarket down the road has started selling cheap imitations of his cabinets seems to have made people value his work more. For a while, life is good.
But he begins to notice a change in the attitude of the people arriving at the shop. Some appear to be surprised that he wants money for his cabinets.
"These are very nice," says one customer stroking the wood. "But I can get this free elsewhere. Why do you want me to pay for it?"
This confuses the man. Where can you get cabinets for nothing?
Another customer picks a cabinet up and starts to take it to his car without paying.
"You want money for this? Really? It's just a cabinet..."
These incidents worry the man a little. But mostly people still come and are happy to buy his finely-crafted cabinets.
However, unbeknown to the man - initially, at least - there has been an amazing new technological development. Some of his customers are - by virtue of this new magic - able to take his cabinets home with them and make perfect, loveless facsimiles of them. They share them amongst their family and friends with a large amount of pride.
A curious new network is harnessed to share these perfect facsimiles all over the world. It isn't long before the people most lustful about cabinet sharing forget all about the man with the roof and the babies and the wood and the tools. As the months pass, more and more of the sharers have no idea that the cabinets came from actual human hands. They think cabinets fall out of the sky perfectly formed, or - at least - out of Channel 3 on a Saturday evening.
Impenetrable philosophies of entitlement spread between the sharers in a superflu of ignorance. They think that by passing on things made with passion, vision and talent they are somehow more passionate, visionary and talented themselves, romantic Robin Hood figures, benevolently sharing out the world's cabinet riches because the corporate daddios behind all this wood don't need no more of our bread, man!
No-one raises a dissenting voice for our man, independent and alone with his talents and his roof and the babies and the wood and the tools. Far fewer customers turn up at his workshop. Life becomes a struggle. He sees cabinets almost everywhere he goes, but the love that he put into making them isn't reflected by the people who have them strewn all over their houses and gardens.
His sense of anguish is amplified by the letters he receives praising the quality of his cabinets. He gets thousands of letters from lovers of his wonderful cabinets from all over the world, but his order books show he only sold them in their hundreds.
His fame as a cabinet maker is now international, but he can no longer afford to get his kids a school uniform that fits. He never sees his wife because she's out doing shift work. He breaks a chisel and can't afford to replace it.
Someone in the pub suggests he should take the cabinets he can no longer afford to make to various showrooms around the world, forget about ones he's losing on the network, write them off as 'advertising'.
Another suggests he should be grateful that people want his cabinets enough to steal them and that, anyway, he should just be making them for the love of making them. This bloke, aglow with the righteousness of someone completely unaffected by the subject they're lecturing on, even dares criticise this most talented of cabinet-makers for not embracing the times: "Nowadays, we can all make our own cabinets! I've got GarageCarpenter on my computer at home. Why should you expect to go into the finest workshops or have access to the best tools and materials?"
The man hears a silent coda at the end of this question: "if I can't", but he doesn't say anything. What's the point? He realises he has become Canute of oak. It's a desperate situation. More people than ever have his cabinets, they boast about how many they have in front of his face, but none have paid for them.
"Things have moved on," they say. "Get with the times."
But the times don't count for much at the supermarket checkout or with the red letter demands that pile up every morning on his doormat.
One cold night, the cabinet maker waits for his wife to go out to work, tucks his children up in bed, and reaches for the length of hosepipe he hid behind his dusty workbench. But the engine coughs and splutters to a halt before the car fills with enough fumes. Petrol's a bit more expensive than it used to be. He just sits there coughing a bit.
His eyes could be watering because of the smoke, or they could be tears. It doesn't make any difference. It certainly doesn't to the guys in the pub who get to go home to houses so full of cabinets that most of them are left to moulder in the back garden or in the neighbour's skip.
The man ends up temping for an agency. His hands go soft. His face goes blank. It's not long before the people in the pub start bemoaning the lack of decent cabinets "these days".
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